Essay, Research Paper: Freud


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Sigmund Freud was the first of six children to be born into his middle class,
Jewish family. His father was a wool merchant, and was the provider for the
family. From the time Freud was a child, he pondered theories in math, science,
and philosophy, but in his teens, he took a deep interest in what he later
called psychoanalysis. He wanted to discover how a person’s mind works, so he
began to explore the conscious and unconscious parts of one’s psyche.
Freud’s parents and siblings were directly involved in allowing him to pursue
this unexplored area of psychology. He was given his own room so that he could
study his books in silence, and was only disturbed when it was time to eat.
Freud eventually married Martha Bernays. She was cooperative and completely
subservient to her husband. She was simply filling a role that the society
during that time insisted was proper for all women. Freud himself derived his
attitudes toward women and his beliefs about the roles of individual sexes from
personal experiences in the strict culture of the time. In the middle to late
eighteen hundreds, Central European society distinguished clearly between the
roles of men and women. Cultural norms dictated that men be responsible for work
outside of the home, and the financial well being of the family, while the
women’s responsibilities were in the home and with the children. With these
specific gender roles came the assumption of male dominance and female
submission. Females were pictured as serene, calm, creatures that were lucky to
have the love and protection of their superior husbands. It is in this form of
the family where most children first learn the meaning and practice of
hierarchical, authoritarian rule. Here is where they learn to accept group
oppression against themselves as non-adults, and where they learn to accept male
supremacy and the group oppression of women. Here is where they learn that it is
the male’s role to work in the community and control the economic life of the
family and to mete out the physical and financial punishments and rewards, and
the female’s role to provide the emotional warmth associated with motherhood
while under the economic rule of the male. Here is where the relationship of
superordination-subordination, or superior-inferior, or master-slave is first
learned and accepted as "natural." -John Hodge: Feminist Theory P.36
Philosophical definitions of women, written about by male philosophers, share
warped views that were the result of the cultural times and places from which
they originated. The view that women are somewhat "less" than men in
many respects, began with the philosophies of Aristotle in the fourth century
BC. Since Aristotle was one of the most influential philosophers of ancient
Greece, he had a widespread impact on the thinking of many people. Christian
theologians in ancient Europe rediscovered his theories. Aristotle believed that
a woman’s part in conception was to supply the container in which the seed,
planted by the male, grows. Aristotle said, "We should look on the female
as being as it were a deformity, though one which occurs in the ordinary course
of nature." Although we know now that Aristotle was mistaken in his
biological interpretation of the female gender, his philosophies had a long-term
impact on the perception of women from a non-biological perspective. A few
philosophers, such as Plato (427-347 BC), Condorcet (1743-1794), and John Stuart
Mill (1806-1873) had opinions that opposed Aristotle and inherently supported
women’s rights, but females are still struggling to prove to the opposite sex
that we are not "defective men." In fact, women were seen as inferior
since the time of Aristotle and throughout Freud’s lifetime because they did
not have penises. It seems that it could also be argued that men lack the
clitoris and instead have an elongated and inefficient organ of a similar kind.
These two points depend, of course, on point of view, but the ancient
philosophers did obviously not take the female point of view into consideration.
A vast amount of Aristotelian views are present in Freud’s beliefs. The
biological "reasons" given by the ancient philosophers for specific
social roles are somewhat incomplete. It seemed fairly logical for women to have
the natural role of caring for children because she gives birth to them, but
there was no biological explanation for the assumptions that women were less
important as human beings, of lesser worth, naturally passive, or should be
ruled by men. Simply because women give birth to babies, it has somehow been
assumed that we are confined to roles as mothers and as caretakers. These
conclusions were not drawn from biological observations, but from numerous
western thinkers throughout history who made enormous mistakes in their
reasoning about women. Freud was puzzled by members of the opposite sex and
therefore did not attempt to logically study them and come up with objective
theories regarding a woman’s psyche in general. He instead concentrated on the
development of a woman’s mind up to adulthood at which point he could no
longer understand it. "And now you are already prepared to hear that
psychology too is unable to solve the riddle of femininity…In conformity with
its peculiar nature, psycho-analysis does not try to describe what a woman is
–that would be a task it could scarcely perform- but sets about inquiring how
she comes into being, how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual
disposition." Sigmund Freud stated this in his book titled
"Femininity" which was published in 1933. From an early age, Freud was
critical of the feminist argument for equality between the sexes. He thought
that it was "absurd" to think that a married woman could earn as much
money as her husband, because her domestic responsibilities should take up all
of her time and energy. Those who challenge Freudian theory of gender roles
belong largely to the ever growing and highly vocal members of the feminist
movement. Something that has been a problem in the feminist movement is the
inability to define feminism, and in turn define the goals of the movement.
