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Wisdom, J.O. (1983). Male and Female. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 64:159-168.

(1983). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 64:159-168

Male and Female

J. O. Wisdom


The problem, to which this paper offers a contribution but no solution, is to determine what characterizes male and female. It is not solved by appealing to anatomy, and societal differences cannot be pinned down.

The approach adopted here is that both men and women have both male and female ingredients (which would have been acceptable before World War I to Adler and Jung; it approximates to Plato's Aristophanes), and 'androgynous' is used in this sense. What constitutes man and woman is regarded as societal. Those excellent researchers who study gender-identity do not tell us how to specify what a man is when he is part female. Following Darwin we seek an evolutionary difference, which would admit of the adoption of some of the other's characteristics. This leads to the hypothesis that a man's neurosis may be rooted in being unable to adapt to his femininity.

Conceivably, early analysts, who wrote freely of the castration-complex and homosexuality, did not often give these interpretations to their patients in vivo; and fused castration with femininity and fused homosexuality with friendship.

A new primary process is therefore suggested, consisting in personality-exchange; illustrations are given. It is used to explain how personalities may grow. If there is personality-exchange between a boy and his mother, one could view him as consisting of two sets of characteristics, m and f (analogous to x and y chromosomes). A crude attempt is made to interpret various neuroses in terms of a man's denial of his femininity; male homosexuality is interpreted as an extreme form of this. Mutatis mutandis for the female.

The approach implies that the castration-complex holds only for some men without being a normal process in all men. The rest might be explored as developing from a conflict between male and female trends.

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