So this is the strong sex. Women in Psychoanalysis

Special exhibition: Oct 16, 2015 to June 16, 2016

‚So this is the strong Sex.‘ Women in Psychoanalysis

Special exhibition at the Sigmund Freud Museum, 16/10/2015 – 12/6/2016

The Sigmund Freud Museum is dedicating the special exhibition ‘So this is the strong Sex.’ Women in Psychoanalysis beginning on 16 October to women from the early history of psychoanalysis. Marie Bonaparte, Helene Deutsch, Emma Eckstein, Anna Freud, Lou Andreas-Salomé and Sabina Spielrein had a major influence on the work of Sigmund Freud and on the development of psychoanalysis.

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‘So this is the strong sex.’ – Emma Eckstein is said to have once greeted Sigmund Freud with this ironic allusion. Succinctly, this quotation conveys the possible new interpretations of predominant gender roles. As patients, these women provided Sigmund Freud with the basis for his discovery of the unconscious; the “father of psychoanalysis” himself confirms how he developed his treatment method known as the “talking cure” together with them.

In addition to their practical work as analysts, these protagonists made substantial contributions to the development of psychoanalytical theory, inspiring Freud’s works or even anticipating them, as in the case of Sabina Spielrein. Their involvement in the international dissemination and global institutionalisation of psychoanalysis is equally undisputed: Sabina Spielrein in Switzerland and Russia, Lou Andreas-Salomé in Germany, Marie Bonaparte in France, Helene Deutsch in the USA, and Anna Freud in England.

The biographies and works of these different figures, all impressive, are focused on in the exhibition along with Freud’s theoretical work from the perspective of feminism, gender and queer studies criticism.

Using specially designed screens to divide the exhibition rooms into several segments, the exhibition is dedicating a separate room to each of the six female pioneers of psychoanalysis with the aim of spotlighting their life and work in a suitable manner. Numerous objects and documents connect their achievements with the time they were living in. The influence of their theoretical work on the development of psychoanalysis is presented in order to rectify the picture of psychoanalysis as a science dominated by men only. Background information on childcare in Vienna of the 1920s and 1930s, the development of the women’s movement and core topics of psychoanalysis such as ‚oedipus complex‘, ‚transference and countertransference‘ will be focused as well as the question why especially child analysis was dominated by women.

Current films show different perspectives to regard the women and the myths created around them. Anna Freud’s famous Sigmund Freud Lecture from 1978 can be re-heard at the Sigmund Freud Museum for the first time and delivers a concise overview of her work as a child analyst.

From patient to psychoanalyst

Sigmund Freud and his male colleagues generally approached psychoanalysis as medical men. However, many of the first-generation female psychoanalysts had previously come into contact with psychoanalysis as patients. The transition from patient status to the role of psychoanalyst highlights the emancipatory potential of psychoanalysis and can also be seen as a symbol of the social processes of the time: the ‘conquest’ of psychoanalysis by women took place against the background of the nascent women’s movement. While women featured primarily as patients in psychoanalysis prior to the First World War, they subsequently began to appear increasingly as analysts.

Psychoanalytic education in “Red Vienna”

“Red Vienna”, the era between World War I and II, where the reigning Social Democrats pushed ahead pioneering developments, advanced to become a centre of progressive education with a host of alternative educational institutions including psychoanalytic ideas. Educators from a range of organisations attended the courses held by the training institute of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (WPV). Anna Freud, who had also worked as a teacher, conceived special lectures and seminars. In the 1920s, the Child Guidance Centre of the City of Vienna was headed by August Aichhorn, a psychoanalyst and member of the WPV who worked with Anna Freud.

