Nancy Chodorow

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In Object Relations Theory, 'objects' are persons, parts of persons, or symbols of one of these.

Provide an example of these

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Melanie Klein argued that the primary object for a child is the ___.


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How does Object Relations Theory relate to Nancy Chodorow? 

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What is the Oedipal Complex?

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Chodorow's Psychoanalytic approach to Gender starts with Freud's use of the ____. 

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Chodorow argues several points that extend beyond Freud's use of the Oedipal complex. These are what?

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What do we mean by gender roles and norms?

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What is Nancy Chodorow's first book called?

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The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender (1978) – was considered by the Sociological Association in 1996 to be what? 

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What did Nancy Chodorow argue in her first book: 'The Reproduction of Mothering'?

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Chodorow argued against ingrained beliefs that surround 'femininity' and 'masculinity' and the positions in the society this ascribes them to. 


What are some examples of traits that are associated with femininity?

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In Object Relations Theory, 'objects' are persons, parts of persons, or symbols of one of these.

Provide an example of these

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  • Mo

Melanie Klein argued that the primary object for a child is the ___.


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  • Mo

How does Object Relations Theory relate to Nancy Chodorow? 

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  • Mo

What is the Oedipal Complex?

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  • Mo

Chodorow's Psychoanalytic approach to Gender starts with Freud's use of the ____. 

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  • Mo

Chodorow argues several points that extend beyond Freud's use of the Oedipal complex. These are what?

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What do we mean by gender roles and norms?

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  • Mo

What is Nancy Chodorow's first book called?

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The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender (1978) – was considered by the Sociological Association in 1996 to be what? 

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What did Nancy Chodorow argue in her first book: 'The Reproduction of Mothering'?

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Chodorow argued against ingrained beliefs that surround 'femininity' and 'masculinity' and the positions in the society this ascribes them to. 


What are some examples of traits that are associated with femininity?

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Table of contents

    This is where Nancy Chodorow comes in. As both a feminist psychoanalyst and sociologist, Chodorow has pushed forward both disciplines, combing the two to highlight how our relationships around, and ideas and stereotypes of, gender are reproduced.

    If you're curious to find out why her work is considered some of the most influential of the last 40 years, then read on! In this explanation we will cover :

    • Nancy Chodorow's contributions to sociology
    • Her theory of gender development
    • Her use of feminism and psychoanalytic theory
    • Her object-relations theory
    • And finally, a list of her books.

    Nancy Chodorow: contributions to sociology

    Nancy Chodorow's contributions to sociology are far-reaching. Her first book – The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender (1978) was considered by the Sociological Association in 1996 to be one of the 10 most influential books of the past 25 years!

    Why?

    Put simply, she expanded our understanding of how gender is co-constructed and re-created by both the mother-child relationship, and wider societal norms and values.

    She successfully argued against biological explanations of gender norms and roles - the beliefs that surround 'femininity' and 'masculinity' and the positions in society they are ascribed.

    Chodorow was particularly interested in the supposedly biologically predisposed 'innate female mothering instinct'. She cited this as an exemplar of the ingrained beliefs and expectations we have about each gender as they go through life. Other stereotypical ideas of gender, based on femininity and masculinity, are:

    Femininity: Women are more...Masculinity: Men are more...
    Caring, gentle, nurturing, emotional, weak, sensitive etc.Ambitious, brave, assertive, competitive, unemotional, strong etc.

    Based on the gender stereotypes listed above, a common example of gender roles are that women are expected to be the primary caregiver in a family; while men are expected to be the primary provider for a family.

    In contemporary society, these arguments about how we are socialised according to gender-based assumptions might seem pretty mundane and outdated. But no idea starts off that way, and if you want to look towards those who paved the way for more flexible ideas of gender, then Nancy Chodorow and the other feminist authors she writes about are a great start.

    Nancy Chodorow, A dad and his daughter colouring in a picture together, StudySmarterA stay-at-home dad: challenging gender norms?

    Nancy Chodorow: gender theory

    One of Chodorow's most significant contributions was developing theories around gender. Her most influential book – The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender (1978)combines sociology, anthropology and psychoanalysis to holistically look at gender.

    In particular, she challenges the biological assumption that women are inherently predisposed toward becoming a mother and nurturing infants.

    Let's look at what she says from a sociological and psychoanalytical perspective respectively.

    Chodorow's psychoanalytic approach to gender

    Chodorow's psychoanalytic argument starts with Sigmund Freud's theory of the Oedipal complex.

    Oedipal complex: The repressed/unconscious “attachment of the child to the parent of the opposite sex, accompanied by envious and aggressive feelings toward the parent of the same sex” (Dolloff, 2006, online).

