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The Pleasures and Perils of Fighting Among Ourselves

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A polarized group becomes less effective as its members become more certain
By Susan Kolod, Ph.D
Polarization occurs when people on either side of a conflict take increasingly extreme opposing positions. A new Pew Research study demonstrates polarization is at an all-time high in American politics.  Striking examples of polarization are evident internationally as well. Many groups define themselves as having a common enemy—there is agreement that those who hold the opposing view are wrong. This draws people together and engenders feelings of righteousness, virtue, clarity and certainty. Ambiguity is banished.However, polarization has very very bad consequences.The Bad NewsAs a consequence of polarization, trust and respect for the “other” group diminishes, while distorted perceptions and stereotypes emerge. Negative qualities are attributed to individuals in the opposing group, while members of one’s own camp are viewed as positive and virtuous. The disagreeing parties assume more and more rigid positions and may refuse to negotiate. Those who try to take more moderate positions are sometimes viewed as “traitors.”People are often quick to recognize and loathe qualities in others that they find repugnant in themselves–such as greed, desire for power or hypocrisy.  When groups become polarized questionable behavior, which is typically evident in both groups, is only recognized in members of the opposing group, who are then identified as bad or evil.Polarization depletes creativity and saps a group of its energy. People exclude and marginalize one another. Although this can create a feeling of safety in the short run, over time, the group loses the vitality and “cutting edge” that come with collaboration.An Example of Polarization

A synagogue in a small Midwestern city became polarized when the rabbi refused to perform same-sex marriages. The rabbi is a very intelligent, kind and perceptive person. However, he is quite conservative and unbending on certain issues.  The executive council of the synagogue was divided on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the rabbi made it clear that on this issue he would not budge.

The congregation is a diverse group of individuals who run the gamut from very conservative to very liberal. Although there is a fair amount of disagreement, people in general respect one another and there is a high level of tolerance towards ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty. However, the issue of same-sex marriage divided the congregation into two camps—“for” and “against.”

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The regrettable wisdom of this proverb was manifested in the congregation as it became ever more polarized:

  1. People who had not been close previously began to bond with each other and against the other side.
  2. If they had opposing views, people who had been friends broke off relations.
  3. Each side accused the other of ill-intentioned behavior, but did not recognize it in themselves.
  4. Energy, enthusiasm and a sense of belonging to a single cohesive group were eroded.
  5. Both groups felt disrespected and maligned by one another.
  6. The atmosphere of fear and anxiety spread to other issues.

What Causes Polarization?

Kenneth Eisold, Ph.D., author of What You Don’t Know You Know: Our Hidden Motives in Life, Business and Everything Else, is apsychoanalyst and Faculty member at the William Alanson White Institute. One of Eisold’s specialties is consultation with polarized organizations (like businesses and charities)—he helps them reestablish a collaborative atmosphere.

Eisold emphasizes that polarization is a normal process–it often develops when people become overwhelmed with complexity and uncertainty. He notes that individuals within a polarized group think in terms such as, “I know where I stand and what I feel.” This is very satisfying when the group has just gone through a period of intense stress and confusion.

What Can Be Done?

Eisold emphasizes that working with polarized organizations is tricky: “Timing is key. When a group is in the midst of polarization, they need the simple clear version of events…they lose ability to listen to the views of the other. There is no point in trying to intervene while a group is in the midst of intense polarization.  But once a group reaches a point where they are asking for help, something can be done.”

When that occurs, Eisold uses various techniques to help the two groups come to a more moderate position, such as asking members of each group if there was a time when members of the “other” group were seen as having positive qualities. Such reflection often catalyzes a shift back to tolerance and unity.  Having members of opposing groups work together on specific projects with a common aim is an effective way to bring people back together, enlivening their interactions and recapturing the energy of cooperation.
Susan Kolod, Ph.D., is a Supervising and Training Analyst and co-Editor of the blog, Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action at the William Alanson White Institute. She has lectured and written about the impact of hormones on the psyche with a particular focus on sexuality, menopause and the menstrual cycle. She is in private practice in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

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New Publication in the Journal, Contemporary Psychoanalysis

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Volume 50:3, 484-491

2014

READING THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE ON THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF ITS PUBLICATION

By Susan Kolod, Ph.D.

