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Women´s Destinies

Raquel Zak Goldstein
1995
* Buenos Aires

“....their nature is determined by their sexual function. It is true that that influence extends very far; but we do not overlook the fact that an individual woman may be a human being (...) as well”.
(Italics are ours)

Freud, 33rd. Conference: "On Femininity"

In this presentation I shall consider the metapsychology of woman's psychic reality during an essential period: that of her passage from child-girl to "young woman", in the way of which she becomes mother due to the inexorable pulsional forces that activate her "desire for a baby". I shall draw on every day life and the mythology of fairy tales to illustrate some aspects of this process.
I am speaking of destinies derived from the "unending struggle between the sexes" to which both man and woman are carried by the unrelenting anxiety of the psychic helplessness that is part of the costly -though delivering- acceptation of sexuation. This struggle attemps to protect from the terror of helplessness by re-installing "that prehistoric other", warranty of love and survival.
An ethics grounded on the acceptance of difference is a solid enough foundation to soften that horror and preserve the possible pleasure that makes singularity livable in the world.
The passage from child-girl to "young woman" that we are referring to is a transit that culminates when the first becomes a “young woman-mother" constituting herself -in that freudian “as well”, “auch” in german- in "a human being", that from a feminine position undertakes the pending process of constructing her own subjectivity.
The disconcerting and ambiguous "as well" from Freud's epigraph has had complex and powerful consequences. Among other important historical effects, it has given rise to several movements -related to this heterogenous and growing discontent- that demand from psychoanalists, and especially from us women psychoanalists our deepest attention. And we mustn't forget that Freud, as well as Lacan, posed "a challenge" specifically addressed to women analysts, asking them to speak about femininity.
On the other hand, we analysts have long acknowledged the relevance of feminine sexuality, a subject that has been approached from different points of view and that requires from us a qualitative and updated hearing. It is already time we faced that challenge.
We shall focus on those two periods pointed out by Freud in our epigraph: a first period, "determined by the sexual function" that leads to becoming a mother, and a subsequent period that leads us to theorize on "the individual woman" on which Freud wishes to cast a light and that in his own words "may be a human being in other respects as well".

Becoming a mother

Considering the origins of the subject's psychic constitution, it is clear that the road leading to the unfolding of sexual function, fertility and adult erotism is significantly based on the specific efficacy of "a special encounter" that is no other than the re-encounter with the traces of the co-ordenates of pleasure of an archaic love, the "unforgettable love" Freud refers to in his "Letter 52" from 1895.
Some universal metaphors stage this "special encounter" and express it in myths, for example Sleeping Beauty and Snow White's awakening to life after the "first love kiss" bestowed by the splendid Prince Valiant´s meaningful apparition. On an edipic level, the prince embodies "that prehistoric other" of the "unforgettable love" and is the renewed bearer of that initial "effective action" that "instilled" psychic life.
The "first love kiss" derives its potential from its recovery of the traces of primitive erotism interwoven in the texture of "Dreams of love and fateful encounters..." (pre-destined encounters?) so beautifully worked out in Ethel S. Person's book "Dreams of love and fateful encounters. The power of romantic passion" (Penguin Books, 1989).
This texture of "encounter scenes", of fateful, pre-destined encounters, is part of the feminine psychic reality, and it lies in the topic of day-dreams, the dimension G. Bachelard deals with as “La poétique de la reverie”, P.U.F., 1960, and where Ethel Person places developments.