Child analysis as a female domain

Even though psychoanalytic therapy was held to be revolutionary from the outset, it nevertheless adopted the constructed role image that women appear better suited to caring for children than men. Following the initial stage of development in child analysis, numerous male analysts turned their back on this rather unprestigious field, ‘abandoning’ it to their female colleagues. This renunciation was generally explained by the fact that the usual methods of psychoanalysis, as yet a young discipline, could only be applied to children to a limited extent. Female analysts like Anna Freud or Melanie Klein defined the early canon of child psychoanalysis and thus refuted the arguments of their male colleagues.

Sexuality and femininity

The classical psychoanalytic gender discourse is based on ‘phallic monism’, i.e. it knows (and recognises) only one sex – the male. While maleness acts as a norm, femaleness represents the deviation, the lack. Freud’s notion of a castrated female sex and concomitant penis envy led to protest and criticism even during his lifetime. In particular, colleagues such as Karen Horney, Melanie Klein and Ernest Jones vehemently opposed Freud’s views. Helene Deutsch and Marie Bonaparte, in contrast, remained trapped in the Freudian framework in their approaches.

Women in Psychoanalysis - short portraits:

Lou Andreas-Salomé (b. 1861 St. Petersburg, d. 1937 Goettingen) was long regarded as a femme fatale due to her affairs with the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Rainer Maria Rilke. Since the late 1970s, feminists in particular have been showing an interest in her. Even before she came into contact with psychoanalysis, Andreas-Salomé dealt with female sexuality. In her article ‘Der Mensch als Weib’ [The human being as woman], that was published in 1899, she derived woman’s superiority from biological factors. Her psychoanalytic essay ‘Zum Typus Weib’ (1914) [Woman as type] is a response to Freud’s seminal first publication of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality of 1905. In 1912/1913 she had an extensive exchange of views with Sigmund Freud on the topic of ‘narcissism’. Just one year later, Freud officially introduced the concept of narcissism into psychoanalytic theory. Lou Andreas-Salomé published her essay ‘Narcissism as double directionality’ in 1921, which is regarded as her most important theoretical contribution.

Anna Freud (b 1895 Vienna, d. 1982 London)remains in the shadow of her famous father Sigmund Freud for the public at large. She managed, tended and disseminated Freud’s legacy and played a key role in the founding of the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna. She created a discrete form of therapy by systematising and refining child psychoanalysis and she was able to prove that psychoanalytic findings may also be applied to child analysis. According to Anna Freud, the differences between child and adult therapy result simply from the different stages of development through which the analysands have passed so far. This understanding is the basis of Anna Freud’s creed whereby children, like adults, must be recognised as personalities in their own right. Anna Freud’s book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence was published in 1936 and quickly became a classic of psychoanalytic literature. The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence became a standard work above all in the field of ‘ego psychology’, that was very widespread in the USA after 1945.

Marie Bonaparte (b. 1882 Saint-Coud, France, d. 1962 Gassin, France) Princess of Greece and Denmark, was of highest importance for the escape of the Freud family in 1938 due to her diplomatic relations and her financial power. She published more than fifty essays, some twenty books, and she rendered a dozen of Freud’s works in French. Even before undergoing analysis with Sigmund Freud, Bonaparte published the essay ‘Consideration of the anatomical causes of frigidity in women’ under a pseudonym. This research involved talking to more than two hundred Parisian women and measuring the distance between the clitoris and vagina. Bonaparte’s first psychoanalytic work, published in 1927 under the title ‘The case of Mme Lefebvre. On the psychoanalysis of a murderess’ is based on an interview at Lille prison with a woman who had shot her pregnant daughter-in-law. In her autobiography, Bonaparte, a great-grandniece of Napoleon, derived her interest in murderers from her own family history. Unlike Freud, who understood sexuality as a psychological phenomenon, she sought to translate psychoanalytic theory into a biological typology of drives.

