Evolving Psychoanalytic Theories of Gender and Heterosexuality

How do these marked generational changes in gender identities and gendered subjectivities fit into the evolving psychoanalytic theories of gender and heterosexuality? In this section I will return to the question I posed in Chap. 2 about the temporal dimension of psychological theories. Three influential psychoanalytic theories of gender and heterosexual development were formulated in the periods of childhood and youth of each of the three generations of my study: the Oedipal model of Freud, the gender identity model based on Margareth Mahler’s theory of separation and individuation, and the gender ambiguity model based on more recent feminist relational and postmodern theory. I will give a short presentation of each of these and will then bring in the psychological positions of the three generations.

The Oedipal Model: Love or Identification

The Oedipal model was finalised in the 1920s. For Freud, psychological gender differences are not present until the Oedipal crisis, where the discovery of the anatomical differences between the sexes, in combination with an increased genital libido, makes the child direct a more erotic interest towards the parents. The boy’s fear of castration pushes him to give up his erotic desire for his mother and identify with his father instead, whereas the girl, discovering that she has already been ‘castrated’, will blame her mother and redirect her love to her father and transform her wish for a penis into a wish for having a baby by the father. Thus, gender is created psychologically by splitting identification (wanting to be like) and desire (wanting to have) (Freud 1925; Lucey et al. 2016). In the heterosexual family this is a truly gendered drama where the child at first directs love and identification at both parents (the negative and positive Oedipus complex), but in most cases ends up with accepting biological and cultural gender complementarity where one can have feelings of love for those of the opposite gender, and feelings of identification those of the same gender (Freud 1925). The Oedipal complex creates both gender and generational polarities and installs a relatively fixed gendered personality structure in the child. The boy sublimates his erotic feelings into a sentimentalised image of his kind but weak mother, thereby splitting sexuality and feelings of tenderness in himself, and directs his energy towards the men’s world, where questions of size, strength and success become immensely important. The girl, after she has ‘become aware of the wound to her narcissism, she develops, like a scar, a sense of inferiority ... she begins to share the contempt felt by men for a sex which is the lesser in so important a respect’ (Freud 1925: 253-254). The girl reacts with negative or ambivalent feelings towards her mother who refused to give her a penis and turned down her erotic love, and also often reacts with jealousy towards other children of whom she feels the mother is fonder. She finds comfort in idealising her father, and this idealisation is a substitute both for her forbidden erotic feelings and for what she was herself denied to be. In order to keep the father as a good object, she must also restrict her own activity within areas that belong to men or pursue it with feelings of guilt. Thus, ‘normal femininity’, according to Freud, becomes characterised by passivity, narcissism and masochism. In this way women’s agency is displaced and becomes part of their eroti- cised relation to men (Dimen 2002: 50). Dimen describes this as a split in terms of how desire is culturally constituted: whereas men’s desire is constituted as an active and adult wish (‘I want’), women’s desire is constituted as a passive need (‘I want to be wanted’), or she is seen as being without desire at all, just as clingy and needy as an infant. In this way the fact that both wish and need are part of the longing for desire for both women and men is concealed.

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