“I’m Not a Feminist, But . . .”: Psychoanalytic Feminism

We hear people say this all of the time, and yet they often go on to express “feminist” ideas and could identify as a feminist. There are many reasons why people distance themselves from the feminist movement. I can’t possibly explain or guess them all. But I can explain the different types of feminism according to Rosemarie Tong’s book Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction (2009). There are many types of feminism, and we know that “all feminists do not think alike” (p. 1). However, labeling different schools of thought help us to “mark the range of different approaches, perspectives, and frameworks a variety of feminists have used to shape both their explanations for women’s oppression and their proposed solutions for its elimination” (p. 1).

This series will outline and define the many feminisms. Maybe you’ll be able to identify where you agree and disagree with feminist thought.

feminist thought cover

Today’s focus is Psychoanalytic Feminism. (Last week I posted about Marxist and Socialist Feminism.)

All feminist theories are interested in getting at the cause and solutions of women’s oppression. Psychoanalytic feminism sees the answer in the psyche. Freud’s stages of development and ultimate conclusions suggested that women had penis envy and suffered from a lack of being male. Psychoanalytic feminists dispute this and tend to base their theories off of where Freud went wrong. Many of them also focus on Lacan, taking parts of his work and adjusting it to make more sense for women.

Three early feminists that critiqued Freud were Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, and Clara Thompson. Adler surmised that “men and women are fundamentally the same because all human beings are born helpless” (p. 136). He believed that women could heal themselves and that “patriarchal society is sick” (p. 136). Horney emphasized environmental influences on women and saw “women’s feelings of inferiority” as coming from “women’s realization of their social subordination” (p. 137). Thompson focused on “women’s guilt, inferiority, and self-hatred” as not biological but “society’s interpretation of these facts” (p. 137).

Dinnerstein and Chodorow also focused on Freud to develop theories. Ultimately, they focused on dual parenting as one solution. According to Dinnerstein, “[D]ual parenting would enable us to stop projecting our ambivalence about carnality and mortality onto one parent . . .[,] overcome our ambivalence about growing up . . . [,] overcome our ambivalence toward the existence of other separate beings . . . [,] [and] help us overcome our ambivalence about enterprise” (p. 142-43). Other theorists criticized the dual parenting idea for “failing to explain it in terms of differently-structured [sic] families” (p. 146).

Feminist theorists who focus on a Lacanian perspective include Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Irigaray suggested that women create a female language and a female sexuality (p. 156-57). She also promoted miming “the mimes men have imposed on women” (p. 157). This included taking “men’s images of women and reflect[ing] them back to men in magnified proportions” (p. 157). Kristeva focused on difference in general and saw value in refusing both extremes. “[A]void both total father-identification and total mother-identification” p. 161).

I like the idea of dual parenting for my own household. I think my husband and I do it pretty well, but I feel guilty much of the time. I feel a lot of pressure from culture in general to be a certain kind of mother.

Some of the questions that came up for me while reading about this type of feminism follow. Are women treated as any less hysterical when it comes to some of the sexual issues faced, such as rape or sexual harassment? How about mental illness? How do we change this false view of women, despite the fact that the term “hysterical” isn’t necessarily used medically anymore?

Next week I’ll post about Care-Focused Feminism.