Gender, Emotion, and the Family

By Leslie Brody | Go to book overview

8
Gender Identification and
De-identification in the Family

I see my son as very much like me. When he was younger, 90 percent of the time I could predict what he was thinking, what he was going to say. And it would happen. My wife would be amazed.

—Bill, age 39

My son is who he is and I see him as separate from myself. Which is a wonderment and a joy to me. To see a separate individual, who is capable of different reactions than I have in some situations, I love that. He's being his own person.

—Elizabeth, Bill's wife, age 38, interviewed separately

I really don't want to be strong. I don't want to be big and have muscles.

—Sophie, age 7

In this chapter, I will evaluate the intriguing idea proposed by feminist psychoanalytic theorists such as Chodorow (1978) and Fast (1984), that the development of emotional functioning differs for sons and daughters because primary caretakers are most often women. Same-sex identification is theorized to be especially characteristic of and formative for mother-daughter relationships. And, conversely, mothers and their sons may de-identify with each other, with sons attempting to become dissimilar from their mothers as a way of consolidating or maintaining their gender role identities. For boys, differentness from their mothers is theorized to be critical in establishing a masculine, "other" identity, while sameness with mothers threatens this (Fast 1984).

The most striking and counter-intuitive implication of this theory is that even if mothers behaved in similar ways toward their sons and daughters, the sons and daughters themselves might actually respond

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