Psychoanalytic and gender feminists believe “women’s way of acting is rooted deep in women’s psyche.” For the psychoanalytic feminist, the ideal “human person is a blend of positive feminine and positive masculine traits.”
The Roots of Psychoanalytic Feminism: Sigmund Freud
Contrary to popular belief in his time that children are “sexless” (sexuality-less), Freud argued that children were quite sexual and, in fact, experienced three sexual stages of infancy: oral, anal, and phallic. During the last of these stages, the “child discovers the pleasure potential of the genitals and either resolves or fails to resolve the so-called Oedipus and castration complexes.”
*Dictionary definition of Oedipus complex – the positive set of feelings of a child toward the parent of the opposite sex and hostile or jealous feelings toward the parent of the same sex that may be a source of adult personality disorder when unresolved.
Freudian theory proposes that a male child wants his mother sexually, yet noticing that she and other creatures alike have no penis, he assumes they have been castrated by his father, and for fear of being castrated himself, chooses not to compete with his father and act upon his desire, but rather detaches himself from his mother. He instead begins to develop a “superego…the son’s internalization of his father’s values, it is a patriarchal, social conscience.”
The female child’s first love object is also her mother. The child soon notices that she lacks a penis, as does her mother, and she becomes envious of the penis. “Disgusted by the sight of her mother, the girl turns to her father to make good her lack. The girl tries to take her mother’s place with her father. At first the girl desires to have her father’s penis, but gradually she begins to desire something even more precious – a baby, which for her is the ultimate penis substitute.”
Penis envy, according to Freud, leads woman to shame, vanity, narcissism and more such immoralities that are in direct contradiction of the male “superego, which gives rise to the traits marking a civilized person.” Thus a woman’s lack of penis is causal of her inferiority as a sex in a society driven by men’s fear of castration which motivates his tendency to civilize and “become obedient rule-followers whose ‘heads’ always control their ‘hearts.’”
Standard Feminist Critiques of Freud
Critiques of Freud “argued women’s social position and powerlessness relative to men had little to do with female biology and much to do with the social construction of femininity.”
Alfred Alder. Men and women are alike “born helpless.” Inferiority and/or powerlessness “are the sources of our lifelong struggles against feelings of overwhelming impotence.” Alder says that the “patriarchal society is sick,” and that is the reason why or why not any human is able to empower their “creative selves.”
Karen Horney. “Women’s feelings of inferiority originated not in women’s recognition of their ‘castration’ but in realization of their social subordination.” Horney suggests that women are believing the lie ingrained in them by men that they like being feminine. The healthy woman then is one who will move beyond her femininity to create an “ideal self that will include masculine as well as feminine traits.” “As soon as women learn to view themselves as men’s equals, society will have little if any power over them.”
Clara Thompson. “Male authority causes women to have weaker egos than man do.” The cross-cultural tendency of societies to favor male superiority is the impetus of women’s self-hatred and inferiority. “Thus, the transformation of legal, political, economic, and social structures that constitute culture is a necessary step in the transformation of women’s psychology.”
The Feminist Cases for and Against Dual Parenting
Advocates of dual parenting focus on the discrepancy in levels of parental investment/nurture between father and mother as being the key ingredient to women’s societal oppression. During the pre-Oedipal stage, a child sees his or her mother in her weaknesses and shortcomings, thus creating an unwarranted preconception of female inferiority in the infantile mind, whereas the father is seen but little, his shortcomings are hidden, and therefore he represents strength, power, and flawlessness.
Dorothy Dinnerstein. People have a “tendency to blame women for everything wrong about ourselves” because it is mother who bears us, raises us, and presides over us. Out of this tendency comes six “gender arrangements;” unspoken rules and ideas that humans live by that facilitate women’s oppression. With the implementation of dual parenting (and simultaneous dual enterprising) gender roles and arrangements may be forgotten. Man will no longer be the sole “mighty world-builder” or breadwinner, nor will woman be the sole nurturer, or “mother-goddess” answerable to anything that goes wrong.
Nancy Chodorow. Male children separate themselves from their first love object after recognition of otherness from her and fear of his father’s wrath. He seeks identification with men as the realization of power and prestige, while the female child dotes on her first love object in “narcissistic over-identification.” This pre-Oedipal development molds children’s understanding of society and gender roles.
“For Chodorow the measure of difference between males and females is how connected they are to their mothers, whereas for Dinnerstein it is how separate they are from their mothers.”
Critiques of Dinnerstein, Chodorow, and Dual Parenting.
Critics of dual parenting emphasize “psychological rather than social” influences on women’s oppression. They say, also, that “women’s biology as well as psychology equips women to perceive their infants’ needs so as to better serve them [than men]. Another critique includes the idea that “to insist that dual parenting is the solution to human malaise is to elevate men once again to the status of ‘saviors.’”
Toward a Feminist Reinterpretation of the Oedipus Complex
“As [Juliet] Mitchell understood Freud’s theory…it demonstrates how social beings emerge from merely biological ones.” However, “because men no longer need to exchange women in order to create society, Mitchell speculated the Oedipus complex might now be otiose.” (futile)
“[Sherry] Ortner theorized that because gender valences are historical accretions, the can be exchanged; and with their transformation, the Oedipal process can be freed from its current patriarchal agenda. There is, in other words, no law that “maleness” and “femaleness” must be understood in one and only one way or that “maleness” must be privileged over “femaleness.”
Mitchell’s main idea is that gender roles and their symbolism are ingrained “very deep in the human psyche.”