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Fast, I. (1994). Women's Capacity to Give Birth: A Sex-Difference Issue for Men?. Psychoanal. Dial., 4(1):51-68.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 4(1):51-68

Women's Capacity to Give Birth: A Sex-Difference Issue for Men?

Irene Fast, Ph.D.

Feelings of loss or abandonment, alternating idealization and disparagement of their wives, envy of their wives, and denial of limits imposed by their own sexual organization are regularly reported in explorations of men's disturbed reactions to their wives' pregnancies. In women this pattern of reactions, directed by them toward men, has long been understood to reflect little girls' responses to the recognition of their sex and gender limits. In men it has not been interpreted coordinately as a pattern of reactions to the recognition that the capacity to give birth cannot be theirs because they are male. Freud repeatedly raises this possibility, but he invariably rejects it as incompatible with children's early knowledge and beliefs. He seems implicitly to give it credence but he can find no way to integrate it into his profoundly phallocentric theory of sex and gender development.

A differentiation model of gender development (Fast, 1984) suggests that penis envy and envy of women's childbearing capacities are the responses of girls and boys, respectively, to the recognition of their sex and gender limits. For men, the pregnancy of their wives is hypothesized to provide a powerful stimulus for the reemergence of sex difference issues. Support for this view is found in both clinical studies and explorations of men's reactions to their wives' pregnancies in nonclinical populations. Some of these investigations suggest, moreover, that this reemergence offers men opportunities to reengage issues of sex and gender limits and move toward increasingly subtle and sophisticated resolutions of them during the period of their approaching fatherhood.

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