Karen Homey and a Feminist Interpretation of Psychoanalysis

Karen Horney (pronounced Horn-eye) was another early proponent of ego psychology . She was a medical doctor and a psychoanalyst at a time when most doctors and practically all psychoanalysts were men, practicing from the 1930s up to about 1950. She questioned some of the more paternalistic notions of Freudian psychoanalysis and reformulated some of the ideas to generate a more feminist perspective on personality development. For example, she reacted against Freud's notion of penis envy. Recall that Freud interpreted the phallic stage for women as a sexual conflict, starting when a little gir realizes she does not have a penis. She blames her mother for this deficient state o affairs and desires to be like her father and have a penis, according to Freud. Horney taught that the penis was a symbol of social power, rather than an or gan women actually desired. Horney wrote that girls realize, at an early age, that they are being denied social power because of their gender . She argued that girls did not really have a secret desire to become boys. Rather , she taught, girls desired the social power and preferences given to boys in the culture at that time. Culture is a set of shared standards for many behaviors. For example, whether a person should feel ashamed about promiscuous sexual behavior is determined by a cultural norm. Moreover , culture might contain different standards for males and females, such that girls should be ashamed if they engage in promiscuous sex, whereas boys should be proud of such behavior , with it being culturally acceptable for them even to brag about such behavior .

Freud's original theory was harsh toward women. Because girls realize they don't have a penis, he ar gued, they are bound to become dependent, submissive, sensitive,

Late in life there is still one more developmental stage, one more set of questions to be faced: "Was it all worthwhile? Did I accomplish most of what I wanted out of life?" How one answers these questions determines whether the remaining time is filled with bitterness and despair or satisfaction and integrity.

Late in life there is still one more developmental stage, one more set of questions to be faced: "Was it all worthwhile? Did I accomplish most of what I wanted out of life?" How one answers these questions determines whether the remaining time is filled with bitterness and despair or satisfaction and integrity.

and vain. In Freud' s position on the role of women, biology determined outcome. Horney pointed out that it was not so much biology , but culture, that influenced di fer-ent life outcomes for men and women. For example, in Horney' s time, it was common or even expected that a woman would sacrifice her caree , if she even had one, for her husband's career, even if the wife had more talent and potential than the husband.

Horney was among the first psychoanalysts to stress the cultural and historica determinants of personality, which we will explore in more detail in Chapters 16 and 17. Horney noted that many gender roles were defined by culture. For example, she coine the phrase fear of success to highlight a gender dif ference in response to competition and achievement situations. Many women, she ar gued, felt that if they were to succeed they would lose their friends. Consequently many women, she thought, harbored an unconscious fear of success. She held that men, on the other hand, believed they would actually gain friends by being successful, and hence were not at all afraid to strive and pursue achievement. This points to an important cultural influence on behavio .

Horney stressed the point that, although biology determines sex, cultural norms are used to determine what is acceptable for a typical male and female in that culture. Partly because of Horney , today we use the terms masculine and feminine to refer to traits or roles typically associated with being male or female in a particular culture, and we refer to dif ferences in such culturally ascribed roles and traits as gender differences, not sex differences. This distinction, so important to modern feminism, can be traced back to Karen Horney . It is unfortunate that Horney died in 1952 and did not see the progress made by the women' s movement, of which she can truly be counted as an early leader .

Horney had very personal knowledge of the social and cultural forces that oppressed women in her era. Colleagues in the male-dominated profession of psychoanalysis were disapproving of her skeptical attitudes toward classical Freudian ideas. In 1941, the members of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute voted to remove Horney from her position as instructor there. Horney left immediately and went on to establish her own American Institute for Psychoanalysis, which was very successful. Indeed, she went on to develop a major reconceptualization of psychoanalysis, which stressed social influences over biology and which gave special attention t interpersonal processes in the creation and maintenance of mental disorders and other problems with living. Her intriguing theories were laid out in a series of highly readable books (Horney, 1937, 1939, 1945, 1950).

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