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The feminine in Freud's theories

When Freud’s own profoundly disturbing shame and defenses to preserve his patriarchal authority are activated, he projects all over women in order to oppress and eliminate femininity. Freud’s mastery through the penis emphasizes a male’s lack of commonality with the female; this appears to give him the right to violate femininity as a means of establishing his separateness. The core of narcissism for Freud, in fact, is that women do not have a penis. His theory becomes, essentially, a scientific restatement of the myth of creation, and how Eve was born from Adam. Freud maintains his assertion of difference in his desire to gain prestige and power in his father’s eyes. Freud admits to debasing women himself when writing about mother’s penisless vagina which can permanently “distort” the male’s relationship to women: “This . . . leads to two reactions, which . . . permanently determine the boy’s relations to women: horror of the mutilated creature or triumphant contempt for her” (1964d: 252).

Contempt is the word that best describes Freud’s explanation of the female resolution of the Oedipus Complex. Male superego development is in response to a tremendous fear of castration. Females, however, are “castrated” before the Oedipus conflict and, therefore, are corrupted by never achieving a fully developed superego.

At this point our material - for some incomprehensible reason - becomes more obscure and full of gaps. The female sex, too, develops an Oedipus complex, a superego and a latency period. May we also attribute a phallic organization and a castration complex to it? The answer is in the affirmative; but these things cannot be the same as they are in boys. Here the feminist demand for equal rights for the sexes does not take us far, for the morphological distinction is bound to find expression in differences of psychical development. “Anatomy is Destiny,” to vary a saying of Napoleon’s.

. . . The little girl’s clitoris behaves just like a penis to begin with; but, when she makes a comparison with a play fellow of the other sex, she perceives that she has “come off badly” and she feels this as a wrong done to her and as a ground for inferiority . . . The essential difference thus comes about that the girl accepts castration as an accomplished fact, whereas the boy fears the possibility of its occurrence . . . The fear of castration thus being excluded in the little girl, a powerful motive also drops out for the setting-up of a superego and for the breaking-off of the infantile organization . . . The girl’s Oedipus complex is much simpler than that of the small bearer of the penis; in my experience, it seldom goes beyond taking of her mother’s place and the adopting of a feminine attitude towards the father . . . In girls the motive for the demolition of the Oedipus complex is lacking. Castration has already had its effect, which was to force the child into the situation of the Oedipus complex. Thus the Oedipus complex escapes the fate which it meets with in boys . . . I cannot evade the notion (though I hesitate to give it expression) that for women the level of what is ethically normal is different from what it is in men. Their superego is never so inexorable, so impersonal, so independent of its emotional origins as we require it to be in men. Character-traits which critics of every epoch have brought up against women - that they show less justice than men, that they are less ready to submit to the great exigencies of life, that they more often influence with their judgments by feelings of affection or hostility - all this would be amply accounted for by the modification in the formation of the superego which we have inferred above. We must not allow ourselves to be deflected from such conclusions by the denials of the feminists, who are anxious to force us to regard the two sexes as completely equal in position and worth . . .

(1964d: 257-258)

For women, the level of what is ethically normal is different from what it is in men (1964d: 257), and this is despite the fact that Victorian woman was expected to uphold the torch of morality. The lack of superego development for a female also explains her preponderant emotionalism, as well as her inability to develop the powers of reason, judgment, and morality - all qualities which were supposedly more characteristic of men. He also proposes that the girl’s cure for the insult to her narcissism - meaning the discovery that she lacks a penis - is to abandon the mother for the father.

Condemning females, however, only makes the dynamics of the succubus more powerfully negative, and it is she who informs Freud’s next idea: the only way to appease a woman is by giving her a token penis - and Freud does exactly that:

Anatomy has recognized the clitoris within the female pudenda as being an organ that is homologous to the penis; and the physiology of the sexual process has been able to add that this small penis . . . behaves in fact during childhood like a real and genuine penis.

(1964a: 217)

Here Freud forfeits mastery, yet is so certain of his formulation he says categorically that “probably no male human being is spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genitals” (1964g: 197). Yet the only way to triumph over the threat of castration at the sight of the female genitals is to “give” the woman a phallus which then in some way gives the male the courage to be a man? He is placating “the threatening female divinities (who) may be pacified with a gift of a miniature penis and the entitlement to phallic experience” (Kerr, 1993: 117). Freud stuck to the idea of the phallic mother that the little boy wants to believe in.

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