Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

By Sharlene Hesse-Biber; Christina Gilmartin et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
The Psychomorphology of the Clitoris

VALERIE TRAUB

We have long realized that in women the development of sexuality is complicated by the task of renouncing that genital zone which was originally the principal one, namely, the clitoris, in favour of a new zone -- the vagina. Sigmund Freud, "Female Sexuality"

Freud considered the clitoris a problem. From Anne Koedt's early feminist critique, "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm," to Thomas Laqueur "Amor Veneris, Vel Dulcedo Appeletur," critics have elucidated the strategies whereby Freud attempted to reconcile women's physiology with a heterosexual imperative. His theory -- that in the oedipal phase the female child must renounce clitoral stimulation in favor of vaginal penetration -- secures phallic privilege by imposing a cultural solution on what he deemed a biological "problem." Such psychosexual adaptation is enabled by Freud's equation between the clitoris and the penis, an equivalence that simultaneously is physiological (the clitoris and penis are analogous in structure and function), psychological (both indicate an active masculine aim), and metaphorical (during the infantile "phallic" stage, "the little girl is a little man": "Femininity" 104).

For Freud, the clitoris also is linked inextricably to "lesbianism." Female resistance to forgoing pleasure in the clitoris is associated with an inability to replace the first object of desire, the mother, with the more proper object, the father. Just as vaginal satisfaction is the developmental sign of mature heterosexuality, clitoral attachment is the symptom of a recalcitrant, immature homoerotic desire. Retrospectively, every woman moves through a psychosexual stage in which her clitoris threatens fixation on homoerotic objects; "lesbians" fail to follow the dictates of culture, narcissistically remaining attached to "anatomy" and "mother" and projecting their envy of the male organ onto their own "phallic" genitality. A system of equivalences, whereby the penis=the clitoris= lesbianism=penis envy, sets up a smooth continuity among terms, the effect of which is a transposition of bodily organs by psychic states. The enclosed circu-

Valerie Traub, "The Psychomorphology of the Clitoris," GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 2 ( 1995):81-113. Reprinted by permission. Editors' note: The reference list for this chapter was culled from the bibliography for the original volume of GLQ.

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