FREUDIANISM SUBSUMES FEMINISM
To the two main points of this chapter, first, that Freudianism and Feminism grew out of the same historical conditions, and second, that freudianism and feminism are based on the same set of realities, I shall add a third: Freudianism subsumed the place of Feminism as the lesser of two evils. x
We have shown how Freudianism hit the same nerve that Feminism did: both at once were responses to centuries of increasing privatization of family life, its extreme subjugation of women, and the sex repressions and subsequent neuroses this caused, Freud too was once considered a sex maniac, destructive to society—he was ridiculed and despised as much as were the militant feminists. It was only much later that Freudianism became as
sacred as an established religion. How did this reversal come about?
Let us first consider the social context of the development of both Feminism and Freudianism. We have seen that the ideas of the early radical feminists contained the seeds of the coming sexual revolution. We have seen that though in many cases the feminists themselves did not clearly grasp the importance of what they had stumbled into, though often they did not have down a thorough and consistent radical feminist critique of society— and given the political climate at that time, it is no wonder—the reaction of society to them indicates that their enemies knew what they were about, if they themselves weren’t sure: the virulent antifeminist literature of the time, often written by men well respected and honest in their own fields of endeavor, illustrates the threat the feminists presented to the establishment. I have also shown in the past chapter how the movement was redirected into an all-consuming effort to obtain the vote, and how in this way it was sidetracked and destroyed. Following the end of the feminist movement, with the granting of the vote, came the era of the flappers, an era that in its pseudo-liberated sexuality much resembles our own. The widespread female rebellion stirred up by the feminist movement now had nowhere to go. Girls who had cut their hair, shortened their skirts, and gone off to college no longer had a political direction for their frustration; instead they danced it away in marathons, or expended themselves swimming the channel and flying airplanes across the Atlantic. They were a roused class who did not know what to do with their consciousness. They were told then as we are still told now, “You’ve got civil rights, short skirts, and sexual liberty. You’ve won your revolution. What more do you want?” But the “revolution” had been won within a system organized around the patriarchal nuclear family. And as Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization shows, within such a repressive structure only a more sophisticated repression can result (“repressive de-sublimation”).
In a repressive society, individual happiness and productive development are in contradiction to society; if they are defined as values to be realized within the society, they become themselves repressive. . . . [The concept of repressive de-sublimation is] the release of sexuality in modes and forms which reduce and weaken erotic energy. In this process sexuality spreads into formerly tabooed dimensions and relations. However, instead of recreating these dimensions and relations in the images of the Pleasure Principle, the opposite tendency asserts itself: the Reality Principle extends its hold over Eros. The most telling illustration is provided by the methodical introduction of sexiness into business, politics, propaganda, etc.
Here in the twenties began the stereotypes of the American “career girl,” the “coed,” and the “butchy” businesswoman. This image of the supposedly “liberated” woman went around the world via Hollywood, the unbalancing effects on women of pseudo-liberation giving antifeminists new ammunition, and further bolstering the resistance of the still openly male supremacist societies to setting “their” women free. (“We like our women the way they are—womanly.”) American servicemen came back from the Second World War with stories of those great continental women who still knew how to make a man feel good. The word castration began to circulate. And finally in America, in the forties, Freudianism came in big.
Meanwhile, Freudianism itself had undergone deep internal changes. Emphasis had shifted from the original psychoanalytic theory to clinical practice. In the final chapter of Eros and Civilization, Marcuse discusses the reactionary implications of this shift, showing how the contradiction between Freud’s ideas and the possibility of any effective “therapy” based on them—psychoanalysis cannot effect individual happiness in a society the structure of which can tolerate no more than severely controlled individual happiness—finally caused the assimilation of the theory to suit the practice:
The most speculative and “metaphysical” concepts not subject to clinical verification. . . were minimized and discarded al-
together. Moreover, in the process, some of Freud’s most ^ cisive concepts (such as the relation between the id and ^ ego, the function of the unconscious, and the scope and sjj, nificance of sexuality) were redefined in such a way that thej explosive content was all but eliminated. . . . The revision^ have converted the weakening of Freud’s theory into a theory.
