Title: Oedipus and male supremacy
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Title: Oedipus and male supremacy
Physical Description: 2 p. ; 28 cm.
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Creator: Seidenberg, Robert
Statement of Responsibility: Robert Seidenberg.
General Note: Reprinted from the Radical Therapist.
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The issue here is whether the myth
of Oedipus has become the myth of
psychoanalysis, serving to permit and re-
inforce a way of life consonant with ex-
isting social institutions, rather than being
a description of an inalterable develop-
mental stage. It is my contention that the,
application of the myth of Oedipus serves
to contain and solidify the needs of a
ruthlessly competitive society, with its re-
quirement of developing authoritarian
personalities. Three dominant themes of
this authoritarianism are necessary for the
maintenance of a society working to pre-
serve unearned privilege, status, and ad-
vantage. These are (1) submission (actual
and psychological) to authority; (2) ac-
:3f ance of male chauvinism; and (3) the
unquestioned supremacy of the old over
the young.
As a replacement for the imposed
burden of the Church's original sin, the
Oedipus Complex similarly serves as the
artifact to fear, to be humbled by, to ex-
piate, and hopefully, to be purged of.
And it becomes the focus for guilt and
resultant self-blame and chastisement.
In effect, it tells the patient and
society through him, that he has had mur-
derous impulses towards his father. (Do
we really know that infants have mur-
derous thoughts in the adult sense?)
These are invariably "found" in dreams
and "unconscious" fantasies and in the
competitive behavior of adult life. The
patient learns that this is a problem for
him that he must forever guard against. It
is indicated to him that these irrational
thoughts of infancy are most likely to oc-
cur by displacement in his relationship to
authority figures, i.e., employer, leader,
police, President. Therefore he must view
any hostility toward male authority fig-
ures with grave suspicion.
Thus burdened by the sin of patri-
cidal wishes, the "improved" patient
must henceforth temper his anger, resent-
ment, and revolutionary tendencies. This
serves to perpetuate existing social and
political institutions.

When one learns to fear the desire
to kill the father (employer, President),
one will be less able to contradict, to
fight, him. After all, the results may be
disastrous. Without the psychoanalytic
Oedipal explanation, a person might well
say without guilt: Daddy runs the world,
has the power and the money and the

oedipus and male supremacy

robert seidenberg

Robert Seidenberg is a rebel psycho-
analyst from Syracuse.

decision-making capacity-why shouldn't
I want to oppose him? However, if the
person has been taught that such
thoughts are "sick," and connected with
desiring to sleep with his mother, etc. he
will have second (and tenth) thoughts.
Psychoanalysis has told us that "the
myth constitutes a form of adaptation
bolstering social conformity by the indi-
vidual to his group."[1] The "theory" of
the Oedipus Complex does just that. One
may say then that the Oedipus Complex
is part of psychoanalytic mythopoesis-a
contribution of psychoanalysis to society
bolstering social conformity by the indi-
vidual to his (not her) group.


Similarly, the discovery of his al-
leged "incestuous sins" toward his moth-
er has a similar chastening effect. He must
henceforth love women temperately. Any
sense of fair play toward women might
betray incestuous wishes, i.e., to place
mother before father, or womanhood be-
fore the male. So, more than temperance
is required: he must guard himself access
to father's property (mother), he is at
least set on the "correct" path which will
lead to his one day possessing a similar
property himself (wife).
At the same time the institutions
that separate women from men in world-
ly affairs must not be questioned or dis-
turbed-such interest in woman might sig-
nify a re-emergence of errant love. Again,
this insures the stability of male domi-
nance and supremacy.
As ready confirmation for the a-
bove thesis, psychoanalytic theory places
little importance on the Oedipus Com-
plex in the developmental history of the
female. Something is said about the
"Electra Complex;" this myth is hardly
the analogue for the Oedipus myth. Lov-
ing her father and hating her mother,
Electra never took direct action, never
"sinned," only instigated Orestes. At best
this complex is an after-thought-as if to
answer the question: "What takes place in
the young girl?" According to Freud, as a
consequence of the absence of a real
Oedipal struggle, the girl never does,
never has to, develop a strong and signifi-
cant superego.
In his essay, Civilization and its Dis-
contents, Freud told of the central role

