Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Struggle of The Sexes

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 7, 2013

“Chodorow sees gender differences as compromise formations of the Oedipal complex. She begins with Freud’s assertion that the individual is born bisexual and that the child’s mother is its first sexual object. Chodorow, drawing on the work of Karen Horney and Melanie Klein, notes that the child forms its ego in reaction to the dominating figure of the mother. The male child forms this sense of independent agency easily, identifying with the agency and freedom of the father and emulating his possessive interest in the mother/wife. This task is not as simple for the female child. The mother identifies with her more strongly, and the daughter attempts to make the father her new love object, but is stymied in her ego formation by the intense bond with the mother. Where male children typically experience love as a dyadic relationship, daughters are caught in a libidinal triangle where the ego is pulled between love for the father, the love of the mother, and concern and worry over the relationship of the father to the mother. For Chodorow, the contrast between the dyadic and triadic first love experiences explains the social construction of gender roles, the universal degradation of women in culture, cross-cultural patterns in male behavior, and marital strain in the West after Second Wave feminism. In marriage, the woman takes less of an interest in sex and more in the children. Her ambivalence towards sex eventually drives the male away. She devotes her energies to the children once she does reach sexual maturity.”

This will be our discussion in class  on Friday. Do women have harder lives? According to Dr. Chodorow, yes, indeed, beginning with the Oedipal challenge of falling in love with her father, still intensely in love with her mother, and feeling perpetually torn, leading to the future torn feeling between her husband and her own children. The girl, unlike the boy, can never experience the bliss of a dyadic relationship, as it is challenged by a third-party. The boy, by contrast, can love his mother, admire his father, find a wife, and seamlessly go from one dyadic relationship to another. This Oedipal challenge leaves a girl to experience intense guilt for having a firmer alliance in one direction and not another. So many marriages teeter with the challenge of raising children because the husband, often gets demoted. Second marriages are often about husbands yearning and seeking for the time in his first marriage where he felt like he really mattered, instead of feeling like he was a wallet. How does a woman, expend energy on raising children, while still ensuring that her husband is narcissistically gratified. One could say that husbands should not need this narcissistic gratification from his wife and that he should embrace his new role as a father, but if the dynamics of a marriage are such that the wife makes her husband feel that he is the center of her universe, it would be quite ambitious to think that the husband can gently leave that perch?

Clarene, twenty-seven, is quite tight with her mother, loves her father, and lives with her boyfriend, Stan, much to the dismay of her father, but not her mother. Clarene’s mom likes Stan because he is caring and kind to Clarene. By contrast, Clarene’s dad feels that Stan is not “good enough” but then again, when pressed, Clarene says no one would be “good enough.” “He does not want me to separate from him,” Clarene says, wanting me to know that Clarene’s point of view is that she is “daddy’s little girl” and Stan interferes with that dynamic. Knowing this, however, Clarene is still torn between pleasing Stan and pleasing her father, in a way that might remind her of her childhood when she could not please both parents at the same time. When she did well in school, her mother was proud, but her father said she could do better. Clarene painfully recalls the multitude of times when she wanted to make her dad happy, but she never felt she did. Clarene’s brother, Eliot, never seemed to care if he made his dad happy. Eliot only cared what his mother thought of him, and yet he admired his dad a great deal, according to Clarene. This difference between Clarene needing to please all, whereas Eliot was more narrow in his “love-objects” gives Clarene, and hence all women, in general, according to Dr. Chodorow, the burden of needing consensus among her loved ones. Dr. Chodorow would say that as long as women take care of their children, girls’ lives will always be more complicated by this ever-pressing guilt involved in pleasing one, but not the other. This explains how girls, from a young age, form groups, where the dynamics are critical, whereas boys, focus on activities where slights tend to be less felt or noticed. This long history of emotional complexity may explain why girls migrate towards helping professions, understanding the push and pull of relationships.


See also…,0,2841039.story

5 Responses to “Struggle of The Sexes”

  1. Ashana M said

    If you don’t feel you matter, no one is going to be able to help you with that in any case–it is something you need to be able to bring with you into a relationship, not receive from the relationship. Adulation cannot substitute for a sense of meaning.

    • True, but there are degrees of adulation which can facilitate feeling like you matter. Thanks.

      • Ashana M said

        Hard for me to imagine that. They seem mutually exclusive. It seems to me rather than adulation might appear to be a possible substitute for a sense of meaning, although it is not. But then adulation disgusts me, so it may be my own limitation.

  2. Shelly said

    There are those who say that a woman must take care of her husband first and foremost, to the exclusion of all else even the children. That is the secret to a happy marriage and happy children. Obviously these women feel no guilt which you describe in your blog. What is your take on this?

    • I think this is a very tricky issue. Children need nurturing and adults (husbands) might also need nurturing, but with the stressful lives, priorities need to be made. A wife, more than a husband, needs to navigate these demands in a way that makes her family function such that both her marriage and her children can flourish. Having said that, most children need nurturing to set them on a path of good self-esteem, whereas adults, can generally deal with delayed gratification. Understanding that raising children is a time-sensitive activity is often a key to helping women navigate these waters. I am hard-pressed to think that women who do not nurture their children have no guilt, but I could see that women do feel that they nurture their children, but the emerging adult may have a different point of view. Clearly, it is hard to speak in general terms, since each family is so unique. Thanks.

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