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Publications: Book Reviews
Review of Psychoanalysis and Women (The Annual of Psychoanalysis, #32)


Title: Psychoanalysis and Women (The Annual of Psychoanalysis, #32)
Author: Winer, Jerome A., James William Anderson and Christine C. Kieffer (Editors)
Publisher: Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 2005
Reviewed By: Martha Temple, Fall 2005, pp. 66-68

In this absorbing volume for the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society, the editors have brought together papers that suggest the scope and depth of the history of women in psychoanalysis—as founders, patients, analysts, theoreticians—from its beginnings to today, in Europe and the US, and across orientations. The editors’ fine introduction summarizes the contributions of these papers to the larger themes of this history, and concludes with thoughts of their own on the essays they have brought together. Among the authors, to name a few of the more widely known, are Jessica Benjamin, Julia Kristeva, Lynne Layton, Ulrike May, Malkah Notman, and Elizabeth Young-Bruehl. In powerful essays that physically and metaphorically center the volume, Nancy Chodorow and Carol Gilligan recount their own development beginning in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, years of immense change for women in the US, as their clear-eyed observation and thought revolutionized thinking about gender.

The editors divide the volume into four sections, each presenting a perspective on their subject. The first section, “Psychology of Women: Clinical,” offers two case studies, one by Joyce McDougall and the other by Lynne Layton. The second, “Psychology of Women: Theoretical,” comprises four essays, by Jessica Benjamin, Julia Kristeva, Christine C. Kieffer, and Ethel Specter Person. The third, “Psychoanalysis and Women: Personal Narratives” contains Nancy Chodorow’s and Carol Gilligan’s papers, together with reflections by Brenda Solomon and Malkah Notman. In this way, the historical time implicit in the clinical on the one hand, and theoretical on the other, are made explicit in the autobiographical accounts of two formative thinkers, Chodorow and Gilligan, and two, Solomon and Notman, whose role was more instrumental.

Finally, the section “Women who Shaped Psychoanalysis” offers historical papers. Marian Tolpin writes on “Dora” and the analysts Helene Deutsch and Anna Freud; Elizabeth Young-Bruehl reflects on the friendship and collaboration of Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham in founding parent-infant observation studies. Erika Schmidt describes the quiet role of Therese Benedek in Chicago, in shaping psychoanalysis from within. Michael Schröter, Elke Mühlleitner and Ulrike May describe the coming of age of Edith Jacobson in Germany. The volume closes with Linda B. Hopkins’ personal and analytic reflections on her interview of Marion Milner at 96, in the closing years of the troubled and astonishing century just past.

This volume is rich with history, insight and thought. In this brief review I touch on only some of the papers and themes, hoping that what has caught my attention will pique the curiosity of other readers, who will discover much else to relish. The volume’s opening clinical paper introduces the intertwined themes of generativity and death and the transmission of family meanings through generations, and subtly acknowledges the shadow of the Holocaust in all our work. In this case study, Joyce McDougall conveys her patient’s pain and terror and shows the connections among self and body-self, birth and death, isolation, hope that more resembles fear and despair, the incarnation of death through generations. Her paper traces a fierce, courageous relationship between two women, this analyst and this patient who construes her cancer as her fate. They engage each other through the meaning of the patient’s mutilating treatments to her subjective sense of identity, her isolation and loss, bodily self-loathing; the revelation of ties to parents and (potential) children, and ultimately the possibility of failure to find any meaning to her life. The themes introduced in this jarring, painful and beautiful paper continue to be heard as context and subtext for the remaining papers.

Lynne Layton’s paper, “Relational No More: Defensive Autonomy in Middle-Class Women,” uses clinical and experiential data to challenge the construction of women’s experience as essentially relational as against the aspirational and defensive autonomy ascribed to men. She lays claim to Frankfurt School models, which “center on the damage done by capitalism to capacities for relatedness and autonomy,” and recaps Benjamin’s and her own previous work on narcissistic relating and the concept of a normative unconscious, which, she argues, gives rise to theories and practices that “maintain such splits as black/white, straight/gay, masculine/feminine. . . . it becomes very difficult to be, for example both dependent and independent, assertive and loving, feminine and competent” (p. 32). In the “theories enacted in the gendered hierarchies of our culture,” she charges, psychoanalysis has often colluded.

