What was Sigmund Freud's psychodynamic theory of female delinquency and how does Freud's theory compare with other psychodynamic theories of female delinquency?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sigmund Freud is well-known for his psychoanalytical theory. His theory of childhood development, focusing on innate biological drive was, and remains, controversial and, even his closest allies moved away from his prescriptive theories. Erik Erikson, in his psychodynamic approach, emphasizes the social, rather than the biological, influences in developing personality. Personality is formed during childhood and children, from the time of being infants, are, according to Freud, required to constantly fight impulses they are born with in an effort to "fit" into society. Freud lived from 1856 to 1939, at a time when equality was not a priority and his theories reflect the era in which he lived. Erikson's theories place more emphasis on experiences and resultant crises which may cause an identity crisis (a term coined by Erikson).   

Female delinquency, according to Freud, is a result of women's efforts to unsuccessfully compensate for their differences from men. Girls develop inferiority complexes and boys develop ungrounded fears. At the extreme, girls want to be boys and so may develop homosexual feelings or, at least, find careers in male-dominated areas (as considered to be so in the early twentieth century) such as science; others compensate by taking a very or even overly maternal role or by becoming obsessed with being beautiful. This renders females capable of inappropriate behavior but, due to their passive nature, which according to psychoanalytic theory is due to socialization, this allows women to be manipulated by men, resulting, often, in overtly sexual acts. Prostitution is a well-known occupation of many early twentieth-century women. Female delinquency then, as defined by Freud, is a result of  unresolved gender conflict, inappropriate socialization (in so much as these women did not acquire their passive and submissive natures that society demands) and an inability to suppress or inhibit their sexuality. Erikson relies on "ego identity" and females who are unable to develop a firm sense of themselves are likely to foster negative responses and thereby exhibit impulsive behavior whilst trying to find solutions to crises. 

Violence is usually associated with men. Gender stereotyping insists that females are passive and dependent and psycho-dynamic theories try to make sense of a person's vision of the world and how mostly unconscious forces interrelate with the personality's basic make-up. Childhood experiences are relevant for all psychodynamic theories, including Carl Jung, initially one of Freud's most ardent allies, who eventually distanced himself from Freud due to his reliance on his uncompromising sexual definitions. Jung's theories developed into analytical psychology removing the emphasis on sexuality and dividing the unconscious into the personal and collective unconscious. 

All psychodynamic theories emphasize the inherent forces that are present in influencing personality development and shaping personality. They all contend that female delinquency is a social problem developed from a misunderstanding of one's place in society. Women are able to decompartmentalize their lives to cope with the inner conflicts which go against any maternal instinct they may have. It is the causes (of female delinquency in this case), how one will become delinquent and another not, that establish the differences between these theories and the consequent measures taken to resolve issues.    

Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Freud believed that delinquency (i.e. female criminal behavior) was essentially a developmental problem. He posited that women who engaged in criminal activity did so out of a subconscious desire to revel against their true natures. For Freud, “true” femininity was passive, docile, and submissive. Growing up was about acknowledging and learning to enact this gendered self appropriately. Women who did not achieve this developmental would, as adults, continue to rebel against their true female nature by adopting typical male behaviors such as violence and crime. This theory, deeply rooted in early notions of psycho-sexual development, has been refined and extended over the years. Today, theories of criminality continue to rely on a psycho-sexual reading of anti-social behavior. When attempting to explain sociopathic crime such as serial murder and serial rape, theorists often reference traumatizing, psycho-sexual aspects of the perpetrator’s own past. These often include child abuse of early exposure to violent crime.