Feminist Critic of Dr. Sigmund Freud's Work in Mental Illnesses
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Feminist Critic of Dr. Sigmund Freud's Work in Mental Illnesses

The great doctor Freud really did not understand women yet he made elaborate theories about them which have been challenged by female psychoanalysts such as Karen Horney and feminists alike. His views on penis envy, women being inferior to men, women wanting to be men are considered demeaning to women and without any empirical backing.

Continuing with the criticisms of Freud’s work, Freud used his Id, ego, and superego theory as metaphors for the human psyche and animal instincts. Unfortunately, these metaphors took on a life of their own as he explained all behavior using these metaphors. Using metaphors is not scientific as much as it is anecdotal in nature.

We have already discussed in another article how Freud did a grave disservice to women with his theories.  Feminists everywhere have challenged his views on womanhood.  It was no secret that Freud saw women as inferior to men.  He found woman added nothing of their own to society; they simply passively received information (subservience) and resisted any kind of change.

Freud was a product of his times no doubt.  He also opposed the female emancipation movement, when women began to fight for their rights in and outside of the home.  Freud felt that the only value they had for society was to produce babies.

Penis envy

Penis envy is probably the most challenged theory of all.  According to Freud, during the phallic stage of psychosexual development, which occurs around the age of 3-5, little girls start detaching themselves from their mothers and gravitate towards their fathers.  They adore their fathers, look up to their fathers, and blame their mothers for not allowing them to have a penis. 

Today this concept is absolutely ridiculous, but his concept went along with his view that women were inferior to men.  However, is a little girl of three even capable of thinking that way?

The psychologist Karen Horney and modern feminists find these theories very condescending towards women.  Freud on the other hand, held that the Oedipal complex, Electra (female equivalent) and castration anxiety his greatest work.   Women today generally do not want to be men.  We are happy to be women, perhaps not happy with the state of our lives, but happy to be women nevertheless.

Hysteria

This concept came about through working with the famous Anna O who was really Bertha Pappenheim.  She was suffering from partial paralysis, hallucinations and amnesia.  Today, if these symptoms were displayed in a person and there was no known physical cause, the diagnosis would be conversion disorder. However Freud called it hysteria, which is the term for uterus in Latin.  Generations of women have been deemed hysterical ever since.

Freud in collaboration with his mentor, Joseph Breuer found that talking with Anno O helped relieve her symptoms and thus we see the birth of the talking cure which is used across psychological models today. Yet his theory is lacking.  Freud believed that hysteria came about due to repressed sexual urges in women; then when his rape theory (women were raped in childhood by their fathers) was too controversial, he changed his theory to sexual fantasies were actually the cause of hysteria.  The only thing he did well in this sense was to make Victorian society aware that women could have sexual feelings of their own.

Freud did admit he really didn’t understand women and had very little experience outside the therapy session with them.

In his defense

He was a product of his times.  His views of women were shared by most men in society.  The suffragist movement had just surfaced in the latter part of the 19th century and the concept of women taking charge was very disagreeable to him. 

Freud changed the view of all mental illness from strictly biological to generating in the mind.  His theory of the unconscious is still accepted today in modified models. 

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