Thompson's psychology of women

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Clara Thompson was an important figure in the revisionist “cultural school” of psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, though today she is less well remembered than her culturalist colleagues Karen Horney, Harry Stack Sullivan and Erich Fromm. [1] Thompson herself had no pretensions to theoretical innovation but primarily was seen as a very capable teacher, clinician and organizational leader.

Clara Mabel Thompson was a prominent psychoanalyst and co-founder of the William Alanson White Institute. She published articles and books about psychoanalysis as a whole and specifically about the psychology of women.

Karen Horney American-German psychoanalyst

Karen Horney was a German psychoanalyst who practiced in the United States during her later career. Her theories questioned some traditional Freudian views. This was particularly true of her theories of sexuality and of the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis. She is credited with founding feminist psychology in response to Freud's theory of penis envy. She disagreed with Freud about inherent differences in the psychology of men and women, and she traced such differences to society and culture rather than biology. As such, she is often classified as neo-Freudian.

Harry Stack Sullivan American psychiatrist & psychoanalyst

Herbert "Harry" Stack Sullivan was an American Neo-Freudian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who held that the personality lives in, and has his or her being in, a complex of interpersonal relations. Having studied therapists Sigmund Freud, Adolf Meyer, and William Alanson White, he devoted years of clinical and research work to helping people with psychotic illness.

In Clara Thompson’s opinion one of the weakest links in the Freudian thinking has been the explanation of the psychology of women. She can be seen as one of the feminists who were against the penis envy theory explained by Sigmund Freud. In her view it has been shown that cultural factors can explain the tendency of women feeling inferior about their sex. Thus one can say that the "penis envy" is a symbolic representation of the attitude of the women in this culture. [2]

Penis envy in Freudian psychoanalysis, the female psychosexual developmental stage when young girls experience anxiety upon realizing that they lack a penis; begins the transition from attachment to the mother to competition with the mother for the the father

Penis envy is a stage theorized by Sigmund Freud regarding female psychosexual development, in which young girls experience anxiety upon realization that they do not have a penis. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in a series of transitions toward a mature female sexuality and gender identity. In Freudian theory, the penis envy stage begins the transition from an attachment to the mother to competition with the mother for the attention, recognition and affection of the father. The parallel reaction of a boy's realization that women do not have a penis is castration anxiety.

Sigmund Freud Austrian neurologist known as the founding father of psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.

She presented an outline about the main facts towards the psychology of women in 1953 [3] and discussed the way culture and society have a discriminating and suppressing effect on women. In discussing woman's biological differences from man, she indicated the general ways in which society frustrates or distorts these basic drives. Not denying the necessity of female passive mindset, Thompson argued society has had a greater impact on female passivity than biological influences. She thought that patriarchal society utilizes these differences as a basis for establishing the male as superior, and the female as inferior. An example of the discrimination of women is the fact of the biological difference between men and women in the nature of their sex lives. She did not share the opinion of Freud that women are doomed to less sexual satisfaction than men. In her opinion it is the liabilities in the society that limit women from not having strong sexual needs.

The 1940s and 1950s, followed WWII feminism, of the 1930s. It was a time of lost opportunity to women in the US. Women began leaving the work force and returning home, while men where gaining jobs. This era is associated with severe alcoholism and strict physical punishment of children. In the 1960s the civil rights movement brought about the radical feminist movement. Some radical feminists combined feminism with the mental health movements. Literary work such as that of Chesler which strangely suggests that girls who have been abused and develop psychosis as a result are in essence "masculine". [4] Her use of the word masculine indicates a sexist attitude, in which, masculinity plays no role in nurture or affection. Men are reduced to the severe stigma of schizophrenia.

