Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Female Sexual Development and Fathers

The Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc's first year class has been reading Freud’s ideas on female sexual development in the Development course. Because in each class we try to offer a dialogue between antipodal points of view, as a preview to the readings in today’s class I thought I might comment on Jessica Benjamin’s 1991 paper Father and Daughter: Identification with Difference — A Contribution to Gender Heterodoxy.

It seems Freud could not conceive that small children wanted it all, to be and to have all, but instead thought both male and female children only wanted the penis. Likewise, Freud did not conceive that 'normal' children might have homoerotic longings but instead only heterosexual ones: when little boys longed for attention, affection, love from their fathers, they must be feminized (the negative oedipal complex) and likewise little girls attached in an active way to their mothers must be like little men, be little men, just like little boys who want their mothers in a heterosexual way. While Freud postulated that the fear of losing his penis catapulted the little boy out of the oedipal phase, he posited that little girls enter the oedipal stage from their castrated state, turning to the father in search of a penis (or its psychic equivalent, a baby).

Benjamin revisits and reconfigures penis envy of little girls and places it not at the cusp of the oedipal configuration but instead squarely in the pre-oedipal period, noting that pre-oedipal girls turn to the rapprochement father, not yet an object of erotic love, but instead as an object of identification. The father, the penis, the phallus all stand for independent agency, subjectivity. Little girls, as do little boys, use the glamorous, exciting out-in-the-world-father as an idealization of subjectivity, a role model, a subject with agency, will, and desire. It is identification with this father as subject, separate from and independent of mother, that allows for children of both sexes to individuate from mother. Benjamin further expects that the latency age girl who wishes to be buddy to her father seeks to consolidate her identification with an independent subject. Rather than seeing this behavior as a masculine protest (Freud), Benjamin notes that it further consolidates a feminine identity.

Benjamin proposes that thwarted identificatory love may also explain girls’ fantasies in Freud’s A Child is Being Beaten. Thwarted identificatory love may lead a woman to privilege desire of a man over her own desire, whereas welcomed identificatory love, Benjamin writes, may sow the seeds for later erotic, mutual heterosexual love rather than being complicated by submissive, even masochistic, behavior towards men.

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