Feminists' discovery that "identity" was politically serviceable did not end with Friedan's book. Subsequent feminist efforts illustrated even more broadly than Friedan's partiality to Maslovian theory how the language and theoretical tools of psychology could be made relevant and usable to the women's movement. Before the 1960s, discussions of "identity" were confined mainly to the literature on developmental psychology. During the 1960s and after, the term served as a clue to who had power, who did not, and why. It became so central to feminists, in fact, that the term "identity politics" circulated widely as a shorthand reference to a particular political position. In an abbreviated fashion, it alluded to the constellation of ideas that held the building blocks of individuality—gender, age, race, class, sexual orientation, among others—to be an efficient means of both understanding and dismantling the structure of social and political inequality. It offered, in other words, a way of tying individual experience to social context.
Throughout the postwar era, the concept of identity was closely identified with the work of German emigré psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Erikson dated its origin to his clinical work with World War II veterans, who had reported an eerie loss of feelings related to personal uniqueness and historical continuity. It was during the 1950s that "identity crisis" entered the language as a common term for the first time. As a national panic over an epidemic of juvenile delinquency esca-
lated, the concept seemed a convenient way to think about the dangers posed by adolescent male development. During the 1960s, Erikson suggested that young people had also lost their place in history, just like the veterans he had treated. In Erikson's psychosocial ideas, many young people found confirmation (or at least an explanation) of their own commitment to radical politics. Numerous social scientists also used Erikson's work as an aid in exploring the origins of the period's social movements. Erikson repeatedly assented to such sociological applications.
A 1964 article, "Inner and Outer Space: Reflections on Womanhood," brought Erikson to the attention of feminists. Based on Erik-son's work in a two-year University of California child study (which had not been intended as an investigation of gender identity or development), the article explored the gender differences in special relationships that Erikson had observed in children's play. Boys, he found, emphasized outer spaces, protrusions, and people and animals in (sometimes destructive) motion. Girls, on the other hand, emphasized inner spaces and peaceful enclosures containing people and animals at rest.
To Erikson, it was obvious that such differences indicated that "a profound difference exists between the sexes in the experience of the ground plan of the human body." He explained that his concern with women's reproductive biology was not "a renewed male attempt to 'doom' every woman to perpetual motherhood and to deny her the equivalence of individuality and the equality of citizenship." He nevertheless concluded that "women have found their identifies in the care suggested by their bodies and in the needs of their issue, and seem to have taken it for granted that the outer world space belongs to the men."
Erikson came under fierce feminist fire. Kate Millett, in her widely read Sexual Politics, accused him of reducing sexist social arrangements to biological inevitabilities and denying women the freedom he automatically granted to men: to forge identifies not circumscribed by "somatic design." In part, what irked his feminist critics was also that Erikson's analysis sounded benign, at least in comparison to vulgar biological determinism. His sympathy for women, and his willingness to accord them ethical superiority in their presumed fidelity to peacefulness and nurturance, struck Millett as a clever way of leaving unquestioned the "clear understanding that civilization is a male department."
Wounded and angry, Erikson defended himself. He pointed out that the essay was intended as an alternative to orthodox psychoanalytic theory, a direct challenge to the objectionable notion that female psychological development revolved around the absence of a penis. Erikson, who considered himself a friend to women, was dismayed that his ideas had been interpreted as a mockery of women's human potential, and suggested that the unfortunate misunderstanding had occurred because his ideas had been ripped from the context that made them intelligible. Their lack of appreciation for his prowoman stance prompted Erikson to attribute to feminists a "moralistic projection of erstwhile negative self-images upon men as representing evil oppressors and exploiters," a statement that feminists doubtlessly perceived as both a slur and yet another example of how easily experts could dismiss feminist demands by resorting to psychological analysis.
Whatever their differences with and attitude toward Erikson, feminists proceeded to use "identity" in their own way and for their own purposes. Theorists at various points on the political spectrum of feminism quickly latched onto the process of female socialization as the preferred explanation for feminine thought and behavior. It was an explanation that necessarily favored nurture over nature, history and culture over biology. Because socialization was a social process by definition, highlighting it highlighted the power of deliberate social arrangements in the manufacture of gender's meaning. In comparison, most feminists believed, biological sex was purely accidental and altogether trivial.