    From this, she argues several points that extend beyond Freud's use of the Oedipal complex. These are as follows:

    1. The Oedipal Complex is different for men and women. Gender-based differences in behaviour arise from the different ways the Oedipal complex plays out for daughters and sons.

    2. The mother-child relationship is more formative. Unlike Freud, who argued that a child's ego is formed as a reaction to the father, Chodorow argues that it is the mother's presence that is more important in ego-formation.

    3. The female/daughter's identity is strongly interwoven with their mother's. Whilst male children identify with their fathers and detach from their mothers, female children often struggle to form an independent identity. They tend to struggle with their eroticised love for the father and their alignment with the mother.

    Chodorow argues that these differences in the Oedipal complex help to explain the oppression of women.

    For example, if a mother's identity is strongly attached to 'being a mother', then her daughter also absorbs this idea of the 'importance' of mothering, along with societal norms and values around gender roles. These gendered beliefs then become part of the daughter's identity as well.

    Picture this...

    A daughter, one of three and no more than 6 years old, grows up in a home where her mother cooks, cleans, picks the children up from school, tucks them into bed and tells them night-time stories. Her mum tells her constantly of how lucky she is to have her, of how being her mum is the best gift she has ever received. On the other hand, she sees her father leaving early for work, coming home late, and though he wants to be more present in her life, finds it difficult to do so, given the demands of his job.

    She reads fairy tales with princesses saved by a Prince Charming; she plays with dolls where the boys are doctors and action heroes, and the girls are nurses and 'glamorous' looking Barbies. Whilst her brother was given a football to play with, she was given a dollhouse filled with plastic miniatures of cutlery, plates, food, etc...


    The above is a picture of a stereotypical nuclear family and a depiction of some ways gendered beliefs are 'reinforced' - in this scenario, they are inscribed through the little girl's toys and books.

    For Chodorow, these societal norms and values are combined with the daughter observing the roles of her mother and father. She internalises her mother's devotion as what she would like to be as well when she has grown up.

    Whilst you might think this process seems over-the-top for today, this was a typical occurrence a few decades ago, and is still present in many societies today.

    Nancy Chodorow, A baby's hand on top of their parent's hand, StudySmarterAre we a product of our parents, a reflection of societal norms and values?

    Chodorow's sociology of gender

    If the above describes how the female psyche develops, then what does Chodorow say about gender, sociologically speaking? And how does she merge the two? If you think that it's alluded to in the last example above, then you are indeed right, reader! Her modified Oedipal Complex highlights how female and male psyches are given their pre-conditions and boundaries, whilst cultural and historical norms and values present around gender give differentiation to gendered expectations and possibilities.

    Examples of cultural and historical norms and values around gender include:

    • Differences in maternity and paternity leave for parents (which implies an assumption of who the primary caregiver will/should be)
    • Voting rights for the genders (which have historically given men more rights in public life than women)
    • The types of professions dominated by either men or women, e.g., firefighters vs. nursing (which are based on what professions are considered "feminine" or "masculine")

    Chodorow combines the psychoanalytic approach with the sociology of gender to explain how gender, particularly female identities and personalities, forms later in life.

    If that's still a little unclear, let's simplify by using a cooking metaphor.

    In other words, her psychoanalytic explanation of the mother-daughter relationship can be seen as a recipe book. It is this relationship which frames the different types of dishes (i.e. personalities and identities) as possible. On the other hand, her sociological account of gender (i.e. cultural and historical norms and values surrounding gender roles that are internalised throughout childhood and adolescence) can be seen as the ingredients provided.

    • Mother-daughter relationship = the list of possible personalities and identities a person can have, depending on how their relationship with their mother is.

    • Societal norms and values around gender = the identities and personalities that are chosen, based on how they were raised and the beliefs they absorbed.

    Nancy Chodorow: feminism and psychoanalytic theory

    Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989) is the name of Chodorow's second book. It also reflects Chodorow's views on psychoanalysis and how feminism comes into it. Historically, feminism and psychoanalysis were seen as at odds, yet Chodorow asserts the opposite: they are actually interlinked.

    Chodorow argues that when Freud's Oedipal Complex, which is dominant within psychoanalysis, is challenged and Object Relations Theory is integrated:

    Psychoanalysis is first and foremost a theory of femininity and masculinity, a theory of gender inequality, and a theory of the development of heterosexuality”.

    And this is precisely what Chodorow highlighted. By offering a less male-centric account of psychoanalysis, refuting some of its implicit misogynistic attitudes towards women, and placing it onto sociology's panoramic view of gender, she propelled the relevancy of both psychoanalysis and feminism in the late 1970s and 1980s.

    Nancy Chodorow: object relations theory

    Another important feminist contribution to psychoanalysis was the development of Object Relations Theory. Developed by Melanie Klein, Object Relations Theory differed from Freudian psychoanalysis in several ways.

