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Benedek, T. (1976). On the Psychobiology of Gender Identity. Ann. Psychoanal., 4:117-162.

(1976). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 4:117-162

On the Psychobiology of Gender Identity

Therese Benedek, M.D.

The psychobiology of sexuality as behavior and as propagative function has been in the focus of my interest for almost four decades. In responding to the challenge presented in the volume Women and Analysis (Strouse, 1974), it seemed necessary to emphasize that masculinity and femininity are not antithetical, but complementary attributes rooted in the genic sex. This raises the problem of gender identity in our swiftly changing world.

Femininity is a psychological concept, a conglomerate of attributes that characterize womanhood in general and those individuals described as “feminine.” Freud probably was aware that his two papers (1931, 1933) dealing with the development of sexuality of women did not afford a key to the psychology of women, for in his most searching study on the psychology of women he wrote: “What constitutes masculinity and femininity is an unknown characteristic which anatomy cannot lay hold of” (1933p. 114). The “characteristics” were known to him just as they were expounded through the literature of the world; what Freud was groping for was the instinctual origin of femininity.

Psychoanalysts did not investigate the problem of femininity since the abstraction did not fit easily into the conceptual systems of psychoanalysis. Femininity is the over-all characteristic of the female sex, as masculinity is that of the male sex. Therefore its meaning seemed self-explanatory. It was not psychoanalysts but the Women's Liberation Movement that focused attention on Freud's misconceptions. Its members argued with emotional intensity, but they could not promote the psychology of femininity because they did not have the scientific background and experience.

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