Freud and his followers, although not philosophers, added "scientific" justification to claims of female inferiority. Shulamith Firestone, in The Dialectic of Sex, explains that for Freud, moral development follows a different path for males than for females. According to Freud, boys between the ages of 4 and 6 undergo an extremely traumatic "Oedipal period", when their most passionate desire is to have sex with their mothers and kill their rival fathers. Successful passage through this period requires that the boy give up the desire for his mother and submit to his powerful father. This submission is so humiliating for the boy that then, to "save face" psychologically, he repudiates his incestuous desire altogether and identifies with his father. The identification with the powerful father cements the internalization of the boys Super-Ego, or conscience. The little boy learns that some things are absolutely forbidden, and that in order to be psychologically at ease, he must think of these prohibitions as rules of his own making. This process is what enables the boy subsequently to live a moral, rule-following life. Successful passage through the Oedipal period also cements the appropriate sex-role identification for the boy. Failure to identify completely with Dad results in sociopathy, excessive attachment to Mother, and/or homosexuality later in life.
Little girls, however, according to Freud, do not undergo an Oedipal phase of nearly the same intensity or drama. They want to have sex with their fathers and get rid of their rival mothers. But when a little girl flirts with Dad, there are usually no strong objections from either Mom or Dad, because the girl is displaying appropriate sex-role behavior, and besides, its cute. A daughter can be "Daddys girl" throughout her life, whereas a son must stop being Mamas boy around kindergarten. Thus the little girl never gets the message very strongly that Dad is unavailable to her. Because she never learns even the most primal taboo (incest), the little girl remains morally infantile throughout her life. Her Super-Ego never really develops. Absolute, rigid rules of morality never mean much to her. Note that for Freud this is not only "how things are" but how they must be; Freud thinks he is describing "human nature", which if it is changeable at all, is changeable only very slowly, through processes of evolution that take millions of years.
Although Freuds Oedipal theory is currently out of fashion in psychology, it exerted an enormous influence on 20th-century thought and even on 20th-century popular culture. The renowned psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, for example, studied the moral development of children with an obviously Freudian bias. He concluded that females were "stuck" in "lower" levels of moral development, because in experiments they consistently refused to apply the most general moral rules, favoring analyses that highlighted the specific situations and personalities and relationships.
Freud and Kohlberg were observant scientists, and their observations about the distinctive ways men and women approach moral problems are important. No one disputes their findings: males tend to apply and argue about moral rules, females tend not to. Psychologist Carol Gilligans influential book In a Different Voice (1982) takes on Kohlberg and the whole psychology establishment on the issue of the significance of these findings: she asks, does the fact that women solve moral problems in a different way necessarily establish womens moral inferiority? Gilligans work is widely cited by philosophers such as Nel Noddings in the new feminist ethical systems that have emerged in the last ten years.
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