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Freud has become a favorite whipping boy for feminists, but Mitchell -- author of Women's Estate -- advances a powerful argument that feminists have not bothered to read him very thoroughly: their disputations are more properly directed toward popular pseudo-Freudianism. In an exhaustive exegesis Mitchell maintains that Freud's views on femininity can only be properly understood as organic parts of his theories on psycho-sexual growth. Leading spokespersons of the movement -- De Beauvoir, Friedan, Figes, Greet, Firestone, and Millett -- have missed the significance of the unconscious, narcissism, ego-formation (differentiation from the other, the mother), and the Oedipus complex (the female experience being qualitatively different from the male, not a pale imitation). In context, concepts such as female passivity, penis envy and vaginal sensitization reveal themselves to be extremely complex reflections of cultural (not biological) development, and they cannot be dismissed as Victorian notions of male supremacy. Moreover, Freud's description of a patriarchal society is not to be mistaken for prescription. Drawing on her critical explorations of Reich, Laing, and particularly on Levi-Strauss' kinship structures, Mitchell offers her own view of the ""female predicament."" The exogamous exchange of women to avoid incest upheld patriarchy and capitalism in the establishment of the nuclear family and the exchange of commodities. The man entered into ""class dominated structures"" while the woman remained, and still remains, defined by kinship patterns, prevented from fully realizing herself in contemporary culture. Mitchell's thesis is provocative, but, as she admits, somewhat sketchy. However her apologia for Freud is erudite, penetrating and most welcome.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1974
Publisher: Pantheon