Probably the most significant recent advances in political psychoanalysis have come from theorists and therapists aligned with some strands of the feminist movement. These advances stem from feminism’s concern with the relationships between gender-differentiated subjectivity and the structures of the external world, symbolised by the now-classic slogan ‘the personal is political’. This concern has led many feminists to consider the conditions under which subjectivity arises and the possibilities for change, something which in turn has led to a critical engagement with psychoanalysis. But there also has been and remains a substantial feminist opposition both to Freud and to psychoanalytic therapy, in the former case because of the way the reactionary elements in Freudian thought can be used to legitimise biologistic descriptions of women’s ‘inferiority’ (particularly through the notion of penis envy), and in the latter case because, it is claimed, therapy often operates to confirm women’s subordination by endeavouring to reconcile female patients with their lot in life and by reproducing in the therapeutic situation the oppressive machinations of patriarchy (therapist as ‘the-rapist’). The crucial word in characterising the links between feminism and psychoanalysis is, therefore, ‘critical’: feminist writers both subject psychoanalysis to a far-reaching political critique and also employ its insights and methods to enlarge the scope of their own theories on gender.
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