Kate Millett proclaimed "socialization" to be the ideological foundation of patriarchal power. Without "the formation of human personality along stereotyped lines of sexual category," she argued, consent for a system of male-dominated "sexual politics" would be impossible to obtain. Such uncompromising emphasis upon the social dimensions of subjective experience was a common theme in the early years of the women's movement. Socialist-feminist Meredith Tax, for example, wrote,
We didn't get this way by heredity or accident. We have been molded into these deformed postures, pushed into these service jobs, made to apologize for existing, taught to be unable to do anything requiring any strength at all, like opening doors or bottles. We have been told to be stupid, to be silly. We have had our mental and emotional feet bound for thousands of years. And the fact that some of the pieces that have been cut out of us are ones we can never replace or reconstruct—an ego, self-confidence, an ability to make choices—is the most difficult of all to deal with.
Tax expressed the rage and pain many women felt about "the pieces that have been cut out of us." But the argument that female identity had been distorted by sexist social programming and interpersonal relationships had a very bright side. Identity could be changed through social decisions and actions.
Over the long term, alterations in childrearing practices appeared especially promising as a method of reforming gender socialization. Bringing children up differently held out the possibility of eliminating polarized roles, traits, and behaviors and encouraging gifts and boys alike to explore a wider range of human possibilities. Nancy Chodorow, a graduate student in sociology during the late 1960s, was interested in how the division of childrearing labor reproduced gendered personalities. Inspired by the work of culture and personality anthropologists, she noticed that although wide cross-cultural variation existed in behaviors and traits categorized as either masculine or feminine, women were always the primary socializers of infants and young children. Female caretaking was an apparent "cultural universal." She hypothesized that a developmental process requiring both girls and boys to separate from their mothers in order to gain an independent psychological identity was at the root of problematic gender differentiation.
In hers, as in the other feminist critiques reviewed above, a central theme was that most psychologists, anthropologists, and other social and behavioral experts had done a terrible disservice by transposing malleable feats of culture into supposedly ironclad facts of nature. Chodorow's analysis offered an alternative. The sharp division of socializing labor between men and women because of the alleged fit between childbearing and childrearing was revealed to be a thoroughly cultural construct with profound implications for the production of gendered personalities and the maintenance of male supremacy. Chodorow tried to illustrate how the construction of gender identity might be treated as a social process while still conserving the psychoanalytic tradition's close attention to the significance of early childhood and the familial environment.
Shocked to learn they were different from their female caretakers, she speculated, boys had to actually do something in order to achieve masculinity, and that something often involved distancing themselves from the feminine by attributing power and prestige to whatever activities were culturally defined in masculine terms. Girls' development was smoother, but the results were more self-destructive. Because they were not different from their female caretakers, their identity did not have
to be earned through activity distinguishing them from their mothers. Feminine identity simply was. Ascribed as a product of nature, women's identity was readily internalized by girls as a given, only to be re-created through the next generational cycle of childrearing. "Until male 'identity' does not depend on men's proving themselves, their 'doing' will be a reaction to insecurity, not a creative exercise of their humanity, and woman's 'being,' far from being an easy and positive acceptance of self, will be a resignation to inferiority."
Chodorow was neither the only theorist impressed by women's exclusive responsibility for child care nor the only one to stress that gifts and boys alike would benefit from growing up around men and women whose creativity managed to encompass child nurture and a wider range of other activities than were typically allowed by either masculinity or femininity. An equal division of domestic labor between men and women, from dishes to diapers, became one of the movement's central demands. Organizing projects were formed to draft men into child care, to promote nonsexist educational materials, and to ease women's domestic responsibilities. Practical equality, feminists maintained, was a simple matter of social justice for women. But it was also, as Chodorow had suggested, a matter of everyone's mental health. If men and women were equally represented as socializers, and if children were exposed to a diversity of adult possibilities, the result might be a new, and improved, experience of self. Girls and boys alike would grow to be more integrated, secure, and fully human women and men.