On the 50th anniversary of the first volume of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, what better time to reconsider Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, first published 50 years ago? This book was an important part of the Zeitgeist into which CP was born. On rereading The Feminine Mystique with the knowledge of what occurred after its publication, it is possible to appreciate how much Friedan accomplished in furthering the cause of women’s equality. In particular, her critique of the Freudian position on female development is still fresh and vibrant. But, with hindsight, it is clear what she got wrong.
My Aunt Margy, who died in 2004 at the age of 86, was a brilliant housewife. Margy’s apartment was spotless and she was an expert on cleaning products and procedures. If I couldn’t remove a spot from a blouse or get the crud off a pan, I’d call her and she knew what to do. A favorite family story about her: She got some greasy dirt on her white pants and exclaimed, “I couldn’t even Shout it out!” referencing the commercial for Shout, the laundry stain remover.
Margy once told me she would never go to a “woman doctor”—women were just not as capable or smart as men. She did not understand why I wanted a job outside the home and frequently commented on my lack of expertise regarding the removal of dirt. I was damaging the children by having a career. Margy exemplified the postwar generation of women who opted out of the work force in favor of becoming moms and housewives. These were the women Betty Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique.
Fifty years after its publication, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique continues to influence how women think about what “makes them tick.” Friedan got a lot right, but 50 years later, it’s easy to see she got some things wrong as well.
Friedan’s book catapulted the Women’s Movement into the public eye. She identified the “problem that has no name”: the boredom, depression, and empty lives of educated women who had given up careers to care for home and children. Friedan tapped into the experience of a vast number of mid-20th century suburban women: “It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction. … As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent questions, ‘Is that all?’”(p. 15).
Friedan, who died in 2006 at the age of 86, graduated from Smith College in 1942 and gave up a prestigious scholarship for graduate school because of her boyfriend’s objection. The book was based, to a large extent, on her own experiences. Fifteen years later, Friedan interviewed her classmates and discovered that most had given up their career dreams. Instead, their resumes read: Occupation: Housewife.
Friedan raised challenging questions about psychoanalytic views of female development and psychology, then in vogue, and the ways these views kept women “in their place.” When The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, the classical Freudian view of female development was still the accepted wisdom: anatomy is destiny, and normal female development includes penis envy, faulty super-ego development, masochism, and passivity. Friedan correctly pointed out how these theories kept women in a submissive role relative to men. She writes,”How can an educated American woman, who is not herself an analyst, presume to question a Freudian truth? She know that Freud’s discovery of the unconscious workings of the mind was one of the great breakthroughs in man’s pursuit of knowledge … that only after years of analytic training is one capable of understanding the meaning of Freudian truths. She may even know how the human mind unconsciously resists that truth. How can she presume to tread the sacred ground where only analysts are allowed? ” (pp. 103–104)
Perhaps Friedan’s most brilliant insight is her analysis of the way Madison Avenue employed ideas from contemporary psychology to convince women that their essential nature is to become experts in home economics. In the mid-1940s, men returning from war needed to resume their place in the workforce. During the War, women had attained a great deal of equality and autonomy, taking the place of men in the workforce during the War. Now that the men were back, this posed a problem. How could women be convinced to return to housewifery? Enter Madison Avenue. According to Friedan, advertisers realized that, “The really important role that women serve as housewives is to “buy more things for the house” and that “women will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being housewives” (p. 207). The trick was to convince women that homemaking is creative and a career unto itself, equal to or better than going out into the workforce.
Thus, Friedan suggests, Madison Avenue teemed up with Freud to brainwash women into believing that “occupation: housewife” was a woman’s essential nature. The goal was to help women get rid of their suppressed penis envy and neurotic desire to be equal—to help women find fulfillment as women by affirming their natural inferiority. She quotes from the report of an ad executive: “The modern bride seeks as a conscious goal that which in many cases her grandmother saw as a blind fate and her mother as slavery: to belong to a man, to have a home and children of her own, to choose among all possible careers the career of wife-mother-homemaker” (p. 220).
Friedan was particularly horrified by the focus of advertisers on “getting them young” while the woman’s mind was impressionable and before she knew any better.
From another chilling report she quotes, “Properly manipulated, American housewives can be given the sense of identity, purpose, creativity, and the self-realization, even the sexual joy they lack—by the buying of things” (p. 208) … the solution, quite simply, was to encourage them to be “modern housewives.”
“This professionalism is a psychological defense of the housewife against being a general ‘cleaner-upper’ and menial servant for her family in a day and age of general work emancipation.” Capitalize, the report continued, on housewives’ “guilt over the hidden dirt” so she will rip her house to shreds in a “deep cleaning” operation, which will give her a “sense of complete-ness for a few weeks” (p. 208).
Friedan describes a generation of women in a kind of trance state. The Feminine Mystique, although melodramatic and overreaching at times, was the wake-up call.
As stated previously, Friedan got a few things wrong. She observes of Freud, “He was a prisoner of his own culture. As he was creating a new framework for our culture he could not escape the framework of his own” (p. 105). The same can be said of Betty Friedan. Without diminishing the importance of her contributions, Friedan made several serious errors that have been difficult to eradicate because of her tremendous influence and impact on the culture.
Friedan correctly pointed out how the classical Freudian view of female development kept women in a submissive role relative to men. However, Friedan went on to completely dismiss the importance of ovarian hormones and the menstrual cycle on a woman’s identity, mood, and thought processes. Friedan’s mission, or one of her missions, was to assert there was no meaningful difference between men and women, that anatomy is immaterial. Friedan’s attack on psychoanalytic views of female development, contributed significantly to the avoidance of the body in contemporary psychoanalytic thought (Kolod, 2009, 2010, 2013).
This thesis became very relevant to me while I was researching the topic of menopause, an endeavor prompted by the onset of my own. I noticed how little was written on the subject, and that women rarely spoke about their physical and psychological suffering.