A second puberal-adolescent latency

Because of her indispensably "excessive" identifying closeness to the mother (Raquel Zak Goldstein, "The dark continent and its enigmas", Madrid, IPAC, 1983), the child-girl seeks the father's necessary glance and presence to protect and accompany her entrance into the psychic period of puberty.
This lasting paternal glance, coming from “a distance”, guarantees the fundamental cuts in the imaginary to conjure the persecutory demons and neutralize "the power" embodied in the phallic mother and always present in the psychic reality.
In this field thus delimited occur the identifications that Freud refers to in his 33rd. Conference, On Femininity. These identifications allow the child-girl to place herself, invested as a lure (conceived as an "heir" to the male's infantile fetish) in "the game of sexes" (Raquel Zak Goldstein, "La mujer: de fetiche a señuelo en el juego de los sexos" - "The woman: from fetish to lure in the game of sexes", Lima 1994.)
The game of sexes appears as the axis of erotic efficacy and one of the keys to fertility.
The adequate paternal position vis á vis the child-girl on her way to becoming a young woman is not sufficient to wholly neutralize the persecutory aspects derived from the edipic images ("the mother-stepmother witch"), aspects that inhabit her psychic reality during the "excessive closeness" to the mother and which is consubstantial to the child-girl's identificatory process.
"The sacred and the profane", two qualities intimately entwined to the holy -and thus subject to profanity- dimension of the "body-continent of the mother" are part of the backdrop of the fantasies that structure erotic life, closely related to the loss of virginity.
These fantasies, supported by the constitutive bisexuality and infantile sexual polimorfism, are addressed to the mother's body, re-encountered in a woman's body.
A state of "second latency" arises in the presence of persecutory fantasies derived from these edipic fantasies of profanation of the maternal body that come forward when the child-girl in transit to becoming young woman inhabits her carnal body. One of its metaphors, the "sting" that Sleeping Beauty receives, expresses the disrupting endogenous hormonal throbbing and the desired-feared phallic intrusion, correlative to these fantasies of profanation.
The Wicked Witch and the Stepmother are the personifications of the projection of the evil, rejected and dissociate psychic aspects of the "happy world" where the idealized "Royal family" lives. The punishment of the Superego becomes effective through the sting the Wicked Witch predicted. Furious because of the exclusion, she remains as a threatening presence until the young boy and girl -in their entry into the world of the post-edipic psychic reality- dare "face" her power by bringing together the split aspects.
"Royalty" is an aspect of psychic reality created during this defensive schizo-paranoid organization for the preservation of the ideals of an identificatory project centered on the generic myth of "royal parents, princely children and promising future". Its consequence is that peculiar state of lethargic latency illustrated in these two fairy tales.
This situation produces that inevitable and multi-determined "pubescent-adolescent second latency".
It is a period of somatopsychic "fallow" that also affects the adolescent male.
The persistence -as a pathological trait- of this "pubescent adolescent second latency" may allow for another interpretation of feminine anesthesia.
The "psychic storm" and terrifying fantasies of rape -involved in the projections derived from those infantile sexual fantasies of assault on the maternal breast-body- may also express themselves as hypocondria, menstrual and fertility disorders, frigidity, bulimia and anorexia.
The "lethargic latency", a truly somatopsychic "fallow", is a period the pubescent girl on her way to adolescence must pass through to prepare herself and enable her to "support" the new and subsequent passages involved in the psychic processing and resignification of her whole infantile sexuality and the dissolution of those splittings.
According to Freud, these psychic processes are part of the passage from voluptuousness to the sensoriality on the road of the constitution of erotism and sensuality.
It is a key passage in "feminine erotic development", in the way of also constituting her "carnal body" as a resounding case for her desire.
The singular meaning that her own woman's body holds for her stresses its quality as an "imaginary-carnal scenery" of sexual life for both man and woman.
We can define this body as a "carnal body" alluding to this special quality that her own body assumes in the woman's psychic reality.
The concept of carnal body refers to the notion of "somatic body" while it becomes "an erogenous body" inhabited by the sexual desire that "threads" erogenous zones. This moment also implies a normal phase of "hysterization" of the pubescent-adolescent girl, as J. Mc Dougall pointed out in her conceptualization in relation to an archaic hysteria (“Théatres du corps” Gallimard, 1989.)
When this fundamental passage -that we could define as the process of "inhabiting the carnal body"- is successfully concluded, the feminine position is effectively constituted.
According to lacanian metapsycology, the concept of "carnal body" rides between an imaginary quality and the condition of the real understood as "that of the body which is not representable".
Let us now consider the maximum feminine challenge: how to inhabit the carnal body.

