In a recent interview1, Adam Phillips ventured the hypothesis that psychoanalysis was invented to address the problem of misogyny. This was a bold and unusual statement, and though we’ve long been initiated into Phillips’s refreshing, even scandalous, takes on often otherwise mundane or familiar assumptions, this seemed, at least to me, an astonishing statement, striking not because it was outlandish, but because it was utterly, perceptively true.
From time immemorial, there have been crimes committed by women who were driven to pursue their own power. These transgressive crimes center on the tearing down of established systems. They make it possible for us to reflect upon the meaning of the offenders, sacrifice in Euripides’s Bacchae: offenders who, beyond their frantic alienation, rise, as Medea did, through a reflective process that leads to a destruction that does not horrify them and that few of them repent.
I am writing in the spirit of #MeToo to bear witness to damage that has been done to a subset of women I have known personally in my thirty years of practice as a psychoanalyst, who felt pressured by the value placed on sexuality in the cultural milieu of the 1960s and, 70s and in the psychoanalytic circles they came to for help. I am also writing because I think these women’s stories offer a window into ways the mid-to-late-twentieth-century sexual revolution was experienced differently in various parts of the United States. This inquiry is part of a larger project, where I have been exploring ways to bridge cultural divides that block collaboration on a humanitarian political agenda.
City of Women is an encounter with the confusion about what happens to a woman’s body over her lifetime. We become divided subjects from the beginning — separated from the womb and ourselves in birth. Then the divided mind, now we become both subject and object, observer and the observed.
I’m taken aback when Gloria Steinem, the “face of feminism,” announces on the Today show that she’s had “a little fat removed from above my eyes so I didn’t look like Mao Zedong.” Steinem is referring to the puffy-faced Chinese revolutionary who died in 1976, around the time when her model-thin figure was featured on a Manhattan billboard, erected by antagonists intent on reducing Steinem to her body.
“…I sit in my Manhattan apartment feeling elated and full, perhaps because a woman has been nominated as the VP candidate and it feels as though anything is possible…