Freud’s lecture on femininity struck me as upsettingly sexist. His sentiments are obviously unwelcoming, and often antithetical, to the notion of gender-as-spectrum that is so central to the discourse of today, and so it was difficult for me not to wince at his reliance on the now-obsolete gender binary. I understand that Freud is the founder of psychoanalysis and that psychoanalysis relies, then, on the patriarchal gender structure that defines society. I understand that the reality of patriarchy does in fact influence every aspect of the feminine psyche. As a woman with an intense degree of familiarity with her own psyche — or maybe not — I felt deeply uncomfortable reading about the Oedipus complex. I have a conviction that the extension of the Oedipus complex to the female psyche shows more about Freud’s efforts to stretch his theory across the gender divide and less about the workings of the female psyche itself.
Not only does Freud focus intently on expanding the theory he has developed about the male psyche to the other side of the gender binary, he also relies on His statements that “A mother is only brought unlimited satisfaction by her relationship to her son” and “A marriage is not made secure until the wife has succeeded in making her husband her child” were difficult, to say the least. He seems insistent that the repetition of the family structure and the importance of parental influence in shaping the child’s psyche engender a repeated pattern in the psyches of individuals, stemming from parental influence. This is just one part of his theory that seems too specific to be generalized to all humans, all families — another way in which I struggle with Freud.
Mulvey offers a powerful feminist take on Freud’s theories of femininity. While she acknowledges “a beauty in its exact rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order,” she also outlines the missing parts of Freud’s theory and of psychoanalytic theory in general (for example: the vagina). Her relation of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to the cinema (and the erotic spectacle and pleasure derived from looking) is also fascinating, but perhaps it’s tangential to the themes I’m dwelling on.
“Dissection of the Psychical Personality” defines the id, ego and super-ego and the ways in which the ego and super-ego place checks on the id. Freud proclaims that the aim of psychoanalysis is to subdue the id and increase the influence of the ego so that neurotic anxieties and symptoms disappear or are lessened. I found this reading easier to digest.