Freudians and Feminists

Freudians and Feminists

Freudians and Feminists

Freudians and Feminists

Excerpt

In this book I trace the ambivalent relation between psychoanalysis and feminism, which has existed almost from the beginning, when Freud's thought promised, among other things, to help emancipate women. Subsequently, the two movements, together or in opposition, were among the most dynamic mainsprings of modern society. But as their theoretical underpinnings matured in response to intellectual questions and their communities clamored for political guidance, they evolved along national and local lines. Here, I address primarily their American trajectory. But in order to highlight specific cultural influences, I also go into relevant French theories and German practices. Thereby, I expect to alert my readers to some of the taken-for-granted and parochial assumptions about Freud's ideas and thus to indicate different theoretical paths and reinvigorate debates that have turned unnecessarily stale.

The speculative nature of psychoanalysis itself legitimates its proponents' and opponents' flights of fancy, the confusions between reality and fantasy and between scientific and therapeutic explanations of psychological phenomena. The political nature of feminism justifies the often hyperbolic calls for active involvement and the consequent exaggerations of women's psychological dilemmas in order to score points and achieve political ends. Although psychoanalysis and feminism function in different spheres, the psychoanalytic views of a few women gave feminism inordinate boosts whenever their insights into psychic mechanisms freed women to compete in political arenas. Feminist advances, however, have not directly bolstered the psychoanalytic movement. Yet the two activities have grown up like a pair of Siamese twins, unable to exist apart from each other for long--progressing, regressing, or treading water almost in tandem.

I perceive feminism as women's demand for equal rights with men in all economic, political, social, and personal spheres. And I am convinced that these ends can be furthered with the help of insights from Freudian theories. However, I have serious doubts that elaborating on feminist theories that have been adapted from earlier French formulations and that in recent years have found their niche in American universities will ultimately benefit the majority of women. Thus I argue that the straightforward feminism of the First Wave--which, among other . . .

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