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Balsam, R.H. (2015). The War on Women in Psychoanalytic Theory Building: Past to Present. Psychoanal. St. Child, 69:83-107.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 69:83-107

The War on Women in Psychoanalytic Theory Building: Past to Present

Rosemary H. Balsam, F.R.C.P., M.R.C.P.

Psychoanalysis has both waged “hot” war on women overtly and “cold” war covertly over the years by colluding with cultural stereotypes offered as “theory,” starting with Freud and his Viennese circle. True freedom of thinking, however, broke through in Freud's originality even then, and from time to time subsequently in the history of the movement only to keep retreating. Fritz Wittels's thesis on the “Child Woman” will exemplify Horney's (1924, 1926, 1933) and Jones's (1927) grounds for engaging in the “hot war” in the 1920s and challenging the unselfconscious inbuilt denigration of women. This skirmish had little impact, however, in the New World up till the 1970s. In the aftermath of the second wave of feminism, there were (and are) bursts of new thought about sex and gender that remain fragmented and unintegrated into general acceptance. The contemporary situation has been more like a “cold” war waged by ennui in the field. Asexed and agendered theories of mind as a “no man's land” absorb an intense focus away from the sexual and gender specificities that were alive, contentious, and unresolved in Freud's libido theory. The third sociocultural wave of feminism, since the 1990s, has refocused vitality on individuality, race, and varieties of sexual identity. I identify the latter as the psychoanalytic space for a potential renewed interest in theorizing the female body within heterosexual, homosexual, queer, or transgendered individuals. The “wars” have shown how fruitless for peace and new discovery is the compulsive (but still common) close comparison between males and females developmentally. Female development is as fresh and unsettled a theoretical question as it once was with Freud.

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