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Balsam, R.H. (1999). Becoming And Being A Woman: Ruth F. Lax. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997, 264 pp., $40.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(1):266-269.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(1):266-269

Becoming And Being A Woman: Ruth F. Lax. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997, 264 pp., $40.00.

Review by:
Rosemary H. Balsam

This book is the ripe fruit of Ruth Lax's long career as a psychoanalyst and psychoanalytic educator. She has been working on issues concerning the development of women for several decades. In 1969 she was the first contributor to the analytic literature on the topic of the analyst's pregnancy. That pioneering paper is included in this collection. Her curiosity, her fascination with the individuality of women, her interest and compassion for her patients, and her openness to listening and trying to make sense of patients' associations shine through in all the essays. The area of female development is still uncertain territory that only now is being explored in depth. Lax does not impose theoretical formulations before she has invited the reader to accompany her into the heart of the stories unfolded before her. The reader is thereby given a vivid and utterly psychoanalytic sense of participation as the accounts open up. Her orientation is a blend of object relations and structural theory, informed by child psychoanalytic observation, separation-individuation theory, and her interests in social anthropology and mythology. The book is made up of expanded versions of papers she has published in journals from the late 1960s to the present. Rearrangement of this material and additions to it successfully create a coherent text about adult women.

Its title, however, is over-encompassing and somewhat misleading. This is not a book with an emphasis on “normal” development throughout the life cycle, as was Helene Deutsch's The Psychology of Women, published in the mid-1940s. This book, more modest in its ambitions, does not pretend to be as comprehensive. Nor does Lax make sweeping claims regarding definitive “feminine” attributes—remember Deutsch's notion of the essential passivity and masochism of women?

This is a different era in psychoanalysis, and the flamboyant style of pioneering is passé.

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