"Women came together in the women’s liberation movement on the basis that
we were women and all women are subject to male domination. We saw all women as
being our allies, and all men as being the oppressor. We never questioned the
extent to which American women accept the same materialistic and individualistic
values as American men. We did not stop to think that American women are just as
reluctant as American men to struggle for a new society based on new values of
mutual respect, cooperation, and social responsibility."-Feminist Theory.
Our society functions on the social norms set throughout history and a complete
revolution would be chaotic. All we are searching for is some degree of
appreciation for accomplishments of the past, present, and future. The feminist
struggle is a continuous and difficult one, but people who actually call
themselves feminists are not the only ones fighting to disprove certain aspects
of Freudian theory and socially determined gender roles. Many critics challenge
Freudian views of women’s roles, female sexuality, and sexual equality. Mary
Daly is just one of the hundreds of members of the feminist movement. Her
theories do not attempt to seclude any specific group of women by race or class,
but they attempt to focus on creating a "counter culture" (a
woman-centered world in which participants have little to no contact with men).
She wrote a book entitled Beyond God and Father, in which she encouraged women
to give up "the securities offered by the patriarchal system." In
response to Daly, Jeanne Gross stated: Creating a counter-world places an
incredible amount of pressure on the woman who attempted to embark on such a
project. The pressure comes from the belief that the only true resources for
such an endeavor are ourselves. The past, which is totally patriarchal, is
viewed as irredeemable…If we go about creating an alternative culture without
remaining in dialogue with others (and the historical circumstances that give
rise to their identity) we have no reality check for our goals. We run the very
real risk that the dominant ideology of the culture is re-duplicated in the
feminist movement through cultural imperialism. The problems occurring in the
feminist movement are directly related to the problem that women seem to be
having with coming to an understanding on the approach to use when striving to
gain our equality. Sexist oppression is of primary importance not because it is
the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination
most people experience, whether their role is that of discriminator or
discriminated against. The feminist movement is the driving force behind any
attempt at changing the all too common picture of the social barrier existing
between the sexes. "The significance of the feminist movement (when it is
no co-opted by opportunistic, reactionary forces) is that it offers a new
ideological meeting ground for the sexes, a space for criticism, struggle, and
transformation. The feminist movement can end the war between the sexes. It can
transform relationships so that the alienation, competition, and dehumanization
that characterize human interaction can be replaced with feelings of intimacy,
mutuality, and camaraderie." –Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center The
feminist movement was virtually non-existent during most of the lifetime of
Sigmund Freud. He made clear his views on a woman’s role in society, but he
was unable to explain the behavior of women. He resorted instead to studying the
development of females from their childhood through adulthood in an attempt to
figure out their complicated psyche. Freud’s research was conducted on
strictly middle-class whites during the early twentieth century. We are a
society that has always had clear delineation between childhood, adolescence,
and adulthood. It is in the stage of childhood in which Freud believes that
female development is distinguished from that of the males. The breakdown of
development into various stages is unique to our specific culture. In most other
cultures, there is only one transition that takes place in life and that is the
one from childhood to adulthood. This "graduation" of sorts occurs
immediately after the child hits puberty. According to Freudian theory, the
significant turning point in psychosexual development for gender identity occurs
at about the age of three. For the first three years of life, pleasure is
centered on oral gratification such as sucking a bottle or breast for milk. The
person who provides this to the child is the main object of the baby’s love
and affection. The child develops a sense of trust as a result of this
relationship. This is the called the oral stage because there is a fixation that
the child has to always have something in its mouth. The next stage is the anal
stage. Struggles around issues such as toilet training, and a sense of
self-control and control of the environment characterize it. The three-year-olds
shift of focus to the sexual organs as the source of pleasure is labeled the
phallic stage of psychosexual development. It is at this stage that girls notice
that men and boys have penises, and they don’t. We, according to Freud,
recognize that without this organ, we cannot "possess" the mother (our
original love object) the way a man can, especially our fathers. This