Friedan thought menopause inconsequential. If a woman has a meaningful life, menopause should be a nonevent. She believed that only women whose identity and self-worth were tied to being a wife and mother, and for whom, therefore, youth and sexual attractiveness are all-important, would find menopause difficult. Other hormonal emotional experiences, such as premenstrual tension and postpartum depression, she likewise refused to recognize as physiologically determined.
Friedan, and many other feminists who are now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, espoused the view that the miseries of menopause are solely a consequence of the repressive Freudian environment Friedan detailed in The Feminine Mystique. Friedan went so far as to say that menopause didn’t really exist—it was invented by the pharmaceutical companies!
What was wrong with me, I wondered? I had a career and meaningful relationships but found menopause disorienting and painful. The changes in body image, the physical discomfort, mood swings, and insomnia all made me wonder, “Who am I?” and “What am I becoming?” According to Friedan, I should have been immune to this distress considering my own independence outside the home.
In 2005, I invited Friedan to speak at a conference to explain her views. The conference topic was “Is There Menopause?” Friedan initially agreed, but her failing health prevented this. She did, however, allow me to videotape an interview to be screened for attendees. She died soon after the interview.
On January 12, 2005, I went to Friedan’s apartment. I had sent her a list of questions in advance of the interview: Have women’s reactions to menopause changed since you wrote The Feminine Mystique? Do women experience it the same now as they did in 1963? Do you think menopause changes the way a woman sees herself? Does it change her identity?
Friedan became increasingly annoyed, and even hostile, as I asked my questions. The very word “menopause” irritated her. Menopause does not exist—and shouldn’t be talked about. I persisted with my questions until she finally yelled, “What the fuck are you asking me?” Questions about “aging” were okay with her, so long as I didn’t use the word “menopause.” Men and women both age, but only women are alleged to go through menopause. To acknowledge the body at all was to accept male domination.
At the conference, along with the Friedan interview videotape, I presented my own paper on the impact of menopause on a woman’s identity. Much to my surprise, several feminist psychoanalysts, 10 to 15 years older than I, approached me afterwards warning me that this was a dangerous topic, a slippery slope, and that I should perhaps discontinue talking about it.
The dangerous topic is not menopause—it is the acknowledgement that female hormones make woman feel and behave differently from men. Historically, a focus on the female body, ovarian hormones and the menstrual cycle has been used to stigmatize women as moody, flighty, and unfocussed. As such, they should not hold positions of power. If a woman was president, she might start a nuclear attack while suffering from PMS!
Friedan should be forgiven for this error. She wanted to send the message that “A woman can do anything a man can do.” For the postwar women who had been “brainwashed” to believe they could only do housework, this message was urgent. So the “hormone” question was dismissed out of hand. Yet, today, the issue of a woman’s role and her power in the workplace is still far from resolved. In Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) argues that women have not, in fact, come very far. There are many more women in the workforce but for the most part, men still are in charge. As she told a group of students at the Harvard Business School in 2011, “If the current trend continues, fifteen years from today, about one-third of the women in the audience will be working full-time and almost all of you will be working for the guy you are sitting next to” (pp. 65–66).
Friedan’s critique of the Freudian view that “anatomy is destiny” contributed to an almost complete avoidance of the body in contemporary psychoanalysis and theories of gender construction. Laan and Everaerd (1995) note, “Feminists have long criticized the notion that behavior and abilities of women are uniquely determined by their biology. This criticism led to an almost total rejection of the role of biology in the construction of gender. It also contributed, unfortunately, to an image of female sexuality devoid of the body” (pp. 22–23). Balsam (2008) comments on the avoidance of the body in contemporary psychoanalytic theory. She notes that although the term “embodiment” shows up regularly in contemporary psychoanalytic theory as a metaphor for psychological containment, there has been a turning away from concrete bodily experience. She writes, “In many of the influential new psychoanalytic theories of gender, biology has been sidelined as irrelevant” (p. 102).
Betty Friedan had wanted to become a psychologist herself and was familiar with the work of the prominent psychologists of her time. She borrowed concepts freely, sometimes with attribution, at other times incorporating their ideas into her own as if she had thought of them herself. She used the “ph” spelling of the word “phantasy” rather than the more common spelling, “fantasy.” There is no way to know at this point why she chose this unusual spelling; I presume she wanted to show her familiarity with the work of Melanie Klein. However, the “phantasy” spelling in Klein’s writing indicates unconscious fantasy. Friedan used the word, incorrectly, to refer to conscious fantasy.
In some cases, Friedan incorporated psychological concepts brilliantly, as with her use of Fromm’s “marketing personality” (Fromm, 1947), which clearly informed her ideas about women and Madison Avenue. At other times, her use of the concepts comes across as exaggerated. For example, she used Bettelheim’s theme of the dehumanization of concentration camp victims to bolster her argument about the dehumanization of the housewife. “The women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps—and the millions more who refused to believe that the concentration camps existed” (p. 305).
Some of Friedan’s “psychologizing” was outright wrong and had a lasting and damaging effect on views of women. She blamed stay-at-home mothers for a wide variety of psychological and social problems in their children such as delinquency, kleptomania, and promiscuity. According to Friedan, these problems developed out of mother’s failure to self-actualize and her obsessive focus on the child. She goes on to hold stay-at-home mothers responsible for autism, schizophrenia, bestiality, and homosexuality and uses concepts from Bettelheim (1950), Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (1948), and Thompson (1947) to substantiate these claims. Although none of these writers addressed the issue of “stay-at-home-mothers,” Friedan used their concepts of the “refrigerator mother” and the “schizophrenigenic mother” to bolster her argument. In this way, The Feminine Mystique reinforced the “blame the mother” culture of the 1950s and 1960s.
The women of the Baby Boomer generation, their children and grandchildren are the benefactors of the changes brought about by the Women’s Movement. We should be immensely grateful for Friedan’s potent critique of that which oppressed women, but also cognizant of the ways in which some of her errors have negatively affected psychological understanding of women since that time.

