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Rothschild, L. (1935). Sexuality: Sandor Rado. 'Fear of Castration in Women.' The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, July–October 1933, Vol. II, Nos. 3 and 4, pp. 425–475.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 16:227-230.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Sexuality: Sandor Rado. 'Fear of Castration in Women.' The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, July–October 1933, Vol. II, Nos. 3 and 4, pp. 425–475.

(1935). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16:227-230

Sexuality: Sandor Rado. 'Fear of Castration in Women.' The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, July–October 1933, Vol. II, Nos. 3 and 4, pp. 425–475.

Leonard Rothschild

The castration complex can be applied profitably to femine psychology. There is an abundance of ideas and phantasies attended by strong emotions dealing with the possession or lack of a penis, the injury involved in being a woman, the desire to be a man, active and passive mutilative experiences. The agreement of these ideas with the castration complex of men is unmistakable.

It is not easy to understand how the offshoots of fear of castration can appear in women even though this fear in its original form can never have existed. The nucleus of the castration complex in women is penis envy but this information throws no light upon the fear. It is necessary to expand Freud's scheme of the castration complex to make place for and give an explanation of castration fear in women.

Our first clue comes from those cases in which a vigorous 'masculinity complex' develops on the basis of early penis envy. The little girl in this instance becomes fixed in her belief that she is a boy; ignores the evidence

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and imagines that she has a penis. Her emotional gratification depends upon this phantasy of the 'illusory penis'. This early form of illusory penis is short-lived. It must be abandoned, for it cannot be maintained against the refutation of the facts. But the illusory penis is too valuable to be relinquished. She ceases to hallucinate and retires into the realm of unconscious phantasies. The illusory penis will then leave its representative at some position or other on the surface of the body that recommends itself for this post. The organ thus selected is now entrusted by the unconscious with an accessory, essentially inappropriate function and has picked the site of a conversion hysteric symptom.

This unconscious investment is readily displaceable and new substitutes can be formed. Certain commonplace experiences, such as wounds or injuries, give rise to anxiety which is marked by the typical features of displaced fear of castration. It is attempted to formulate the theory that the girl's fear of castration is borrowed from the boy. It would seem to make no difference whether one really has an organ or merely imagines that one has. This can hardly be true. The little girl can obtain no pleasure at all from the illusory penis, whereas with the organ she really has she can enjoy many satisfactions. There is no connection between the illusory penis and pleasurable experience in the clitoris. For the little girl once she focuses her interest on this illusory penis abruptly loses all interest in her real genital and in masturbation. Apparently, the sole remaining impulse that might account for the illusory penis is simple envy or more accurately injured self-love manifested as envy. But so trivial a gratification cannot give the illusory penis the emotional value of the real organ. It would not explain the terrific intensity of the fear of castration in women which arises when the woman's illusory penis is threatened. The theory of the illusory penis is an incontestably true formulation of the observed clinical data but the economic problem in women's castration fear is not solved by it. The answer we need must obviously be sought elsewhere.

Women in whose neurosis a fear of castration is most prominent usually are greatly alarmed by the sight of open wounds. A persistent and recurrent theme in their dreams and phantasies is that they must experience bloody injuries, frightful mutilations and the like. This can be traced back to the onset of menstruation and even further back to the time of infantile sexual florescence. They are legitimate displaced fears of castration which are not explained by the self-punitive intention or the sense of guilt. The persistence of such phantasies must be determined by special conditions. It would seem that the salient precipitating factor is the experience of anatomical disparity, or for such girls a psychic trauma. On perceiving the penis they lost self-esteem, suffered a severe emotional upset and the sanguinary phantasy of castration appeared as a consequence

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of this narcissistic shock. This latter at once inhibits actively directed desire for gratification which up to this time was discharged in masturbation. But the intense mental pain gave rise to sexual excitation and supplied her with a 'substitutive gratification'. This emotional experience teaches her that she may obtain new pleasure in place of the one that was destroyed by the traumatic event—passive pleasure in pain. A period of masturbation ensues in which the imagination dwells on suffering. As a focal point for these phantasies there is always to be found the idea of her own bloody, injured (mutilated) genital. The discovery of this 'wound' stirred up the first critical pleasure in pain. The narcissistic wound aches but in its way the ache can be desirable.

