Today traditional psychoanalytic interpretations of gender have been challenged by research on adult transsexuals and on children whose gender identity is for some reason problematic. John Money
and Anke Ehrhardt have concluded on the basis of their work with children with ambiguous genitalia that gender identity, the gut level conviction that one is a male or female, is formed early, before eighteen months, and therefore probably prior to the oedipal period when Freud thought gender differentiation occurred. Money also explicitly states, contrary to Freud's implication, that "gender identity," the public expression of which is "gender role," does not rest on heterosexuality or male dominance.
The finding that gender identity is established before the oedipal phase implies that gender identity per se does not have to be eliminated to eliminate sexism. In order to "free" sexuality, one does not have to give up gender identity. In my view the important step is to see that each individual's basic sense of gendered self can be separable from heterosexuality as a way of life and from expectations of male dominance in heterosexual relationships.
In his 1974 article in which he first articulated his concept of "core gender identity," Robert Stoller appeared to point the way toward a reconceptualization within psychoanalysis of gender development. In this article (which I described in Chapter 4) he argues that the boys first interaction with the mother is not heterosexual but involves a merging with the mother's femininity, just as the girl merges with her femininity. Much hinges, of course, on what Stoller means by femininity, and he does not define it, but in 1974 he clearly seemed to be referring to a maternal impulse as opposed to a heterosexual impulse. Stoller argues that Freud misinterpreted the famous Schreber case (Schreber was a prominent judge) in calling Shreber's fantasies "homosexual," because these fantasies were actually about his body changing to female and procreating a new race. Schreber was thinking in terms of maternal creativity and power, and not of sexual relations. Thus Schreber wanted to be a mother, not to have a man. Stoller's discussion appears to offer a basis for defining core femininity as being maternal rather than heterosexual.
In a later article, however, it is clear that Stoller remains an unreconstructed Freudian who has merely added on the idea of "core gender identity." He defines "core gender identity" as one's sense of being male or female, and "gender identity" as "the algebraic sum of the mix of masculinity and femininity found in an individual." He says he has nothing to add to Freud concerning femininity
but wants to talk about primary femininity, which is established before penis envy and the Oedipus complex. Quite remarkably, at this point he says primary femininity will consist in whatever the parents, especially the mother, encourages. "If one wants the appearance of femininity in a baby, all one need do is encourage and encourage and encourage." It is clear in this article that he does not mean maternal orientation by primary femininity—apparently, he means a kind of seductiveness. In his example of a woman who had not gotten beyond primary femininity he describes a woman whose core "femininity" seems to consist in being "lovely," a mother's doll on display. He sees this woman as basically a case of hysteria because she was seductive toward him in therapy and implies that this is her primary femininity produced by her mother! Here, clearly, Stoller's primary femininity is of no help to feminists (in spite of his saying primary femininity can consist of anything) and reproduces (at an even earlier level) the idea that femininity relates to being sexy with men. As far as I can see, male and female children are absolutely dedicated to smiling at and being charming (sexy?) to anyone of any gender who smiles back. In their interactions, all parents and all children are engaged in "seduction" in its broadest sense.
John Munder Ross, who is not a psychoanalyst but who works within the psychoanalytic tradition, is beginning to move toward a different conception of early childhood desires—a conception that gives what he calls "generativity" a more important place in the self-conceptions of both males and females. He assumes children of both genders first take on a maternal identification, but he says a boy's wishes to have a baby are soon interrupted by his "developing perception of sexual differences." He argues that the boy needs an awareness of the man's part in reproduction through his sexual relationship to a woman but also an appreciation of a man being able to take an active care-taking role. Thus the boy could imagine himself as a creative nurturant daddy who shares in both making and tending babies. Ross also suggests that the role of the father is to be not the fearsome father that Freud depicts in Totem and Taboo but the mothering father who can conteract that fearsome image.
