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The Status of Women

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This book examines the current status of women. It consists of a collection of papers that focus on the political, economic, biologic, cultural, academic and psychological challenges that confront women worldwide. The contributors, from the International Psychoanalytical Association's United Nations Committee and from a variety of disciplines, draw on their experience to consider how women are symbolized in society today. They offer perspectives on why the status of women and girls has not changed in some areas of the world while in others there has been discrete and noteworthy progress, sometimes followed by reactionary backlash. The book emphasizes how and why women's status has evolved, stalled or regressed to its present place. In the current era of globalization, new paradigms and the creation of new possibilities are necessary for women to think about their identity, their relationships, and their place in society. The Status of Women offers new perspectives on the broad scope of psychoanalytic theory and practice.

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Chapter One - A Woman Surgeon: Her Story

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Niamey P. Wilson

“Surgery made a man out of me,” she chuckled.

I paused. We were nearing the end of an operation, closing the skin. I was holding a needle driver with a loaded suture in one hand, and a tweezer-like instrument eponymously named Adson forceps in the other. The words had been spoken by a female attending surgeon with whom I had been working during my eighth and final surgical training year my fellowship year. We were exchanging stories about the grueling yet awesome experiences of surgical residency. We kept going. Surgeons are excellent multi-taskers; the fluidity with which a surgeon can carry on a conversation while also, say, deftly maneuvering a liver out of the way can be remarkable. But it is a learned skill, not entirely dissimilar to the parent who can carry on a heated argument about politics while simultaneously holding a child, typing on a computer, and preparing a meal. Except the life of the patient is at stake. To relieve the tension of that heavy responsibility without disengaging from the task is a delicate and simultaneous mental operation.

 

Chapter Two - Simone de Beauvoir and the Trauma of Sexism

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Sargam Jain

Simone de Beauvoir's portrait of the ideal independent woman in The Second Sex offers a grim view of the emancipated woman's sexual choices in pre-war Europe. She could pursue her own career, engage in fleeting liaisons, and find lonely sexual disappointment: an intelligent woman, Beauvoir argued, could not authentically engage in the seduction narrative of the time, in which a virile, confident man sweeps away a charming, passive girl. A working woman simply interacted with men too much to maintain them in the idealized omnipotence necessary for a mutually gratifying sexual fantasy. In marriage, she could succumb to her social grooming and become man's diminished and resentful mirror, bearing his children, keeping his house, and lazily dismissing ambitions of her own. Or, the economically and intellectually independent woman who chooses to marry becomes burdened by the dual roles she believes she must play:

…she does not want her husband to be deprived of the advantages he would have had in marrying a “real woman”: she wants to be elegant, a good housekeeper and a devoted mother as wives traditionally are…. she insists…on fulfilling every aspect of her destiny as woman. She will be a double for her husband at the same time as being herself; she will take charge of his worries, she will participate in his successes just as much as taking care of her own lot…split between the desire to affirm herself and self-effacement, she is divided and torn…. independence won through work is not enough to abolish her desire for a glorious abdication…she needs a gaze from above to reveal and consecrate her worth. (de Beauvoir, 2011, p. 734)

 

Chapter Three - “Pure Heroines” on Campus: New Wave Feminism and Popular Culture

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Vera J. Camden

When I was invited to contribute a chapter to this volume on psychoanalysis and the contemporary status of women around the globe, my first response was to demur. After all, I was not in a position to generalize on such an important topic from a global perspective: I teach within an American Midwestern public university, and my psychoanalytic practice draws largely from an academic setting. After some discussion, however, I became persuaded that this setting itself might be of interest within a volume on the status of women, if written from, precisely, the campus vantage point. Why not take up the status of college women in America?

I have taught women's literature for three decades within a curriculum largely shaped by the vast field that is called feminism: this work has influenced much of what I know as a psychoanalyst about the human unconscious—whether in the clinic, in the culture, or in the classroom.1 As it happened, when I learned of this volume, I was in the midst of preparing a course entitled “Pure Heroines: Historical Feminism and Popular Culture” on the very topic of the “new wave” of feminism on the contemporary scene. The focus of this course was to be “Neo-feminism,” “Fourth wave feminism,” “Feminism redux,” “Popular feminism” and “New Wave feminism”, all phrases meant to categorize the phenomena of an indisputable rise in awareness of feminist issues in the past few years—especially among young adults—evidenced strikingly in popular culture and social media. When I began teaching in the university setting in the early 1980s, Women's Studies programs, feminism, and psychoanalysis were key contenders in many departmental debates, campus committees, academic conferences, and, eventually, the literature classroom (see Hartman, 2015). Since then, academic culture wars have worn down and worn out, and psychoanalysis, once the darling of humanities departments, has taken rather a back seat to the cognitive and neurosciences as a favored grid theory through which to run the study of literature and the arts.2 And in the popular imagination, psychoanalysis has all but receded, only revived occasionally by its loyal remnant of practitioners who demonstrate its efficacy as a therapeutic alternative to bio-psychiatry. Feminism, by contrast, both in the culture at large and among college age students, has remained au courant and undergoes “waves” of relevance. We are now in the midst of a new wave in which feminism resurges with urgency and even panache. The “new feminism” among young women in our culture and on our campuses—grounded less in academic instruction and inquiry and more from within popular culture—is fueled in large part by web based social media and mass cultural production.3 College students and young people, less concerned with the “cool” discourse of academic theory, are increasingly more invested in activism, populist social causes, and a feminism that promotes equality and sexual agency among women across race, class, gender, and sexuality.

