Feminism and the Oedipus complex

Feminism and the Oedipus complex

The Freudian Oedipus Complex explains the attraction of the child to the parent of the opposite sex and the unconscious consequences of this attraction, and addresses the question of the same sex identification and animosity. Classical Freudian psychoanalysis posits that because women lack the visible genitals of the male, they feel they are "missing" the most central central necessary for gaining narcissistic value, and therefore they develop a sense of gender inequality and penis envy. Thus, the girl child develops an Electra complex, where she envies her father and hates her mother. In his late theory on the feminine Freud recognized the early and long lasting libidinal attachment of the daughter to the mother during the pre-oedipal stages. Working with children, Melanie Klein has claimed that the features that classically characterize the Oedipus Complex appear in fact at a very early stage. For Jacques Lacan the Oedipus Complex is not a developmental stage but rather a psychic structure involving the subject, the mother, the father and the Phallus as an organizing principle. Feminist psychoanalysts have often struggled with the concept of the Oedipus Complex and the significance of the real, imaginary and symbolic phallus, and have reached different conclusions about it. Some generally agree with Freud's major outlines, making only a few modifications to it while mainly contributing to pre-Oedipal thinking. Others, however, reformulate Freud's theories more rigorously, which is leading to entirely new insights.

Hélène Deutsch

Hélène Deutsch (1884-1982) was one of Freud's first female pupils and the first analyst who made an integral, chronological study of woman's psychological development. Deutsch's work challenges Freud's idea of the Oedipus complex, though not radically. With some other early psychoanalysts Deutsch sees the female development as exceedingly difficult and tortuous, because at some point she must transfer her primary sexual object choice from her mother and females to her father and males, if she is to attain her expected heterosexual adulthood. [ Juschka, D.M. “Feminism in the Study of Religion”, pp.88. ] According to Deutsch, the girl blames her father, not her mother, for the lack of a penis; thus, she stops identifying with her father and masculinity. Because of this relationship with her father, she develops libidinous fantasies of being raped. Thus, according to Deutsch, the rape fantasy is universal and non-pathological, a key part of female sexuality. Meanwhile, the girl identifies herself with her mother through the wish for an ‘anal child’. When she recognizes her failure, a decline to the pre-genital stage takes place: a wish for the earlier active (phallic) clitoris. Then masochistic tensions in the girl prevail, she longs to be castrated by her father. Also the desire for a child becomes masochistic, in connection with the girl's fantasies of castration. In short: Deutsch claims that women have a passive-masochistic sexuality, they are born for reproduction and their development must be seen as different from the development of men. [ Fischer, "Psychoanalyse en vrouwelijke seksualiteit", pp.103.]

Nancy Chodorow

Nancy Chodorow, an American psychoanalyst (b. 1944) noted that Freud assumes that males possess physical superiority and that a woman’s personality is inevitably determined by her lack of a penis. Like Freud, but for different reasons, Chodorow emphasizes that the female Oedipal crisis is not resolved in the absolute way that the male crisis is. She states that a girl cannot and does not completely reject her mother in favour of men, but continues her relationship of dependence upon and attachment to her. In addition, the strength and quality of her relationship with her father are completely dependent upon the strength and quality of her relationship with her mother. According to Chodorow, men’s heterosexuality grows directly out of their early primary attachment to their mother. Chodorow also claims that most women are also genitally heterosexual, but they have at the same time other sorts of equally deep relationships with their children and with other women, as a result of the primary relationship with the mother [Chorodow, "Family structure and feminine personality", pp.87-89] . In sum, a girl represses neither her pre-Oedipal nor her Oedipal attachment to her mother nor her Oedipal attachment to her father. This means that she grows up with more ongoing preoccupation with internalized object relationships and with external relationships as well. Because a girl does not have to repress her pre-Oedipal and Oedipal attachment to father and mother, she reaches a more relational sensibility than boys. Chodorow illustrated this with studies showing that men love and fall in love romantically, where women love and fall in love sensibly and rationally [Chorodow, "Feminism and psychoanalytic theory", pp.73-74] .

