Michaela Chamberlain

May 27, 2023

Misogyny in Psychoanalysis

Phoenix Publishing House 2022

Today I talked to Michaela Chamberlain, author of Misogyny in Psychoanalysis (Phoenix Publishing House, 2022)

Chamberlain’s book is a product of “cumulative trauma” whose original starting point was an interest in in menstruation where, in psychoanalytic literature filled with papers on “micturition and feces”, there is a “startling lack of writing on the monthly passing of menstrual blood.” Chamberlain realized that this absence was a symptom of something bigger. That something is misogyny.

Working with a definition attributed to Kate Manne[1] misogyny is seen as “the law enforcement branch of sexism” and Chamberlain argues that we really have “to grapple with the law enforcement of the male gaze. The minute you free yourself from this or at least know what you’re fighting it means you can think all sorts of things. The more we straightjacket ourselves with the laws of Freud the more we are lessening the possibilities for creativity, which surely has to be the point of psychoanalysis.”

“We need to take on the trauma that’s been caused by past analytic gods and really examine the continued use of psychoanalytic terms owned by a man to apply a man-made theory to women” and a discipline that has historically had “no trust in women to adequately understand their own experience.” Chamberlain references her training where the phrase “Bowlby said” was a way to remind her “to pay respect to her male elders and keep to my place. The analyst expected me to swallow the comment as truth in much the same was as Freud quotes are given to remind everyone of the rules of play.”

After reviewing the foundations of psychoanalysis and the continued reification of the clearly misogynistic Oedipus complex, Chamberlain turns her focus to how this misogyny gets played out in the clinical setting. Chapter 4 “The misogynistic introject – a case study” is a painful story of a mother whose insight into the struggles of her child are rapidly dismissed “because she is the mother”.

In this interview, recorded in May of 2023, Chamberlain observes that psychoanalytic institutes have yet to engage with the public protests around misogyny, the Women's Safety Movement, #MeToo, and #ReclaimTheseStreets. Whereas the Black Lives Matter movement has finally entered psychoanalytic institutes in the form of trainings, conferences, supervisions, and groups aimed at confronting legacies of racism in psychoanalysis no such movement has occurred with regards to misogyny following the horrific murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a police officer in 2021 when the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stated that “London streets are not safe for women or girls” and 50% of UK women reported they did not feel safe leaving their homes after dark.

Misogyny in Psychoanalysis argues that women’s experience in psychoanalysis has been “negatively hallucinated” and that “What is needed for psychoanalysis to take the brave first step of putting itself on the couch to grapple fully with its unconscious fantasies about women and begin coping with what it working hard not to see.”

[1] Manne, K. (2018). Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Christopher Russell, LP is a psychoanalyst in Chelsea, Manhattan.

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