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Freud and Feminism: Introductory Readings

The following messages were sent to WMST-L in October 2009 in response to
a request for "something fairly short and introductory" to help undergraduate
students understand why some feminists have found Freud to be worth reading
and thinking about.  For more WMST-L files available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 15:07:56 -0700
From: Sally J Markowitz <smarkowi AT WILLAMETTE.EDU>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Hi, everyone--

A young (male) colleague of mine in the philosophy department is teaching
a freshman seminar on Freud's _Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis_,
and, understandably, a number of his bright, female students are turned
off by various of Freud's sexist remarks, gratuitous and otherwise.  My
colleague is figuring out how to handle this, and we thought he might give
students something fairly short and introductory to read about why some
feminists have found Freud to be worth reading and thinking about in spite
of the obvious problems. But nothing suitable comes to mind.

Any suggestions?

Thank you!

Sally Markowitz
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 15:40:54 -0700
From: Den <denzen AT FRONTIERNET.NET>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray are feminists who built off of Lacan (who
built off of Freud)

Denice Knight-Slater
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 16:21:41 -0700
From: Jill Fields <jfields AT CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Your colleague might take a look at feminist film theory which makes
use of Freudian concepts to analyze female spectatorship.  See for
example, Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Mary
Ann Doane, "Film and the Masquerade," and Amy Kaplan, "Is the Gaze
Male?"  Jill

Jill Fields, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History
California State University, Fresno

Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 16:32:47 -0700
From: cindy childress <ladyoracle1979 AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing and
Women, 1974 is a classic response of a feminist both making a gendered
critique of Freud and then finding ways that feminists can still
benefit from his scholarship.  I would give students the introduction
and tell them where to find it if they would like to read more, and
Irigaray's Speculum also contains a great critique of Freud and well
as Lacan, but her style is experimental so students would need help
situating themselves with the text, whereas Mitchell's is
straightforward.  I love Kristeva's work, but couldn't point to one
text as the place where she makes a sustained critique of Freud, but
any one would benefit from reading the "Women's Time" chapter in her
book, New Maladies of the Soul.  
Cindy Childress, Ph. D.Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 20:30:31 -0400
From: Jane Hassinger <jahass AT UMICH.EDU>
Subject: feminists and freud
Many feminist psychologists/psychoanalysts have written about the
usefulness of evolving contemporary psychoanalysis--both as a methodology
and a theory with powerful explanatory possibilities. In addition to
Juliette Mitchell, one might look to Dorothy Dinnerstein (The Mermaid and
the Minotaur) and Jean Baker Miller (Towards a Psychology of Women), Nancy
Chodorow,(Reproduction of Mothering and Feminism and Psychoanalysis),
Adrienne Harris (Gender as Soft Assembly) and  Lynne Layton (Who's That
Boy, Who's That Girl?), and others.  

Jane A. Hassinger, MSW, DCSW, Psychoanalyst
Senior Lecturer, Women's Studies
Research Scientist, Institute for Research on Women and Gender
University of Michigan
jahass  AT  umich.edu
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 20:31:40 -0400
From: Barrie Karp <barriekarp AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Someone in a previous post mentioned Luce Irigaray's writing style.  Luce
Irigaray's writing style is exciting and even a relief to even unexperienced
students and well worth introducing them to.

Along with her *Speculum of the Other Woman* book and *This Sex Which Is Not
One* (the book and also the chapter with same title), I would use one of the
early chapters of Judith Butler's *Bodies That Matter* (the chapter that
engages with how Irigaray engages with Plato, etc.), and also Butler's later
writings that have appeared in psychoanalytic journals (perhaps collected in
her anthologies).

There are some classics on feminism and psychoanalysis, -- anthologies and
authors.  Some are:

Between Feminism and
Teresa Brennan (Paperback - Aug 10, 1989)

The Future of an Illusion: Film, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis (Media and
Constance Penley

Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary (Blackwell
E. L. Wright (Paperback - Nov 10, 1992)

Feminism and Psychoanalysis<http://www.amazon.com/Feminism-Psychoanalysis-Richard-Feldstein/dp/0801422981/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256083606&sr=1-11>
Richard Feldstein, Judith Roof, Joan Copjec, and Madelon Sprengnether (
Hardcover - Jul 1989)

Thinking fragments; psychoanalysis, feminism, and postmodernism in
Jane Flax

The daughters seduction : feminism and psychoanalysis / Jane
Jane (1952-) Gallop
And other books by Gallop

*Some Authors:*
Elizabeth Grosz
Kaja Silverman
Charles Shepherdson
Judith Butler
Adrienne Harris
Muriel Dimen
Ken Corbett

Many more thinkers have found psychoanalysis and feminism to be crucially
compatible and important to one another, and have participated in feminist
critiques, uses and advancement of psychoanalysis & of feminism.