Luce Irigaray

In Freud's model there is no place for femininity unless it is related to masculinity. In Freud's view, there is one true sexual organ and that is the penis. The early Lacan replaces the significance of the penis with the privilege of the phallus. The late Lacan emphasizes feminine pleasure that escapes the domain of the phallus. [Lacan, "Encore: On Feminine Sexuality"] Luce Irigaray, a student of Jacques Lacan, disagrees with the thoughts about the importance of the penis and the phallus for women and says that there is more to woman than a lack of a penis. [Irigaray, "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un", pp.73] She hypothesizes that the reason the penis is privileged in Freud’s model is that it is visible. According to Irigaray, this is also the reason that male sexuality is based, for the early Lacan on having (a penis) and female sexuality is based on lack. In Freud’s paradigm, female desire is the desire for a baby to fill the lack of a penis as is described in the Oedipus complex. Freud says that female pleasure can be found in reproduction. The only way for a woman to fulfill sexual desire is through having a child, because a child is a substitute for a penis. [Irigaray, "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un", pp.57,34] Irigaray disagrees: ”How can we accept that the entire female sexuality is being controlled by the lack and envy of the penis?” [Irigaray, "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un", pp.58] She believes that female sexual desire should be differentiated from reproduction because it is not related. [Irigaray, "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un", pp.59] Freuds’ hypothesis that the penis derives its value on the fact that it is the sexual organ is rejected by Irigaray. She believes that the feminine sexual organ is just as important in reproduction as the penis. Furthermore, she says that Freud is forgetting the mother-daughter relationship [Irigaray, "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un", pp.119] . To enter the Oedipus-complex, a girl must hate her mother. Irigaray says this view makes it impossible for a girl to give meaning to the relationship with her mother [Irigaray, "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un", pp.120] .

See also

*Jessica Benjamin
*Dorothy Dinnerstein
*Francoise Dolto
*Anna Freud
*Karen Horney
*Melanie Klein
*Julia Kristeva
*Jacques Lacan
*Joyce McDougall
*Juliet Mitchell
*Griselda Pollock
*Joan Riviere
*Gender inequality
*Feminist theory



*Benjamin, J., (1995). "Like Subject, Love Objects". Yale University Press.
*Bornheimer, C. & Kahane, C., (1985). "In Dora's Case". London: Virago Press.
*Chorodow, N.J. (2001). "Family structure and feminine personality" In Juschka, D.M., "Feminism in the study of religion". London and New York: Continuum.
*Chorodow, N.J., (1989). "Feminism and psychoanalytic theory". Cambridge: Polity Press.
*Chorodow, N.J., (1978). "The reproduction of Mothering". University of California press.
*Fischer, A., Van Hoorn, W., Jansz, J. (1983). "Psychoanalyse en vrouwelijke seksualiteit". Uitgeverij Boom, Meppel en Amsterdam.
*Freud, S., (1931). "Female Sexuality". The Standard Edition of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogath, 1961.
*Horney, K., (1951). "Neurosis and Human Growth". London: Routledge.
*Horney, K., (1922-37). "Feminine psychology". NY: Norton. 1967.
*Irigaray, L., (1984). Dit geslacht dat niet (één) is. translation of: "Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un". Parijs: Minuit.
*Irigaray, L., (1974). "Speculum of the Other Woman". 1985. Cornell University Press.
*Irigaray, L., (2004). "Key Writings". NY: Continuum.
*Irigaray, L., (1993). "Sexes and Genealogies". Columbia University Press.
*Kristeva, J., (1982). "The Powers of Horror". Columbia University Press.
*Lacan, J. (1973). "Encore: On Feminine Sexuality". NY: Norton & Company, 1998.
*Mitchell, J. and Rose, J., (1982). "Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne, Feminine Sexuality". NY: Pantheon.
*"Parallax" n. 8. Special issue on Julia Kristeva. Issue n. 8 [Vol. 4(3)] .
*Paris, B.J., (1994). "Karen Horney. A psychoanalyst’s search for self-understanding". New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
*Pollock, G., (2006). "Beyond Oedipus. Feminist Thought, Psychoanalysis, and Mythical Figurations of the Feminine." In: "Laughing with Medusa". Eds. Zajko, V. & and Leonard, M., Oxford University Press.
*Riviere, J. "Womanliness as masquerade", "International Journal of Psychoanalysis" n.10, 1929.

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