Inhabiting the carnal body

Feminine psychic reality, inhabitant of carnality, is -for that very reason- closer to the experience of the temporal and to finitude. Man´s psychic reality has to face very soon in his life the tearing apart and carnal loss due to the "radical separation from the mother" imposed by early interdiction. This determines an ever-present threat of castration, and its consequent masculine positioning leads him to inhabit, from then on, spirituality and the symbolic universe (Freud: "Moses and monotheism", 1939).
Mothers "instill" that which is immortal (Freud: "Totem and taboo", 1912-13) and supports finiteness, while man "guarantees" the endurance of the space of the symbolic.
Could this be the “invaluable social tasks” Freud refers to in his 33 rd. Conference "Femininity"?
To access the condition of "young woman", the child-girl must also install herself and master the "time-space" during prepubescent preparatory playing (in Winnicott's sense). She plays with dolls, founding a family “in absence of the wicked witch”.
On the verge of puberty, the psychic effects of this complex phantasmagoria lead the child-girl (already an orphan) to enter "a world of gray loneliness", a "no man's land", dimension of adolescent life.
Cinderella, the forlorn orphan immersed in her melancholy mourning, as well as Snow White hidden in the woods -transitional field of infantile helplessness- or Sleeping Beauty, nevertheless protected by the powers of her fairy godmothers that substitute the parents' lost protection, must face in this time-space laden with the psychic quality we are describing, the threat of the return of the dissociated evil.
The young woman trains herself in the experience of loneliness linked to the sexed human condition and the correlated and forever threatening return of this basic anxiety of the state of helplessness.
"Magic and Stardust" are the psychic phenomena that preserve this complex processing and escort the exit from infantile mourning, always under the hazard of pathological deviations such as fetichizations and addictions.
Then comes the "splendor of transformation", magnificently illustrated in Cinderella and her world, metaphor of how somatopsychic plenitude, fulfilment and wholeness can overcome misery and infantile-pubescent psychic helplessness.


The sex appeal of fertility
(The sex appeal Fertility song)


This "love call" phenomenon that accompanies as a song the "splendor of somatopsychic transformation" -overflowing with erotic seduction and the plenitude of fertility- grants Snow White and Cinderella the power to "rouse" the male into falling in love through the beauty effect that comes from the already consolidated "mother-identification": “...her attractiveness to a man, whose Oedipus attatchment to his mother it kindles into passion”. (Freud, 33 rd. Conference, “Femininity”, S. E. Vol. XXII).
So it is that "the kiss and love dance", reactivate eroticism's main path: the mouth-eyes-genital axis, related to what Freud suggests in the chapter "Looking and touching" from his "Three Essays..." (1905, S.E. vol. VII ).
We can specify two different kinds of glance :
1. the paternal glance that sexualized the child-girl in search of his feminine ideal is substituted for the "prince's" regard, who re-cognizes the young virgin girl as an erotic object. Meanwhile, the father, if he can stand it, falls as an impossible object.
2. the maternal glance that in the long-term excessive closeness of the identificatory continuum, re-cognizes herself in the daughter's rehersals at being a woman. An every day example is the repeated game of dressing up in mom's clothes or the exhausting window-shopping or picking clothes, always with mom's company. These evidences are suggestive of the preparations for the sexual function and fertility.


The "first love kiss "

This legendary and effective love kiss "links" -during the "day-dreamed encounter"- the experiences that activate and seal the traces of the inaugurating thread of feminine erogenous zones: mouth-vagina. This sets off an erotic reaction that gives life to sexual excitement and fertility in adult love life.
This "link" arouses the power from "that primitive carnal jouissance" from the "experience of satisfaction" that founded psychism.
In those times (not in a chronological but in a logical sense), and in the midst of the "state of helplessness" the mother libidinized the baby when she cared for its body, thus contributing to the threading of erogenous zones that are to become the traces that remain latent until they are triggered off and recovered later in erotic life.
The "first love kiss" inaugurates or better still, updates, this first path of jouissance, the "disquieting" destiny of pulsion and marks the beginning of what we consider the last stage of the freudian symbolic equation, desire for a baby, essential for woman's destinies.
These destinies are partly bound to social expectations and definately connect the "phallic desire" -last element of the symbolic equation as “desire for completeness”- with the "desire for a baby".

