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Sayers, J. (1985). Sexual Contradictions: on Freud, Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Free Associations, 1B(1):76-104.

(1985). Free Associations, 1B(1):76-104

Sexual Contradictions: on Freud, Psychoanalysis and Feminism

Janet Sayers

The division of labour also implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the common interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another.

Marx & Engels, 42

In this, the centenary of the publication of Engels' Origin of the Family, it continues to be necessary to reiterate the Origin's thesis as regards the place of the contradiction of family with society in determining social divisions between the sexes and the changes that have occurred, and continue to occur, within these divisions. For, as Michéle Barrett and Mary McIntosh point out, this is regularly overlooked by those on the left as well as by those on the right who idealize the family as in essential harmony with society and its interests.

Yet Marxism, as feminists have also repeatedly emphasized, fails to address the subjective aspects of the contradictions of family life, and focuses only on their economic aspect. But it is precisely this former aspect — women's subjective experience of the conflicting demands of home and work, of family and society — that constitutes the major impetus of today's women's movement.

Herein, I shall argue, lies a major source of the importance of Freud's work for feminism. As a result of his clinical work, Freud came to recognize such conflict (at least as regards sexuality) as a central motivating factor in human psychology — male and female alike.

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