REFERENCES

  • 1. Balsam, R. (2008). Women showing off: Notes on female exhibitionism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 56, 99–121. [CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®]
  • 2. Bettelheim, B. (1950). Love is not enough: The treatment of emotionally disturbed children. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
  • 3. Friedan, B. (1963). The feminine mystique. New York, NY: Norton.
  • 4. Fromm, E. (1947). Man for himself. New York, NY: Rinehart & Company.
  • 5. Fromm-Reichmann, F. (1948). Notes on the development of treatment of schizophrenics by psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Psychiatry, 11(3), 263–273. [PubMed]
  • 6. Kolod, S. (2009). Menopause and sexuality. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 45, 26–43. [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®]
  • 7. Kolod, S. (2010). The menstrual cycle as a subject of psychoanalytic inquiry. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 38, 77–90. [CrossRef]
  • 8. Kolod, S. (2013). Why Betty Friedan threw the body out with the bath-water. Retrieved fromhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemporary-psychoanalysis-in-action/201306/why-betty-friedan-threw-the-body-out-the-bathwater
  • 9. Laan, E., & Everaerd, W. (1995). Determinants of female sexual arousal: Psychophysiological theory and data. Annual Review of Sex Research, 6, 32–77. [Taylor & Francis Online]
  • 10. Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead. New York, NY: Knopf.
  • 11. Thompson, C. (1947). Changing concepts of homosexuality in psychoanalysis. Psychiatry, 10, 183–189. [PubMed], [Web of Science ®]

Is Hookup Regret More Common in Women? The better the sex, the less regret

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Young women are becoming equal partners in the hookup culture, often just as willing as young men to venture into sexual relationships without emotional ties.  But research suggests hookup regret is twice as common among women as men.