Civil rights movement Social movement in the United States during the 20th century

The civil rights movement in the United States was a decades-long struggle with the goal of enforcing constitutional and legal rights for African Americans that white Americans already enjoyed. With roots that dated back to the Reconstruction era during the late 19th century, the movement achieved its largest legislative gains in the mid-1960s, after years of direct actions and grassroots protests that were organized from the mid-1950s until 1968. Encompassing strategies, various groups, and organized social movements to accomplish the goals of ending legalized racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and discrimination in the United States, the movement, using major nonviolent campaigns, eventually secured new recognition in federal law and federal protection for all Americans.

Mental health Describes a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder

Mental health is the level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness. It is the state of someone who is "functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment". From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life, and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes "subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others." The WHO further states that the well-being of an individual is encompassed in the realization of their abilities, coping with normal stresses of life, productive work and contribution to their community. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines "mental health".

Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child, indecent exposure, child grooming, child sexual exploitation or using a child to produce child pornography.

Another important point of discussion in Thompson's psychology of women is the problems women face when they must choose between being a home mother or a career woman without marriage. Married women with children feel themselves as not fully using their capacities and also often seek psychoanalytic help for the restless loneliness they feel.[ citation needed ] According to Thompson,[ citation needed ] this indicates that finding a balance is very difficult for women. Women have the desire for permanency and this can cause a conflict: on the one hand women are, like men, indoctrinated with the ideas of success and on the other hand they hope to get married and have children. Clara Thompson wanted to stress that all societies make some distinction between men and women roles but that these distinctions may have little to do with biological evolution.[ citation needed ]

Evolution heritable change in biological populations

Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the expressions of genes that are passed on from parent to offspring during reproduction. Different characteristics tend to exist within any given population as a result of mutation, genetic recombination and other sources of genetic variation. Evolution occurs when evolutionary processes such as natural selection and genetic drift act on this variation, resulting in certain characteristics becoming more common or rare within a population. It is this process of evolution that has given rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organisation, including the levels of species, individual organisms and molecules.

Further studies have found different distributions of personality when compared to gender in a variety of cultures. The two most common personalities for women in the United States are nurturing and care giving. Very few women are the executive personality and most people find the executive personality one of the most confrontational personalities overall. Thompson's belief that female behavior is not affected by their biology has more to do with addressing sexism than actually understanding the biochemistry of sex hormones.

Sexism prejudice or discrimination based on a persons sex or gender

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender. Sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another. Extreme sexism may foster sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. Gender discrimination may encompass sexism, and is discrimination toward people based on their gender identity or their gender or sex differences. Gender discrimination is especially defined in terms of workplace inequality.

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Castration anxiety fear of emasculation in both the literal and metaphorical sense

Castration anxiety is the fear of emasculation in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Castration anxiety is an overwhelming fear of damage to, or loss of, the penis—one of Sigmund Freud's earliest psychoanalytic theories. Although Freud regarded castration anxiety as a universal human experience, few empirical studies have been conducted on the topic. Much of the research that has been done on the topic was done decades ago, although still relevant today. The theory is that a child has a fear of damage being done to their genitalia by the parent of the same sex as punishment for sexual feelings toward the parent of the opposite sex. It has been theorized that castration anxiety begins between the ages of 3 and 5, otherwise known as the phallic stage of development according to Freud. Although typically associated with males, castration anxiety is theorized to be experienced in differing ways for both the male and female sexes.

Phallic stage

In Freudian psychoanalysis, the phallic stage is the third stage of psychosexual development, spanning the ages of three to six years, wherein the infant's libido (desire) centers upon his or her genitalia as the erogenous zone. When children become aware of their bodies, the bodies of other children, and the bodies of their parents, they gratify physical curiosity by undressing and exploring each other and their genitals, the center of the phallic stage, in course of which they learn the physical differences between "male" and "female", and the gender differences between "boy" and "girl", experiences which alter the psychologic dynamics of the parent and child relationship. The phallic stage is the third of five Freudian psychosexual development stages: (i) the oral, (ii) the anal, (iii) the phallic, (iv) the latent, and (v) the genital.

