Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In FEMININITIES, MASCULINITIES, SEXUALITIES, Nancy Chodorow strives to expand upon what she perceives to be a limited theoretical base for understanding how men and women love. This, her third book, is divided into three chapters: “Rethinking Freud on Women,” “Heterosexuality as a Compromise Formation,” and “Individuality and Difference in How Women and Men Love.”

Chodorow presumes a familiarity with and a knowledge of Sigmund Freud’s writings, theories, and clinical studies, in particular; and of psychoanalytic theory, in general. Citing many of his most famous clinical cases, she provides a brief, but deft synopsis of Freud’s developmental theories for both male and female sexuality. Chodorow argues that though the groundwork for a broader spectrum in which to understand male and female sexualities has been laid, Freud’s theories stem almost exclusively from a male heterosexual viewpoint, and offer only two modes of sexuality: masculine and feminine. In order to challenge these fundamental assumptions of gender and sexual orientation she attempts to untangle the web of convoluted interactions in theory development. In so doing, she uncovers holes, inconsistencies, and biases in prevailing psychoanalytic theory as it relates to gender, sexuality, and love. She also finds that beginning with Freud, heterosexuality has been tied inextricably to male dominance—and sexuality to gender—and that the long-standing conflation of gender and sexual orientation within the psychoanalytic arena seems to be a presumption without basis.

Chodorow avoids political and moral posturing and never claims to have all the answers. She does, however, put forth a number of intriguing and well-supported arguments for the need to be wary of making universal claims and overgeneralizing, to include commonalities and similarities in any theory formation, and to reconfigure the polarities of “normal” and “abnormal.” FEMININITIES, MASCULINITIES, SEXUALITIES calls upon the psychoanalytic community to broaden its conception of a singular sexuality and to go beyond Freud.