that work (professional work) played in
growth and reality-testing capacities of a
person. He writes: "No other technique
for the conduct of life attaches the indi-
vidual so firmly to reality as laying em-
phasis on work; for his work at least gives
him a secure place in a portion of reality,
in the human community. The possibility
it offers of displacing a large amount of
libidinal components, whether narcissis-
tic, aggressive or even erotic, on to profes-
sional work and on the human relations
connected with it lends it a value by no
means second to what it enjoys as some-
thing indispensable to the preservation
and justification of existence in society."
The pronouns are masculine, of course.
How is the woman to "test reality in the
human community?" And, unto whom is
she to displace her libidinal and other
components? Freud adroitly defines the
role of work (profession, he says) in keep-
ing one's identity, integrity, yes, sanity. It
is a valid and salutary prescription, if not
an imperative, for the "good life." Wom-
en apparently are to have another des-
tiny? their libidinal components are to
find full gratification in loving the male
and his children.
Left mindless, either by develop-
mental deprivation or by psychoanalytic
theory, the female thereafter depends on
the male for conscience and convictions.
This mindlessness for women too may be
more prescriptive than descriptive. Even
though psychoanalysis cut its eye teeth
on the "hysterias" of women (Studies in
Hysteria by Breuer and Freud) and even
though it makes a living largely off of
them (the ratio of female patients to
males is 3:1), its underlying working
premise is a male psychology!
Near the end of his career, Freud
conceded that although psychoanalysis
knew about the sexual function of wom-
en, it was perplexed about them ashu-
man beings. He then advised: "If you
want to know more about femininity, en-
quire from your own experience of life,
or turn to the poets, or wait until science
can give you deeper and more coherent
information. [2]
One must admire Freud's modesty
and candor here, but one is left with the
disappointment that under these condi-
tions of self-confessed ignorance, he
might have mercifully spared women
from psychoanalytic treatment, as he did
homosexuals and the poor. But there is

no let up in the psychoanalytic treatment
of women to this day, and few indica-
tions that mainstream psychoanalysis yet
sees women as human beings apart from
their sexual function.

It comes as no surprise that a lead-
ing female psychoanalyst, writing in the
Journal of the American Psychoanalytic
Association (1968) advises: "Feminine in-
tegration is completed when woman
learns to adjust to her role as wife and
mother. In this she can succeed only if
she is teachable and can accept her hus-
band and children as organizers of her
femininity." She adds: "Women who are
teachable, but unsuccessful in meeting
and attracting men able to teach and as-
sume domination [sic] in a relationship,
frequently adapt to the habits, neurotic
attitudes, and unconscious fantasies of
the men they do find." So we learn from
good psychoanalytic authority that not
only is a woman to be dominated but she
will become neurotic if she is not. To be
domiinated then becomes an imperative
for mental health for women; this, the
doctor's prescription! Authoritarianism,
we see, becomes the duty and responsi-
bility of the mature, loving, (real) male.
More than that, Freud cites very lit-
tle data permitting identification of prob-
lems relative to class, employment, ethni-
city, or religious belief. For instance,
Freud undoubtedly had Jewish analy-
sands. Yet, where is there any indication
in his case histories that being a Jew in
Central Europe at the turn of the century
(or later) might make one nervous! And,
tragically and by his own admission, his
knowledge of the problem of women as
already stated above is something else.
His self-serving blindspot here is the prin-
cipal reason his disciples have two stan-
dard replies to the women's liberation
movement today: "penis-envy" and
"masculine protest." They cannot invoke
"Oedipal Rebellion" here because the
female was never important enough to
have an Oedipus Complex. Similarly,
equality or fair play for women finds no
place in a psychology that has not only
accepted but promoted passivity, submis-
sion, and masochism as natural for them.
The dominance-submission model then
for marriage is considered mental health

