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Coates, S.W. (1997). Is It Time to Jettison the Concept of Developmental Lines? Commentary on de Marneffe's Paper “Bodies and Words”. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(1):35-53.

(1997). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(1):35-53

Is It Time to Jettison the Concept of Developmental Lines? Commentary on de Marneffe's Paper “Bodies and Words” Related Papers

Susan W. Coates, Ph.D.

Daphne de Marneffe in her paper “Bodies and Words: A Study of Young Children's Genital and Gender Knowledge” has made a very important and thoughtful contribution to exploring children's constructions of an understanding of their genitals and gender in the first years of life. This study is a part of a broader effort that our field is engaged in to look anew at psychoanalytic theory from a perspective that is simultaneously informed by feminist scholarship, developmental psychology, and relational psychoanalytic theory. Given the privileged role that both sex and gender have played in psychoanalytic theory it is remarkable how difficult it has been to carry out systematic research on either.

Briefly, what de Marneffe has demonstrated is that by the age of 24 months, most children are able to identify dolls that have genitals like their own. And having made this assessment, both boys and girls also show a preference for the dolls whose genitals are like their own. However, this preference, and the cognitive judgment in which it is embedded, does not necessarily tell us anything about the child's understanding of his or her gender. As de Marneffe shows, children's ideas at this young age about how genitals relate to gender tend to be confused and changeable.

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