Friday, May 8, 2020

Identification with father is not 'penis envy'

Benjamin brings feminist and gender theories to traditional psychoanalytic theory by tackling the problematic concept  of penis envy. She reinterprets the Freudian concept of "penis envy” by noting that a little girl bulwarks her striving for agency and subjectivity by identifying with the father -- classically thought of as the ‘wish to be masculine.’ She posits that the female (and male) child identifies with the preoedipal father as the idealized subject who possesses agency and desire separate from the mother’s.  Identification with the father and the otherness he represents is a normal developmental step for children of both sexes. [Freud’s idea that penis envy is the sine qua non of female sexual development is a gross error in his attempts to understand female development. Note that terms such as penis envy or phallus are androcentric.]   

Possession of otherness by the father has been conflated with the possession of the penis, phallic power. The penis  becomes a symbol for the girl’s wish to be like the father in subjectivity and the wish that the father recognize the child as a like subject. It is the failure of the preoedipal father to recognize and welcome the girl’s (and boy’s) normatively developmental need to identify with the father --and not the little girl's realization of anatomical difference--that leads to penis envy. This failure by father risks later impairment of the girl’s subjectivity and agency and may lead to later masochistic submission to an idealized male. This disallowal of identification is also a disallowal of cross sex identifications and, as such, limits the richness available from multiply gendered identifications and expressions.

In the TBIPS Gender course there is much coming to terms with gender fluidity and being comfortable with the unfamiliar. Euripides Gravas noted that identification denied leads to envy. Jennifer Schafer mused about the possible multiple configurations of genders available as parental figures. Stamatina Kaidantzi explained that it is not the sex or gender identification of the non-caregiver parent but it is the otherness, the separateness from the caregiver, with all the comings and goings from home, that propels the preoedipal child’s wish --akin to the ‘love affair with the world' -- to identify with that other parent. Even in the absence of a second parent, that otherness exists. In addition to the caregiver/mother’s ability to ‘survive’ -- which, according to Winnicott, places her outside the fantasized omnipotent control of the infant and makes her external and a subject in her own right, and thus worthy also of identification -- the father may well be a solidifying identification for the child’s agency and desire, that is, for her subjectivity. Little girls do not feel inferior and certainly not because they are different from father; they just want to be different from mother while still retaining likeness.

Benjamin, J. (1991). Father and Daughter: Identification with Difference — A Contribution to Gender Heterodoxy. Psychoanal. Dial., 1(3):277-299.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Quarantimes and the After Times

In these ‘Quarantimes’ we long for the ‘Before Times’ and anxiously wonder what the ‘After Times’ hold for us. One author, Kelly Corrigan, on the PBSNewsHour April 29, 2020 in the feature “IMHO,” said about our future: 

    Sometimes, when I feel outmatched by the thing in front of me, … I tell myself the story of what happened as if it’ s over and I nailed it. … I told myself the story of the pandemic of 2020...: At first it was awful, nothing but bad news on top of bad news. But, then, we rose up. We made soups and stews for old people, and dropped them off so they felt included and secure and nourished. We read books to children over the internet. We stepped outside at the end of the day and played music and clapped so that each of us knew we were not alone. We sent pizzas and Chinese food to E.R.s to sustain both our hospitals and our restaurants. We called old friends and told them things we’d forgotten to say. ‘I miss you;’ ‘ I still think of you;’ ‘ Remember that time?’ 
    We turned up, allof us, on our screens to keep businesses afloat and, in so doing, were exposed to the more tender elements of our colleagues’ lives. Pets and children were now, to our mutual benefit, in the frame. People figured out they didn’t need fancy equipment to exercise. We stopped flying around and jumping in cars for no reason. Everyone planted things they could eat. We played cards with our families. We had long conversations. We identified what kind of learning can be delivered on line. We discovered that teaching is the most complex, high impact profession known to man, and we started compensating our teachers fairly for their irreplaceable work.* Everyone voted after Corona virus. Kids who lived through the virus valued science above all. They became researchers and doctors, kicking off the greatest period of world positive discovery and innovation the planet has ever seen. We came, finally and forever, to appreciate the profound fact of our shared humanity and relish the full force of our love for one another. 

*[I would add that not only teachers, but other essential workers, such as food workers and suppliers, first responders and frontliners, sanitation workers and many more--most who are among the lowest paid-- will also be compensated fairly at the level they really deserve.]