Psychoanalytic Theory

Edited by Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), Taylor (ScienceAid Editor), Jen Moreau


Psychoanalytical Theories of Gender

Before you start reading this material in horror, it's important to know this theory is not believed by any serious Psychologist as an explanation for gender; and is just an example of one of the more bizarre theories of Sigmund Freud; who is considered the father of Psychology.

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Freud believed that a lot of our thought process is subconscious, meaning we are not consciously aware of them. In terms of child development, he said children go through several phases. During each phase, they derive pleasure from a particular part of the body.

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  1. 1
    The first stage is the oral stage. This relates to the time the child is breast feeding.
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  2. 2
    After that, at 18-36 months comes the anal stage. This relates to toilet training.
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  3. 3
    Finally, comes the phallic stage. This relates to the penis, and will be discussed further below.
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He also believed it was possible to become fixated at any of these stages; so if one becomes fixated in the oral stage could become verbally aggressive, or a smoker or chew pens, etc.

Oedipus and Electra Complexes

It is during the phallic stage that Freud believed gender developed. In boys, this was as a result of the Oedipus complex and in girls it was the Electra complex, outlined below:

  1. 1
    Oedipus Complex
    In the Oedipus Complex the boy's sexual energy is directed towards the penis, and he develops a sexual attraction for his mother. He sees his father as a love rival and fears he will be castrated by the father because of his feelings for the mother. To resolve this conflict, he identifies with the father to avoid castration and learns his gender from the father.
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  2. 2
    Electra Complex
    In the Electra Complex, the girl becomes aware of the penis (phallus) and sees it as a symbol of power; and realizes she and her mother don't have one, and so develops penis envy. She desires a baby with her father and converts the penis-envy to a penis baby making project. She realizes she can not have the father and so returns to the pre-Electra state and identifies with the mother.
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Freud tried to provide evidence for the Oedipus Complex by using the case study of Little Hans, who had a fear of horses, especially lying down, and this was developed at the time that Hans' mother was pregnant. Freud said this anxiety was because his mother was pregnant with his Father's baby when Hans (according to the Oedipus complex) sexually desired his mother. And the fear of horses represented Hans' desire to see his father dead.

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A great big problem with this theory of gender acquisition is the lack of evidence and logic. And the only evidence that was provided was a case study, which obviously does not allow for a generalization. And there was also a more logical explanation for Hans' phobia: he had seen a large horse fall over whilst his mother was pregnant. Freud said that without a male role-model, a boy will become homosexual, however in a study by Golombok (1983) children raised by lesbian parents don't differ from those raised by heterosexual parents in terms of gender role and sexual orientation. And finally, Freud's data was unreliable because he used people's memories of childhood, only took notes at the end of a session, and received this data by interview - where it is very probable he influenced what the participant said.

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Categories : Gender

Recent edits by: Taylor (ScienceAid Editor), Jamie (ScienceAid Editor)

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