chapter  7
21 Pages

Sigmund Freud: ‘Femininity’ (1933)

This paper was first published in Vienna six years before Freud’s death. In it Freud summarises and reworks his most developed ideas on the nature of ‘femininity’ which he first presented in ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes’ (1925). The latter provoked considerable discussion and controversy in psychoanalytic circles of which Freud was very aware when he wrote ‘Female Sexuality’ and ‘Femininity’. This probably accounts for the rather defensive tone in some parts of it. In ‘Femininity’ Freud re-states his perception of what he sees as ‘a disturbance’ at the heart of femininity, what he regards as the girl’s early ‘active’, ‘masculine’ love for the mother from which he thought she never entirely breaks free. The paper re-iterates a variety of conclusions which have made Freud’s work on femininity controversial among feminists, including the issues of bi­ sexuality, penis-envy, passivity and activity in relation to cultural definitions of ‘masculinity’ and femininity’, and the significance of the clitoris and the vagina. However, these ideas need to be understood within the wider context of Freud’s writing, as the discussion in chapter two of this book makes clear. What is new in this paper is the link he attempts to make between his description of adult women and his new focus on the intense pre-Oedipal mother-daughter relationship which was not present in his earlier description of ‘femininity’ in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905).