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Flax, J. (2002). Resisting Woman: On Feminine Difference in the Work of Horney, Thompson, and Moulton. Contemp. Psychoanal., 38(2):257-276.

(2002). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 38(2):257-276

Resisting Woman: On Feminine Difference in the Work of Horney, Thompson, and Moulton

Jane Flax, Ph.D.

Are Women deficient men? Karen Horney, Clara Thompson, and Ruth Moulton believed that the psychoanalytic theories dominant in their time consigned women to this position. To counter the deficiency model, Horney, Thompson, and Moulton propose substituting a positive account of “true womanhood.” Rather than accepting the male as the norm, they suggest creating two separate but equal normative standards. Woman's true nature could only be revealed and affirmed when she is defined and analyzed by the unique categories appropriate to her. Although nuances vary in their constitution of true womanhood, the approaches of these analysts overlap. Several binaries ground and shape their shared beliefs. These include nature-culture, biology-psychology, men-women, masculinity-femininity, and heterosexual-homosexual. Within this frame, each writer struggles against the devaluation of, and contempt for, women that remains all too prevalent today. They fruitfully open up psychoanalytic discourse to consideration of the influences of social contexts and power relations on its own ideas. Yet, by constructing their accounts through these polarities and accepting conventional ideas of the meaning of most, their alternative results in naturalizing gender and thereby imprisoning woman within its constraints. In her writings, each theorist also undercuts some of the most radical insights of psychoanalysis, including the contingency and fragility of gender arrangements, the complexity of psychic representation, the social construction of sexualities, and the hybrid qualities of psychic-somatic processes.

The work of each of these authors can be read as cautionary tales concerning the costs of theoretical strategies and the power of regressive forces within sites of analytic concern. They direct our attention to the importance and difficulties of resisting normative social constructions that are deeply invested by and with intrapsychic and social power.

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