Apparently, the traumatic discovery of the penis results in an abrupt demolition of the 'amorphous genital phase of the ego' and in an urgent necessity for the girl to build up too soon and too precipitately a sexually differentiated female genital position. For this construction her only building material seems to be to obtain pleasure from painful excitement since the capacity for active pleasurable activity is blocked. She only can bring about for this reason the very sufferings that originally are avoided: in other words, what Freud refers to as 'erotogenous masochism'. The new genital position that is built up from this raw material is pleasure in being or getting oneself castrated. This is the initial ideational content of 'feminine masochism' as described by Freud.

The appearance of genital masochism in the ego is not a stage of normal development but the momentous beginning of a pathological—a masochistically deformed—femininity. The girl was made a woman by an experience that profoundly offended her self-love. Subsequently, female genitality must include a reparation for this narcissistic blow. Genital masochism does not fulfil this requirement. The excesses of painful pleasure endanger self-preservation and drive the ego into despair. The ego suppresses the genital masochistic impulses and hallucinating endows itself with an illusory penis. This now becomes a narcissistic reaction formation of the ego—its bulwark against repressed masochistic genital impulses. The economic problem in women's fear of castration is thus solved: it is a fear that the repressed genital masochism will return from repression. It is not the signal of an external danger but a danger from the genital masochistic instinct.

Castration anxiety in women is the product of a serious disorder which arises in the infantile developmental phase of genitality. Unless a process of restitution intervenes the deformity suffered will result in a permanent impairment of the female sexual function. The repression of genital masochism prevents the acquisition of a normal female genital attitude. The genital impulse cannot find its proper psychic expression because its energy is divided between two mutually opposed strivings; the genital

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masochistic and the illusory phallic. For normal femininity comes to mean a repellant demand that she deliver herself over to the excruciating bloody tortures in order to enjoy the pleasure of her own pain. Her ego reacts to this suggestion with a fear of castration and strengthens the investment of the illusory penis which at this time is located where the ego most fears that the genital masochism will burst forth. The great biological events in female sexual life come to be an expression of masochistic gratification—to wit, menstruation, defloration and child-birth. This masochistic triad expresses the aims and wishes of a pathologically distorted femininity against which the ego in alarm defends itself by a correlated triad of fears: fear of castration, fear of being violated and fear of childbirth.

The ego cannot perceive the masochistic instinctual danger. It discovers instead an external one and believes this is the one it fears. The central 'source of danger' in the life of the masochistic woman is the man. The line of defence in her neurosis will be toward him. The ego that is or supposes itself to be in danger has three types of defensive means at its disposal. (1) Flight into homosexuality, frigidity or withdrawal from competition. (2) Combat—the 'masculine sadistic' attitude gives her a chance to deny and keep down her own genital masochistic tendencies. (3) The choice of the 'lesser evil' is the gravest. Its discussion leads us into an obscure almost unexplored field. If the ego can neither flee nor offer combat, it itself brings about the threatened harm or meets it halfway. It takes this desperate step in the hope of lessening the damage which it must incur in the hope of preventing a greater evil. The internal tension grows to an insupportable degree and in this state of exalted depression the impulsive action takes place by means of which the woman injures herself or gets herself injured. In comparison to the terrors which she dreads as inevitable what she does or gets done to her appears to be a real deliverance. It is characteristic of the choice of the lesser evil that the patient always carries out the desperate action while in a sort of self-stupefaction. There is an eruption of genital masochistic desires and the ego overwhelmed surrenders.

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Article Citation

Rothschild, L. (1935). Sexuality. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 16:227-230

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