Freud's Gynecentric Opposition
Freud's emphasis on the Oedipal period and de-emphasis on women's mothering has been challenged from the very beginning even
from within the psychoanalytic movement itself. Karen Horney argued long ago that Freud's view of women as defective males was patent male bias, and as Nancy Chodorow notes, of all the explanations of penis envy that have ever been put forth, only Freud's is inconceivable. Freud claimed that the instant a girl sees a boy's penis she knows she has been shortchanged. Freud does not even seek an explanation for penis envy because for him the explanation was obvious: any girl in her right mind would want one.
The reason that Mitchell in contrast to so many feminists accepts Freud's attribution of primary penis envy to girls has to do with her Lacanian-influenced view of Freud as a purveyor of cultural symbolism. She would say that the human psyche is phallocentric and is recreated in each generation, in "masculine civilization." As she puts it, "there is nothing neither true nor false but thinking makes it so, and if patriarchal thought is dominant then femininity will reflect that system: 'nature' is not exempt from its representation in mental life." Mitchell contrasts her symbolic approach to the biologism of Horney, Klein, Jones, and others who argued against Freud and the primacy of penis envy (pp. 125–31).
I am not concerned with countering either Mitchell's totally symbolic approach or the biologism of those she criticizes. Neither will I focus on the long-standing battle over penis envy, which now seems well on the way to being won by those who deny its primacy in the development of "femininity." I am concerned instead with the more serious problem that pervades both sides of the phallocentric-gynecentric debate within psychoanalysis. Neither Freud, who epitomizes the phallocentric emphasis, nor the gynecentric theorists who challenge this emphasis have a conception of preoedipal gender that is not closely tied to heterosexuality. Even those psychoanalytic thinkers who have stressed womb and breast envy in boys and who see penis envy in girls as a secondary development maintain in one way or another the connections between femininity, heterosexuality, and passivity. Karen Horney, for example, who was one of the first to argue against Freud's ideas concerning females' initial penis envy, did so only to conclude that penis envy was a secondary development in females, which acted as a defense against girls' innate heterosexual desires for the father! Even though Freud's phallocentric conclusions were related to his merger of male dominance, heterosexuality, and masculinity,
those gynecentric theorists who stress women's mothering do not question the assumption that the basic elements of gender are heterosexuality and dominance-passivity. Fully as much as Freud, the gynecentric opposition sees passivity and heterosexuality as being the "normal" developmental result for females even though they posit differing starting points than did Freud and his followers.
Karen Horney, Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein, and more recently Janine Chassequet-Smirgel and Bela Grunberger all explain the girl's turn to the father as being related to an innate heterosexual desire. They claim the girl does not want a penis because she feels shortchanged without one, but rather she wants a man because she is heterosexual. These authors do not see heterosexuality as being created in culture or interaction but as being given in nature. In a way this draws the connections between sexuality and gender even closer by treating them as purely biological. Freud, at least as Juliet Mitchell interprets him, can be seen as assuming women have to learn heterosexuality-femininity and at some cost to themselves at that. These gynecentric analysts, however, break the linkage Freud makes between reproduction and sexuality by treating sexuality, albeit heterosexuality, as intrinsically gratifying to women and not as a means to procreation, which Freud always interpreted it to be. Freud always assumed women wanted "sex" in order to have a baby, which was a penis substitute.
Freud increasingly came to understand that there were other relationships besides the Oedipus complex that established gender difference and lay behind the Oedipus complex. For example, in a paper written in 1921 entitled "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego," he says: "A little boy will exhibit a special interest in his father; he would like to grow like him and be like him, and take his place everywhere. We may say simply that he takes his father as his ideal . . . . It fits very well with the Oedipus complex, for which it helps to prepare the way." Here he suggests that he does have a conception of gender identity that rests on a simple identification with the father as a mentor and ideal. Finally, in the later years of his life Freud began to make statements about the importance of the preoedipal mother attachment in girls and commented to the effect that there were depths to mental life that psychoanalysis had not explored. He compares the early preoedipal period in girls to the discovery in anthropology of the Minoan-
Mycenaean civilization that preceded the civilization of Greece. But even in recognizing the importance of this period, he does not relate it to female gender identification. For him girls are "masculine" until they become feminized by the father.
Even though Chodorow is aware of these connections within psychoanalytic theory, she does not directly challenge them. As we saw earlier, she explicitly states that she assumes the heterosexuality of the mother. Rather, her contribution is to describe the relational context (the girl's experience of self in relationship, the boy's less relational self) in which "heterosexuality and these identifications get constituted" (p. 113). She does discuss how heterosexuality differs for men and women because of the primacy of the mother in the early lives of both genders. In so doing she makes a beginning toward decreasing the importance of heterosexuality to females as she discusses the daughter's emotional tie to her mother and her merely erotic tie to the father. She speaks of the daughter as being at least genitally heterosexual and implies that this erotic tie is not as deep as the female-to-female emotional tie. Chodorow's hedging suggests to me that she recognizes that if one gives up the tie that exists by definition between heterosexuality and gender, one comes dangerously close to giving up psychoanalytic accounts of gender development.