Helene Deutsch (b. 1884 Przemyśl, d. 1982 Cambridge, Massachusetts) is regarded as a pioneer of psychoanalysis with an emphasis on ‘femininity’. Because of her theoretical views on motherhood, female passivity and masochism, she was regarded in feminist circles as Sigmund Freud’s ‘collaborator’. In many respects, the concept of femininity drafted by her resembles Freud’s view that there was no prime status for women other than that of motherhood or daughterhood. In her function as President of the training institute of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (WPV), Helene Deutsch worked on a systematisation of psychoanalytic training. Her monograph on the Psychoanalysis of the sexual functions of women was published by the Viennese Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag (IPV) in 1925 and was the cornerstone of her her two-volume English-language opus magnum The Psychology of Women, written in 1944 and 1945. During the conservative 1950s, her second volume on motherhood met with particular interest in the USA. Deutsch’s study was also a psychoanalytic reference for Simone de Beauvoir’s epoch-making work The Second Sex (1949).

Emma Eckstein (b. 1865 Gaudenzdorf, d. 1924 Vienna) began working as the first female psychoanalyst after completing her analysis with Sigmund Freud. According to former interpetations, she was the main person of Freud’s ‘Irma Dream’ which marked the beginning of the Interpretation of Dreams. Nowadays, it is assumed that Freud condensed several people into this role. In the ‘Arbeiterzeitung’ of 21 October 1900 she published a review of the Interpretation of Dreams, thus making it accessible to a wide audience. In her book Die Sexualfrage im Leben des Kindes (1904) [The Sexual Question in the Upbringing of the Child] she devotes herself to children’s sexuality and the importance of complete sexual education by parents. In addition to her work as a writer, Eckstein was also involved in the ‘Vienna Women’s Club’ founded by Marie Lang, an active campaigner for women’s rights, among others. Eckstein also had close contacts with other feminists of her time, for example Auguste Fickert and Rosa Mayreder. Eckstein also published numerous articles in the ‘Dokumente der Frauen’ magazine operated by Mayreder, Fickert and Lang on controversial issues, such as the legal situation of unmarried pregnant maids.

Sabina Spielrein (b. 1885 Rostow-on-Don, d. 1942 ibid) was brought back to the public with the publication of her diaries and letters in 1980. Her relationship with Carl Gustav Jung, whose patient and purported mistress she was, provided material for specialist publications and became the subject of theatre plays and film productions. As an author, she occupied herself with different topics such as the female body, the car as a symbol of male power, or the search for the central ‘three questions’ of life. The focus of Spielrein’s treatise on Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being (1912) is on the contradictory nature of desire and the destructive components of sexuality. Where Freud bases his drive theory on the contradiction between sexual drive and survival drive, Spielrein radicalises and ultimately annuls this contradiction, thus anticipating thoughts Freud would publish years later in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In 1921, Spielrein was training analyst to the twenty-five-year-old Jean Piaget, the later-to-be pioneer of developmental psychology.

‚So this is the strong Sex.‘ Women in Psychoanalysis

Special exhibition at the Sigmund Freud Museum

16 October 2015 – 12 June 2016, daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Opening: 15 October 2015, 7 p.m.

Conceived and curated by Monika Pessler, Daniela Finzi and Johanna Frei

Exhibition team: Simone Faxa, Alexandra Dancasiu


Arkadi Blatow, FLO VINTAGE –, Freud Museum London, Josephinum, Sammlungen und Geschichte der Medizin, MedUni Wien, Lena Korn, Österreichisches Pharma- und Drogistenmuseum, The Anna Freud Centre, London, Universitätsbibliothek Wien, Urban Zerfaß, Verein für Geschichte der ArbeiterInnenbewegung, Wien, Wienbibliothek im Rathaus

Scans and reproductions

Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute Archives, Dorothee Pfeiffer, Göttingen, Library of Congress, Washington, Musée des Avelines, Musée d'art et d'histoire de Saint-Cloud, Österreichische Mediathek, Audiovisuelles Archiv – Technisches Museum Wien, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung, Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Graphische Sammlung und Fotoarchiv

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