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Temperley, J. (1984). Our Own Worst Enemies: Unconscious Factors in Female Disadvantage. Free Associations, 1A(Pilot):23-38.

(1984). Free Associations, 1A(Pilot):23-38

Our Own Worst Enemies: Unconscious Factors in Female Disadvantage

Jane Temperley


There has been much discussion of the relevance of psychoanalysis to the position of women in our society. Analytic theory was attacked as representing a phallo-centric view of the world, a view peculiarly sinister for women since it claims that the bearer of the penis is regarded as superior, not just in the context of our transient cultural conditioning, but in the unconscious. To gain fulfilment as a woman, according to Freud, is to find compensations for the primary blow to the little girl's self regard, the realisation that she does not have a penis. These secondary compensations are found by turning to the father, and later to men in general, with the wish to receive a baby from them, which will, especially if it is male, compensate for the sense of deficiency caused by the girl's realisation that she is penis-less.

I think the feminists are right to be suspicious of Freud's view of the unique importance of the penis in our unconscious lives. It would suggest that, irrespective of social conditioning and social injustice, in our unconscious phantasy life women will feel inferior and can aspire to sexual fulfilment only through a symbolic permutation of the desire to have the male genital. Our unconscious phantasy life, as well as out social history, would seem to be against us.

Freud came to consider female sexuality and the child's early, pre-oedipal relation to the mother late in his life.

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