*E.G., See* Teresa Brennan's introduction to her anthology above, and her
entries in Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary (Blackwell
E. L. Wright (Paperback - Nov 10, 1992), e.g., her entry on psychical

Students might also want to know about the writings of some of the great
female psychoanalysts and autobiographies and biographies of them (Melanie
Klein, Margaret Little, Lou Andrea Salome, others).

A useful book is:
Freud's Women<http://www.amazon.com/Freuds-Women-Lisa-Appignanesi/dp/0753819163/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256084843&sr=1-1>
Lisa Appignanesi and John Forrester
The content is useful.  I wish it were better-written.  But if students
start with this book they will only reinforce their uninformed believes in
stereotypes about Freud and psychoanalysis as enemies to feminism -- they
won't have the knowledge and critical skills to contextualize.
Psychoanalysis is a great theory of the mind and of sexuality or sexual
difference.  There are many schools and versions and it's always growing in
many ways and directions.  Students should first be taught this and why it
is so, and then why it is so useful to feminism and Queer theory and
antiracism, etc.

It's easy to see Freud's personal sexism and the sexism of his era.  To
leave it at that is superficial and impoverished.

Barrie Karp, Ph.D.
barriekarp  AT  gmail.com
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 20:41:27 -0400
From: "Pilardi, Jo-Ann" <jpilardi AT TOWSON.EDU>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
I second Cindy's suggestions and comments here.  He should look at
Juliet Mitchell's _Psychoanalysis and Feminism_.  It's important to
make the point with students that early on, Freud's own students and
others started critiquing parts of his theories--on women and other
topics.  (And he didn't like it much!)

Perhaps better, or more current (because it includes Irigaray and
Kristeva) is Rosemarie Tong's chapter, "Psychoanalytic Feminism," in
_Feminist Thought_ (3d ed.), which covers a lot of the issues and
major figures.

And lest we forget: there's a chapter on psychoanalysis in _The Second
Sex_ (1949) where Beauvoir both acknowledges the advances
psychoanalysis represents as well as its (Freud's) limits.

  Jo-Ann Pilardi
  Prof. Emerita, Towson U., Md.
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 17:58:00 -0700
From: Paula Peel <paula.c.peel AT ROGERS.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
hi Sally, 

Your colleague may want to check out "The Knotted Subject" (1998) by
Elisabeth Bronfen. I like that it reads in parts like a feminist
psychoanalysis of Freud. It puts Freud very much on the same footing
as the hysterics he treated and is more than even-handed in its
treatment of Freud.  Bronfen actually holds some of his sexist
remarks up to scrutiny e.g. his comment that "there would be one simple
therapy for widowhood, of course. All sorts of intimate things
naturally". It's seems to be what the instructor is needing right now
--but why not include unsympathetic feminist treatments of Freud as
well?  I'd be pretty turned off by a seminar on Freud's introductory
lectures on psychoanalysis too.

It's very well-suited for an intro philosophy course. It can be a
bit rough-going in places but if the students are reading
Freud's lectures they might find it a picnic in comparison! The
problem is it doesn't meet the criteria i.e., something fairly short
and introductory.  The instructor might be able to make use of one of
the chapters, eg. the chapter called "Me Freud, You Jane".

The instructor can google it and read parts of this book online. 

paula.c.peel  AT  rogers.com
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 21:07:05 -0400
From: Barrie Karp <barriekarp AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
for something really short and introductory, as someone just wrote, that
also opens worlds and opportunities for much class discusssion, I'd
recommend simply the following (the latter, below), as each entry is only 1
or 2 pages, and would serve the requested needs well, showing a range of
understanding and connection of eras, way into the past and way into the

E.G., See Teresa Brennan's introduction to her anthology above, and her
entries in Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary (Blackwell
Reference) by E. L. Wright (Paperback - Nov 10, 1992), e.g., her entry on
psychical reality.

Barrie Karp, Ph.D.
barriekarp  AT  gmail.com
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 21:06:47 -0400
Subject: Re: Freud was the first
A well-educated woman doesn't read only the works she wants to. Freud
is worth reading because he offered the first theories of
psychoanalysis. If I haven't read him, how can I argue with what he

While many of Freud's ideas have fallen out of favor or have been
modified by Neo-Freudians and at the close of the 20th century
advances in the field of psychology began to show flaws in many of his
theories, Freud's methods and ideas remain important in the history of
clinical psychodynamic approaches.