The term that perhaps best characterizes this neo-Frein}, ian revisionism is “adjustment.” But adjustment to what! The underlying assumption is that one must accept th reality in which one finds oneself. But what happens j one is a woman, a black, or a member of any other $ pecially unfortunate class of society? Then one is doubj; unlucky. Then one not only has to achieve a normal^ that even for the privileged is, as we have shown, difficui and precarious at best, but one must also “adjust” to ft specific racism or sexism that limits one’s potential fror the very beginning. One must abandon all attempts at sell definition or determination. Thus, in Marcuse’s view, th process of therapy becomes merely “a course in resign tion,” the difference between health and neurosis ой “the degree and effectiveness of the resignation.” For, j in the often-quoted statement of Freud to his patiei (Studies in Hysteria, 1895), “[A great deal will be gaine if we succeed through therapy in] transforming your hji terical misery into everyday unhappiness.”
And as all those who have undergone therapy ca attest, that’s just about the size of it. Cleaver’s descriptict of his analysis in Soul on Ice speaks for the experience ( any other oppressed person as well:
ffie Case for Feminist Revolution 65
to bring out the racial question, and he made it clear that he Was not interested in my attitudes toward whites. This was a pandora’s box he did not care to open.
Theodor Reik, perhaps the prototype of the cracker – barrel layman’s Freud, exemplifies the crassness and insensitivity of most psychoanalysts to the real problems of their patients. It is remarkable that, with so many writings on the emotional differences between men and women, Reik should never have discovered the objective difference in their social situations. For example, he observes in passing differences like the following without ever drawing the right conclusions:
Little girls sometimes whisper to each other “Men do” this or that. Little boys almost never speak of women in this way.
A woman gives much more thought to being a woman than a man to being a man.
Most women, when they ask a favor of a man, smile. In the same situation men rarely smile.
To be a ladies’ man means somewhere not to be much of a man.
Almost all women are afraid that the man they love will leave them. But hardly a man is afraid that a woman will leave him.
Women in groups sometimes say, “My lord and master let me out of the house tonight.” Men say, “My ball-and-chain.”
And here is a random sampling of his neo-Freudian contributions to sexual understanding:
The first impression one gets of a young woman entering a room full of people is that of concealed or well-disguised insecurity. It seems that being the possessor of a penis protects men against such over self-awareness.
Men are not at home in the universe and therefore have to explore it. Women who form the chain of all organic beings
ffie Case for Feminist Revolution 67
jjefore she left I took her to the window and showed her the stores across the street, and their signs in neon letters, and said, “Isn’t it a woman’s world?” But she was not much impressed by this and replied, "Walk down Wall Street and you’ll see it’s a man’s world."
[A patient notes that] Men are odd. They do not permit us to be only women, I mean women with all their weaknesses; but they do not for a moment let us forget that we are only women.
Row can these women stand Reik’s stupid misogyny? They can’t:
When I told a patient in her forties that she had wanted to be a boy like her brother she began to curse and abuse me, saying “Fuck you” and “Go to hell!” and other unladylike expressions.
But the doctor wins:
When it was time for her to leave, she stood for a while longer than usual before the mirror in my anteroom, putting her hair in order. I smilingly remarked, “I am glad to see a remnant of femininity.”
Here are a few other female reactions:
When you listen to me a long time without saying anything,
[ often have the impression that what I say is silly woman’s stuff and without value. It is as if you do not consider it worth your while to speak to me.
Woman criticizing her psychoanalyst: “Even your spontaneity is artificial.”
The patient had been silent for a longer time than usual and then said in a quiet manner: “Goddam, I don’t know why I am here. Go fuck yourself!”
It is not that these women were unaware of their situation: on the contrary, they were in Reik’s office because
of their awareness. There was no other way to handle their frustration because there is no way to handle ft, short of revolution.
