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Halberstadt-Freud, H.C. (1998). Electra Versus Oedipus: Femininity Reconsidered. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 79:41-56.

(1998). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 79:41-56

Electra Versus Oedipus: Femininity Reconsidered

Hendrika C. Halberstadt-Freud

The author discusses the arguments in favour of an Electra rather than an Oedipus complex to describe the vicissitudes of female development and explores the value of using a different paradigm. She concludes that girls do not have to change their primary object to become female. Pathological forms of the normal ambivalent attachment to the mother are vehement rejection, as with Electra, or the opposite, a close symbiotic bond. Both outcomes testify to the centrality of the maternal love object for the girl, and either can lead to masochistic resolutions of the mother-daughter bond. The girl must steer between the Scylla of a symbiotic illusion vis-à-vis her maternal object and the Charybdis of hatred of it. The inner relationship with the maternal image can foster a woman's development, serve as a source of strength or be a well of pathology. Electra illustrates her preoccupation with her mother in a combination of latent approach and manifest avoidance. Women do turn to their male object of desire, not instead of, but in addition to their first love object, the mother. In healthy development, not the inner mother, but the childhood fantasy of the phallic mother is given up, allowing the difference between the parents to be recognised and genuine heterosexual desire established. Female heterosexuality will always be accompanied by a strong homosexual undercurrent.

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