Toward a Gendered Humanism

  • Lawrence Wilde


From early in his career Fromm was a consistent critic of patriarchy and a supporter of women’s emancipation, but his position is based on a controversial assumption that there are distinctively male and female psychic structures. He was fully aware that the attribution of natural character differences between men and women had been used historically by men to justify the exclusion of women from public life and their subjugation. However, despite this historical abuse Fromm was convinced that gendered character differences could be discerned, and that, in asserting the merits of the female psychic structure, the conservative power of patriarchy could be undermined. His outlook has interesting similarities with modern “maternalist” feminism, though, in particular Carol Gilligan’s defense of a female ethics of care,1 and also with the French theorists Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva.2


Female Quality Guilt Feeling Frankfurt School Oedipus Complex Maternal Function 
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  1. 1.
    Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); J Trebilcot (ed.), Mothering: Essays in Feminist Theory, Totowa (NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1984).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For introductions to their work see Toril Moi (ed.), The Kristeva Reader (Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1986) and Margaret Whitford (ed.), The Irigaray Reader (Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Johann Jacob Bachofen, Myth, Religion and Mother Right: Selected Writings, Ralph Manheim (trans.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992)—there is a useful introduction by Joseph Campbell. Mother Right was originally published in German in 1861 and republished in 1926.Google Scholar
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    August Bebel, Women Under Socialism, Daniel de Leon (trans.) (New York: Schocken Books, 1971) [originally 1879]Google Scholar
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    See Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 28–31.Google Scholar
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    Robert Briffault, The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins (New York: Macmillan, 1931); Fromm’s review appeared in the first edition of volume three of the Zeitschrift in 1934 and it is published in the original German in volume one of Erich Fromm, Gesamtausgabe (Stuttgart and Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Deutscher Taschenbach Verlag, 1999), pp. 79–84.Google Scholar
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© Lawrence Wilde 2004

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  • Lawrence Wilde

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