This paternal identity is very different from the paternal identity Freud outlines and is more like the relational identity Chodorow outlines for women. Thus at least among the less classical theorists
there does seem to be a movement toward recognizing gender differentiation occurring at an initial earlier stage of development, prior to the oedipal period. They suggest that this earliest identity is based on the development of a parenting motive as opposed to a heterosexual motive in both genders. Nancy Chodorow points out that in psychoanalytic theory "a girl identifies with her mother in their common feminine inferiority and in her heterosexual stance." It seems to me that if we take the view that neither girls nor boys know their mother is inferior (or heterosexual) in their earliest relationship to her, it is quite possible to imagine that at first a child does not identify with her inferiority but with her active caretaking. An observational study of young children's fantasy play found that both boys and girls depicted "the wife" as a helpless individual. Girls depicted "mothers," however, as nurturant and efficient, but boys perceived males to be leaders both as fathers and husbands.
It is likely that heterosexuality is so important to gender identity only in the male psyche. Whereas the preoedipal girl can identify with her mother directly in her maternal activities of nurturing children, the boy may tend to define himself more in terms of being husband to mother. Another way of putting this is that the girl seems first to attempt to enact a maternal identity, whereas the boy avoids this by enacting a heterosexual identity. I believe these reorientations are very much on the right track, but they do not represent mainstream psychoanalytic opinion.
I have suggested at various points that women's basic sense of gender is likely to be related to a sense of mothering or relational capacities. This view is clearly implied in Chodorow's work. Dora Ullian comes to the same conclusion from what she calls a "constructivist" perspective. She thinks that the main organizing factor by which girls construct a sense of gender identity may well be the association of femaleness with having babies. In support of this view, she cites Bernstein and Cowan's study of children's concepts of the origin of babies, which indicates that girls believe that they already have some form of baby inside them regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of their ideas about birth and conception (p. 249). She reviews other evidence relating to the young girl's identification with nurturance, including the study that showed the persistence of girl's doll play even when the "doll corner" was removed
and Eleanor Maccoby's conclusion that girls and women are more responsive to infants than men and boys are and are more nurturant toward younger children who still need help and care (p. 244). Ullian concludes that "a feature of identity as salient as the capacity to bear children may represent a stable organizer of the child's identity and a significant determinant of her behavior. The preoccupation of girls with babies, dolls, various household items, friendships, and feelings bears testimony to the invariability of this female pattern" (p. 250).
One may ask how all this squares with the evidence that many, perhaps a majority of, girls declare that they were tomboys when they were growing up, which often meant having nothing to do with dolls. Since this tomboyishness usually occurs after early childhood, it could develop on top of an identification with mothering at least partially as a response to the girl's growing awareness that the world thinks "boys are better." On another level tomboyishness may mean that American girls, happily, do not see active engagement of the world as a gender-differentiated trait.
Ullian points out that her account differs from Chodorow's in that she does not posit a lack of differentiation between young girls and their mothers but instead "links female 'connectedness' to the young girls tendency to view herself as the mother of a real or imagined child." The two positions are compatible. Chodorow is concerned with the nature of the relationship between mother and daughter and emphasizes the mother's identification with the daughter; Ullian focuses on the female child's perception that she is "connected, either metaphorically or physically" to another. Chodorow stresses the socioemotional (and unconscious) aspects primarily; Ullian, the cognitive aspects. In either case they tie female gender identity to mothering, although Chodorow is not specifically concerned with gender "identity" in the way Ullian is.
It is also important to understand that both Chodorow and Ullian would disagree with Freud and with Lawrence Kohlberg's version of Freud that the girl's sense of self develops as a result of an attempt to compensate for a lack of perceived male power. From any number of standpoints, and most basically from the structural fact that women mother, girls are likely to have a primary, noncompensatory gender identity that is tied in with responsible caretaking. Just what concrete shape this takes in the child's mind is
another question, as is the salience of gender to a child, especially the female child. The primacy of girls' identification with mothering would fit with females having a more stable gender identity than males, even in the face of culturally based "male superiority." This view is, of course, contrary to Freud, who thought boys had the more clear-cut gender identity.