Psychosexual development theory of human development according to Freudian psychology

In Freudian psychology, psychosexual development is a central element of the psychoanalytic sexual drive theory, that human beings, from birth, possess an instinctual libido that develops in five stages. Each stage – the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital – is characterized by the erogenous zone that is the source of the libidinal drive. Being unsatisfied at the particular stages can result fixation. On the other hand, being satisfied can result a healthy personality. Sigmund Freud proposed that if the child experienced sexual frustration in relation to any psychosexual developmental stage, they would experience anxiety that would persist into adulthood as a neurosis, a functional mental disorder.

<i>Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality</i> 1905 work by Sigmund Freud

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, sometimes titled Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, is a 1905 work by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in which the author advances his theory of sexuality, in particular its relation to childhood.

Helene Deutsch American psychoanalyst

Helene Deutsch was a Polish American psychoanalyst and colleague of Sigmund Freud. She founded the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1935, she came to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she maintained a practice. Deutsch was one of the first psychoanalysts to specialize in women. She was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Womb envy

Womb envy, in feminist psychology denote that many men may feel caused by envy of the biological functions of the female. The Neo-Freudian psychiatrist Karen Horney (1885-1952) proposed this as an innate male psychological trait. These emotions could fuel the social subordination of women, and drive men to succeed in other areas of life, such as business, law, and politics. Each term is analogous to the concept of female penis envy presented in Freudian psychology. In this they address the gender role social dynamics underlying the "envy and fascination with the female breasts and lactation, with pregnancy and childbearing, and vagina envy [that] are clues and signs of transsexualism and to a femininity complex of men, which is defended against by psychological and sociocultural means".

Juliet Mitchell is a British psychoanalyst, socialist feminist and author.

<i>The Dialectic of Sex</i> A feminist theory book by Shulamith Firestone

The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970) is a book by the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone. Written over a few months when Firestone was 25, it has been described as a classic of feminist thought.

Feminine psychology is an approach that focuses on social, economic, and political issues confronting women all throughout their lives. It can be considered a reaction to male-dominated theories such as Sigmund Freud's view of female sexuality. The groundbreaking works of Karen Horney argued that male realities cannot describe female psychology or define their gender because they are not informed by girls' or women's experiences. Theorists, thus, claim this new approach is required. There is the position that women's social existence is crucial in understanding their psychology. For instance, it is claimed that some characteristics of female psychology emerge to comply with the given social order defined by men and not necessarily because it is the nature of their gender or psychology.

Feminist views on the Oedipus complex

Feminists have long struggled with Sigmund Freud's classical model of gender and identity development and reality, which centers around the Oedipus complex. Freud's model, which became integral to orthodox psychoanalysis, suggests that because women lack the visible genitals of the male, they feel they are "missing" the most central characteristic necessary for gaining narcissistic value—therefore developing feelings of gender inequality and penis envy. In his late theory on the feminine, Freud recognized the early and long lasting libidinal attachment of the daughter to the mother during the pre-oedipal stages. Feminist psychoanalysts have confronted these ideas and reached different conclusions. Some generally agree with Freud's major outlines, modifying it through observations of the pre-Oedipal phase. Others reformulate Freud's theories more completely.

Barbara Creed is a Professor of Cinema Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne known for her cultural criticism. Creed is a graduate of Monash University and LaTrobe University where she completed doctoral research using psychoanalysis and feminist theory to understand certain practises of horror films.

Human sexuality is the way people experience and express themselves sexually. This involves biological, erotic, physical, emotional, social, or spiritual feelings and behaviors. Because it is a broad term, which has varied over time, it lacks a precise definition. The biological and physical aspects of sexuality largely concern the human reproductive functions, including the human sexual response cycle. Someone's sexual orientation is their pattern of sexual interest in the opposite or same sex. Physical and emotional aspects of sexuality include bonds between individuals that are expressed through profound feelings or physical manifestations of love, trust, and care. Social aspects deal with the effects of human society on one's sexuality, while spirituality concerns an individual's spiritual connection with others. Sexuality also affects and is affected by cultural, political, legal, philosophical, moral, ethical, and religious aspects of life.

