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Elliott, A. (1996). Nancy J. Chodorow talks to Anthony Elliott. Free Associations, 6(2):161-173.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(2):161-173

The Free Associations Interview

Nancy J. Chodorow talks to Anthony Elliott

Anthony Elliott

To think the psychic (re)structuring of gender difference: from the outset this has been Nancy Chodorow's psychoanalytic feminist project. For more than two decades, Chodorow has been at the forefront of academic debates about the meaning of sexual difference, gender hierarchy, the transformation of society, and the import of psychoanalysis for feminist and social theory.

Best known academically for her book The Reproduction of Mothering (1978), which was a milestone in the feminist analysis of gender asymmetries in modern societies, Chodorow's work spans the areas of feminism, psychoanalysis, and social and political theory. In her early work, exclusive female mothering is posited as crucial to the reproduction of male dominance in modern societies. Exclusive female mothering, says Chodorow, produces social relations split between connected, empathic female identities on the one hand, and isolated, instrumental male identities on the other. From this angle, masculine identity is built on a denial of primary maternal identification, which results in a fragile sense of self, defensively structured by an instrumental relation to self, others, and the social world. Femininity, by contrast, is grounded in a strong sense of gender, but is limited in capacity for autonomy and individuality. For Chodorow, mothers largely experience their daughters as doubles of themselves, through a narcissistic projection of sameness. It is this projection of sameness, she suggests, which makes differentiation problematic for women.

Nancy Chodorow is Professor Sociology at the University of California Berkeley.

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