The many faces of prejudice and bigotry continue to surface in our national identity. How can we understand this near universal propensity for vilifying people who are different from us? It touches every minority and every race or religious group. In our most private relationships it extends to the domination of women. In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) we have included several hypotheses that explain this phenomenon.
Eric Erickson (1959) hypothesized that each human group became convinced it was the sole possessor of the true human identity. Thus, each group also became a pseudo-species, adopting an attitude of superiority over others. He called the process pseudo-specialization. Historically Erikson postulated, each group developed a distinct sense of identity wearing skins and feathers like armor to protect them from other groups who wore different kinds of skins. For many males, this attitude persists. Women, viewed as the “other,” are often met with overt hostility when they enter the workplace. Assertive businesswomen are not seen as brilliant or knowledgeable, but as bossy and annoying. The current male-driven culture makes it difficult for strong women to succeed.
Other psychoanalytic theorists have attempted to explain women’s status as the “other,” a disdained minority. From the earliest relationship with their mothers, males both fear and desire women. Men’s earliest human experience is with the mother. According to Elise (1998), the infant is the recipient of the mother’s penetration and becomes a penetrator by identification with the mother. To penetrate and to be penetrated form a core of sexual excitement as psychic and physical boundaries are crossed. Otto Kernberg (Kernberg and Rosenfeld 1991) reiterates that these polymorphous perverse features are a crucial aspect of normal sexuality. Males have an early bodily experience, a receptive excitement, and enlivened sense of interiority, which then closes down and leads to a masculine focus on externality.
Other theorists such as (Bowlby, J., MD, (1960) Separation Anxiety) postulate that the hatred of women results from the boy’s grieving the maternal loss and the loss of a part of himself as a man. The male must then identify with the powerful phallic father on whom is projected the mother’s original omnipotence. Maternal sexual activity is appropriated to the masculine and infantile passivity is attributed to the mother, the feminine sexual object. Bowlby noted that the denigration of women confirms male power over women and masks any dependency need and vulnerability.
Benjamin Schmidt(1995) underscores that narcissism is centrally involved in fostering the son’s identification with a powerful father, who has a significant stake in his son’s identification with him. The penis then becomes imbued with magical qualities, power, and phallo-centrism. Operating as a combined defense against maternal omnipotence and male fears regarding the inner body and castration, the penis is frequently used as a manic defense against mourning the intolerable loss of the mother. In the face of fear and loss, the denigration of women wins out.
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Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.