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Vacant Wombs: Feminist Challenges to Psychoanalytic Theories of Childless Women

Myra J. Hird
Feminist Review
No. 75, Identities (2003), pp. 5-19
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1395859
Page Count: 15
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Vacant Wombs: Feminist Challenges to Psychoanalytic Theories of Childless Women
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Abstract

This paper concerns a theoretical struggle to situate childless women within contemporary feminist debates about gender, the body and sexuality. Although psychoanalytic theory offers a compelling approach to the body, a Freudian account of childless women has largely escaped investigation. This paper will provide such an analysis, arguing that competing interpretations of psychoanalytic theory reveal a salient tension in the interpretation of gender identification. On the one hand, some theorists focus on a social development model of gender identification. This model emphasizes the sexual aim of reproduction as a salient feature of 'normal' gender identity development. In this paper, I argue this approach may pathologize childless women insofar as they 'fail' to socially develop in ways that conform to the imperative to sexually reproduce. On the other hand, a number of theorists argue against the foreclosure on gender identity that the social development model implies. An alternate interpretation of psychoanalytic theory calls attention to Freud's theory of 'psychic bisexuality' or 'polymorphous perversity'. This notion invites a much more complex and ambivalent notion of gender identity as it emphasizes the temporal, fragile and incomplete process of gender identification. I aim to argue that this latter interpretation offers a space for childless women as it attempts to lay bare the hegemonic relationship between femininity and sexual reproduction. I draw upon the work of a number of feminist theorists who variously take up these central themes in Freudian psychoanalytic theory to further contest the reification of the association between femininity and maternity.

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