Erikson sees the Oedipus Complex
used to intimidate and, at the same time,
to discredit the young: "We take it for
granted that King Laius knew what he
was doing-for could he not count on the
authority of the Oracle when he left his
baby boy to die, taking no chances on the
possibility that a good education might
have proven stronger than the oracular es-

From what we know today, how-
ever, we might be inclined to ask: "What
could you expect of a little boy whose
father felt so bound by phobic tradition-
alism?" In these sentences, Erikson re-
veals his doubts both about the instinc-
tual nature (phobic traditionalism) and
the inevitability of the consequences
(possibility of a good education) of the
Oedipus Complex. [3]
Keniston has similarly illuminated
how the Oedipus Complex is currently
being used to "discredit the validity and
sincerity of student activism." The theme
of "Oedipal Rebellion" is being used by
psychoanalysists and 'others to explain
the origins of student revolt. Keniston
rightly sees this as a horrible over-simpli-
ficatioil but asserts his belief in an Oedi-
pal phase of human development. He
writes: ". all of us, in one way or an-
other, are profoundly influenced by
Oedipal feelings, strivings, fantasies, con-
flicts, and motives; and that our behavior
in later life is invariably colored by these
early childhood fantasies and feelings, my
personal and clinical experience give me
no reason to challenge this assertion"[4]
Here I must part company with
Keniston for I do challenge this assertion.
First, when Keniston says "all of us" he
sadly, chauvinistically forgets that the
Oedipus Complex as explained above was
not meant to apply to 51% of the popula-
tion-women. Second, although, as I indi-
cate, it is axiomatic that infancy has its
hang-ups and children can be brutalized
as their parents have been before them, I
find no necessity to assume the presence
of either inborn or quickly acquired patri-
cidal instincts. That young boys (and not
girls) are often quickly taught that they
rust grow up to be killers, I have no
doubt. (Again, Electra did no killing.)
Similarly, although it is axiomatic that
the caring adult-be it mother, or father,
or Mary Poppins, or the loving person at
the child care center-will become a "sex-
ual object," there is no indication that
such directed feelings and/or their frustra-
tion must become the demiurge for what
is claimed for them.
The dire consequences that psycho-
analysis derives from the conflict and its
faulty resolution is an oversimplification
which seems to distract from the myriad
of historical and social forces that im-
pinge on families and persons. After all,
as we well know, Freud's cases were
drawn exclusively from the upper and
middle classes. [5]
The Oedipus Complex serves as the
great distraction-a reason perhaps why it
is so well embraced by apolitical people.
The psychoanalytic profession may pro-
perly engage in reappraisal on how we can
best serve political people-including the
young, women, and those who properly
wish to challenge the unquestioned auth-
ority of Big Daddy.


1. Harry Slochower, "Psychoanalytic Dis.
tinction Between Myth and Mytho-
poesis," Journal of the American Psy-
choanalytic Association. Vol. 18, p.
2. Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures
on Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton
& Co., 1933, p. 172.
3. Erik H. Erikson, "Reflections on the
Dissent of Contemporary Youth, The
Vol. 51, 1970, p. 8.
4. K. Keniston, "The Other Side of the
Oedipus," The Radical Therapist. Vol.
1, April-May 1970, p. 8.
5: Benjamin Brody, "Freud's Case Load
Psychotherapy Theory," Research and
Practice. Vol. 7, Spring 1970, p. 8.


Open Letter to
Psychiatrists 5

Sex-Role Stereotypes
and Clinical Judg-
ments of Mental
Health 20

Marriage and Psycho-
therapy 5

The Politics of Touch 10<

Images of Women 35C

Psychoanalysis: A
Feminist Revision 15c

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