Theories of Personality 9th Edition

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Chapter 2 Freud: Psychoanalysis 65

their intelligence, emotional strength, and loyalty—the same qualities Freud found
attractive in men. But none of these women could substitute for an intimate male
friend. In August of 1901, Freud (1985) wrote to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, “In
my life, as you know, woman has never replaced the comrade, the friend” (p. 447).
Why was Freud unable to understand women? Given his upbringing during
the middle of the 19th century, parental acceptance of his domination of his sisters,
a tendency to exaggerate differences between women and men, and his belief that
women inhabited the “dark continent” of humanity, it seems unlikely that Freud
possessed the necessary experiences to understand women. Toward the end of his
life, he still had to ask, “What does a woman want?” (E. Jones, 1955, p. 421). The
question itself reveals Freud’s gender bias because it assumes that women all want
the same things and that their wants are somehow different from those of men.
Feminist theorists like Judith Butler (1995) have critiqued the gender norma-
tivity (after the Oedipus complex is resolved, boys become masculine men and
girls become feminine women) and heterosexism of Freud’s theorizing. In two of
Freud’s works, “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) and The Ego and the Id
(1923), he argued that part of the process of forming our character (our ego) is
first the grieving, and then the substitution of lost love objects with other objects.
That is, the boy must grieve the “loss” of his mother as a love object, and substi-
tute it with erotic love for a woman. Conversely, the girl must grieve the loss of
her father and eventually substitute this with love for a male romantic partner.
In her essay “Melancholy Gender—Refused Identification” (1995), Butler
takes Freud’s original ideas and turns them upside down, asking the question:
“What does the ego do with lost same-sex attachment?” Obviously as young
children we also form strong attachments to our same-sex parent. She argues the
superego will not easily allow the ego to form compensatory attachments to stand
in for lost same-sex objects, however. Why not? Freud’s idea is that these lost
objects are invested with libido. Society disapproves of same-sex libidinal attach-
ment, and so the ego is unable, or struggles, to produce appropriate and satisfying
substitutes for lost same-sex objects that might help the id feel better. In this case,
the id becomes trapped in “melancholia.” The id can never fully resolve the grief.
If, in Freud’s gender normative/heterosexual theory, girls and boys must
repress their desire for their opposite sex parent, in Butler’s refiguring, the psychic
action is even harsher. Children must repudiate feelings of same-sex love. Indeed,
she argues, cultural prohibitions against homosexuality operate as a foundation for
gender and heterosexuality. This is especially true for boys and men. Masculine
heterosexual gender identity, she argues, is a kind of melancholy, reflecting the
utter disavowal of their attraction to other men, and the unfinished business of
grieving the loss of their same-sex parent. In this way, Butler provides a fascinat-
ing critical engagement of Freudian theory to understand gender and sexuality.

Was Freud a Scientist?

A second area of criticism of Freud centers around his status as a scientist. Although
he repeatedly insisted that he was primarily a scientist and that psychoanalysis was
a science, Freud’s definition of science needs some explanation. When he called
psychoanalysis a science, he was attempting to separate it from a philosophy or an

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