Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Femininity
A Freudian Journey

Doug Davis

The historical case for psychoanalytic treatments of women has never been dissociable from the individuality of Freud. Freud's personality and life circumstances shaped theory and practice in ways we are once again appreciating. Combined with recent work on the historical and personal sources of Freud's ideas has been a rapid increase of interest in psychology as a whole in problems of gender as these relate to personality development and to psychological functioning in adolescence and adulthood. Within the therapeutic community, few concepts have been as controversial as Freud's ideas of feminity, and a large literature in psychoanalysis has concerned the clinical usefulness (or lack thereof) of psychoanalytic theories of femininity.

Freud's writings on women, on sex differences in psychological development, and on "feminine" character and sexuality, are among the most personally-entangled and autobiographically-revealing threatises in Psychology. For a fascinating treatment of the importance for Freud's later work of his university training, see McGrath (1986), who is able to identify a number of intellectual predilections of the adolescent Freud which carry over strikingly to the 40-year-old who propounds Oedipal theory. That Freud's theorizing about women, and about hysteria, shows the clearest evidence of distortion by his personality, has recently been convincingly argued by a number of authors, including Gilligan (1984), Sprengnether (1990), and Balmary (1979).

Stages in Freud's Theorizing about Gender and Femininity


Balmary, Marie (1982). Psychoanalyzing psychoanalysis: Freud and the hidden fault of the father. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. (Original work published 1979).

Gilligan, Carol. (1984) The conquistador and the dark continent: Reflections on the psychology of love. Daedalus (Summer 1984), pp. 75-95.

McGrath, W.J. (1986). Freud's discovery of psychoanalysis: The politics of hysteria. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Sprengnether, Madelon. (1990). The spectral mother: Freud, feminism, and psychoanalysis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

These teaching notes and linked materials by Douglas A. Davis are copyright © 1990-2002. They are intended for the use of students in my Haverford College courses. Do reproduce them, nor cite them without permission.