The idea that girls see themselves first as female because of associating femaleness and mothering may be more plausible to the adult mind than to the child's mind, however. While female is connected to mothering and is "true" at some level, it is difficult to state this truth in such a way as to avoid the "adultomorphizing" of gender, that is, attributing to children adult ways of categorizing the world. We obviously do not know what preverbal infants think, and even when they can talk, we cannot know what they "know" at some level they cannot articulate. I am sometimes persuaded by arguments of nonpsychoanalytic thinkers that gender is something that is sustained in interaction and is, in a sense, created and recreated in daily life. Transsexuals challenge this view, however, in that they are aware of playing an "as if" game. They feel that they "really" are a female, and the interactions they participate in "as a male" do not "feel right." This suggests that there are some very early impressions that are crucial. We do not know what they are, but on balance I suspect that mothering is important.
Ullian attributes girls' tendency to be less aggressive than boys to perceptions by girls that they are physically more delicate than boys, particularly the perception that adult men are hairy and have tough skin and deep voices and that women have smoother, softer skin and higher voices. Ullian explains why "girls are good" and "fear being bad" on the basis of their perception of themselves as not being tough but, rather, small, fragile, and easily hurt. In my view Ullian exaggerates female perceptions of "delicacy" vis-à-vis boys since both boys and girls may feel delicate and vulnerable compared to adults, especially adult males. The idea that adult women are delicate is culturally variable, certainly more variable than the greater aggressiveness of males. Although we are far from a complete understanding of women's lesser tendency to aggress, there is little reason to believe that feeling fragile will figure prominently in the explanation.
In an unpublished paper, Ullian reports on a study of the ways in
which females of different ages perceive themselves in relation to males. Six-to ten-year-old girls tended to see boys as "show-offs" who were "not very nice." They were people who thought they were wonderful for no good reason. As one six-year-old put it, "When boys do something like fishing, they want to catch something real big but then they don't come home with anything. But girls, they don't say they are going to do this or to do that. They see how it is going to be and if they catch something, they catch something" (p. 7).
Girls in the ten-to fourteen-year-old group were aware of a conflict between women's autonomy and conventional standards for marital relations. In other words, they were ambivalent about wives who were dominant, feeling that it was both OK—"she has just as much right as the man"—but also not so OK—"it is very weird that she had a better job than he does. I guess they would probably get into a couple of arguments" (quote from a twelve-year-old; p. 11).
In contrast, middle-class high school and college women resolved the conflict in favor of the male. In spite of being opposed to male dominance in principle, these late adolescents personally wanted their particular male to be more successful and dominant than they and expressed emotional discomfort at the prospect of being superior to their mate. They often coupled this with the idea that women were emotionally stronger than men and did not need the ego enhancement that males did. One girl suggested that the reason for wanting the male to be superior was in order not to have to feel like a mother toward him. Both these rationales are based on a recognition of the superiority of women as mothers. The first reaction suggests a belief in women's ability to empower others and women's superior emotional strength, and the second reaction recognizes that a mother-son relationship would reverse the power situation. But surely the alternative to being the superior mother does not have to be that of inferior wife. Equality needs to rest on being lovers and friends.
Ullian comments that even the most highly educated and economically privileged women who were interviewed, women who aspired to demanding professional careers, nevertheless wanted a man they could "look up to." Thus the idea was that the successful marital relationship required male dominance. These findings suggest that male dominance is located in our notions of the good mar-
riage, but it is not the primary basis of women's gender identity. This psychic position is not arrived at by women till adolescence. It is a position that is intimately connected with the ideology of the nuclear family, the structure of the economic world, and the linkages between the nuclear family and that world. Simply put, even as the male provider role declines, a woman's life chances still depend on the man she marries far more than a man's life chances depend on the woman he marries—a powerful reason for a woman to look for a superior man. It was Freud's questionable contribution to help define this as an ultimate psychic reality, to define deference to the male as what "femininity" is. This is not what women are but rather reflects expectations for women as wives. The effect of emphasizing the heterosexual couple in this society to the exclusion of others has been to emphasize the very relationship in which men are defined as superior.