 

Chapter Four - Pregnancy: A Clinical and Cultural Experience of Pregnancy in the Middle East and North America

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Shabnam Shakibaie Smith

The sound of a baby's cry, what a relief! It might not seem sensible to feel relieved at hearing a baby cry, except when you are in the delivery room.

Pregnancy, although a very personal journey for a woman, is also a societal investment. Pregnancy, from the survival perspective, is by far the most important physiological phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that ensures the continuance of human race. Without successful pregnancies, the human race would be extinct. In order to maintain a thriving future for our civilization, we are invested in the health of the product of human pregnancy. Society, collectively, is dependent upon, and invested in, the result of this personal journey, the human pregnancy. And since society is invested, the approach to pregnancy is influenced by culture, politics, and, last, but not least, by science.

Advances in medicine, including genetics and obstetrics, have provided us with more ways to assess the baby's health; and also better understanding of the ways that baby's health can be compromised. There are more prenatal diagnostic tests to detect birth defects as early as possible. The majority of women are on board with these changes and even excited about them and would like to utilize these tests to their own and their unborn baby's advantage; however, as is usually the case, there is a subgroup who is unwilling or unable to utilize them, or possibly unaware of these advancements and, in one way or another, engages in a behavior that could jeopardize the unborn child's health and refuses to receive interventions. As it has become the norm for mothers to embrace these medical advancements and compliantly receive the treatments recommended to them, those who do not have the same views are pressured to follow suit and in this process the individuality of pregnant women can be forsaken. Pregnant women, as a group, are a small group relative to society at large, at any given time. Therefore, they are more likely to experience peer pressure. Also many women, in particular first time moms, do not know much about the pregnancy process and what it really entails. They are not aware that their bodies will change, seemingly with the speed of light, and they certainly are not aware of what it feels like to carry probably the most precious creation of their lives with them for the next nine months and then separate from him or her.

 

Chapter Five - Women and Migration: “Children on the Move”

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Alexander D. Kalogerakis

Mass global phenomena, such as migration, are often tragic for the individual child. However, they are most often studied from the vantage point of large systems. These phenomena should also be considered from the psychoanalytic perspective. An informed developmental viewpoint can complement other ways of understanding the phenomena; conversely, psychoanalysis and allied fields can benefit from the study of children in these difficult, but not rare, conditions.

Roughly thirty-five million children are migrating or internally displaced in the world today. Increasingly, many travel unaccompanied by adults. For some, migration might lead to a better life as immigrants. For many, it is associated with one or more traumata, including separation from parents or siblings, cultural challenges, refugee status, neglect, abuse, sexual and labor slavery, with adverse impacts on education and physical and mental health. For those who remain at home while family members migrate, other challenges ensue. Girls are particularly vulnerable to some of these experiences. In this chapter, I consider:

 

Chapter Six - Women and Power: A Developmental Perspective

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Ruth Fischer

In 1941, Wonder Woman, the comic book superhero, broke free of her shackles and burst on to the comic book scene, heralding the birth of feminism (Lepore, 2014a, p. 59; Lepore, 2014b, p. 20). She hailed from ancient Greece where men kept women in chains. The new woman, freed from her chains, developed great physical and mental powers. She left Paradise Island to fight fascism with feminism, democracy, and equal rights for women. Wonder Woman is pictured bound and gagged with a metal collar, double bands on her wrists, and Amazon bracelets. The chains and ropes relate to the history of the bondage of women and the fight for women's rights. The bursting of her shackles represented the powerful influence of the suffrage, feminism, and birth control movements, each of which used chains as central to their iconography. Wonder Woman chronicled a new movement, the release of women's power.

A very different picture of female power is portrayed in the current popular film, Frozen, in which Princess Elsa acquires an amazing magic power. Whatever she touches turns to ice. She enjoys this for a short period of time, but then begins to fear the consequences. She withdraws from the world to avoid any harm that might result were she to inadvertently touch something or someone, or even if her power is revealed.

 

Chapter Seven - Maternal Genealogy: Narcissistic Identification in three Generations of Women

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Johanna Mendoza Talledo

It was only a few decades ago that the psychoanalytical community began to take more interest in the experience of motherhood and to try to understand it in greater depth. It required a change of theoretical and ideological perspective for the subject of the motherhood experience to come to the fore in all its complexity.

