Nancy Chodorow is a feminist sociologist and psychoanalyst born 20 January 1944] in New York City. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1966 and later received her PhD in sociology from Brandeis University. She has written many influential books, including The Reproduction of Mothering, Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender, and most recently The Power of Feelings. She is widely considered the leading psychoanalytic feminist theorist. She spent many years as a professor in the departments of sociology and clinical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Chodorow sees gender differences as compromise formations of the Oedipal complex. She begins with Freud’s assertion that the individual is born bisexual and that the child's mother is its first sexual object. Chodorow, drawing on the work of Karen Horney and Melanie Klein, notes that the child forms its ego in reaction to the dominating figure of the mother. The male child forms this sense of independent agency easily, identifying with the agency and freedom of the father and emulating his possessive interest in the mother/wife. This task is not as simple for the female child. The mother identifies with her more strongly, and the daughter attempts to make the father, her new love object, but is stymied in her ego formation by the intense bond with mom. Where male children typically experience love as a dyadic relationship, daughters are caught in a libidinal triangle where the ego is pulled between love for the father, the love of the mother, and concern and worry over the relationship of the father to the mother. For Chodorow, the contrast between the dyadic and triadic first love experiences explains the social construction of gender roles, the universal degradation of women in culture, cross-cultural patterns in male behavior, and marital strain in the West after Second Wave feminism. In marriage, the woman takes less of an interest in sex and more in the children. Her ambivalence towards sex eventually drives the male away. She devotes her energies to the children once she does reach sexual maturity.
Nancy Chodorow retired from the University of California in 2005; in the same year her father, physicist Marvin Chodorow, passed.
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