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Katz, M. (2000). The electra complex and the development of female personal identity. Free Associations, 8(2):49-73.

(2000). Free Associations, 8(2):49-73

The electra complex and the development of female personal identity1

Montana Katz

In This Paper, some of the aspects that lead to the development of contemporary, Western female character are examined. In the process, the questions asked by Simon (1991) are considered concerning the definition, and centrality to human development, of the Oedipus Complex. Taking up the two questions raised by Simon, and viewing them through the lense of gender, has implications for both issues. Human development in Western culture has been subdivided into, and has polarized, female and male development. From birth, personal development is categorized according to an array of measures and processes, a salient axis of which is gender.

The role of the mother in human development has traditionally held an ambiguous status that reflects our cultural ambivalence about locating authority in the hands of the mother, see for example in this connection, Weiss (1988, especially p. 381 f). I will develop an aspect of the position that it is the role of the mother, and the mother/daughter relationship, that is determinative of child development, female and male. To this end, and following Halberstadt-Freud (1989, 1998), the Greek figure, Electra, will be used as a model of a predominant form of female development. The Oedipus Complex (in males) is examined below as potentially secondary to and derivative from the Electra Complex; the Electra Complex is located, thus, as pre-oedipal both developmentally in females and ontogenetically in males.

Contemporary female ambivalence concerning the boundaries of femininity will be examined as a consequence of the mother/daughter dynamic within the evolving cultural conception of gender, see Flax (1990).

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