Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": Clinical knowledge – psychoanalysis and masculinity

R.W. Connell (in "Masculinities", chapter 1: Science of Masculinity) notes how it was the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud which first undermined the objective stance of the science of masculinity. Freud's theory developed in three stages from the initial understanding that sexuality is not natural but rather constructed and conflicted, with the centrality of the oedipal complex and the claim that all people are essentially born as bisexual and only later form a mono-sexuality. The second stage of Freud's theory that Connell identifies is the architectural approach to gender, with the famous case study of the "wolfman". The third stage of Freud's theory is the identification of the gendering nature of the super-ego as the product of the relations with the disciplining father. 

Sexuality for Freud, Connell holds, never exists in a pure state. Layers of contradicting emotions coexist and form a complex structure of personality which is anything but transparent. Nevertheless, Freud retained his view of the empirical gender, and in the ways in which femininity is always a part of masculinity – a notion later negated by other psychoanalysts who drew apart from Frued's bisexual theory.

Horney presented a breakthrough in psychoanalysis by arguing that masculinity is constructed on the basis of over-reaction to femininity and by pointing to the relation between the construction of masculinity and the subjection of women.     

A shift in the course of psychoanalytic theory that Connell describes attempted to normalize masculinity and to present the process of masculine formation, which Freud described as fragile and conflicted, as normal and natural. In other words, post-Freudian theories attempted to normalize masculinity so that it would fit in with orthodox perceptions of sexuality and emotion.

Jung also discussed the presence of femininity in masculinity, but instead of talking about repression he talked about archetypical balance. Jung saw the polarization of masculine/feminine as a universal structure that can only change the balances within it.

Alfred Adler identified the asymmetry between the sexes and claimed that it causes children to be pushed into the inferior feminine position, resulting in the "masculine protest" in the case in which masculinity is not established enough and has to need to assert itself. Adler famously saw the problem of culture as the unlimited rein of manliness.

Such works in psychoanalysis, Connell says, effected theoretical works such as those of the Frankfurt School who saw masculinity as a type of authoritarianism. Simone de Beauvoir ("The Second Sex") applied existential psychoanalysis to feminism arguing that the woman is man's "other". Jaques Lacan influenced feminist thinking by rejecting masculinity as an empirical fact of Jungian archetype, and asserted that masculinity is a site in the array of symbolic social relations which is organized around the phallus.

In concluding psychoanalysis' contribution to the science of masculinity Connell holds that it gave us the ability to understand the structures and complexities of desire in relation to social relations, which naturally leads us to the social sciences. 

suggested reading:
Sexual Difference: Masculinity and Psychoanalysis