Is that because women are “hard-wired” to be monogamous? Researchers say no—it has more to do with sexual satisfaction. Or lack thereof.

The “Hookup Culture” has generated a wealth of research on how both men and women respond to casual sex. These studies conclude women are much less likely to orgasm in a hookup as in a committed relationship, and that hookup regret is often linked to an unsatisfying sexual experience.

Justin R. Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, studied 600 college students and found women were twice as likely to reach orgasm in serious relationships as in hookups. Both men and women sometimes experience hookup regret, but Garcia found women are twice as likely to have a negative reaction later on.

Likewise, Paula England, a sociologist at New York University, in a study of 24,000 college students over the course of 5 years, found only approximately 40 percent of women had an orgasm during their last hookup involving intercourse, while 80 percent of men did. By contrast, roughly three quarters of women in the survey said they had an orgasm the last time they had sex in a committed relationship.

England suggests that for women, practice makes perfect—in other words practicing sex with a partner is far more important for a woman to achieve sexual satisfaction than for men. Communication, which is a key element in a woman’s sexual satisfaction, is less likely in hookups.  “Women are not feeling very free in these casual contexts to say what they want and need.” Another problem, according to England, is that women may still be stigmatized for having casual sex.

Most of subjects in these studies were heterosexual. But Terri Conley, a research psychologist at the University of Michigan, did a study involving bisexual women. She found that if a bisexual woman was approached by both a man and a woman for casual sex, she would be more likely to accept the offer from the woman. Why? Less likelihood of disease, violence or stigmatization and greater likliho0d of sexual satisfaction with a female stranger than a male stranger.

Conley challenges the argument that gender differences relating to casual sex are “hardwired” i.e. biological or evolutionary in nature. She examined the following assumptions:

  1. Men think about sex more than women
  2. Women orgasm less frequently than men
  3. Men like casual sex more than women
  4. Women are choosier than men

She suggests that these gender differences have more to do with societal factors: prohibition against women expressing sexual desire, and the greater risk of being subjected to sexual assault and disease. According to Conley, when these conditions are factored out of the equation, women and men appear to enjoy casual sex similarly.

Furthermore, if a woman finds her sex partner attractive, sexually skilled and non-judgmental she is just as likely to engage in and enjoy a hookup as a man. And she will most likely not regret the experience.

But before a woman can communicate what she wants, she has to know what she wants. Sex education does not teach women how to have good sex, let alone ask for what they need.

In a recent New York Times article on this subject, In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns (November 11, 2013) a young woman reports sex education in her school was aimed at stopping teenagers from having sex entirely; there wasn’t any discussion of how to achieve satisfaction. She noted thatporn can be a great source of sex education but in porn people don’t tell each other things like, ‘Oh, my foot’s falling asleep, we need to move.”

Men’s sexual anatomy makes it is easier to achieve orgasm, whether the sex occurs within a committed relationship or not. Women’s sexual responsiveness is more complicated and requires the woman know what she wants and be willing to ask for it. Her partner must be mindful of the time and attention required to ensure the woman achieves orgasm.

It is quite common for women to disconnect from sexual experiences in hookups, particularly if they are drunk or high. It is just too difficult to stop things once they get started. As one female patient reports, “I just decided to pretend it wasn’t happening.”  She describes being in a trance-like state during a casual sexual encounter and regretting it afterwards.

An unsatisfying sexual experience like this can have lasting negative consequences, resulting in feelings of shame, depression and low self worth.

