The Bedrocks of Gender?

In spite of the changing contours of gendered psychologies, there are also more sluggish elements that emerge when we compare the three generations. One is that mothers are always taken more for granted than fathers. Mothers seldom stand out as the idealised and exciting individuals like fathers often do. The relationship with mothers may often induce positive feelings of attachment and security, and mothers can embody both ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ qualities that their sons and daughters identify with—but this rarely produces the same enthusiasm, whether in the form of pride and admiration or in the form of warmth and tenderness, as it does with the fathers. Across the generations we have been looking at here, the father remains the knight in shining armour (Mahler model of gender identities may have a strong connection to the middle class, where both the degendering of work and care, and the valuation of uniqueness and individualisation are indeed most prominent.

et al. 1975; Chodorow and Contratto 1992; Benjamin 1995), whereas relationships with the mother are characterised by more ambivalent feelings, especially for women. Another sluggish element is that disidentifying with your same-sex parent seems to produce more psychological tension in the form of insecure gender identity than disidentifying with the opposite- sex parent. It is not important whether the same-sex parent embodies the culturally prescribed gender norms or not. A good relationship can include both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ qualities in the same-sex parent. A positive identification with the same-sex parent (which, of course, does not exclude a positive identification with the other parent too) means that gender identity is felt as basically secure or unproblematic regardless of what it consists of. This indicates that emotional identification with other people is not exactly the same as identification with cultural meaning. A third sluggish element across these three generations is that the gender polarity appears to be more psychologically important to uphold for the men than for the women. Women seem to get their feeling of gender more in the generational relation, even if the identification is negative. For the women, gender polarities are instead connected to problems of inequality (see Chodorow 1999: 28) or eroticised and used as an indirect way to gain agency and subjectivity.

I will have to leave this as observations. It may have to do with the structure of the heterosexual nuclear family, even in times where fathers have become more present and mothers more individualised. Adrienne Harris indicates that Benjamin’s idea of the identificatory love of the father could be seen as a compromise between a feminist theory of gender-neutral parenting and a psychoanalytical model—and I would extend that to a cultural model—‘that counterpoises active and passive, reason and madness, regression and activity’ (2008: 47). We may also here have reached one of the bedrocks of Western culture—the one Simone de Beauvoir (1949) analysed in the figure of ‘woman as the second sex’. In spite of many and important changes in gender relations, the position of being a subject still sits better with deep-seated cultural images of masculinity than of femininity.

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