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Barrett, W.G. (1950). The Feminine Character. History of an Ideology: By Viola Klein, Ph.D. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1949. 228 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 19:439-440.
(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:439-440
The Feminine Character. History of an Ideology: By Viola Klein, Ph.D. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1949. 228 pp.
Review by: William G. Barrett
This book attempts 'to discover … whether there are traits which can be called typically feminine'. An integrative approach is attempted through studying the notions of a number of 'authorities'. One chapter each is devoted to representatives of 'the biological, the philosophical, the psychoanalytical, the experimental-psychological, the psychometric, the historical, and the sociological methods of approach'.
An introductory historical background illuminates women's changing social status from the time wives were bought and sold in England, through the industrial revolution and the era of Victorian gentilities, to the radical changes that followed World War I and the present 'emancipation'.
Havelock Ellis (biologist) debunked many fallacies regarding sexual differences, but was cautious in describing particular feminine traits. Otto Weininger (philosopher), apparently a schizoidpersonality (a suicide at twenty-three), seems to doubt that women are human. Although the author presents his views as typical of the very end of the nineteenth century, they seem rather to represent psychopathology. Nevertheless she finds similarities with Freud and concludes they were both victims of their conservative era and similar social backgrounds. The chapter on Freud is one of the longest in the book. The author finds a 'peculiar irony in the fact that the very theory which was chiefly responsible for a more enlightened outlook in matters of sex' is influenced by 'Victorian morality … in its dealing with women'. She seems to think penis envy a concoction of theory rather than an inescapable fact of observation and states, 'contempt of women is taken for granted'. Vexed by Freud's statement that women's 'capacity for sublimation is less' because, 'translated into ordinary language this means that women are, by their organic nature, excluded from participation in cultural and creative activities', she quotes Horney's contention that man's creativity is a compensation for his 'envy of motherhood'. Detecting a bid 'for supremacy between … competitors', she makes clear the reason for psychoanalysts' confusion (p.
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