.. ildly ungrateful. The conceptual tool that he has put into our hands is a revolutionary one. (Dinnerstein, 1976:xi) The aspect of Freudian theory that is most criticized by feminists is the emphasis on penis envy and the view that our lives must be determined by our anatomy. Many critics have pointed out that women have many anatomical features and capacities that men lack. Why should girls be the ones to envy and boys be the ones to fear loss? Boys might observe that only women have breasts; later, they learn that only women can bear children.
Why not “breast envy” or “womb envy”? Freud failed to look at the situation from the female perspective, and it is blatantly obvious in his beliefs on female development. There are large numbers of females and males who consider themselves to be students of Freudian theory. It must be understood however that just because they believe in and support most of the major principles that Freud chose to elaborate on, does not mean that they are without their own various arguments against some of his beliefs. Karen Horney (1885-1962) was a psychoanalyst and a student of Freud. She believed that Freuds theory of female psychosexual development reflected a deep male bias, and that it did not make sense to assume that a woman is mentally affected by a wish for attributes of the opposite sex. She also notes that what Freud described as characteristics of the “Masculinity Complex” (egocentric ambition, envy, and the desire for dictatorial power) are exhibited by neurotic men as well as neurotic women and therefore are not necessarily related to the envy of the penis. She points out that self-confidence of either sex is based on the development of a wide range of human characteristics: talent, initiative, erotic capacity, achievement, courage, and independence. It seems as though men feel the need to place the “inferiority” on the shoulders of women in an attempt to hide their own insecurities, and envies regarding female roles in reproduction and societal progression.
While the psychologists of today base their theories and ideas on the various studies done by others, Freud based his ideas primarily on the recollections of women who had consulted him for help. When he actually began to write about human sexuality and legitimize it as an up and coming field of study, Freud stated that women were indeed beings with sexual needs. He also suggested that the repression of sexual expression was a major cause of neurosis in women. His theories evolved out of his own personal interpretation of these womens underlying emotions and unconscious motives. While he believed women should express our sexuality, he also believed that our fulfillment could only come about in the form of a vaginal orgasm (distinct from the clitoral orgasm, which Freud considered “masculine” and “childish”) and the resulting bearing and nurturing of children. Although in many ways Freud began a “liberation of female sexuality,” his theories had certain stigmas attached which passed on yet another set of masculine standards against which women were to judge themselves.
Freud unsympathetically analyzed many women but none so in depth as an eighteen-year-old girl named Dora. He had treated Doras father for syphilis a few years before. The reason that Dora was brought for the consultation was a letter that her parents had found. The letter basically just said goodbye to her parents, and made clear that her intention was to take her own life. Her parents thought that she didnt really mean it, but were concerned enough to force her to see a doctor.
Other symptoms of apparent illness were: a “nervous cough”, a history of fainting spells, loss of voice, headaches, and depression that could be traced back to her early childhood. Freud diagnosed her collection of symptoms as a typical case of hysteria, and made it his business to figure out the cause. Freud was convinced that it was a deeply rooted leftover from her early sexuality. Freuds observation was that Dora was “tenderly attached” to her father. Her mother was the sort of woman who spent most of her time obsessively cleaning the house and performing other mindless and typical “female” activities. Dora was extremely critical of her mother and the two did not generally get along. Doras older brother sided with the mother in all of the arguments, and that left the family divided in a constant mother/son vs.
father/daughter confrontation. A governess had been part of the household and was very close with Dora until the girl began to suspect that the reason they got along so well was that the woman was trying to attract her father. Doras father told Freud that he believed he knew what had caused his daughters latest symptoms and the suicide note. The family had formed a close friendship with another married couple, Herr and Frau K. Frau K, and energetic and very attractive woman, had nursed Doras father through a long illness, and Herr K was very fond of Dora.
He took her on walks and bought her presents, and his wife acted as Doras confidant. She took on a role virtually like a mother figure for Dora (which was something that the child lacked while she was growing up). Two years before, Dora told her father that Herr K had made an indecent proposal to her while they were walking past a lake. She had slapped him in the face and had gone home alone. When confronted by her father, Herr K denied that the incident ever happened, and insisted that books with explicit sexual scenes had affected the girl, and that she had fanaticized the entire thing. The father was convinced by Herr Ks explanation and left it at that.
Dora continued to insist that he break off relations with the Ks, especially Frau K. Her father refused to do so on the grounds that Herr K was innocent and that his relationship with Frau K was completely non-sexual. Dora was convinced of two things: her father and Frau K had been having an affair for years, and Herr K had tried to seduce her. “I came to the conclusion that Doras story must correspond to the facts in every respect,” stated Freud in reference to Doras interpretation of reality. Analysis of her dreams was consistent with Freuds theory of the girls Oedipal love for her father.
He believed that Dora was reacting to her fathers affair with Frau K as if she were a wronged wife or a betrayed lover- as if she were the woman her father once loved, or the woman he now loved. Since she was neither, her reaction, which Freud interpreted as jealousy, was inappropriate. He also thought that her reaction to Herr Ks advances was “entirely and completely hysterical.” Dora had felt disgust as a reaction towards Herr K. Disgust is an “oral phenomenon”, and this along with her throat symptoms of coughing and loss of voice, led Freud to the absurd conclusion that her symptoms were related to her fantasies of her father and Frau K having oral intercourse. Although she denied it, Freud insisted that Dora was sexually attracted to Herr K as well.