In taking sexual histories of women who were having problems with arousal as they went through menopause, I found regret over unsatisfying or risky sexual encounters could linger. During the “Sexual Revolution” of the 60’s and 70’s, as now, there was considerable peer pressure to be sexually adventurous. Some of the sexual experiences women reported occurred under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and with multiple partners. While these experiences may have felt adventurous at the time, they are now recalled as painful, humiliating and even traumatic. This may be due to the fact that the woman was not really enjoying herself—just pretending and going through the motions in a very disconnected way.

What is the takeaway for young women today?   Know what you like and want sexually and make sure to communicate this to your partner. It is never a good idea to disconnect and pretend you are enjoying sex if you are not. These reactions lead to feeling “used.”  Hookups aren’t for everyone, but they don’t have to be a source of dissatisfaction, shame or trauma. If you have a great time with a casual sex partner, you are less likely to regret the experience afterwards!

Susan Kolod, Ph.D. is a Supervising and Training Analyst and co-Editor of the blog, Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action at the William Alanson White Institute. She has lectured and written about the impact ofhormones on the psyche with a particular focus on sexuality, menopause and the menstrual cycle. She is in private practice in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Dr. Kolod will be speaking at the Division 39 Meeting in New York City at the Sheraton Hotel on April 24th, 2014. The topic is The Female Body in Psychoanalytic Treatment.

Five Reasons We Love Scandals

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What makes scandals so interesting? A good scandal can be titillating, outrageous, entertaining, satisfying and edifying—it allows us to feel superior, to pity or despise the transgressor and to get vicarious pleasure, all at the same time. It becomes a “feeding frenzy.” People can’t get enough of it—every morsel is chewed and devoured like delicious rich cake.

Scandal allows us to fantasize about the lives we don’t lead. In Adam Phillip’s new book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life he makes the point that everyone lives several parallel lives—the life we actually live and the lives we feel we SHOULD or COULD have been living. Depression, anxiety and other types of dissatisfaction result from the frustration one feels that he or she should be living a different, more exciting, more daring, sexier life. Scandals allow us, through fantasy, to vicariously experience an “other” life, while leaving us reassured that we are better off in our ordinary, non-scandalous existence.

What exactly is scandal? Scandal derives from a Greek word for “snare,” implying that one is “snared” into moral failure.  Scandal was originally a term used to denote a discredit brought upon religion by “unseemly conduct in a religious person,” especially if it encourages a lapse of faith in another (Merriam Webster).

Today, scandal has a spectrum of meanings, including discreditable or immoral conduct, damage to reputation caused by such misconduct, and malicious or defamatory gossip, whether or not well founded. “Scandal” and “Slander” share the same root.

Scandal is relative. What causes a scandal at one time or in one place might not in another. There can be no scandal without a scandalized public. Former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi’s solicitation of underage prostitutes resulted in his arrest, but apparently, no significant scandal. According to Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, that is because, in Italy everyone loves a party. (New York Times, Sept 8, 2013).

On the other hand, the scandal of former Congressman Anthony Weiner who ran and lost the primary election for Mayor of New York City is remarkable for what he did NOT do. “He did not commit adultery. He did not break up a marriage. He did not employ the services of a prostitute. He did not stalk. He did not misuse public funds…He did not have inappropriate physical contact—or any physical contact—with any person.” His scandal resulted solely from “pixels on a screen.”  Herzberg (New Yorker Magazine, August 28, 2013).  Or, perhaps, from his persistent lying and acting foolishly in public.

Scandal takes on a life of its own, and, sometimes, the actual facts of the matter are of little importance. As the dictionary definition above implies, the gossip may be more enthralling than the details of what really occurred.

Every person struggles with impulses to break the rules, to violate boundaries. These unacceptable attributes are rejected in oneself but are embodied in the scandalous person, who becomes larger than life. Similar to watching porn or a horror film, one can experience terror, outrage, extreme anxiety, sexual excitement and relief, without having to engage in risky behavior.

Here are 5 reasons we love scandal:

  1. Vicarious pleasure in the rule-breaking of another. Transgression is titillating. Every person is tempted to break rules and boundaries but for the most part, resists. The scandalous person has given into temptation.
  2. Pleasure at the punishment of the transgressor. There is a sense of moral satisfaction when the scandalous person is humiliated or punished. It restores faith in the orderliness of the moral universe. Scandals exaggerate the sense that there are good and bad people.
  3. Pleasure at watching someone “get away with it.”  In Missing Out, Phillips writes that “getting away with it” occurs when you obtain the forbidden object of desire without paying penalty. The unpunished transgressor allows us to imagine this (potentially thrilling) experience.
  4. Pleasure at being asked to forgive. This elicits a feeling of power and triumph in the person to whom the request is made. The transgressor has to grovel, and forgiveness can either be granted or denied. This provides the non-transgressor a feeling of superiority, however fleeting.
  5. And perhaps most importantly, distraction from the tedium of one’s own difficult everyday problems. Reading about the scandals that have beset others is a great distraction. Not only does it take our minds off our problems, it also assures us that our problems are small and manageable in comparison.

