chapter  9
Listening to Her Self; Women's Diaries
Pages 17

There are varying psychoanalytical formulations of gender difference and fanale identity, but I would like to draw upon Nancy Chodorows discussion of the relationship between difference and the process of differentiation/ separation (Chodorow, 1979). Initially the child experiences itself, the world and in particular, its caretaker, as an undifferentiated symbiotic unity. The process of differentiation occurs as the child comes to perceive a division between itself and the object world, recognising the subject/self as distinct and separate from the object/other (initially the caretaker). Chodorow foregrourrls the fact that in our highly gender organised, patriarchal society the primary caretaker is almost invariably female, and this is shown to have particular implications for the process of differentiation and the concanitant acquisition of gender identity. Because of the primacy of the mother in the early

Wanen's Diaries

years compared to the more shadowy male presence, a boy's gender identity is learned as not female, not mother, building upon the process of differentiation. Gender identity develops away from the mother, invo 1 ving a denia 1 or repression of the primary identification with her. Consequently difference and separateness became a much more integral part of differentiation; the me/not me distinction is more fixed. For the girl gender identity involves a recognition of being like the mother and builds upon the primary identification wit~ her. In the act of differentiation there is also continuity and similarity. Consequently the female self is less separate, involving a less fixed me/not me distinction. In Chodorows analysis difference and separateness are not seen as vital canponents for a satisfactory sense of self, and the cultural assumptions that 1ndividualism, separateness, and distance from others are desirable and requisite to autonomy and human fulfilment' (Chodorow, 1979, p. 67) are questioned. But in the context of such assumptions and the identification of a negatively valued gender identity, wanen can experience 'problems of sense of separateness and autonomy'. Merger and fusion of the self in relationship can be problematic.