episode 3. Freudian ideas of women: The Riddle

If you have ever taken an introduction to psychology class or read an obscure psych article on a blog, you may have heard of Sigmund Freud. Freud is known as the Father of Psychology. His various theories have impacted society throughout the past century and his theories and ideas about women are no different. In these theories, Freud tries to solve ‘The Riddle of Femininity’ and uncover what exactly it is that makes women so mystical (wooo). And let’s just say, these theories can be a little out there at some points. So join us this week to discuss what exactly these theories are, and how they have impacted the perceptions of women. Additionally, we will dip our toes into the larger discussion of what femininity means to us, as we ourselves try to understand this Riddle.

Feminist Corner

  • This week we start to explore a little bit about femininity and what it means to us!
  • There’s no one way to define it of course, and it’s more of a personal journey for you to think about your idea(s) of femininity and what that looks like in your life.

What does femininity mean to you?

Many men, including Freud, have tried to define or search for the secret behind femininity. Where do these men seem to go wrong and specifically with Freud, where does he miss the mark on understanding femininity? Where should he have gone in search of those answers?

How can we as future physicians and critical thinkers in today’s society work to avoid overlooking certain aspects of others’ experiences (blind spots) in our own lives?

Have you or someone you know ever felt the effects of Freud’s theories? For example, have you ever been perceived as inferior or as an object of male desire? How can we succeed in life as women, despite these perceptions?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

  • Who was Sigmund Freud?
    • An Austrian psychologist born in the 1800s who went to medical school in the late 1800s. 
    • Freud had a very complicated relationship with women. He was close to his mother but patronized his female patients and wife.
    • He pioneered psychoanalysis and talk therapy as a cure for hysteria. 
  • Why are women are hysterical? What is femininity?
    • Femininity is sexual differentiation. 
    • Child are born neither man or woman, they differentiate when they go through the phases of psychosexual development.
    • Freud theorized that the process by which a child becomes a woman is connected to why women have ‘hysteria’
    • Two theories
      • Theory of Seduction 
      • Theory of Infantile 
        • Children develop Oedipus Complex 
        • Girls experience Penis Envy 
        • The children develop, or do not develop, a superego 
        • Women are ‘inferior’ to men due to their lack of superego and suppression of male side. 
    • The theories conclude that woman are envious, prone to psychological disorders, shameful, etc. 
  • Opposing Views 
    • Karen Horney proposed the idea of ‘womb envy’ in men
    • Alfred Adle theorized that women’s ‘inferiority’ is social not biological.
  • What are the effects of Freudian theories on women throughout history and today?
    • Freud did have progressive ideas such as acknowledging women’s sexuality and the fluidity of sexuality. 
    • Freudian theories of woman have had negative effects on how woman are perceived by society, in the home and in the work place. 


Cherry, K. (2020, April 21). Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theories of Women. Retrieved June 08, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-sigmund-freud-viewed-women-2795859 

Cocaine: How ‘Miracle Drug’ Nearly Destroyed Sigmund Freud, William Halsted. (2011, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/cocaine-how-miracle-drug-nearly-destroyed-sigmund-freud-william-halsted 

Gilman, R. (1971, January 31). The FemLib Case Against Sigmund Freud. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1971/01/31/archives/the-femlib-case-against-sigmund-freud-the-femlib-case-against-freud.html 

Lehmann, C. (2001, July 20). Women Psychiatrists Still Battle Freud’s View of Sexes. Retrieved from https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/pn.36.14.0009 

Thornton, S. P. (n.d.). Sigmund Freud (1856—1939). Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/freud/ 

Young Dr. Freud . Perspectives: Women. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/youngdrfreud/pages/perspectives_women.htm 

Zakin, E. (2011, May 16). Psychoanalytic Feminism. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-psychoanalysis/ 

Like the episode? Send us your thoughts and questions!

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