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Jacobson, S.R. (1987). The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney, by Marcia Westkott. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986, 242 pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 47(4):370-373.

(1987). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 47(4):370-373

Book Reviews

The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney, by Marcia Westkott. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986, 242 pp.

Review by:
Susan Rudnick Jacobson, C.S.W.

Marcia Westkott, a sociologist in search of deeper insights and understanding of the interrelationships between women's personality development and the society in which they are largely devalued, has discovered the work of Karen Horney. She has written a book in which she not only uses Horneyan theory to understand the conflicts of women in contemporary society, but she goes on to build a case for seeing Horneyan theory as one that remains at its core an explanation of the neurotic process in terms of a predominantly female pattern of experience.

This is an extremely provocative idea; one that contrasts sharply with Horney's own views, as well as those of contemporary Horneyan analysts. While Horney's early papers were concerned with feminine psychology, she felt that she moved away from these issues, and in her last work, Neurosis and Human Growth, developed what she called a “whole person theory.” This theory explains neurotic character development in a gender neutral way. Horneyan analysts tend to pass over the early papers, seeing them as embedded in Freudian instinct theory, and study mainly her later work, beginning with The Neurotic Personality of Our Time.

But Westkott argues that if Freud in his instinct theory formulated a patriarchal, male oriented theory, Horney, as well, created a theory that reflected her own experience as a woman. Thus Westkott, a feminist, wishes to see Horney as a feminist whose theory explains women's character structure, and only secondarily that of men. Or, another way to put it is that she sees Horney as explaining the character structure of both men and women as emanating from a core conflict centering around dependency. This conflict she sees as a metaphor for women's basic experience in the world.

As a Horneyan analyst, concerned with women's issues, I was initially fascinated with Westkott's approach. She attempts to look at all of Horney's work as a whole, seeing basic themes in her early papers woven throughout her later work. She adds to this an analysis of the historical context in which Horney lived and struggled, and began to write. This takes into account her struggles with Freud, and his views on women, as well as her own personal struggle for recognition in a society that largely devalued women.


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