Desire for a baby - Desire for a son/daughter

We can say that the "day-dreamed encounter" in the period of adolescent-young woman is effective since it precipitates somatopsychic phenomena already in "fallow".
Its effectiveness relies on the trace left by that first maternal "fertilization" which produced the pulsional "disturbance" caused by the "experience of satisfaction" that founded psychism.
We consider this archaic, mythical and humanizing moment as the shifter in the Freudian passage from INSTINKT to TRIEB. It is also the necessary base for the constitution of the erogenous body from the somatic body, and the warranty of the initial processes of somatopsychic integration.
The "new awakening to life" promoted by this re-encounter refers to the mother-baby binomy, the trace of which provokes in the young woman the desire of "an indispensable and decisive reversion".
The young woman will seek the baby she was for her own mother in a "reverse" version, now in the presence of "a man" who, from his desiring position, will grant the process its prospective direction.
This is the dynamics that activates the "desire for a baby".
Some of the privileged psychic factors that take part in this process are the powerful effects of the Freudian "symbolic equation" (breast-faeces-penis-baby) that underlie the eternal longing for narcissistic completion; and the re-appearence of the relatively forgotten transitional playing of childhood aroused by the inexorable and renewed psychosomatic pulsional forces. These forces are that basic Trieb effect that "emulsifies" -in a heterogeneous and unstable mixture- our soma becoming the erogenous body of a human being together with the representational order.
Afterwards, the "baby desire" must give way to the "desire for a child" in a decisive turning point for both members of the initial binomy (P. Aulagnier-Castoriadis, "La violence de l´interprétation. Du pictogramme a l´énoncé" ed. P.U.F, 1975; D. S. Litvinoff : "El deseo del hijo", A.P.A., 1994). This turning point depends fundamentally on the factic and psychic effectiveness of that psychically present and desiring man who must actively summon the "young woman-mother" -marking the first step of the infans´ Oedipus- and re-installing her in her previous position of "desired and desiring woman".
This paternal "cut" made effective gives way to a triadic oedipic organization and strenghthens the diad's separation, the incest interdiction and exogamy.
The young woman-mother must support a double psychic task that starts out during childhood: she must "castrate" the imago of the pre-edipic phallic mother to finally acknowledge the mother as “-Not Whole-”, and at the same time "sustain" in herself the effects of this founding operation of the subjective experience of her own incompleteness.
This central experience in a woman's psychic life becomes solid in the course of different and renewed experiences of carnal losses and unbindings typical of the feminine nature and specifically by the irreversible effects of giving birth and allowing the offspring to live their own psychic life.
Repeatedly living this passage has allowed the woman to bear the slow shattering of the fiction of continuity derived from her longing for completeness; fiction necessarily and transitorily supported by the mother-baby binomy in the rearing period, merged both in "a narcissistic mirror playing" evidenced in the very significant freudian expression "His majesty the baby".
The previously longed-for re-edition of this trophic and narcissistic duet that appears later in a reversed form is also the axis of the transmission process of child rearing (Freud, "Totem and taboo", 1912-1913). It also provides the young woman the setting in which to look for herself, in a reversed way, in the playing that anticipates and prepares for fertility.
A meaningful remainder of this narcissistic playing of reciprocal mirrors we defined as "reversible mirrorization" persists for some time in the young woman's life, evidencing -in relation to her identity- her dependence of the regard coming from the mirror-image.
The young mother has to experience gradually "the carnal unbinding and loss" that occurs during delivery and the indispensable and increasing separation from "her baby" owing to the breaking of the initial diad. This cut, introduced and supported by the beneficial presence and actions of the man-father, takes place while the psychic effects of symbolic castration are consolidating within her.
This efficacy of the paternal function (“The function of the father”, R. Z. Goldstein, New York, 1994), action which the young woman-mother must accept and let happen, is an essential psychic operation for her as well as for the baby.
This is how the baby is "forced" and "freed" to its own desiring: it becomes son/daughter/child.
In this new context both of them are placed in a conclusive passage at the end of which the baby emerges to the condition of son/daughter child, as "human offspring" free to create his/her own DESIRE vis á vis the experience of splitting and separation that comes hand in hand with this shattering of the founding but illusory narcissistic completion.
This desire, weaving itself as a personal and singular fantasy, will turn into a central psychic organizer.
And the young woman-mother, driven by the predominance of object love, will re-cognize her own alterity and incompleteness.
Forced to simbolically castrate and castrate herself to be allowed to live, she manages to "save herself" "saving" her offspring from the dangers that lie in that uncanny diadic fusion.
And something else happens there...
The specific processes that prepare the conditions for that second moment -"becoming a human being in other respects as well"- begin.
This baby desire, heir to the phallus desire (ancient claim from the daughter to her mother and father linked to the traumatic admittance of "sexual anatomical differences") is phantasmatically carried through in the process of becoming a mother and in child rearing.
This desire yields as longing for completeness before the series of conclusive and disquieting experiences of unbindings and losses which I take as constitutive psychic operations of this decisive period in the feminine Oedipus.
It is only then that the full force of Symbolic Castration imposes itself on the woman.
When the woman includes and gives her consent to the exercise of paternal function, she opens the door to decisive consequences for her psychic life, consequences that allow her to “be a human being (in other respects) as well”.

