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Young Dr. Freud
Theories Analysis Family
Perspectives: Women
Freud and Martha
Freud and Martha
(Freud Museum London)
 
Freud's views of women were rooted in a culture in which there were enormous prejudices about the capacities of women. Their sexuality baffled him. Freud would later say that women were largely "a dark continent." "What does woman want?" he asked. He never found a satisfactory answer.

PERSON: [Freud] saw women as ultimately restricted by their biology. It led him to focus on inherent limitations in women. He saw their role in childbearing which demanded so much time and attention, [and] he saw women's sexual development as an aborted development based on discovering that they didn't have penises, and therefore that they were thrown off course for the rest of life.

GAY: His understanding of women was notoriously inadequate, but he did make great steps beyond what was understood about women when he came on the scene. It was very unusual in Freud's time even to acknowledge that women had sexual desire, much less to say that the repression of their sexual desire could make them hysterical.

Freud demanded absolute loyalty and devotion from his future-wife Martha during their five-year engagement.
Freud demanded absolute loyalty and devotion from his future-wife Martha during their five-year engagement. In his mind, it was his job to command and her to obey.

GAY: He's very jealous, and he warns her not to go skating with so and so and she's not supposed to see somebody else… Who is boss is very obvious from the very beginning. Maybe one of the things that attracted him and kept him attracted was that she was willing to go along.

Once married, Freud and Martha established a household that was a model of comfort and order. Freud tended to his work; Martha assumed the role of mother and hausfrau, or housewife:

EAGLE: It was a very ordinary life of a professional and his wife and family… Martha was very tolerant of the idea that he worked late into the night… She took care of the kids and he did the work and that was it. Her role was to keep the household going and make that all possible.

SOPHIE FREUD: She was a very good hausfrau, she was very thrifty. And my father would say that his mother would rather poison the whole household than throw food away.

After 11 years, Freud's marriage had become largely a matter of habit. Freud and Martha were drifting apart, their sexual life, Freud admitted to a friend, sadly waning. They shared a devotion to the children, but Martha, burdened by domestic duties, had little interest in her husband's work.

"As far as psychoanalysis was concerned," his daughter wrote, "my mother never cooperated. My mother believed in my father, not psychoanalysis."

Martha, burdened by domestic duties, had little interest in her husband's work.
GAY: She thought psychoanalysis was rather a dirty occupation, dealing with all kinds of awful things. He wrote these strange books. I don't even think she ever read them.

GAY: She was a very bright woman, and a very engaged one, but not interested in progressive child rearing, not interested in the liberation of women, really very conservative.

Sexuality was not a subject Martha cared to discuss, even if Freud had been able to question her about it. Freud's view of women never really transcended the time in which he lived - although he was unafraid to assert that women, like men, were driven by sexual passions.




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