We have arrived at our final point: the importation of clinical Freudianism to stem the flow of feminism. Girls in the twenties and thirties found themselves halfway щ and halfway out of the traditional roles. Thus they were neither insulated and protected from the larger world as before, nor were they equipped to deal with it. Both their personal and work lives suffered. Their frustration often took hysterical forms, complicated by the fact that they were despised the world over for even the little false liberation they had achieved. Mass confusion sent them in droves to the psychoanalysts. And where had all the psychoanalysts come from? By this time a war was going on in Europe, and much of the German and Austrian intelligentsia had settled here in search of a practice. It was ideal: a whole class of suffering people awaited them, And it was not just a few bored, rich women who were sucked into the new religion. For America was undergoing serious cramps from withholding a sexual revolution at ready well beyond the beginning stages. Everyone suffered, men as well as women. Books came out with such titles as How to Live with a Neurotic (because that oppressed class is right there in your kitchen, whining and complaining and nagging). Soon men, too, were turning up at the psychoanalysts. Well-educated, responsible citizens, not just psychos. And children. Whole new fields were opened to deal with the influx: child psychology, clinical psychology, group therapy, marriage counseling services, any variation you can think of, name it and there it was, And none of it was enough. The demand multiplied faster than new departments could be opened up in colleges.
That these new departments were soon filled up will women is no wonder. Masses of searching women studied psychology with a passion in the hope of finding a solutiot to their “hangups.” But women who had grown interested in psychology because its raw material touched then where they lived soon were spouting jargon about marital
adjustment and sex-role responsibility. Psychology departments became halfway houses to send women scurrying back “adjusted” to their traditional roles as wives and mothers. Those women who persisted in demanding careers became in their turn instruments of the repressive educational system, their new-found psychological “insight”—that babble of Child Psych., Social Work 301 and El. Ed.—serving to keep a fresh generation of women and children down. Psychology became reactionary to its core, its potential as a serious discipline undermined by its usefulness to those in power.
And psychology was not the only new discipline to be corrupted. Education, social work, sociology, anthropology, all the related behavioral sciences, remained for years pseudo-sciences, overburdened with a double function: the indoctrination of women, as well as the study of “human” behavior. Reactionary schools of thought developed: social science became “functional,” studying the operation of institutions only within the given value system, thus promoting acceptance of the status quo.
It is not surprising that these remained “women’s fields.” Men soon fled to (exclusively male) “pure” science; women, still only semi-educated, awed with their new entrance into academia, were left to be snowed with the pseudo-scientific bullshit. For, in addition to role indoctrination, the behavioral sciences served as a dike to keep the hordes of questing nouveaux intellectuals from entering the “real” sciences—physics, engineering, biochemistry, etc., sciences that in a technological society bore an increasingly direct relation to control of that society.
As a result, even access to higher education, one of the few victories of the early W. R.M., was subverted. More average women went to college than ever before, with less effect. Often the only difference between the modern college-educated housewife and her traditional prototype was the jargon she used in describing her marital hell.
In short, Freudian theory, regroomed for its new func – tion of “social adjustment,” was used to wipe up the feminist revolt. Patching up with band-aids the casualties of the aborted feminist revolution, it succeeded in quieting the immense social unrest and role confusion that followed in the wake of the first attack on the rigid patriarchal family. It is doubtful that the sexual revolution could have remained paralyzed at halfway point for half a century without its help; for the problems stirred up by the first wave of feminism are still not resolved today. D. H. Lawrence and Bernard Shaw are no less relevant than they were in their own time; Wilhelm Reich’s The Sexual Revolution could have been written yesterday.
Freudianism was the perfect foil for feminism, because* though it struck the same nerve, it had a safety catch that feminism didn’t—it never questioned the given reality. While both at their cores are explosive, Freudianism was gradually revised to suit the pragmatic needs of clinical therapy: it became an applied science complete with white-coated technicians, its contents subverted for a reactionary end—the socialization of men and women to an artificial sex-role system. But there was just enough left of its original force to serve as a lure for those seeking their way out of oppression—causing Freudianism to go in the public mind from extreme suspicion and dislike to its current status: psychoanalytic expertise is the final say in everything from marital breakups to criminal court judgments. Thus Freudianism gained the ground that Feminism lost: It flourished at the expense of Feminism, to the extent that it acted as a container of its shattering force.
Only recently have we begun to feel the generations of drugging; half a century later women are waking up. There is a new emphasis on objective social conditions in psychology as well as in the behavioral sciences; these disciplines, only now, decades after the damage has been done, are reacting to their long prostitution with demand* for scientific verification—but an end to “objectivity” and a reintroduction of “value judgments.” The large num-
bers of women in these fields may soon start using this fact to their advantage. And a therapy that has proven worse than useless may eventually be replaced with the only thing that can do any good; political organization.