    Firstly, less emphasis was placed on biologically-based drives to explain an individual's psyche. Instead, more importance was attached to the quality of the interpersonal relationships a child has as they grow up (Etherington, 2020).

    One primary interpersonal relationship children have is with their mother, based on the intimacy and nurturing (or lack thereof) she displays and gives.

    Secondly, in Object Relations Theory, 'objects' are persons, parts of persons, or symbols of one of these.

    Examples of 'objects' include the mother, the father, the mother's breasts, etc.

    Importantly, Klein argued that the primary object for a child is the mother. Further, how a child relates to their mother and her objects (both her parts or symbols of them) impacts greatly on the child's relationships in later life.

    To give you a taste of some of these biologically-based drives, Freud argued that women felt inferior due to what he called 'penis envy'.

    He believed that the female psyche, female-specific neuroses, and women's psychosexual development as children were partly due to this biological 'deficit'. There was no getting around it.

    You can probably see why early feminists objected to psychoanalysis!

    If you're wondering what Klein's Object Relations Theory made of this, well, it would be more likely that the symbolic meaning of the penis would hold any sort of weight on the psyche. For instance, it could be perceived as a representation of the gender inequalities that exist today.

    So, how does Object Relations Theory relate to Nancy Chodorow?

    Good question. Put simply, Chodorow borrowed heavily from Melanie Klein to highlight the nuances of the mother-daughter relationship. She used Object Relations theory with a modification to Freud's idea of the Oedipal Complex to highlight how a sense of 'mothering' is reproduced by women more than men.

    To break it down...

    • Object Relations theory provides the basis of her psychoanalytic explanation: The quality of interpersonal relationships a child has shapes their psyche. Differences in the psyche are not due to pre-disposed biological differences in sex.

    • Whilst her modified Oedipal Complex is used to argue that:

      1. A child's most important interpersonal relationship is with their mother, not their father.

      2. Due to the daughter's close, enmeshed relationship with their mother, female children often struggle to form an independent identity and so consume more readily their mother's identity as part of their own - a big part of their mother's identity being that of a mother.

    Nancy Chodorow, A woman kissing her baby, StudySmarterIs a sense of mothering only felt by women?

    Nancy Chodorow's books

    Chodorow has been a prolific author. Below is a list of some of her work:

    1. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender (1978)

    2. Feminism and Psychoanalytic theory (1989)

    3. Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond (1994)

    4. The power of feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture (1999)

    5. The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye: Toward an American Independent tradition (2019)

    Nancy Chodorow - Key takeaways

    • Nancy Chodorow developed our understanding of how gender is co-constructed and re-created by both the mother-child relationship, and wider societal norms and values.
    • Historically, feminism and psychoanalysis were seen as at odds, yet Chodorow argued the opposite. She sees them as fundamentally both focused on gender inequalities. By offering a less male-centric account of psychoanalysis and placing it onto sociology's panoramic view of gender, she propelled the relevancy of psychoanalysis and feminism in the late 1970s and 1980s.
    • Chodorow borrowed heavily from Melanie Klein to highlight the nuances of the mother-daughter relationship. She used object-relations theory with a modification of Freud's idea of the Oedipal Complex to highlight the ways through which a sense of 'mothering' is reproduced by females more so than males.
    • Chodorow challenged the biological assumption that women are inherently predisposed toward becoming a mother and nurturing infants.
    • Her book - The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender (1978) - is considered one of the ten most influential books of the last 40 years.
    Nancy Chodorow Nancy Chodorow
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Nancy Chodorow

    What does Nancy Chodorow argue in the reproduction of mothering?

    Chodorow argues that mothering and the biological assumption that women are inherently predisposed towards becoming a mother and nurturing infants is false. Instead, she explains how gender is co-constructed and re-created by both the mother-child relationship, and by wider societal norms and values.  

    How are Freud and Chodorow similar and different in their theory of how a child's concept of gender develops?

    Freud and Chodorow's similarities are that they both focus on the parent-child relationship and the Oedipal complex. However, their theories are primarily different. Unlike Freud, Chodorow argues the mother-child relationship is more formative; the female/daughter's identity is strongly interwoven with their mother's; and relies more on Melanie Klein's object-relations theory.

    What did Nancy Chodorow do?

    Nancy Chodorow trained as a sociologist and as a psychoanalyst. Her expertise in both led her to write some of the most formative work around how gender is constructed and re-created in the late 20th century. 

    What is Nancy Chodorow's theory?

    Her theory is that gender is co-constructed and re-created by both the mother-child relationship, and by wider societal norms and values.  

    Why is Nancy Chodorow important? 

    Chodorow's importance can be seen with how we talk about gender construction today. Her work was some of the first to merge feminism with psychoanalysis, and combine sociology with psychoanalysis.

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