Freud stated “Her feeling for him reflected both her feeling for her father and her feeling for Frau K. That is, she identified Herr K with her father, and herself with Frau K. Thus her attraction to Herr K was a recapitulation of her fathers love affair with Frau K.” Freud believed that the two men were involved in an unspoken conspiracy in which Dora was a pawn: her father would ignore Herr Ks attempted seductions of his daughter in exchange for Herr Ks pretend ignorance of his wifes affair with Doras father. Freud also knew the fathers motive for bringing Dora to see him. He wanted Freud to talk her out of believing that there was anything more than friendship between him and Frau K.
Dora was a young girl caught in a web of lies and betrayal, where she could not turn to anyone for help. Her parents were directly involved in deceiving her, and Freud was trying to brainwash her into thinking that it was her fault for feeling the way she did, and that it was all in her mind. Freud knew the real situation, yet he consistently hid the truth from Dora, and led her to believe that she had deeply rooted problems that started in her childhood. In reality, Dora was having a very normal reaction to the harsh truth of what her father was doing. Freuds treatment of Dora lasted for three months, until she abruptly terminated it, much to Freuds disappointment. Freud interpreted her unexpected termination of her therapy as evidence of his newly developed theory of transference.
This theory states that the patient transfers to the therapist old feelings and conflicts, which she once felt for people in her past, such as her mother and father. Freud believed that in the same way that she had transferred her love for her father to Herr K, she now transferred some of the same feelings towards Freud. But these feelings were positive and negative, and as a result of the treatment she received at the hands of Herr K and her father, she would take revenge on all of them by deserting Freud. Freud thought that Dora was saying, “Men are so detestable that I would rather not marry. This is my revenge.” Nearly a year and a half later, Dora revisited Freud for treatment of facial neuralgia.
Freud told her that her pain was a self-punishment for a “double crime”: the long-ago slap at Herr K when he had made advances toward her, and her revenge on Freud by terminating the treatment before it was completed. Freud never saw her again after that but in 1905, he published “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria,” better known as the case of Dora. Dora was not actually a hysterical patient. She was simply a young woman in shock due to her fathers affair, her constant fighting with her mother and brother, and the fact that a married man (who was also a friend of the family) was hitting on her and no one really believed it. Freud could have said to her “You are right, and they are wrong,” but instead, he chose to manipulate Doras mind and make her believe that the whole scene was a result of her childhood sexual insecurities. Freud related neurosis and hysteria in women to marriage and sexual frustration in most cases.
His explanation is vague and it seems as though he just tries to make it applicable to the entire gender in any situation. Under the cultural conditions of today, marriage has long ceased to be a panacea for the nervous troubles of women; and if we doctors still advise marriage in such cases, we are nevertheless aware that, on the contrary a girl must be very healthy if she is able to tolerate it…On the contrary, the cure for nervous illness arising form marriage, would be marital unfaithfulness. But the more strictly a woman has been brought up and the more sternly she has submitted to the demands of civilization, the more she is afraid of taking this way out; and in the conflict between her desires and her sense of duty, she once more seeks refuge in neurosis. -Freud, 1976a, p.195 Evidence shows that men and women in extreme cases have the same degree of neurosis and hysteria as a result of marriage and sexual frustration. The symptoms are the same regardless of gender. Freud was extremely presumptuous when it came to drawing conclusions about women.
For example, Freud said “One might consider characterizing femininity psychologically as giving preference to passive aims..It is perhaps the case that in a woman, on the basis of her share in the sexual function, a preference for passive behavior and passive aims is carried over into her life..” He is assuming that a womans role in the sexual function is a passive one. It seems to me that the males have the passive role in this situation considering that it is the woman who carries and gives birth to babies. Feminists who have been arguing against Freudian theory for many years all come to the same basic conclusion about his philosophies on women: Freud was greatly influenced by the societal norms of his time, and that factor had a great impact on his theories about womens roles. Since the days of Sigmund Freud, our society has progressed a great deal, and women have been gradually accepted as more than the property of their husbands. It is the freedom to decide her own destiny; freedom from sex-determined role; freedom from societys oppressive restrictions; freedom to express her thoughts fully and to convert them freely into action.
Feminism demands the acceptance of womans right to individual conscience and judgment. It postulates that womens essential worth stems from her common humanity and does not depend on the other relationships of her life. During the nineteenth century, feminism was virtually non-existent, and the beliefs of Freud and other great minds were just accepted as fact. The stereotypical role of women as passive caretakers of the home and of children that existed throughout Freuds lifetime, is gradually diminishing and women are gaining social status as well as respect from the men who at one time were out oppressors. The feminist movement has played a huge role in changing the opinions of many people that carried with them the same philosophies as Freud in regards to women and their capabilities as humans.
This narrow-minded nature only succeeded in making women more and more determined to prove their “worth” to members of the opposite sex. Although Freud was leading the pack of male chauvinists in the late nineteenth century he has since been overpowered by females that are no longer afraid to say what they feel or act on their impulses. Bibliography Bell Hooks; Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. c.1984 by bell hooks; South End Press 2) Freud, Sigmund; “Femininity” from Juanita H. Williams, ed. Psychology of Women.
NY: W.W. Norton, 1979 3) Hunter College Womens Studies Collective; Womens Realities, Womens Choices NY: Oxford University Press, 1983 4) Smithsonian World; Gender: The Enduring Paradox NYC: UNAPIX Entertainment Inc., 1996 5) Williams, Juanita H.; Psychology of Women NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.