Lecture # 4: Femininity
Today we look at some theoretical ideas about the feminine and femininity.
I will first discuss, Freud’s article.
Sigmund Freud, who many consider the “father” of psychoanalysis, has greatly
influenced our culture and his ideas have shaped how we understand ourselves. His ideas
were highly controversial in his time – many Victorian sensibilities were deeply shocked
and denounced Freud’s ideas [difficult knowledge], particularly in the area of sexuality.
Let’s look at some of the ideas that people found challenging.
How does Freud imagine gendered subjects?
1. The unconscious splits the subject into consciousness/and/ unconscious
motives and desires.
1. What is the unconscious?
[How is that a challenge to previous historical ideas?]
A human being is split between
A. a knowing self
B. unconscious self – we have little access to the unconscious
Slips of the tongue; the unconscious speaks in our dreams.
We speak the past through free association to try to access what has been
In order for infants to become adult human beings they need to give up certain desires
and begin to be socialized into the larger social world.
We struggle with what we are asked to give up. We begin to actively repress our desires
and they go into the unconscious. This is the seat where are our repressed desires are
Ego: our conscious rational selves.
Id: the unconscious where our desires are lodged. [The irrational driven by desire and
Super ego: our internal critic
The ego is formed through people the child loves. (We need to love and not just imitate)
The ego interprets what it incorporates. 2. Sexual stages:
a) Oedipus conflict
b) castration anxiety
c) penis envy
For Freud, the development of the self is tied to sexuality.
Infants are sexual from the day they are born (sensuousness)
All infants are polymorphously perverse. They can experience pleasure from
stimulation on all parts of the body.
Oral phase: the child gets pleasure from sucking (breast offers pleasure and
Anal Phase: the child takes pleasure in letting go and holding on
Phallic Phase: sexuality begins to be organized around the genitals.
Every phase is a struggle, and in each phase the child is socially induced to give up
pleasure (which gets repressed and is lodged in the unconscious)
There is no smooth transition between phases.
a) Oedipus Conflict: occurs between the ages of 3 and 5
The child needs to separate from the caregiver (first love) in order to take on future
b) castration anxiety
How an infant becomes a boy:
The boy sees that he has a penis and the mother does not
(Recognizes sexual difference).
Sees women as castrated and gives up the fantasy of the mother, and must begin
identifying with the father.
Through the repression of the love for the mother, and by internalizing the father’s
authority, this is how the infant becomes a boy.
Psychical processes: gender identity is a traumatic struggle. This desire reappears
every so often: masculinity and femininity are always under threat.
c) penis envy How an infant becomes a girl: neither the girl nor the mother has a penis; the girl is
angry at the mother for this and identifies with the father. She must transform the
wish for the penis with a wish for a baby.
Infants has to give up love and turn away from the mother