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Feminine theory of Karen Horney
Prepared by Dr. Arpita Acharya - Associate Professor - Psychology

Horney and feminine psychology

One of feminine psychology's pioneers, Karen Horney, asserted that male realities cannot describe female psychology or define women's gender by virtue of the lack of experiences of voices from girls and women (Miletic 2002).

Karen Horney (16 September 1885 – 4 December 1952) was a German psychoanalyst who practised in the United States during her later career. Her theories questioned some traditional Freudian views. This was particularly true of her theories of sexuality and of the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis. She is credited with founding feminist psychology in response to Freud's theory of penis envy. She disagreed with Freud about inherent differences in the psychology of men and women, and she traced such differences to society and culture rather than biology. She is often classified as neo-Freudian.

Horney was also a pioneer in the discipline of feminine psychiatry. As one of the first female psychiatrists, she was the first known woman to present a paper regarding feminine psychiatry. Fourteen of the papers she wrote between 1922 and 1937 were amalgamated into a single volume titled Feminine Psychology (1967). As a woman, she felt that the mapping out of trends in female behaviour was a neglected issue. Women were regarded as objects of charm and beauty—at variance with every human being's ultimate purpose of self-actualization.

Women, according to Horney, traditionally gain value only through their children and the wider family. She de-romanticized the Victorian concept of how a marriage bond should be. Horney explained that the "monogamous demand represents the fulfillment of narcissistic and sadistic impulses far more than it indicates the wishes of genuine love”. Most notably, her work "The Problem of the Monogamous Ideal" was fixed upon marriage, as were six other of Horney's papers. Her essay "Maternal Conflicts" attempted to shed new light on the problems women experience when raising adolescents.

Horney believed that both men and women have a drive to be ingenious and productive. Women are able to satisfy this need normally and internally—to do this they become pregnant and give birth. Men satisfy this need only through external ways; Horney proposed that the striking accomplishments of men in work or some other field can be viewed as compensation for their inability to give birth to children.

While Horney followed much of Sigmund Freud's theory, she disagreed with his views on female psychology. She rejected his concept of penis envy, declaring it to be both inaccurate and demeaning to women. Penis envy is a stage theorized by Sigmund Freud regarding female psychosexual development, in which young girls experience anxiety upon realization that they do not have a penis. After a girl realizes she lacks a penis, she may be envious of boys. She may then begin to sexually desire her father and blame her mother for her apparent castration, longing for the death or disappearance of her mother. To cope with this conflict, a girl begins to mimic her mother, but later realizes she cannot have her father. To cope with this fact, her sexual desire is displaced onto men generally, marking the beginning of heterosexuality.

In contrast to that theory, Karen Horney (1885–1952) proposed that men experience womb envy more powerfully than women experience penis envy, because "men need to disparage women more than women need to disparage men".

In psychology, womb envy denotes the envy that men may feel of the biological functions of the female (pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding). The neo-Freudian psychiatrist Karen Horney proposed this as an innate male psychological trait. These emotions could fuel the social subordination of women, and drive men to succeed in other areas of life, such as business, law, and politics. Each term is analogous to the concept of female penis envy presented in Freudian psychology. In this they address the gender role social dynamics underlying the "envy and fascination with the female breasts and lactation, with pregnancy and childbearing, and vagina envy that are clues and signs of transsexualism and to a femininity complex of men, which is defended against by psychological and sociocultural means".

Womb envy denotes the envy men may feel towards a woman's role in nurturing and sustaining life. Horney also proposed that men experience womb envy more powerfully than women experience penis envy, because "men need to disparage women more than women need to disparage men". This feeling is stronger in men because they want to live up to the male stereotype of having the upper hand and dominance over everyone. Boehm (1930) said that when others have something more that we don't have ourselves then this excites our envy. As a psychoanalyst, Horney considered womb envy a cultural, psychosocial tendency, like the concept of penis envy, rather than an innate male psychological trait. She believed that it arises when men think they are not in control and powerful in their lives like they thought they were.

Horney developed her ideas to the extent that she released one of the first "self-help" books in 1946, entitled Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?. The book asserted that those, both male and female, with relatively minor neurotic problems could, in effect, be their own psychiatrists. She continually stressed that self-awareness was a part of becoming a better, stronger, richer human being.

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