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Fast, I. (1991). Commentary on “Father and Daughter: Identification with Difference—A Contribution to Gender Heterodoxy. Psychoanal. Dial., 1(3):301-304.

(1991). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 1(3):301-304

Commentary on “Father and Daughter: Identification with Difference—A Contribution to Gender Heterodoxy Related Papers

Irene Fast, Ph.D.

Benjamin's topic is penis envy. Her focus is one aspect of the constellation of factors that Freud associated with it: the girl's wish, when she becomes aware of sex difference, to be a boy. Benjamin places this wish in the context of developments in gender identity and separation-individuation, which converge when girls are about 18-24 months of age. The girl's wish to be a boy, she suggests, is not responsive to feelings of genital inferiority as conceived in Freud's drive theory; conflicts about gender limits are a later development. The wish is a developmentally progressive identification with the father in the context of the girl's newly developing sense of personal will, intention, and agency.

Benjamin's own clinical observations and those of others, as well as patterns of relationship she finds in imaginative literature, suggest to her that this relationship takes a particular form. The girl wants to be recognized by her father as a subject of desire, a person who can want and act appropriately to fulfill her wants. In a relationship of identificatory love she wants to be accepted by him as his little boy.

Benjamin argues that the girl's turn to the father for recognition of herself as a subject of desire is rooted both in the family structure dominant in this society and in a phase-appropriate developmental conflict. In current family organization, she suggests, the mother is largely a source of goodness for the young child, and the father is a subject of desire. The girl, therefore, like the boy, finds in the father a mirror of her own sense of agency in a way not easily found in the mother.

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