Layton urges a psychoanalytic stance that fully takes into account these enactments on personal and cultural levels. She offers the clinical case history of an upper-middle class professional woman, who—as Layton’s students had observed in their own lives—identifies with her father’s defensive autonomy, finds relational intimacy a profound challenge, and minimizes or denigrates what she grew up regarding as feminine. Layton states her position that clinical work complements collective social action by helping the individual reintegrate what has been repudiated, and argues that “it is one of the only cultural discourses that does not denigrate or deny dependency.” She goes on, “Indeed, I would argue that the cultural contempt for dependency is perhaps the central symptom of both male and female narcissistic personality disorder” (p. 40).

Jessica Benjamin’s paper leads off the second section of the volume, theoretical explorations of the psychology of women. Benjamin takes up the thread of splitting that results in “the complementarity of gender,” and deconstructs Freud’s interpretation of femininity as the turn towards a passive attitude, which she ascribes to the projection onto women of the oedipal attitude of the boy. She contends that femininity and masculinity are co-constructed “in the same moment, for the same purpose” (p. 45): that is, to solve the problem of excess. Splitting serves as “a defensive route to self-regulation of arousal and affect” in the intersubjective context of child and parent (p. 53). She closes with an appeal that is also an observation of social shifts in the present: “the recognition of pain and vulnerability . . . offers a release: a letting go of the destructive illusion of the phallic contract (in which girls and women ‘agree’ to be nothing more than the passive containers of erotic charge, and men nothing more than its defensively active ‘owner’), which prescribes stoic loneliness and denial. In our generation, she says, we have only raised the question of “what and if femininity will be when it is no longer constructed as a container for what cannot be borne” and offers the hope that this is a question “we psychoanalysts might be fortunate enough to someday begin to answer” (p. 55).

Several of the papers in this volume engage the century-long dialogue over a construction of femininity founded on lack, envy, and passivity (and a correspondingly constricted view of masculinity). In a brilliant and densely argued paper, “Some Observations on Female Sexuality,” Julia Kristeva takes on this issue in the context of Lacan’s insistence on phallic supremacy as structure and law, and Freud’s description of a “Minoan-Mycenaean” stage of infant development that is prior to the oedipal phase and characterized by bonds between infant and mother which he supposed inaccessible to analysis. She argues that what she calls the “primary oedipal phase” from birth to the third year defines the female, in both girls and boys, as a “cavernous receptivity.” For both sexes, the mutual seduction by and of the mother (and through her the father) she describes as both aggressive (involving both penile and clitoral arousal and action) and actively receptive. Because of differences in the intensity of penile and clitoral arousal, she argues, this phase is more pervasively homoerotic for the girl, and involves the girl’s introjection of the mother, converting receptivity to the mother/father into a representation of her. This constitutes a step in psychization for which the boy has a parallel only in the “secondary oedipal phase.” She traces the risks to the developing girl, and proposes that by successfully navigating them the woman achieves a maturity in which she “is able to encounter her child not as a phallic or narcissistic substitute . . . but as the real presence of the other, perhaps for the first time, unless it is the only possible one, and with which civilization begins as a totality of connections based no longer on Eros but in its sublimation of Agape” (p. 66). Kristeva remarks, with other authors in the volume, on the Freudian assumption that such a moral achievement is, in men, a sublimation of Eros in the service of civilization and separate from the work of the family, and she asks, “Had he perhaps not analyzed the experience of motherhood enough” (p. 67)? She concludes:

This woman . . . has metabolized the cavernous receptivity of theprimary oedipal phase into a psychic depth: this is the female. She is aware, however, of the femininity that knows how to pretend in order to protect itself from the female, by excelling in seduction and even in masculine competition. What we perceive as a harmonious female personality is one that manages to create a coexistence between femaleness and femininity, receptivity and seduction, accommodation and performance. . . This calm polyphony of flexible connections confers a peaceful social and historical existence on the lacunar female of the origins” (p. 67, emphasis hers).

