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Flax, J. (2006). Masculinity and Its Discontents: Commentary on Reichbart and Diamond. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 54(4):1131-1138.

(2006). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 54(4):1131-1138


Masculinity and Its Discontents: Commentary on Reichbart and Diamond Related Papers

Jane Flax

Since the inception of psychoanalysis, gender, sexuality, identity, and sexual difference have been vexed-and vexing-topics. As the tortured footnotes of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) and later writings indicate, Freud continued to puzzle about these matters. Subsequently, these terms remain the site of recurring and frequently bitter disputes among psychoanalysts. Often these battles concern “the woman question”—what/who she is or wants-and what “healthy” femininity entails. Richard Reichbart and Michael Diamond encourage us to render narratives about masculinity equally problematic. Each critiques a paradigm, still dominant within psychoanalysis, of the development of masculinity-disidentif ication with the mother. They both suggest more fluid and complex notions of masculinity. Each author also claims that an adequate understanding of gender identity requires more attention to cultural factors than is often accorded them in psychoanalytic work. However, neither Diamond nor Reichbart goes nearly far enough in opening up ways to rethink masculinity and gender identity.

Diamond and Reichbart offer interesting insights into masculinity and its vicissitudes and present compelling arguments against the disidentification model. They correctly argue that this model is founded on a rigid and dichotomous notion of gender. Intrinsic to the logic of disidentification is the assumption that gender is a binary system in which there are only two positions; one belongs to one gender to the extent to which one does not belong to the other. Thus, within this system, since his first identification is with a female (his mother), the boy to be male must first become not female.

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