There are currently many feminists who assert that the essential psychoanalytic framework of male/female relationships is not relevant to the concerns and needs of women. Indeed, as noted by Harris (1991), those holding this view argue that early Freudian notions of gender (such as those describing the male/female relationship by relating it to the mythical tale of Medusa turning warriors to stone), are actually derogatory to women. However, it is contended here that many of those arguing against the relevance of the psychoanalytic framework for explaining gender relationships are really not very familiar with this framework beyond what was originally stated by Freud. The purpose, therefore, of this paper is to provide a comprehensive discussion of gender as articulated by contemporary psychoanalytic theory.
The Role of Gender In Contemporary Psychoanalytic
According to Harris (1991), early Freudian notions of gender place men and women in a battle, a battle in which, fear, conflict and tension arise as a result of the two genders feeling afraid and conflicted regarding their anatomical genital differences. Freud (1953) characterized this battle in terms of the Greek tale of warriors turning to stone (symbol of erection) as they gaze upon Medusa. The idea that Medusa had to be killed by Perseus puts this perspective in an even more negative light in that this analogy, at its most basic level, suggests murderous and contemptuous emotions in women coupled with an emotional and physical stiffness in men who must save themselves by inflicting damage and death on women.
In contemporary psychoanalytic theory, these early notions of Freud have been strongly challenged. In her discussion of more contemporary views of gender, Goldner (1991) reports that:
...While Freud's ideas make gender crudely derivative of the anatomical differences between the sexes, contemporary gender-identity theorists utilize ego psychology and object...