We all have parts of ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge that wish to do harm. These disowned parts are easily projected onto the alleged perpetrator who is experienced as repellent and alien. Abby Stein, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice notes, “In the presence of perpetration we may be repelled but we are also excited. In an odd way, people who have done awful lurid sexual things to others are not just interesting—they are downright sexy.”

When someone breaks the rules, violates boundaries, it can be upsetting to observe. But reactions to scandal are more complicated than simple moral outrage. If it were just outrage, people would not become so fascinated and involved. It is the combined reactions of outrage and disgust on the one hand, and fascination and titillation on the other, that makes scandal exciting. That’s where fantasy and vicarious pleasure take center stage.

Why Betty Friedan Threw the Body Out With the Bathwater

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Fifty years after its publication, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique continues to influence how women think about what “makes them tick.”  Friedan got a lot right, but with decades of hindsight, it’s easy to see she got some things wrong, particularly her outright rejection of the impact of hormonal shifts on female experience.

Friedan’s book catapulted the Women’s Movement into the public eye. She identified the “problem that has no name”: the boredom, depression and empty lives of educated women who had given up careers to care for home and children. Post-war generation wives and mothers responded powerfully to Friedan’s observations.

Friedan raised challenging questions about psychoanalytic views of female development and psychology, then in vogue, and the ways these views kept women “in their place.”  She was instrumental in setting female psychology on a different course–in some good ways, as well in others that have been less helpful.

When The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, the classical Freudian view of female development was still the accepted wisdom: anatomy is destiny, and normal female development includes penis envy, faulty super-ego development, masochism and passivity. Friedan correctly pointed out how these theories kept women in a submissive role relative to men.

However, Friedan went on to dismiss the importance of ovarian hormones and the menstrual cycle on a woman’s identity, mood and thought processes. Friedan’s mission, or one of her missions, was to assert there was no meaningful difference between men and women, that anatomy is immaterial.

Betty Friedan’s work became very relevant to me while I was researching the topic of menopause, an endeavor prompted by the onset of my own.  I noticed how little was written on the subject, and that women rarely spoke about their physical and psychological suffering.

Surprisingly, Friedan thought menopause inconsequential.  If a woman has a meaningful life, menopause should be a non-event. She believed that only women whose identity and self-worth were tied to being a wife and mother, and for whom, therefore, youth and sexual attractiveness are all-important, would find menopause difficult. Other hormonal emotional experiences, such as pre-menstrual tension and post-partum depression, she similarly refused to recognize as physiologically determined.

Friedan, and many other feminists who are now in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, espoused the view that the miseries of menopause are solely a consequence of the repressive Freudian environment Friedan detailed in The Feminine Mystique. Friedan went so far as to say that menopause didn’t really exist—it was invented by the pharmaceutical companies!

What was wrong with me, I wondered? I had a career and meaningful relationships but found menopause disorienting and painful. The changes in body image, the physical discomfort, mood swings, insomnia all made me wonder, “Who am I?” and “What am I becoming?”  According to Friedan, I should have been immune to this distress because of career and meaningful interests outside the home.

I invited Friedan in 2005 to speak at a conference on the topic “Is There Menopause?” to explain her views.   Friedan initially agreed, but her failing health prevented this. She did, however, allow me to videotape an interview to be screened for attendees. She died soon after the interview. Click to view video.

On January 12, 2005 I went to Friedan’s apartment. I had sent her a list of questions in advance of the interview: Have women’s reactions to menopause changed since you wrote The Feminine Mystique?  Do women experience it the same now as they did in 1963?  Do you think menopause changes the way a woman sees herself?  Does it change her identity?