recognition leads girls to develop a sense of inferiority and the desire for a
penis, which Freud called Penis Envy. At the same time, boys notice that girls
and women do not have penises, and this leads the boy to believe that the girls
were somehow denied them, or they had them taken away. Freud concluded that this
created a sense of anxiety in boys because they are afraid of losing their
penises. Freud labeled this the Castration Complex. He also argued that girls
blame their mothers for our "inferior anatomy," and therefore turn our
affections to our fathers in an effort to attain the desired object. By
contrast, boys desire to marry their mothers and replace their fathers. Freudian
theory labels this the Oedipus Complex (named after the Greek myth about
Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother). When they
learn that they cannot "possess" their mothers because their rivals
are bigger and stronger, they fear that their fathers will punish them for
feeling this way by castrating them. Boys get over the Oedipus Complex rather
quickly and they seek a new love interest and identify with the father. Girls
identify with their mothers reluctantly, because this identification does not
help us achieve what we are wishing for during the phallic stage. The critics of
Freud’s ideas about female development can be divided into two groups. The
first group questions whether or not these psychological events actually take
place. Because these are psychologically developed and not physically developed,
there is no way to tell if they actually exist because they cannot be observed
directly. Since there is no proof or test of the unconscious process, or even of
the unconscious, some argue that these theories can not be considered
scientific. The second group includes a number of Freud’s students. They do
not directly attack the psychoanalytic approach but they disagree with the basic
Freudian formulation of female development. Dorothy Dinnerstein, a psychologist
who has written about the development of gender roles, says: I am disturbed,
like the other radical critics of our gender arrangements, by the sexual bigotry
that is built into the Freudian perspective. But I am disinclined to let the
presence of that bigotry deflect my attention from the key to a way out of our
gender predicament that Freud, in a sense absent-mindedly, provides.
Feminists’ preoccupation with Freud’s patriarchal bias, with his failure to
jump with alacrity right out of his male Victorian skin, seems to me wildly
ungrateful. The conceptual tool that he has put into our hands is a
revolutionary one. –(Dinnerstein, 1976:xi) The aspect of Freudian theory that
is most criticized by feminists is the emphasis on penis envy and the view that
our lives must be determined by our anatomy. Many critics have pointed out that
women have many anatomical features and capacities that men lack. Why should
girls be the ones to envy and boys be the ones to fear loss? Boys might observe
that only women have breasts; later, they learn that only women can bear
children. Why not "breast envy" or "womb envy"? Freud failed
to look at the situation from the female perspective, and it is blatantly
obvious in his beliefs on female development. There are large numbers of females
and males who consider themselves to be students of Freudian theory. It must be
understood however that just because they believe in and support most of the
major principles that Freud chose to elaborate on, does not mean that they are
without their own various arguments against some of his beliefs. Karen Horney
(1885-1962) was a psychoanalyst and a student of Freud. She believed that
Freud’s theory of female psychosexual development reflected a deep male bias,
and that it did not make sense to assume that a woman is mentally affected by a
wish for attributes of the opposite sex. She also notes that what Freud
described as characteristics of the "Masculinity Complex" (egocentric
ambition, envy, and the desire for dictatorial power) are exhibited by neurotic
men as well as neurotic women and therefore are not necessarily related to the
envy of the penis. She points out that self-confidence of either sex is based on
the development of a wide range of human characteristics: talent, initiative,
erotic capacity, achievement, courage, and independence. It seems as though men
feel the need to place the "inferiority" on the shoulders of women in
an attempt to hide their own insecurities, and envies regarding female roles in
reproduction and societal progression. While the psychologists of today base
their theories and ideas on the various studies done by others, Freud based his
ideas primarily on the recollections of women who had consulted him for help.
When he actually began to write about human sexuality and legitimize it as an up
and coming field of study, Freud stated that women were indeed beings with
sexual needs. He also suggested that the repression of sexual expression was a
major cause of neurosis in women. His theories evolved out of his own personal
interpretation of these women’s underlying emotions and unconscious motives.
While he believed women should express our sexuality, he also believed that our
fulfillment could only come about in the form of a vaginal orgasm (distinct from
the clitoral orgasm, which Freud considered "masculine" and
"childish") and the resulting bearing and nurturing of children.
