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Harris, A. (1993). Female Perversions: The Temptations of Emma Bovary: Louise J. Kaplan. New York: Doubleday, 1991, 580 pp., $24.95.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 10(3):441-450.

(1993). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 10(3):441-450

Female Perversions: The Temptations of Emma Bovary: Louise J. Kaplan. New York: Doubleday, 1991, 580 pp., $24.95.

Review by:
Adrienne Harris, Ph.D.

Female Perversions examines the subtle and surprising presence of perversion hidden within gender stereotypes and practices, both banal and dramatic. In this book, Louise Kaplan launches an ambitious project to reframe the analysis of perversion (more typically drawn on male experience) to encompass women's experiences, strategies, and inner lives. Even in normative readings of psychopathology, she finds a gender asymmetry. There is an elaborated discourse in psychoanalytic theory on male perversion and comparatively an absence in the reading of female perversion. Kaplan fills this gap in the psycho-analytic story with a disruptive and trenchant set of ideas.

It is Kaplan's highly original idea that female perversion expresses itself as pathologies of gender rather than pathologies of sexuality. It is an approach that depends on psychoanalytic modes of thought turned on theory, cultural formations, and ideology as well as on psychic life. She finds the disowned wish behind reaction formation and idealization and, in deconstructing normative gender ideology, locates its underlying nasty little secret: Perversion and corruption are often disguised as conformity. She takes this point a radical step further to note that family structures and family dynamics (lived out consciously and unconsciously) contain and maintain gender conformity and thus provoke, produce, and reproduce perversion.

Turning to the wider cultural setting in which these relations are embedded and maintained, Kaplan proposes that we consider ways that perversion is coopted in the efforts to promote commercialism and consumption. Female desire transformed into perversion is a kind of deep internal market for goods and services presented as unremarkable aspects of bourgeois capitalism and normative feminine life style and habits of consumption.

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