Freud's Conception of Gender Difference
Chodorow's main concern in The Reproduction of Mothering is to explain differences between men and women in relational capacities on the basis of women's mothering. She explicitly states that she is not primarily concerned with the differential evaluation of males and females or with gender identity or heterosexuality. In contrast, Juliet Mitchell and Gayle Rubin have been concerned with precisely these phenomena. But, as I said, both Mitchell's and Rubin's analyses run into problems because they do not sufficiently question the way in which psychoanalytic thinkers merge questions of sexuality with questions of gender.
As both Mitchell and Rubin make clear, Freud, to his great credit, does not take masculinity in males and femininity in females for granted as being given at birth. Although there may be disagreement about how large a weight Freud gives to biological factors (Mitchell and Rubin probably underestimate Freud's biologism), there can be no doubt that becoming "masculine" for males and becoming "feminine" for females is something that is at least in part "accomplished" rather than given. Freud sees each "sex" as possessing elements of both masculinity and femininity and refers to this as bisexuality. These elements are both physiological and psychological in nature. For Freud, the psychic manifestations of bisexuality include a wide range of behaviors from overt homosexuality to cross-gender nonerotic behavior. He makes it quite clear that "normal" individuals are never totally masculine or feminine in their behavior.
The problem with Freud arises not with regard to any insen-
sitivity on his part to the bisexual nature of both males and females. There is a problem, however, with the strong linkage he makes between sexual orientation and gender. In his scheme a female can deviate from femininity by being active or by choosing a female love object, and a male can deviate from masculinity by being passive or by choosing a male object. But what one cannot do within the scheme is deny the centrality of heterosexuality and dominance to masculinity and heterosexuality and passivity to femininity.
Many of Freud's other propositions depend on and perhaps derive from this basic assumption. In the first place, he concludes that a girls femininity is less secure than a boy's masculinity because her first love relationship is with a female, thus "homosexual." The little boy, by contrast, has a head start on masculinity because of his early relationship with his mother, which, as Robert Stoller noted, Freud never doubted was "fundamentally heterosexual" (pp. 356–57). Even though Freud did make a few statements concerning the possibilities of an affectionate identification with the parent of the same gender, he generally thought of same-sex relationships as threatening gender identity and heterosexual relationships affirming it. For example, in discussing the case of little Hans, Freud observes that the child's father was often the one who helped him urinate ("widdle") and in the process of helping him take out his "widdler," Hans was given "an opportunity for the fixation of homosexual inclinations upon him."
Although Freud saw both males and females as being bisexual, the basic sexual orientation of both genders in his view was predominantly masculine defined as a phallic (by definition active) orientation toward the mother. Thus Freud argued that a female first loved her mother as a little man. Her orientation to her mother was active and clitoral. To become "feminine" she must transform this orientation to being passive and vaginal. This tying of male to active and female to passive can also be seen in his idea that each gender experiences a positive and negative Oedipus complex. In the negative Oedipus complex, the boy loves his father passively; in the positive Oedipus complex, he loves his mother actively. The girl's negative Oedipus complex involves loving the mother actively, "like a little man," and in the positive Oedipus complex, she loves the father passively, "like a woman."
Although being actively mothered and perhaps seeing siblings
being mothered is a first social experience of children of both genders, Freud maintains that mothering is not a primary wish in females, much less in males. As late as 1933, he explicitly states that the doll play of a young girl is "not in fact an expression of her femininity." He explains this by saying it could not be feminine because "it served as an identification with her mother with the intention of substituting activity for passivity." Here Freud makes it clear that in his view femininity does not relate to motherhood, because motherhood is active, nor is femininity acquired by identifying with the mother. Femininity is acquired only when the doll becomes "a baby from the girl's father, and thereafter the aim of the most powerful feminine wish" (p. 87). This wish is to have a penis from the father.
In Freud's terms what is important in the child's mind is not the baby but who gave the mother the baby. Freud admits that in general it is hard to imagine the nature of the girl's active phallic wishes toward the mother, that is, "whether the child attaches a sexual aim to the idea, and what that aim is," but when a sibling is born, he tells us, "The little girl wants to believe that she has given her mother the new baby, just as the boy wants to, and her reaction to this event and her behavior to the baby is exactly the same as his." Here Freud emphasizes the baby as a gift from a man but ignores the wishes often expressed by both males and females to be the mother, to own a baby.
In Freud's work there is no independent status for mothering; it is merely a roundabout way of getting a penis, which he claims is what women really want. The ultimate and true feminine wish is to have a male child, and this child becomes a substitute for the coveted penis. Motherhood is subsumed under penis envy and women are defined as failed men, with motherhood being their consolation prize. Thus Freud's theory provides a magnificently overdeveloped rationale in support of defining women primarily as wives, secondarily as mothers. For Freud getting a child from a man is the "feminine" wish, but getting a child, period, is not. The latter might imply more female independence and activity than Freud could countenance.
Yet Freud was more aware than most of the inadequacy of the terms active and passive to characterize masculinity and femininity, and he understood that on one level motherhood is a very ac-
tive enterprise. He tries to solve the problem in part by suggesting that "one might consider characterizing femininity psychologically as giving preference to passive aims," explaining that "this is not, of course, the same thing as passivity: to achieve a passive aim may call for a large amount of activity." Even so, the idea of passive aim gets us right back to the fit between Freud's scheme and the passive aim of being a wife, a state a woman might indeed actively pursue, since it has been "the only game in town."
Freud claims that "activity" versus "passivity" is relevant to masculinity and femininity when one thinks of the active sperm joining the passive egg and of the active male and passive female in intercourse. His discussion here provides us with a good example of how what appears to be a biological "fact" is stated and distorted in terms of essentially social meanings. Freud says, "The male sex-cell is actively mobile and searches out the female one, and the latter, the ovum, is immobile, and waits passively. This behavior of the elementary sexual organisms is indeed a model for the conduct of sexual individuals during intercourse. The male pursues the female for the purpose of sexual union, seizes hold of her and penetrates into her" (p. 117 fn.). Although the sperm does move toward the egg, dead sperm and inert particles of India ink reach the egg at about the same speed as live sperm, suggesting that the active-passive conceptualization is socially imposed even here. Certainly too Freud's conceptualization of the act of intercourse is patently social. Thus in his hands "femininity" is rendered passive.
Roy Schafer maintains that Freud gives a prominent place to genital heterosexuality because it fits in with the general evolutionary emphasis on the propagation of the species. But why did he not emphasize instead the survival of the progeny and note that among humans, survival depends heavily on postnatal care. It appears to be a peculiarly masculine bias to assume that sexual intercourse is the major event related to the evolution of the human species. For women, motherhood may be the major event related to the next generation, and men can relate to this only indirectly.