In academia, his ideas continue to influence the humanities and some
social sciences. From Wikipedia:

Freud's nephew and consumerism
I took a marketing class in which we learned that Freud's nephew
Edward Bernays (also spelled Bernaise) was a pioneer in the use of
psychology to make people want "things."  See the article below for a
fascinating story about the origins of American consumerism. It's
really sad that Bernays, in the employ of the tabacco industry, paid
women to smoke while walking in the Easter parades in New York during
the 1920s. He made smoking attractive and acceptable, influencing many
women to take up smoking when it had been considered off limits to
women before. I know many women who have emphysema or have died from
emphysema who started to smoke at that time.  Yet Bernays who lived in
Cambridge until his death was involved in charitable activities late
in life, and I know several people who knew and respected him and
enjoyed his company.

Tom Rushing, "Controlling the Masses: From Religion to Bernaise,"
August 30, 2006. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article14763.htm

Propaganda during war was nothing new, but Bernaise saw an opportunity
to use the unconscious desires of humans to manipulate the masses in
times of peace also. Bernaise believed that by fulfilling the
unconscious desires of people would change a potentially unruly
population into a controlled docile one. Bernaise invented the much
used term "public relations," and used it to turn the population of
the United States into consumers. Before Bernaise worked his magic,
the American population only bought goods according to their needs. It
was practically unheard of to buy something for any other
reason. Bernaise made it acceptable to make a purchase based on
desires. Using Hollywood through product placement, and the media, he
changed the population into an easily placated self-absorbed group
where before they were actively participating.

Best regards, Barbara
Barbara Passero, Director
Young Women's Career & Mentor Kit Programs
Exploring careers through mentoring
Recent story http://www.wickedlocal.com/belmont/homepage/x2141120011/Passero-encourages-career-path-development 
TV interview with Barbara Passero http://blip.tv/file/2396972 .  
bpassero  AT  camkit.info
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 22:36:59 -0400
From: Beverly Ayers-Nachamkin <bayersna AT COMCAST.NET>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
He might want to have a look at Hannah Lerman's, _A Mote in Freud's Eye:
>From Psychoanalysis to the Psychology of Women_. The PsycINFO abstract can
be found at http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1986-98395-000  It's been years
since I read it, but I found it helpful as a starting point in coming to
(feminist) terms with Freudian theory. 

>>>>>>>>>  AT    AT  <<<<<<<<<
Bev Ayers-Nachamkin, Ph.D
Wilson College
1015 Philadelphia Ave.
Chambersburg, PA 17201
bayersna  AT  comcast.net
bayers  AT  wilson.edu
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2009 02:54:08 +0000
From: Adriene Sere <agoldhorse AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Gloria Steinem wrote an essay, "What if Freud were Phyllis? or, The
Watergate of the Western World" in her book _Moving Beyond Words_ which is
fun to read and at the same time very insightful.

Jeffrey Masson wrote _The assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the
Seduction Theory_

Also philosopher Mary Daly critically alludes to Lacanian and Freudian
theory in _The Wickedary_.

Catharine MacKinnon offers brief but valuable criticism of Lacan, describing
him as solipsistic and deeply essentialist, though he pretends to be the

Hopefully this instructor will encourage his students to follow their
critical instincts, rather than put a "feminist" spin on Freud to make the
pill go down easier. I believe that many of those who call themselves
feminist critics of Freud (and Lacan) offer only a superficial challenge (if
that), thereby distracting from a potentially deeper (and more obvious)
challenge to the fundamental sexist premise.

I personally found nothing feminist about Julia Kristeva. It's been many
years since I've read her, but "defeatism" and "fascist thought" seemed more
accurate descriptive terms to me at the time (and probably still would).
Juliette Mitchell, by calling her approach feminist, provides sugar on
intellectual fraud. Even Luce Irigaray accepts and works with Lacan's flawed
premise, which thereby legitimizes it and distracts students from
criticizing and challenging the work in a more fundamental way. (I'm not
against students studying their work, of course, but I do support
challenging it. And I do find some value in Freud's work.)

Adriene Sere
agoldhorse  AT  gmail.com
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2009 06:59:13 -0700
From: Jessica B. Burstrem <jessica AT CLINEFELTER.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
I really like Janice Doane and Devon Hodges's FROM KLEIN TO KRISTEVA:
does an excellent job of showing how some of those who have used Freud/Lacan
while criticizing its misogyny have nonetheless perpetuated it thereby, by
thus assuming the legitimacy of its central premises, etc. Perhaps the
instructor could offer a bibliography, annotated with our comments here?
Even just knowing that this stuff is out there would help some students, and
they could investigate where they felt most concerned - psychoanalysis, film
studies, mothering studies, etc.