“...be a human being (...) as well”
Freud (1933)

The coherence in multiplicity


The baby desire (that in the sequence of the symbolic equation is totally interwoven with the phallic referent) recognizes, in its essence, the longing for appropiation of this good: the phallus assigned to the penis. This is also the dynamics that installs the woman in the lure function, a specifically feminine function that invests her "as if" she were the phallus.
All of this composes a complexity that casts a light on the diversity and challenges involved in women's destinies. These complexities impose on her the “unending” task of providing coherence to the multiplicity that makes up her feminine position.
It is theoretically and clinically necessary to specify and differenciate the baby desire related to the symbolic equation and to the reversion of her own experience as a baby, a desire that temporarily establishes a correspondance between the unborn baby and the baby the mother-to-be once was for her own mother ("...the transitional field of child rearing..." R.Z. Goldstein, Gramado, 1994), from the child desire that only becomes effective as such in that decisive second period or moment, when the baby is placed outside the diad.
Only when considered a child does the baby become an "other to be discovered". Needless to say, this situation grants positive consequences for both mother and child.
The essential mirror-quality of the primitive symbiosis is discontinued at precisely this moment.
Within the context of pathologies, puerperal psychosis is probably the clearest expression of castration anxiety in a woman, an "equivalent" of the castration anxiety Freud described in men. This situation marks the beginning of the "second period or moment" postponed by the exercise of its function in the transmission during the first moment.
The cut that inaugurates the presence/absence dimension and its conclusive effects on psychic structuring (M. C. de Pereda "La estructuración psíquica", A.P.U., Fepal, 1992) allows the mother to abandon her baby gradually but anxiously because of castration implications. And the baby begins to "entertain" himself with the help of transitional objects and phenomena, such as the ”play of the wooden reel” described by Freud in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, (S. E. Vol. XVIII ). Meanwhile, she tolerates that typical and "brief state of normal madness" (A. Green, in “On Private Madness”,1986, Mark Paterson and Assoc. edit., Colchester, England.)
This is the utmost experience of unbinding: when she´s able to accept the relinquishing of "her baby possesion".
It is only then that the woman definately and decidedly faces castration anxiety, understood as universal constitutive.
This is also the moment for the critical passage from baby-possesion to son/daughter-other.
After this unbinding, the woman who was in transit from baby pubescent orphan to adolescent-woman, longing for the "precious object" she is "lacking", will install herself -after this unbinding and in that specific moment- in the search of her condition as human being, this time as subject pierced by the implications of what we call symbolic castration.
Castrated and incomplete from then on, the feminine profile will say "I am" (the phallus) while the masculine profile says "I have" (the phallus).
Begetting and raising offspring, and allowing the offspring to live their own separate psychic life, she may become and then be "a woman human being".
And in the never-ending dialectic of repetition and transmission, she (the young woman-mother) and her own daughter will become part of the great game of mirrorization that is characteristic of the very long and complex constitution of feminine identity.