The one-sex and two-sex theories are two models of human anatomy or fetal development discussed in Thomas Laqueur's book Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. He theorizes that a fundamental change in attitudes toward human sexual anatomy occurred in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Prior to the eighteenth century, it was a common belief that women and men represented two different forms of one essential sex: that is, women were seen to possess the same fundamental reproductive structure as men, the only difference being that female genitalia was inside the body, not outside of it. Anatomists saw the vagina as an interior penis, the labia as foreskin, the uterus as scrotum, and the ovaries as testicles. However, around the 18th century, the dominant view became that of two sexes directly opposite to each other. There was an abundance of literature written in the 18th century supporting the two-sex model. Jacques-Louis Moreau wrote that "not only are the sexes different, but they are different in every conceivable aspect of body and soul, in every physical and moral aspect. To the physician or the naturalist, the relation of woman to man is a series of opposites and contrasts". Women and men began to be seen as polar opposites and each sex was compared in relation to the other. Gender, prior to the eighteenth century, was not prescribed upon individual; a man could be physically male, but he could have a feminine gender identity. This was seen as being normal and acceptable. With the switch to the two-sex model, differences that had been expressed with reference to gender now came to be expressed with reference to sex and to biology.

Electra complex generally defined as the girlss desire to possess the father and to compete with her mother for the possession of her parent

In Neo-Freudian psychology, the Electra complex, as proposed by Carl Jung in his Theory of Psychoanalysis, is a girl's psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father. In the course of her psychosexual development, the complex is the girl's phallic stage; a boy's analogous experience is the Oedipus complex. The Electra complex occurs in the third—phallic stage —of five psychosexual development stages: (i) the Oral, (ii) the Anal, (iii) the Phallic, (iv) the Latent, and (v) the Genital—in which the source of libido pleasure is in a different erogenous zone of the infant's body.

Oedipus complex concept of psychoanalytic theory; a childs unconscious sexual desire for the opposite-sex parent and hatred for the same-sex parent

The Oedipus complex is a concept of psychoanalytic theory. Sigmund Freud introduced the concept in his Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and coined the expression in his A Special Type of Choice of Object made by Men (1910). The positive Oedipus complex refers to a child's unconscious sexual desire for the opposite-sex parent and hatred for the same-sex parent. The negative Oedipus complex refers to a child's unconscious sexual desire for the same-sex parent and hatred for the opposite-sex parent. Freud considered that the child's identification with the same-sex parent is the successful outcome of the complex and that unsuccessful outcome of the complex might lead to neurosis, pedophilia, and homosexuality.

Human female sexuality

Human female sexuality encompasses a broad range of behaviors and processes, including female sexual identity and sexual behavior, the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, and spiritual or religious aspects of sexual activity. Various aspects and dimensions of female sexuality, as a part of human sexuality, have also been addressed by principles of ethics, morality, and theology. In almost any historical era and culture, the arts, including literary and visual arts, as well as popular culture, present a substantial portion of a given society's views on human sexuality, which include both implicit (covert) and explicit (overt) aspects and manifestations of feminine sexuality and behavior.

<i>The Question of Lay Analysis</i> book

The Question of Lay Analysis is a 1926 book by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, advocating the right of non-doctors, or 'lay' people, to be psychoanalysts. It was written in response to Theodore Reik's being prosecuted for being a non-medical, or lay, analyst in Austria.


  1. Capelle, E. (1998). Clara Thompson as Culturalist. Psychoanal. Rev., 85, 75-93
  2. Ruitenbeek, H.M. (1971). Psychoanalysis and female sexuality. Journal of marriage and the family, 33, 599-599
  3. Thompson, C.M. (1953). Towards a psychology of women. Pastoral Psychology, 4, 29-38
  4. Chesler, Phyllis. Women and Madness New York: Springer Publishing Co, Inc., 1983