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Fliegel, Z.O. (1973). Feminine Psychosexual Development in Freudian Theory—A Historical Reconstruction. Psychoanal Q., 42:385-408.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:385-408

Feminine Psychosexual Development in Freudian Theory—A Historical Reconstruction

Zenia Odes Fliegel, Ph.D.


A gap exists in the historical record of psychoanalytic literature on the subject of feminine development and psychology. This paper has attempted to show that such a gap has resulted to an important degree from a combination of circumstances surrounding the Horney-Jones-Freud debate in the 1920's and early 1930's. Freud, threatened in his survival, shaken in his trust in his closest collaborators, worried about the cohesion of the psychoanalytic movement and the survival of his life's work, responded to the 'alien thoughts' emanating from Horney and then Jones as a threat to the integrity of his theory. He reacted with what was perhaps the most dogmatic stand of his career, despite an often reiterated awareness of limited insight and understanding in this area.

In this paper, Freud's historic 1925 essay is regarded as a direct response to Horney's 1924 paper. Acknowledging insufficient clinical evidence, Freud called on his collaborators to confirm or refute his proposed formulations. In 1931, with the help of some of his followers' reported findings, Freud reaffirmed his original views. Though Horney, Jones, and Fenichel were to continue questioning one or more aspects of Freud's thesis for a few more years, the debate was essentially closed with Freud's 1931 paper. The issues were not re-examined for some decades. The original debate, incompletely recorded to begin with, has largely disappeared from the historical record, as a study of current references and of Jones's biography of Freud demonstrates.

With but few exceptions, Freud's followers accepted his new theories, and Horney's and Jones's papers on the subject have since been ignored for the most part. According to Bernfeld, at the time of the original controversy there was particularly intense reaction against potential heterodoxy as an effect of Freud's illness. There was also realistic concern over the dilution of psychoanalytic ideas by deviant schools substituting single overblown elements or levels of analysis for the complex totality of Freud's thought. Horney eventually

founded such a school and her valuable early work was mostly relegated to oblivion. Furthermore, criticism of Freud's antifeminine bias often came from hostile sources attempting to depreciate his total achievement, no doubt making it more difficult for those who followed him to approach this subject dispassionately and openly.

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