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Critically evaluate Nancy Chodorow's theory of the origins of gender identity in childhood. In what ways does the theory adapt the classical Freudian ideas of the importance of fathers in the 'Oedipal Stage' in a child's development?

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Introduction

Critically evaluate Nancy Chodorow's theory of the origins of gender identity in childhood. In what ways does the theory adapt the classical Freudian ideas of the importance of fathers in the 'Oedipal Stage' in a child's development? In this essay I shall attempt to show the ways in which psychoanalytic feminist, Nancy Chodorow views the origins of gender identity in childhood and the ways in which she adapts the classical Freudian concept of the 'Oedipal' stage in the development of children. To do this I will first give a brief overview of Freud's original beliefs of the development of identity. I will then look at Chodorow's account of the formation of personality and gender in children in an endeavour to find in what ways Freud's early psychoanalytic works have been adapted in recent years. Freud's theory of gender development asserts that a child's awareness of the differences in boys and girls' genitals is of central importance in the development of gender identity. At first, the development of boys and girls is similar; both focus their love on the person who spends most time with them - the mother. Around the age of five, boys become aware that they have a penis and girls that they do not, and this leads to their developing a fantasy involving their genitals and their parents, as a result of which they come to identify with the same-sex parents. ...read more.

Middle

It is argued by Chodorow that rather than rejecting the mother, the father encourages the child in moving towards the appropriate gender role. Throughout the Oedipal period a female child is likely to maintain both her parents as rivals and love objects. Freud also acknowledges this process, referring to it as the "complete Oedipus complex" (Chodorow, 1978:121). Chodorow also suggests that the quality of the female child's relationship with the father is reliant on the relative quality of the relationship with the mother. Freud does however acknowledge that his theory for the Oedipus complex in girls is not so absolute. He accepts that in some cases the attachment to the mother is never completely given up Both Freud and Chodorow would agree that the Oedipal stage for a boy is crucial, enabling the boy to shift in favour of more masculine gender identification with the father. However, Chodorow's focus is more on the absence of a father and how a boy's gender identification is developed as a result. In comparison, Freud tended to focus on the gender identification coming solely from the father as a result of feelings for the mother. Chodorow believes that a boy will deny the relationship and attachment to the mother by identifying with a "cultural stereotype of the masculine role" (Chodorow 1978:176). She does suggest however (as did Freud), that in some cases boys may give up the mother in order to avoid chastisement, which Freud described as the fear of castration. ...read more.

Conclusion

In 'The Reproduction of Mothering' (1978), she considers the ways in which the women's roles have changed radically, evolving and over previous decades. She recognizes that rather than expecting the stereotypical mothering role new generations of girls are more likely to anticipate spending less time in the home and much of their life in the labour force, (Chodorow 1978:175). Nonetheless whilst Chodorow appears to acknowledge this, she does not modify any of her ideas or encompass this into her theories. She continues to refer to the mother's mothering role in the family as more crucial than the fathers, in the child's development of gender identity. In contrast to this, it could be argued that although women are entering the labour force at an increasing rate it is generally in part time and temporary (low paid, low profile) work to allow them to still carry out the majority of the parenting and still a considerable percentage of women on the whole dominate the father in the main parenting role. Chodorow's work seems to considerably differ in places to the work done by Freud although their theories are based around the same fundamental ideas. A crucial difference, which can be seen, is in the way Chodorow stresses the role of the mother. Although her work has received some criticism, she has undoubtedly performed a significant role in giving insight into the foundations of gender identity. ...read more.

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