Explain Freud’s theory of Oedipalisation. Does this explain patriarchy?
Sexuality and sexual desire are not typically associated with children, however Sigmund Freud, who was one of the great minds of the late 19th and early 20th century put forward many theories and ideas that still have some relevance in today’s societies, one of these theories was that he believed that sexuality was not learnt behaviour it was, however, innate behaviour that everyone was born with. Although many of the theories that Freud proposed have become outdated for today’s society the underlying ideas can still have relevance in explaining phenomena that are happening in modern society. Freud puts forward the theory of the Oedipus complex; which suggests that children develop a feeling of attraction towards a parent. The name coming from the Greek myth of Oedipus Rex. This essay explores Freud’s theory of Oedipalisation and the Oedipus complex and whether this theory can be used to explain patriarchy. Patriarchal societies will be explored and whether there is still a need for their relevance today as men are still often regarded as the more powerful gender.
The Oedipus complex is a psychoanalytic theory that was proposed by Sigmund Freud and is derived from the Greek myth of Oedipus Rex. The idea that a child could kill their father and then marry their mother, albeit unknowingly, has created an attractive prose for many writers and has been used by Freud to explain and explore the theory that children can hold feelings of attraction towards a parent of the opposite sex[footnoteRef:1]. This can also come with a sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex. Freud believes this is a crucial and also a normal stage of developmental process for a child. This desire is repressed however, from a person’s conscious thought through socialisation. Socialisation and the pressure of conforming to societies norms can have an effect on how people tend to behave. Many people repress and internalize many of their desires which may have an adverse effect on their life in the later years. Freud believes that these repressed desires are buried in the unconscious because these desires break with social norms and would label the person, if these desires were acted upon, a deviant[footnoteRef:2]. [1: Sheleff, “Beyond the Oedipus complex: A perspective on the myth and reality of generational conflict”, 1976] [2: Craib, Psychoanalysis; a critical introduction, 22]
Freud’s belief around humanity was that all humans had two main desires that were an important factor in how people lived. These two desires that Freud uses to explain humanity are: Eros, which is believed to be the desire to bring about creativity, self-preservation, harmony, sexual connection, reproduction and harmony; and Thanatos, which is viewed as the opposing desire of destruction, self-destruction, anger, repetition, and impulse[footnoteRef:3]. The desire of Eros shows that this allows for a belief that sexuality can be behaviour that people are born with rather than a behaviour that has been learnt. Although sexuality and sexual desire is often believed to be developed during adolescence it is Freud’s belief that sexuality is an innate part of human existence and occurs during infancy. This theory of innate sexuality would thus allow for the Oedipus theory to be able to gain traction and be thought of as accurate. [3: Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Page:35]
There is a strong theme of male dominated societies all throughout the world, with many monarchies being clearly male dominated throughout history and even in many democratic societies within the western world men still hold the power. It can be seen throughout many societies over the last 1000 years that a form of hierarchy is used to form cohesive communities. Within many of these societies, the hierarchical system is a system in which men hold the most power. This is formally known as a patriarchal system where the power of society or government are held with men and women are largely excluded. Although in this modern day and age women are becoming a larger part in governing societies they are still being viewed as the lesser gender in terms of power. The notion of the patriarchy has been instilled into the very fabric of society as women are still only just gaining rights that men have enjoyed for centuries. It was only in 2009 in America, women were able to file a complaint in regards to unequal pay discrepancies based on their gender, with many women being paid less than their male counterpart even though they are carrying out the same work. For centuries men have held the power in many societies based on their gender. Patriarchy has become an institutionalised part of the world and has become a part of how different social relations work together[footnoteRef:4] [4: Witz. Professions and patriarchy. Page 1]
Many of Freud’s theories can be seen as a sexist view on matters of the world and have been heavily criticised by feminists, however his thinking can be attributed very heavily to the time in which he lived and studied. His view of women and his belief that women are the less superior gender helps to cultivate the idea that Freud’s theory would be able to explain patriarchy.
The Oedipus complex that it presented by Freud can be used to help explaining the idea of patriarchy because Freud’s Oedipus model suggests that since women lack the visible genitals of the male, they feel as though they are missing a central characteristic thus feeling as though they are not as adequate as their male counterparts. The Oedipus complex theory further explains that this causes the female child to distance herself away from the mother because the mother was the one that formed her and therefore she was the reason she had no penis which was unforgivable in Freud’s eyes because now the female child was at a disadvantage[footnoteRef:5]. The idea that female children feel inadequate to their male counterparts at such a young age because of their lack of male genitalia instils the idea that they will never be able to live up to their male counterparts. This then can be used to explain patriarchy as Freud theorises that female children as young as 3-5 years of age experience this feeling of inadequacies[footnoteRef:6]. However, many feminist theorists disagree with the notion that girls have “penis envy” and that girls stray away from a relationship with their mother. A particular theorist, Karen Horney, disputes the claim that the lack of male genitalia in women is the reason why women feel as though they have less power and instead she holds the culture of society responsible for the subordinate status that women have[footnoteRef:7]. Simone de Beauvoir, another feminist theorist, believes that it is not due to the fact that women lack male genitalia that is the cause for envy from women but it is because of the social power and privilege men enjoy because of their gender and genitalia[footnoteRef:8]. [5: Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.] [6: Kendra, “Freud’s perspective on women,” Very well mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/how-sigmund-freud-viewed-women-2795859] [7: Zakin, “psychoanalytic theory” ] [8: Ibid.]
This essay explores the ideas presented by Sigmund Freud that surround the Oedipus complex and uses these ideas to help explain Patriarchy. I believe that the theory can help to explain patriarchy when you’re talking about the theory as it being entirely factual and that this is how children behave in regards to sexuality and attraction towards their parents. However, I do not believe that as a female child they develop “penis envy” and believe that males are superior to them because they have different genitalia therefore patriarchy cannot be explained in this respect. As with many other feminist theorists, I believe that “penis envy” lacks insight into the workings of the female mind. In my experience my envy towards men does not come from the fact that I was born with female genitalia but rather it comes from the notion that women have to work twice as hard as men to get to the same position. The essay covers how Freud theorises the Oedipus complex and how this theory, if considered to be true, can be related to patriarchy that is seen in modern day society. In conclusion, I do not believe that the Oedipus complex can be related to patriarchy in terms of male privilege.
By Sharla King
Word Count: 1374
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Freud, S. Civilisation and its Discontents. London: Hogarth Press, 1930
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Sheleff, L.S. Beyond the Oedipus complex: A perspective on the myth and reality
of generational conflict. Kluwer Academic publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00158478
Witz, A. Professions and patriarchy. London: Routledge, 1992
Zakin, Emily, "Psychoanalytic Feminism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of
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Word count: 130
Total word count including bibliography: 1504