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Waterman, B. (2003). Winnicott Meets Daddy & Papa — How Gay Men Father and Mother. Fort Da, 9(1):59-76.

(2003). Fort Da, 9(1):59-76

Winnicott Meets Daddy & Papa — How Gay Men Father and Mother

Barbara Waterman, Ph.D.


Traditionally, the notion that women participate in parenting by being and men by doing (Winnicott, 1971) has been linked to the sexual division of labor in which women are the primary parents (Chodorow, 1978). Drawing on Winnicott in her analysis of gender differences in parenting, Ehrensaft (1987) explicates:

The female element [Winnicott] calls “being.” It occurs very early in human development and is first situated in an infantile experience. It involves a period when baby and parent or other are felt as one. In other words, a merging occurs in which parent and child have no separate identity. It is described by Winnicott as the simplest of all experiences, and the source of the true continuity of generations. It is also labeled by him as “feminine.”

Doing, by contrast, is, according to Winnicott, the “male” element of personality. It follows “being” in development and presupposes a sep-arateness between baby and parent. The infant can begin to recognize that the person who takes care of him or her is “not me.” (pp. 94-95)

According to this classic analysis, boys and girls have a different experience in being raised primarily by women. Chodorow's (1978) important contribution to psychoanalysis was to show that the social construction of parenting — with the major responsibility for raising the next generation falling under the purview of one gender, namely women — led to intrapsy-chic differences between men and women:

The basic feminine sense of self is connected to the world, the basic masculine sense of self is separate. (p. 169)

Because of these differences in self, it was overdetermined that boys would grow up to parent by doing while girls learned to be mothers.

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