Meanwhile, the child-girl remained in the "indispensable maternal closeness", habitat for the feminine identificatory continuum of impossible, infernal and passional qualities. And this founding game will forge the "impossible" coherence in multiplicity, typical destiny of feminine diversity.
All this while she acquires the needed knowledge to inhabit her carnal body.
And only then does she enter the road to becoming a subject for herself, in spite of and against the constitutive conditions (“...determined by their sexual function”) that placed her more as object than as subject during that long "first time" already described.
This sort of carnal forge-melting pot-alchemy, typical condition of the diversity of feminine position, is amazingly similar to D.W. Winnicott's description of nuclear identification related to the purely feminine element (D.W. Winnicott “Creativity and its origins” in: “Playing and reality” Tavistock Publications, London 1971.)
This condition that Milan Kundera described as "The unbearable lightness of being" is the essential task that the woman aprehends containing, supporting and holding herself in the destiny of diversity.
If "the other" instills psychic life as "the primitive other", that “other” is part of the founding unity Freud called “the Complex of the Similar” ("Project for a scientific psycholgy”, S.E., vol. I 1895). We may understand the original Ego and "the other" -as the Similar- as "the parts of that founding unity" from which the real and definite Ego emerges in a torn and shredded condition, in this state of "...unbearable lightness..."
The woman is the transmitter because she remains immersed in that unbearable lightness that goes with the primitive empathy (Einfuhlung) of the feminine identificatory continuum, condition derived from the tearing apart of that "founding unity".
This quality is a decisive contribution to her feminine identity.
We may consider that the culmination of the woman's Oedipus complex occurs during this period of child rearing, and only then does it become analogous to man's.
Failures in this complex dynamics produce alterations that give rise to other woman´s destinies: i.e. housewife or woman object, phallic woman or all-mother.
Man and woman, both of them equally fallen from "His majesty the baby's" narcissistic altar and pierced by symbolic castration, will then seek "the other" to build bridges and recover in the present that unforgettable and prehistoric love from the beginnings of psychic reality, that of the re-encounter.
And from then on they will be forever involved in the task of preserving the Similar, understood as the one that is "not identical", that is "alien", "a someone of the other sex", to make love.
Torn just like the male during his awakening to the definite and real Ego, the woman's difference consists, nevertheless, in the fact that she does not abandon the empathic and carnal resounding.
Through day-dreaming she makes herself strong and so she sustains that unbearable oscillation, a feminine position in which she expects the "other", that human someone, embodiment of the Shadow of the Similar.
This "shapes the place" for an infans-offspring and for a man.
We can thus consider an ethics of desire and of sexual difference as the foundation of psychic reality.
Such an ethics is the key to the preservation of that initial tensional difference (Freud, “Project for a scientific psychology”) that as vital hazard constituted -for love's sake- the psychic subject.
In this way, the ethics promotes tolerance of sexual difference and guarantees stability for psychic life.
The “...individual woman...”, herself also facing symbolic castration and already consolidated after that first time, will intend to inhabit -on her own right- not only her carnal body but also her subjectivity and the world.
All of this to exist and “...be a human being (...) as well”.