Sigmund Freud proposed a series of controversial ideas about human sexuality, children’s psychosexual development, and the role of dream analysis in understanding hidden and unobvious desires. More than eighty years after Freud’s death, his ideas and views of life and human psychology still cause controversy, especially when it comes to his attitudes to women. Freud is often considered as a sexist, but his contributions to the destigmatization of hysteria and the absence of attempts to ban women from participation in psychoanalytic research call his conscious misogyny into question.
Misogyny can be understood as a deep and ingrained prejudice against all women that finds reflection in attempts to show hostility towards women and discriminate against them. Similar to other men of his time, Freud was not enthusiastic about the emancipation of women and did not make explicit statements about the need for equality and changes to the patriarchal mindset. On the one hand, apart from valuing male authority in the family, Freud offers some ideas that hint at women’s biological inferiority (for instance, the so-called penis envy stage of development) (Instructor’s Last Name n.d.). On the other hand, in Freud’s times, not many people dared to deviate from the traditional family model, and fathers were seen as authority figures (Instructor’s Last Name n.d.). Thus, in terms of his assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in the family, it is not clear whether his thoughts on fathers’ authority are based on prejudice towards women.
Based on the lectures and Bergo’s arguments about the discussed person, it is possible to say that Freud’s views on women and men were somewhat revolutionary for his time.
Thus, in the work by Bergo, it is emphasized that Freud sometimes challenges common stereotypes about women and men to demonstrate that differences between the sexes can be overstated (Instructor’s Last Name n.d.). Some of Freud’s ideas that were revolutionary for his time include similarities between women and men in terms of being governed by their passions and vulnerability to hysteria (Instructor’s Last Name n.d.). If Freud was a consistent misogynist and actually viewed women as deficient men, it would be more reasonable for him to stick to the idea of hysteria as a women-only disease. An obvious misogynist would probably refer to common stereotypes about women’s poor self-control and limited psychological fortitude to explain the symptoms of hysteria, but Freud avoided explicit arguments about women’s disadvantage in terms of mental fortitude.
When it comes to writers, thinkers, and researchers, misogyny can be reflected in the idea that women are essentially inferior to men in terms of intelligence and creative abilities, which limits their contributions to society. Although many researchers view Freud as an explicit misogynist based on some of his theoretical concepts, the situation becomes more ambiguous if attention is paid to his attitudes to women in psychoanalysis. Unlike many of his male contemporaries, Freud did not insist on women’s intellectual inferiority or try to make psychoanalysis a male-dominated field (Instructor’s Last Name n.d.). An explicit and consistent misogynist would probably ignore or underestimate women’s attempts to contribute to psychoanalysis and psychology research. In contrast to that, Freud included Sabina Spielrein’s concept of death drive in his psychoanalysis theory (Instructor’s Last Name n.d.). He also made extensive use of female patients’ cases to improve theories and approaches to treatment.
In summary, although Freud’s ideas are far from gender egalitarian views and efforts to fully destroy prejudice against women, it is doubtful that this man can be called a consistent misogynist. Many of his views, including the father’s role as the provider and the head of the family, were simply typical for his time and reflected traditional views on role distribution between women and men. Freud’s attempts to broaden society’s understandings of hysteria and how it affects men and his readiness to acknowledge women’s intellectual contributions to psychoanalysis also make the question of his conscious misogyny more complicated.
Instructor’s Last Name, First Name. n.d. “Freud and philosophy and Bergo on Freud and philosophy.” PowerPoint presentation.