Christine C. Kieffer offers a self-psychological reappraisal of the oedipal situation and the meanings of “oedipal victory” for the young girl. Kieffer explores the significance of Benjamin’s theories of mutuality and recognition for father-daughter relationships in which the daughter is the oedipal victor, the father over-present in her life, and identified with a mother “denigrated by the role she plays in the family dynamics” (p. 74). Kieffer’s concern is that the favored daughter may “receive a high level of what may resemble ‘recognition’ in Benjamin’s sense of the word, but which, in reality, occurs in a part-object context” of the father’s defensive maneuvers promoting differentiation from mother and women in general (p. 77). In father-daughter relationships in which the daughter’s role is to mirror her father, her own autonomous development is sacrificed. Kieffer contends that while Benjamin’s current theory “unnecessarily eroticizes selfobject needs and continues to pathologize dependency . . . self psychology can be enriched by integrating [Benjamin’s] notions of mutuality and recognition of the other into its theory of optimal self-development” (p. 79).

Ethel Spector Person takes a culturalist point of view to highlight mutual influences in the fantasy narratives of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straights, and recounts how these fantasies changed both psychoanalytic theory and the lives of women. “While some shared cultural fantasies simply reflect mainstream values,” she notes, “some . . . can be subtly subversive of traditional values” (p. 82). She reminds us of the pervasive and crippling denials and anxieties laid upon women and gays in their private and public lives in the constricted mores prior to the 1960’s in order to retrace the contributions of the civil rights and liberation movements to heterosexual women, feminists and non-feminists alike.

Having grown up in the 50’s, I experienced this paper as a romp through the history and cultural figures of my young womanhood. Person is right: we idealized the figures she summons, and absorbed them as possibilities not only for strongly charged sexuality but for living. In contrast to Freud’s linking the roles of fantasy for women and men to biological difference, Person underlines the significance of the way in which real-life fantasies delinked “power, powerlessness, agency and passivity” (p. 97) from masculinity and femininity. She reminds us that gender is not to be understood as biological only but must also be analyzed within “the additional framework of a psychoanalytic theory of power” (p. 97).

A long, generous and penetrating paper by Nancy Chodorow opens the section on personal narratives. Chodorow reviews her achievements and acknowledges failures of insight as she reports the trajectory of her own theoretical and personal development. She rightly credits herself with a stance of “making problematic the heretofore unnoticed and taken-for-granted” (p. 115). Against the background of existing and current social changes and with credit to Benjamin and other current thinkers, she shows how she built her argument in The Reproduction of Mothering, first published in 1978 (Berkeley: University of California Press) from the revolutionary observation with which she begins it, “Women mother.” With this statement she launched her case for the subjectivity of women, insisting that women were full subjects of their own and their children’s development, not merely, from the infant’s point of view, as object and part-object, container, and holding environment, processor of the child’s anguish through reverie. She wryly acknowledges times when she was intemperate or dismissive and how her omissions have come back to haunt her through students or patients. She mentions that other women chided her in those years for her “masculine” stance: I hear this as commentary on the call for liberating “masculine” and “feminine” from the biologically and culturally male and female.

Carol Gilligan presents a moving account of her own journey, “Recovering Psyche: Reflections on Life-History and History.” A vigorous, articulate and passionate observer of what the current paradigms of our science did not notice, with a stance and voice in many respects complementary to Chodorow’s, Gilligan also occupies a central place of honor in this volume, as she does in the history of women and psychoanalysis for her foundational 1982 book, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). She brings her account to the present by echoing the question raised by a conference participant, why the patriarchal system of silenced inner voices happened and why it continues to be perpetuated by the actions of both women and men. She suggests that, for all of us, it is a tremendous challenge to question the sacrifice. Women privilege tragedy: in Linklater’s and Gilligan’s workshops, she says, “I observed that the hardest place for women to go was joy” (p. 145), because, she suggests, it takes us to a time prior to loss, and sets the loss ahead of us. Yet it is crucial for therapists, parents and teachers to challenge the sacrifices: “I think we have to understand what’s at stake at this moment. The move to reinstate or shore up patriarchal conceptions of manhood is costly for both men and women. It compromises the hope for more democratic ways of living; it comes at the price of giving up what we know and want” (p. 145).

In the production of the volume, some typographical problems, while minor, were nevertheless distracting. For example, lines including em- or en-dashes often overlapped other characters or misplaced them. I was struck by the distinctive individuality of the voices in this collection. The co-presence of these strong, thoughtful essays constitutes a dialogue of great value to our field. It is exciting to call to mind how recently and how deeply the paradigms of our science have been revolutionized, to the great benefit of all our genders.

Martha Temple is in independent practice in Summit, NJ. She is a Member-at-Large of the Board of Section III, Women, Gender and Psychoanalysis.


© Division of Psychoanalysis, 1999-2005
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