In sum, both phallocentric and gynecentic psychoanalytic conceptualizations conflate dominance and being sexually attracted to females with masculinity, and submissiveness and being sexually attracted to males with femininity. This has the effect of justifying inequality by making it appear that heterosexuality and deference to the male partner are central components of female gender identity. The alternatives open to women within this scheme appear to be to give up dominance and be feminine, to be asexual, which presumably makes one a neuter, or a nonperson, or to be homosexual, which of course Freud associated with being masculine. (This creates problems for those lesbians who attempt to use Freud, since many lesbians do not see themselves as masculine.) Gayle Rubin suggests that if fathers also mothered, primary object choice might be bisexual. The bisexual solution does not challenge the fundamental categories, however; it merely makes an amalgam of them. Thus "bisexual" would be a mixture of masculine and feminine, which in terms of psychoanalytic assumptions would mean
heterosexual and homosexual, dominant and submissive. Just as with the "androgyny" scales, putting two wrongs together does not make a right. Mitchell and Rubin, in accepting Freud uncritically as describing the way things are in the human psyche, can find no way out. For them the only way out would be to somehow do away with gender, which they assume must be defined in terms of sexuality. As noted earlier, both have now repudiated this formulation.
In her more recent work, Mitchell takes a very different tack and argues that by no means do we give up gender, since "human subjectivity cannot ultimately exist outside a division between the sexes—one cannot be no sex." But she then goes on to claim that the castration complex organizes what that difference is. This difference, she says, is not the presence of the penis in males and its absence in females and thus the difference between symbolic power and its absence, but is rather a problem in not being whole for both males and females. Thus she says, "The castration complex is not about women, nor men, but a danger, a horror to both—a gap that has to be filled in differently by each. In the fictional ideal type this will be [filled in] for the boy by the illusion that a future regaining of phallic potency will replace his totality; for the girl this will be achieved by something psychically the same: a baby. Phallic potency and maternity—for men and women—come to stand for wholeness." Here Mitchell appears to have forgotten all about male dominance in the sense of the normativeness of "masculinity." In her earlier reading of Freud she gave full play to his view that it was harder for women to become feminine than it was for men to become masculine because femininity meant accepting phallocentric culture. At the very end of her article she begins to speculate that femininity is not the same as motherhood, because mothers are symbolically about plenitude, fullness, completeness. This may or may not lead her in the direction I have been taking.
Writing in the 1970s, Gayle Rubin declared that to end inequality, gender differentiation and the Oedipus complex must be destroyed. This followed from the assumption that gender was created in the oedipal period. In 1984 she argues we must distinguish between gender and erotic desire and points out that the "semantic merging [of sex and gender] reflects a cultural assumption that sexuality is reducible to sexual intercourse and that it is a function of the relations between women and men." Her "solution" now is
that we need to develop a theory of sexuality less tied to gender. I shall return to this later.
To some extent the French feminists, too, who are attempting to redefine femininity while remaining within the Freud-Lacan tradition have been caught up in a problem that psychoanalytic accounts of gender development have created. In my view these efforts fail to the extent that they fail to critique the conflation I have been discussing. At its best psychoanalysis can be seen as an attempt to describe the social construction of gender in the nuclear family, but at the same time it reinforces a construction that makes sex-object choice and the active-passive distinction the central problematic.
In sum, then, the psychoanalytic conceptualization of masculinity and femininity has conflated dominance and sexual attraction to females with masculinity, and submissiveness and sexual attraction to males with femininity. Then, in a manner somewhat analogous to the way in which androgyny scales were constructed, the assumption is made that biological males and females generally possess a mixture of both masculinity and femininity. Freud envisioned children as being bisexual and at other times both boys and girls as being masculine. In either case, the "normal" outcome was for masculinity to predominate in anatomical males (anatomy becomes destiny) and for femininity to predominate in anatomical females, although this was more difficult. Freud sees this transformation as occurring during the oedipal period with its final solidification taking place at adolescence, after a period of sexual latency.
While this conceptualization is "liberal" in the sense that femininity appears to be not at all a foregone conclusion but instead a defeat for women, the problem lies in the assumptions that Freud makes about the nature of masculinity and femininity in the first place. By tying heterosexuality to gender identity itself, Freud makes it impossible to see that what oppresses women is the way in which heterosexual relationships themselves are structured.