Jessica B. Burstrem, M.A.
The University of Arizona Department of English
jessica  AT  clinefelter.com
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2009 10:01:29 -0400
From: cynthia burack <burack.1 AT OSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: On reading Freud and Feminism
I don't think anyone has mentioned Mari Jo Buhle's Feminism and Its
Discontents: A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis.  The Introduction to
Buhle's book takes up precisely this question of what Freud's women
contemporaries (like Emma Goldman) saw in his psychoanalysis.

Cynthia Burack
Department of Women's Studies
286 University Hall, 230 N. Oval Mall
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH   43210-1311
burack.1  AT  osu.edu

Sin, Sex, and Democracy: Antigay Rhetoric and the Christian Right
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2009 10:22:03 -0400
From: Laurie Finke <finkel AT KENYON.EDU>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
Could I ask that the original poster of this  question collect all these
terrific responses into one email and post it?  I am finding this thread
extremely useful as I deal with much the same problem in many of my classes
when Freud (inevitably) comes up.  As one of my colleagues put it, our
students have already been thoroughly innoculated against Freud so my
challenge always is not getting them to see the sexism (they already do, as
the original poster pointed out).  It's getting them to ask whether there is
anything beyond that that might be useful.

Laurie  Finke

Laurie Finke
Self-Study Coordinator
Reaccreditation 2010
O'Connor House
finkel  AT  kenyon.edu
reaccreditation  AT  kenyon.edu
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2009 08:23:40 -0700
From: Paula Peel <paula.c.peel AT ROGERS.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
[Presumably in response to Barrie Karp's first message, above, which was
quoted at the end of this message.]

Not to be overlooked in this however is that there are stereotypes
aplenty in Freud's Intro Lectures.  You may not want to start with a
book that may reinforce "uninformed" beliefs in stereotypes about
Freud. But I might choose that book over
one that feeds stereotypes about women and that in having done so has
both fuelled - and normalized - misogyny.     

I'm not really on the same page with you regarding your appraisal--
i.e.,that correcting students' uninformed beliefs in stereotypes
about Freud and psychoanalysis as enemies of feminism is what has to
happen. I am concerned moreover that there's a faulty assumption at
work that female students are bringing with them uninformed beliefs
into the classroom (hence male students are much more open-minded
about Freud?)  

Here's my own appraisal of the situation: If these female students
are new to philosophy they're probably immersed in this sort of stuff
right now.  If they're just starting out in philosophy this will be
their first time encountering blatant sexism in academic
texts. It can come as a shock, finding out that so many of the
"greats" were sexist (and worse) and shocking too on discovering how
this is so deeply embedded in their thinking and theories (which is
why I would take issue with pointing to Freud's "personal sexism"- as
if it can be accounted for and then brushed away / dismissed). Anyway
I think this may be the situation here and is something that the
instructor might just have to take into account.  He might even find
it rather comforting. It's an introductory course in philosophy and
the female students will probably not just have had much exposure to
this sort of thing yet. They're still spunky enough to point it
out. .  . give them time and they'll see so much of this that they'll
wonder why they ever bothered to point it out. Sad but true.  But
kudos to the instructor for attempting to address their concerns
without downplaying them.

paula.c.peel  AT  rogers.com
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 2009 10:23:51 -0700
From: Ophelia Benson <opheliabenson AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: Reading on Freud and feminism?
It's not just feminists or women who dispute the merits of Freud's
work, though. There's a large body of strong criticism of Freud as
scientist, psychologist, honest inquirer, etc - epistemological
criticism, basically. He's irrelevant to cognitive science and
research psychology, so he's apparently being stealthily shifted over
to the Big Thinker department - or even the philosophy department, but
of course he was in no sense a philosopher.

Ophelia Benson

opheliabenson  AT  msn.com<mailto:opheliabenson  AT  msn.com>
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 2009 14:36:24 -0400
From: Judith Lorber <jlorber AT RCN.COM>
Subject: Re: Freud and Feminism
My book, Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics (4th ed. Oxford
2010) has a chapter on psychoanalytic feminism (chap 7) which includes an
excerpt from Nancy Chodorow's Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989,
Yale). The chapter and the excerpt are student-friendly.
Judith Lorber, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita
Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, CUNY
jlorber  AT  rcn.com
Imagine a world without gender!

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