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Kieffer, C.C. (2009). A Story of Her Own: The Female Oedipus Complex Reexamined and Renamed. By Nancy Kulish and Deanna Holtzman. New York: Jason Aronson, 2008, 219 pp., $39.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(2):491-495.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(2):491-495

Book Reviews

A Story of Her Own: The Female Oedipus Complex Reexamined and Renamed. By Nancy Kulish and Deanna Holtzman. New York: Jason Aronson, 2008, 219 pp., $39.95.

Review by:
Christine C. Kieffer

Sigmund Freud's query, “What do women want?” has reverberated throughout this psychoanalytic century. Nancy Kulish and Deanna Holtzman have now shed new light on “that dark continent” (Freud 1926, p. 212), offering a fresh examination of the psychology of women. They begin by telling us that the term “female Oedipus” is a “blatant oxymoron” (p. 7), which made it difficult for them to find a suitable title for their book. Had it been titled The Persephonal Complex or The Female Triadic or Triangular Phase, its subject would not easily be recognized. Yet had they not tackled the problem of renaming, they would have fallen into the same traps that had befallen their predecessors in examining this challenging topic. Quoting the familiar witticism, “I never would have seen it if I hadn't believed it” (p. 4), they underscore that while earlier analysts like Horney tried to formulate a theory of primary femininity, and some have tried to put forth an alternative mythological paradigm, like Jung's Elektra complex, their theories have been hampered by an adherence to language that interferes with an accurate understanding of female development.

One of the authors' central ideas is that in the century that followed Freud's initial discoveries, “typical development for girls became pre-Oedipalized, that is, ‘pathologized,’ in traditional psychoanalytic theory” (p. 11). In an earlier work, Holtzman and Kulish (2000) argued that “fear of loss of love of the mother is part and parcel of the girl's triadic conflicts” (p. 15), echoing other writers' observations but building on those insights to develop a comprehensive and multifaceted theory of female sexual development: (1) With respect to girls' entry into the triangular situation, they argue that this phase entails the addition of a libidinal object rather than a change in object; the turning away of the girl from her mother results not from penis envy but as part of a phase of separation-individuation. (2) The authors reexamine the role of identification with the mother, positing the importance of the girl's primary femininity in influencing her desire to have a baby and take on the mother's role (that is, the desire for a baby is not a substitute for the wish for a penis).

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