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
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.
Anyway, the point of all this is that the post-talk discussion was extremely lively. The issue of why there are more female leaders on the political right than on the left came up and there were ideas about people regressing in a crisis and needing the comfort of an authoritarian mum. I offered a theory about the right and left wing press. Having worked at both I found the left very elitist, Oxbridge, male and unfriendly, and the Murdoch camp full of diversity and fun. I wondered if the left is an ideology you have fully to espouse to be accepted, whereas capitalism has its own meritocracy that really doesn’t care about your genitalia or where you come from.
The next day I was forwarded an email from a man who’d been present. He sent his thoughts not to the female speaker, but to her male introducer. In it he said that I came from what he called “male money” (sadly not), that I had enjoyed the right-wing press because here were my people, white, wealthy and upper class (the opposite was true) and he declared me to be ignorant of left-wing politics (meh). Well, women are often so ill-informed, aren’t we? It’s our vaginas. One male microphone-holder at this event, as at so many others, found it hard to stop speaking (a young woman mightn’t have been so bold). And that was before another male audience member privately slagged off a female participant to the male panel member. Psychoanalysis is feminist. Men, less so.