Although in many ways Freud began a "liberation of female sexuality,"
his theories had certain stigmas attached which passed on yet another set of
masculine standards against which women were to judge themselves. Freud
unsympathetically analyzed many women but none so in depth as an
eighteen-year-old girl named Dora. He had treated Dora’s father for syphilis a
few years before. The reason that Dora was brought for the consultation was a
letter that her parents had found. The letter basically just said goodbye to her
parents, and made clear that her intention was to take her own life. Her parents
thought that she didn’t really mean it, but were concerned enough to force her
to see a doctor. Other symptoms of apparent illness were: a "nervous
cough", a history of fainting spells, loss of voice, headaches, and
depression that could be traced back to her early childhood. Freud diagnosed her
collection of symptoms as a typical case of hysteria, and made it his business
to figure out the cause. Freud was convinced that it was a deeply rooted
leftover from her early sexuality. Freud’s observation was that Dora was
"tenderly attached" to her father. Her mother was the sort of woman
who spent most of her time obsessively cleaning the house and performing other
mindless and typical "female" activities. Dora was extremely critical
of her mother and the two did not generally get along. Dora’s older brother
sided with the mother in all of the arguments, and that left the family divided
in a constant mother/son vs. father/daughter confrontation. A governess had been
part of the household and was very close with Dora until the girl began to
suspect that the reason they got along so well was that the woman was trying to
attract her father. Dora’s father told Freud that he believed he knew what had
caused his daughter’s latest symptoms and the suicide note. The family had
formed a close friendship with another married couple, Herr and Frau K. Frau K,
and energetic and very attractive woman, had nursed Dora’s father through a
long illness, and Herr K was very fond of Dora. He took her on walks and bought
her presents, and his wife acted as Dora’s confidant. She took on a role
virtually like a mother figure for Dora (which was something that the child
lacked while she was growing up). Two years before, Dora told her father that
Herr K had made an indecent proposal to her while they were walking past a lake.
She had slapped him in the face and had gone home alone. When confronted by her
father, Herr K denied that the incident ever happened, and insisted that books
with explicit sexual scenes had affected the girl, and that she had fanaticized
the entire thing. The father was convinced by Herr K’s explanation and left it
at that. Dora continued to insist that he break off relations with the K’s,
especially Frau K. Her father refused to do so on the grounds that Herr K was
innocent and that his relationship with Frau K was completely non-sexual. Dora
was convinced of two things: her father and Frau K had been having an affair for
years, and Herr K had tried to seduce her. "I came to the conclusion that
Dora’s story must correspond to the facts in every respect," stated Freud
in reference to Dora’s interpretation of reality. Analysis of her dreams was
consistent with Freud’s theory of the girl’s Oedipal love for her father. He
believed that Dora was reacting to her father’s affair with Frau K as if she
were a wronged wife or a betrayed lover- as if she were the woman her father
once loved, or the woman he now loved. Since she was neither, her reaction,
which Freud interpreted as jealousy, was inappropriate. He also thought that her
reaction to Herr K’s advances was "entirely and completely
hysterical." Dora had felt disgust as a reaction towards Herr K. Disgust is
an "oral phenomenon", and this along with her throat symptoms of
coughing and loss of voice, led Freud to the absurd conclusion that her symptoms
were related to her fantasies of her father and Frau K having oral intercourse.
Although she denied it, Freud insisted that Dora was sexually attracted to Herr
K as well. Freud stated "Her feeling for him reflected both her feeling for
her father and her feeling for Frau K. That is, she identified Herr K with her
father, and herself with Frau K. Thus her attraction to Herr K was a
recapitulation of her father’s love affair with Frau K." Freud believed
that the two men were involved in an unspoken conspiracy in which Dora was a
pawn: her father would ignore Herr K’s attempted seductions of his daughter in
exchange for Herr K’s pretend ignorance of his wife’s affair with Dora’s
father. Freud also knew the father’s motive for bringing Dora to see him. He
wanted Freud to talk her out of believing that there was anything more than
friendship between him and Frau K. Dora was a young girl caught in a web of lies
and betrayal, where she could not turn to anyone for help. Her parents were
directly involved in deceiving her, and Freud was trying to brainwash her into
thinking that it was her fault for feeling the way she did, and that it was all
in her mind. Freud knew the real situation, yet he consistently hid the truth
from Dora, and led her to believe that she had deeply rooted problems that
started in her childhood. In reality, Dora was having a very normal reaction to
the harsh truth of what her father was doing. Freud’s treatment of Dora lasted
for three months, until she abruptly terminated it, much to Freud’s
disappointment. Freud interpreted her unexpected termination of her therapy as
evidence of his newly developed theory of transference. This theory states that
