Challenges to Freudian Theory

Over the years, many aspects of Freudian theory have been challenged. Freud's notion that penis envy is a primary motivator in the female personality was challenged by Karen Horney, who believed that, if it existed, a woman's envy was related to the male's privileged role in society. Freud's idea that the clitoral orgasm is immature and must be surrendered for the vaginal orgasm at puberty spurred work by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who concluded, after much rigorous research, that orgasm is a reaction of the entire pelvic area.

Freud's theory has forced critics to determine what is uniquely female about personality. In Toward a New Psychology of Women (1976), Jean Baker Miller attempted to show how traditional theories of female behavior have failed to acknowledge the essence of the female personality. Miller suggested that affiliation is the cornerstone of the female experience and that it is in response to her relationships with others that a woman's personality grows and develops.

In her book In a Different Voice (1982), Carol Gilligan disputes Freud's notion that females show less of a sense of justice than males and have weak superegos. She argues that morality involves respect for the needs of self balanced with respect for the needs of others; thus, it is not that females lack the justice principle but rather that they have different expressions of justice and different internal and external demands.

Heavily influenced by Freud, many object-relations theorists continue to make contributions in the area of psychotherapy with clients whose early relationships have been disturbed or disrupted. This work will continue to constitute the basis for decisions made by courts, adoption agencies, and social-service agencies regarding the placement of children.

Freud's views on the origins of neurosis may continue to play a role in the understanding of multiple personality disorder and its roots in early sexual abuse. The concept of body memory, the physical memory that abuse has occurred, may well bridge the gap between Freud's concepts of repressed psychic memory and repressed actual memory of early sexual abuse; it may streamline the treatment of this condition. Freud's theory will no doubt continue to generate controversy, motivating both theory and research in the area of women's personality development.

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