The discipline runs into trouble with Freud on feminine sexuality, but personally, I sense a truth in his thinkingby Anna Blundy / July 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Oh, hallowed halls of the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Bronze busts peer down from plinths, trainees skulk beneath clutching their wine glasses sweatily, and those who feel assured of joining the bronzes in the not too distant future smile benignly with an air of infinite wisdom. There are crisps. It’s a seminar on psychoanalysis and feminism and renowned psychoanalysts of both sexes swell the audience. The rest of us are there too. The speaker is introduced by a man, a fellow analyst. She begins. On the one hand, psychoanalysis is famously egalitarian and lots of the most important thinkers in the field have been female from Freud’s time onwards, most notably Melanie Klein, whose (terrifying) work still dominates the profession.
On the other hand, psychoanalysis runs into trouble with feminism, starting with Freud on feminine sexuality (penis envy etc.), the suggestion that he was a patriarch of his time and the subsequent emphasis on the mother-infant relationship. The old psychoanalytic joke “if it’s not one thing it’s your mother” reinforces the idea of blame and guilt for mothers the world over.
Personally, I don’t mind Freud’s thoughts on female sexuality and (now controversially) sense a truth in penis envy. I’d also say that examination of the mother-child dyad involves truth and understanding rather than blame. A robust mother knows she’s “good enough” (a phrase of Donald Winnicott’s) but not perfect.