Thursday, October 22, 2015

div 39 post on sex and gender

I sent a post on sex and gender to the Div 39 listserv.  I thought I'd put it on here to see if anyone has a take on it.

Hi all

I thought I'd send this out based upon the response to the Feminine Pathologies issue.

I haven't fully entered into contemporary debates about gender and sex in psychoanalysis. I've worked my way up from Freud into Klein, Kohut, Lacan, Jacobson, Horney, etc. and still have a lot to process there. However, Freud's ideas in this area do seem subtle and complex to me despite some obvious blind spots that he has.

I was hoping that people might point out where any contemporary sex/gender theorist deals with an issue in a more sophisticated way.  

1. Freud isn't essentialist in the way that he sees men being active and women being passive as written into nature. He draws our attention to how women are the larger more competitive ones in some species of animals.

That being said, in the human species, men generally have more musculature and activity, competitiveness, and egoism are generally linked to the male sex.
2. Even though Freud links activity to males, his concept of psychic bisexuality means that women can also have fixations on their active-egoistic pole and men can have fixations on their passive-altruistic pole.

There have been male "hysterics" just as there has been female obsessionals.

This active-egoism vs. passive-altruism has generally been noted in many theorist's dichotomies: Horney and the expansive vs. self-effacing; Klein and the
bad object and competition vs. the good object and reparation; Kohut and the self-idealization vs. other idealization; etc.

3. The motivational systems of the active-egoistic or passive-altruistic ego and object drives that comprise sex, can come into conflict with the 'difference between the sexes' of gender. Boys and girls, men and women, can be shamed by being compared to the opposite sex. A man who can't stick up for himself can be called a "pussy" for example.

So, despite the anatomical fact that leaves one open to potentially be judged by gender roles, the sex (ego and object drives) of his psychosexual development is what will cause the problem here.

Freud writes:

There is one particularly constant relation between femininity and instinctual life which we do not want to overlook. The suppression of women's aggressiveness which is prescribed for them constitutionally and imposed on them socially favours the development of powerful masochistic impulses, which succeed, as we know, in binding erotically the destructive trends which have been diverted inwards. Thus masochism, as people say, is truly feminine. But if, as happens so often, you meet with masochism in men, what is left to you but to say that these men exhibit very plain feminine traits? (New Intro lectures, p.115-6)

I understand this to mean that

a) despite psychic bisexuality, we don't all simply have both poles of the personality fully developed with gender roles being decisive about one acting like a "man" or not. There are passive-altruistic men I work with, for example, who have never been very competitive, never felt strongly motivated to define themselves by being the strongest, the smartest, the most skilled, etc. but, who instead are often "nice guys" who are "people pleasers" and have a lot of people borrow money from them, give others rides, and often have others take advantage of them.

They can feel the tensions between how they are passive-altruistically driven to strive for happiness and the normativity that they should be "a man" and demand their money back, be angry at the people who disrespect them, and dump the girlfriends who have cheated on them.

I run substance abuse groups in which I watch these tensions occur when passive-altruistic man shares about his life and some egoists in the group tell him what to do or try to shame him. And, some of the egoists are women.

b) despite one's psychosexual psychic constitution, or motivation systems, one's parents, teachers, educators, etc. can try to inculcate certain traits in one or not.

It's possible that a boy with a passive-altruistic personality might have his father, for example, teach him how to fight. Even though the boy doesn't like violence, his father may force him to fight others and stand up for himself. The boy may then get past his "constitutional" aggression block and be able to stand up for himself. However, if the boy isn't forced to do so by an educator or by friends later on, he might go through his whole life being scared of fighting and be a push over. Obviously, more boys will be taught this than women because of gender roles. Also, many children won't need to be taught to fight and due to their psychic constitution, they will already be quick to aggression.

Along with fighting, many of the passive-altruistic men have problems asking for raises from their bosses because they feel like the boss should see that they are working hard and it's presumptuous to ask. They often have relationships with women that they "rescue" from substance abuse, homelessness, etc. They have problems saying no, problems accepting compliments, and often have fears of being rejected. Psychoanalysts don't have a monopoly on wisdom and good parents, good friends, etc. can help them get past these issues, but almost always these people don't have good relationships.

4. If you toss out the sex of active-egoism and passive altruism, then you lose the basis for the many "gendered" phantasies that show up in patients despite their anatomical sex. Biological males can have a phantasy that they are missing their penis even though they do posses one.  

5. I believe that the simple active-egoistic vs. passive-altruistic isn't sufficient for phenomenological analysis of patients. I used the work of Freud and some other analysts to create two expressions of each pole, so that there is masculine and feminine expression on each pole.

A person can be competitive about his or her physical strength, being the smartest, or being the most skilled in his trade or field

A person can also be competitive about being the most beautiful, having the best taste in things, or in his or her judgments of the beauty of virtues of others.

A person can be concerned about the belonging of others and want to help them feel included in the group or help them to do better and find their happiness.

A person can be concerned about his or her belonging and want to feel like they fit in the group, appear interesting, or make other people laugh or have a good time.

I call the first two the subject and object egoist, respectively, and the last two are the subject and object altruist and I detail them in my book The Economics of Libido.

As Freud says of libidinal types, ideally a person is a mixture of these. However, it's clear with many patients that they aren't functioning with all these motivations/drives. 


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