Nancy Chodorow and Feminist Psychoanalysis

Nancy Chodorow is studied under both Psychoanalysis and Feminism. In two important works The Reproduction of Mothering (1978) and Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989), Chodorow combines the object relations theories of Melanie Klein with contemporary gender concerns.

(1) Chodorow argues that mothers experience their daughters as their “doubles.” This is what she calls “narcissistic object attachment.” The mother sees the daughter simply as an extension of her own life.

(2) This means that the daughters find it difficult to form their own identities. They are brought up with a strong capacity for empathy and intimacy but they cannot achieve their desire for autonomy.

(3) For Chodorow, the “core gender identity” of women—narcissism, lack of self-control, weak ego-boundaries—proceeds from their inability to discover separateness.

(4) Desperate, the daughter turns to the father. The father represents the outside world. Here the daughter becomes aware of the social privileges of the phallus.

(5) For boys, masculine identity is also achieved through this relationship with the mother. However, in this case, the mother recognises gender differences and encourages the boy to discover separateness. This is because the mothers experience their sons as separate from themselves (note the difference from the relationship with the daughters). This is what Chodorow terms “anaclitic object-attachment.”

(6) The “association” with the father in the Oedipal stage is handled differently by boys and girls. Girls, caught in the narcissistic relationship with the mother, develop emotionally through relationships, nurture and care. Boys discover themselves through separation and independence. Though fathers represent the out-side world for Chodorow, they have only nominal roles to play. As Chodorow puts it in Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory, paternal authority is the “last-ditch escape from maternal omnipotence.”

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