Today, we have access to original theoretical and clinical proposals and psychoanalytical publications that include a variety of articles and serve as a reference on the subject. They agree in affirming that motherhood is an experience lived in body and in mind, a conscious experience shot through with unconscious desires, anxieties, and personal, family, and cultural expectations. It has its roots in very early infancy, in the first exchanges with the primal mother, that will have to be interwoven with oedipal vicissitudes and that will encourage or hinder maternal desires. While the mother carries out the constant work of meeting the baby's specific needs, holding its attempts to process reality so that the world makes sense to him or her, she experiences a range of feelings, especially a state of fragility and vulnerability produced by the manifestation of primary “wild” aspects (Raphael-Leff, 1994), which are generally little understood and held by the environment (Zelaya & Mendoza y Soto, 2006). The purpose of this chapter is to explore one of the fundamental dimensions of the experience of motherhood: the transgenerational aspects of unconscious narcissistic identification that inevitably link the mother with her mother and her mother's mother.

 

Chapter Eight - Abuse of Women: Relation to the Maternal Representation

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Vivian B. Pender

Introduction

Abuse of women has many forms and consequences: psychological, economic, political, religious, cultural, and physical. Abuse is unconscious and conscious. It is evident in attitudes, object relations, subjective experience, affective states, and demonstrable behaviors. While different forms of abuse may appear to be distinct from one another, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are interwoven and cumulative in yielding a stereotypic definition of women that can be traced to the first love-object, the mother.

A psychic maternal representation of the mother is universal. Symbolized by the maternal ego, maternal ego ideal, and the maternal superego, it informs the vicissitudes of identity, caretaking relationships, and consolidates bio-psychosocial foundations of all attachments. While responsive and sensitive maternal caretaking is a priority for optimal human development, ambivalence, aggression, and abuse may also play a role. This chapter explores the various forms of abuse and their particular relation to individual and group maternal representations.

 

Chapter Nine - Atrocities against Mother and Child Re-Presented in the Psychoanalytic Space

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Sverre Varvin

Introduction

In the past century, civilians increasingly became targets in intercountry wars, totalitarian regimes, and internal wars. This trend continues in this century. The basic unity in all societies, the family in its different forms, is, thus, increasingly under attack in these war zones with serious consequences for the mental health and the development of its members.

Families’ experiences that their close ones are wounded, molested, raped, and tortured under conditions of upheaval and massive uprooting: in 2012, around 23,000 human beings were forced to leave their homes each day due to war, conflicts, and persecution, a number that has increased in 2014 and 2015. There is, furthermore, a gender bias in today's atrocities. Women become targets in ways that are devastating not only for themselves but also for their children. This includes rapes, trafficking and prostitution, imprisonment, torture, and so forth. Women are targeted for many reasons: to humiliate the male, to destroy procreation, to fuse one's genes into the enemy, and to serve soldiers. Under these circumstances, assaults on women have destabilizing consequences for the family/group and society as a whole.

 

Chapter Ten - Machismo and the Limits of Male Heterosexuality

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Isaac Tylim

A couple of years ago, while visiting Tibet, going from monastery to monastery, I established a dialogue with a rather jovial Tibetan monk. His English was simple, but we were able to communicate fairly well. While talking about my South American origins, he, to my amusement, declared: “many macho-man there.” I am inclined to believe that the meaning of the word “macho”—along with South American soccer teams—ought to be the most widely known Latin American reference.

Machismo is a term commonly associated with Hispano/Latin American cultures. It is a derivative of “macho” and connotes a quality or attribute of masculinity. Machismo is an attribute reserved to describe a way of organizing the world and sexual differences from the clear and rigid buttress of dichotomic thinking. In the world according to machos, there are machos and there are hembras; men with cojones and sissies without them.

Machismo has been linked to patriarchy, chauvinism, colonization, oppression, religious institutions, and persecution. It is an ideological web that tends to infiltrate all levels of the social matrix, exerting a profound impact on men's and women's psychosexual and psychosocial development.

 

Chapter Eleven - Women and Activism: A Long History, a Complex Problem

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Adrienne Harris

Introduction

For the past few years, I have been working on the problem of human trafficking under the auspices of an International Psychoanalytical Association Committee that is constituted as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) to the United Nations. This work proved to be a bridge to my past work in feminist activism, in anti-war work and in other projects on the health and status of women. This essay has several agendas. First, I look at the continuities and discontinuities of work in support of vulnerable and politically and socially challenged women. Second, I look at the conflicts among women and between men and women that make work on human trafficking, in particular, very difficult and very challenging.

Finally, I look at some emerging trends in the politics and activism around human and child trafficking, changes that make trafficking both more visible and identifiable and, thus, potentially more open for political action.

 

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