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Feminism and the Oedipus complex

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Title: Feminism and the Oedipus complex  
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Subject: Index of feminism articles, Freudian psychology, Psychoanalysis, Oedipus, Jocasta complex
Collection: Feminism and Health, Feminism and the Family, Freudian Psychology, History of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, Women and Psychology
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Feminism and the Oedipus complex

Sphinx & Oedipus

Feminists have long struggled with Freud's classical model of gender and identity development, which centers around the Oedipus complex. Freud's model, which became integral to orthodox psychoanalysis, suggests that because women lack the visible genitals of the male, they feel they are "missing" the most central characteristic necessary for gaining narcissistic value—therefore developing feelings of gender inequality and penis envy. In his late theory on the feminine, Freud recognized the early and long lasting libidinal attachment of the daughter to the mother during the pre-oedipal stages. Feminist psychoanalysts have confronted these ideas (particularly the female relationship to the real, imaginary and symbolic phallus) and reached different conclusions. Some generally agree with Freud's major outlines, modifying it through observations of the pre-Oedipal phase. Others reformulate Freud's theories more completely.


  • Hélène Deutsch 1
  • Nancy Chodorow 2
  • Luce Irigaray 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Hélène Deutsch

Hélène Deutsch (1884–1982) was one of Freud's first female pupils and the first analyst who made an integral, chronological study of woman's psychological development. In short, Deutsch claims that women have a passive-masochistic sexuality, they are born for reproduction and their development must be seen as different from the development of men.[1]

Deutsch sees the female development as exceedingly difficult and tortuous, because at some point she must transfer her primary sexual object choice from her mother to her father (and males), if she is to attain her expected heterosexual adulthood.[2] According to Deutsch, the girl blames her father, not her mother, for the lack of a penis; thus, she stops identifying with her father and masculinity. Because of this relationship with her father, she develops libidinous fantasies of being raped. Thus, the rape fantasy is universal and non-pathological, a key part of female sexuality. Meanwhile, the girl identifies herself with her mother through the wish for an ‘anal child’. When she recognizes her failure, a decline to the pre-genital stage takes place: a wish for the earlier active (phallic) clitoris. Masochistic tensions in the girl prevail and she longs to be castrated by her father. The desire for a child also becomes masochistic.

Nancy Chodorow

Nancy Chodorow noted that Freud believed that males possess physical superiority and that a woman’s personality is inevitably determined by her lack of a penis. Like Freud, but for different reasons, Chodorow emphasizes that the female Oedipal crisis is not resolved completely, unlike the male crisis: a girl cannot and does not completely reject her mother in favour of men, but continues her relationship of attachment to her. The strength and quality of her relationship with her father are completely dependent upon the strength and quality of her relationship with her mother. Chodorow claims that most women are genitally heterosexual, but they have other, equally deep relationships with their children and with other women, as a result of the primary relationship with the mother.[3] Thus, a girl represses neither her pre-Oedipal nor her Oedipal attachment to her mother nor her Oedipal attachment to her father. This means that she grows up with more ongoing preoccupation with internalized object relationships and with external relationships. Because a girl does not have to repress her pre-Oedipal and Oedipal attachment to father and mother, she reaches a more relational sensibility than boys. Chodorow illustrated this through studies suggesting that men love (and fall in love) romantically, where women love and fall in love sensibly and rationally.[4]

Luce Irigaray


  • Benjamin, J., (1995). Like Subject, Love Objects. Yale University Press.
  • Bornheimer, C. & Kahane, C., (1985). In Dora's Case. London: Virago Press.
  • Chorodow, N.J. (2001). Family structure and feminine personality In Juschka, D.M., Feminism in the study of religion. London and New York: Continuum.
  • Chorodow, N.J., (1989). Feminism and psychoanalytic theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Chorodow, N.J., (1978). The reproduction of Mothering. University of California press.
  • Fischer, A., Van Hoorn, W., Jansz, J. (1983). Psychoanalyse en vrouwelijke seksualiteit. Uitgeverij Boom, Meppel en Amsterdam.
  • Freud, S., (1931). "Female Sexuality". The Standard Edition of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogath, 1961.
  • Horney, K., (1951). Neurosis and Human Growth. London: Routledge.
  • Horney, K., (1922–37). Feminine psychology. NY: Norton. 1967.
  • Irigaray, L., (1984). Dit geslacht dat niet (één) is. translation of: Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un. Parijs: Minuit.
  • Irigaray, L., (1974). Speculum of the Other Woman. 1985. Cornell University Press.
  • Irigaray, L., (2004). Key Writings. NY: Continuum.
  • Irigaray, L., (1993). Sexes and Genealogies. Columbia University Press.
  • Kristeva, J., (1982). The Powers of Horror. Columbia University Press.
  • Lacan, J. (1973). Encore: On Feminine Sexuality. NY: Norton & Company, 1998.
  • Mitchell, J. and Rose, J., (1982). Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne, Feminine Sexuality. NY: Pantheon.
  • Parallax n. 8. Special issue on Julia Kristeva. Issue n. 8 [Vol. 4(3)].
  • Paris, B.J., (1994). Karen Horney. A psychoanalyst’s search for self-understanding. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Pollock, G., (2006). "Beyond Oedipus. Feminist Thought, Psychoanalysis, and Mythical Figurations of the Feminine." In: Laughing with Medusa. Eds. Zajko, V. & and Leonard, M., Oxford University Press.
  • Riviere, J. "Womanliness as masquerade", International Journal of Psychoanalysis n.10, 1929.


  1. ^ Fischer, Psychoanalyse en vrouwelijke seksualiteit, pp.103.
  2. ^ Juschka, D.M. “Feminism in the Study of Religion”, pp.88.
  3. ^ Chorodow, Family structure and feminine personality, pp.87-89
  4. ^ Chorodow, Feminism and psychoanalytic theory, pp.73-74
  5. ^ Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, pp.73
  6. ^ Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, pp.57,34
  7. ^ Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, pp.58
  8. ^ Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, pp.59
  9. ^ Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, pp.119
  10. ^ Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, pp.120


See also

[10] To enter the Oedipus-complex, a girl must hate her mother. Irigaray says this view makes it impossible for a girl to give meaning to the relationship with her mother.[9]

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