the patient transfers to the therapist old feelings and conflicts, which she
once felt for people in her past, such as her mother and father. Freud believed
that in the same way that she had transferred her love for her father to Herr K,
she now transferred some of the same feelings towards Freud. But these feelings
were positive and negative, and as a result of the treatment she received at the
hands of Herr K and her father, she would take revenge on all of them by
deserting Freud. Freud thought that Dora was saying, "Men are so detestable
that I would rather not marry. This is my revenge." Nearly a year and a
half later, Dora revisited Freud for treatment of facial neuralgia. Freud told
her that her pain was a self-punishment for a "double crime": the
long-ago slap at Herr K when he had made advances toward her, and her revenge on
Freud by terminating the treatment before it was completed. Freud never saw her
again after that but in 1905, he published "Fragment of an Analysis of a
Case of Hysteria," better known as the case of Dora. Dora was not actually
a hysterical patient. She was simply a young woman in shock due to her
father’s affair, her constant fighting with her mother and brother, and the
fact that a married man (who was also a friend of the family) was hitting on her
and no one really believed it. Freud could have said to her "You are right,
and they are wrong," but instead, he chose to manipulate Dora’s mind and
make her believe that the whole scene was a result of her childhood sexual
insecurities. Freud related neurosis and hysteria in women to marriage and
sexual frustration in most cases. His explanation is vague and it seems as
though he just tries to make it applicable to the entire gender in any
situation. Under the cultural conditions of today, marriage has long ceased to
be a panacea for the nervous troubles of women; and if we doctors still advise
marriage in such cases, we are nevertheless aware that, on the contrary a girl
must be very healthy if she is able to tolerate it….On the contrary, the cure
for nervous illness arising form marriage, would be marital unfaithfulness. But
the more strictly a woman has been brought up and the more sternly she has
submitted to the demands of civilization, the more she is afraid of taking this
way out; and in the conflict between her desires and her sense of duty, she once
more seeks refuge in neurosis. -Freud, 1976a, p.195 Evidence shows that men and
women in extreme cases have the same degree of neurosis and hysteria as a result
of marriage and sexual frustration. The symptoms are the same regardless of
gender. Freud was extremely presumptuous when it came to drawing conclusions
about women. For example, Freud said "One might consider characterizing
femininity psychologically as giving preference to passive aims…It is perhaps
the case that in a woman, on the basis of her share in the sexual function, a
preference for passive behavior and passive aims is carried over into her
life…" He is assuming that a woman’s role in the sexual function is a
passive one. It seems to me that the males have the passive role in this
situation considering that it is the woman who carries and gives birth to
babies. Feminists who have been arguing against Freudian theory for many years
all come to the same basic conclusion about his philosophies on women: Freud was
greatly influenced by the societal norms of his time, and that factor had a
great impact on his theories about women’s roles. Since the days of Sigmund
Freud, our society has progressed a great deal, and women have been gradually
accepted as more than the property of their husbands. It is the freedom to
decide her own destiny; freedom from sex-determined role; freedom from
society’s oppressive restrictions; freedom to express her thoughts fully and
to convert them freely into action. Feminism demands the acceptance of woman’s
right to individual conscience and judgment. It postulates that women’s
essential worth stems from her common humanity and does not depend on the other
relationships of her life. During the nineteenth century, feminism was virtually
non-existent, and the beliefs of Freud and other great minds were just accepted
as fact. The stereotypical role of women as passive caretakers of the home and
of children that existed throughout Freud’s lifetime, is gradually diminishing
and women are gaining social status as well as respect from the men who at one
time were out oppressors. The feminist movement has played a huge role in
changing the opinions of many people that carried with them the same
philosophies as Freud in regards to women and their capabilities as humans. This
narrow-minded nature only succeeded in making women more and more determined to
prove their "worth" to members of the opposite sex. Although Freud was
leading the pack of male chauvinists in the late nineteenth century he has since
been overpowered by females that are no longer afraid to say what they feel or
act on their impulses.BibliographyBell Hooks; Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. c.1984 by bell hooks;
South End Press 2) Freud, Sigmund; "Femininity" from Juanita H.
Williams, ed. Psychology of Women. NY: W.W. Norton, 1979 3) Hunter College
Women’s Studies Collective; Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices NY: Oxford
University Press, 1983 4) Smithsonian World; Gender: The Enduring Paradox NYC:
UNAPIX Entertainment Inc., 1996 5) Williams, Juanita H.; Psychology of Women NY:
W.W. Norton & Company, 1987
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