Friedan became increasingly annoyed, and even hostile, as I asked my questions.  The very word “menopause” irritated her. Menopause does not exist—and shouldn’t be talked about.  I persisted with my questions until she finally yelled, “What the fuck are you asking me?” Questions about “aging” were OK with her, so long as I didn’t use the word “menopause.” Men and women both age, but only women are alleged to go through menopause.

At the conference, along with the Friedan interview videotape, I presented my own paper on the impact of menopause on a woman’s identity. Much to my surprise, several feminist psychoanalysts, 10 to 15 years older than I, approached me afterwards warning me that this was a dangerous topic, a slippery slope and that I should perhaps discontinue talking about it.

The dangerous topic is not menopause—it is the acknowledgement that female hormones make women feel and behave differently from men.  Historically, a focus on the female body, ovarian hormones and the menstrual cycle has been used to stigmatize women as moody, flighty, and unfocussed. As such, they should not hold positions of power. If a woman was president, she might start a nuclear attack while suffering from PMS!

My female friends and I, all Baby Boomers, were the benefactors of the changes brought about by the Women’s Movement. We assumed we’d have careers, or at least imagined the possibility. Now in our 60s, most of us do have careers and families.  We’ve gone through menopause, but didn’t sail through it the way Friedan predicted. Not at all!

So while we should be immensely grateful for Friedan’s potent critique of that which oppressed women, I believe it is important that a complete understanding of the female experience include recognition of the significant effect of hormones on a woman’s body and psychological functioning. Rather than denying or dismissing the impact, let’s acknowledge and appreciate the range of experience with which hormones endow women.

Why Do I Get So Hungry Right Before My Period?

Hormones and menstrual cycle affect eating and body image: by Susan Kolod, Ph.D.
Published on February 28, 2013 by The Contemporary Psychoanalysis Group in Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action
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This is the 3rd of 3 posts from the Eating Disorders, Compulsions and Addictions Service (EDCAS) of the William Alanson White Institute in recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 24th through March 2th).In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week I’d like to bring awareness to a lesser known aspect of appetite and disordered eating—the impact of sex hormones and the menstrual cycle on appetite and body image.

Women are more prone to eating disorders than men.  Statistics indicate that 80 to 90% of all people who suffer from eating disorders are women. This is usually explained by “cultural” differences: in the fashion industry, media and cinema, female beauty is synonymous with a thin body; girls are brain-washed to believe they must have little or no body fat to be attractive. But this is not the whole story.

New research suggests that the menstrual cycle and the production of sex hormones are equal, or even more important, factors. Although both men and women produce sex hormones, women experience a monthly hormonal cycle from puberty to menopause. And the cyclical nature of sex hormone production has a powerful impact on appetite for both human and non-human female animals.

Although very little has been written on this subject, many women know intuitively that their relation to food changes across the menstrual cycle. It is common in my psychotherapy practice to hear female patients comment, “I was PMSing and couldn’t stop eating”, or “I always binge on chocolate right before I get my period”.

Theresa Kinsella, a nutritionist in New York City who specializes in work with eating disordered women reports, “I have one client who is overweight and a binge eater. She calls her PMS phase, ‘the monster’ and has cravings for chocolate, frozen yogurt and candy. ‘But it’s over’, the client observes, ‘the second I start to bleed’”

Kelly Klump, Ph.D., a research psychologist and professor at Michigan State University, studies the etiology of eating disorders with an emphasis on genetic and neurobiological factors. Dr. Klump and associates have demonstrated empirically that certain hormones are implicated, not only with regard to changes in appetite during the menstrual cycle, but in body image as well.

In a recent issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders she and her associates examined changes across the menstrual cycle in two independent samples of women and found a direct effect of sex hormones on both appetite and body image.

The researchers found that both binge eating and body dissatisfaction peaked during the pre-menstrual, or luteal phase, when there is increased progesterone production.  Estrogen, highest just before ovulation in the follicular phase, has been found to be an appetite suppressant.

In a recent conversation, Klump told me that binge eating during the pre-menstrual phase and appetite suppression during the follicular phase is also found in non-human animals. Animals show the same pattern of binge eating during the pre-menstrual phase, and appetite suppression during the follicular phase. So, in addition to cultural factors, biology clearly contributes to female eating behavior.

Klump also found that during the pre-menstrual phase, when progesterone production is at its highest, women were less satisfied with their bodies. How do hormones affect body (dis)satisfaction? Klump hypothesizes that progesterone leads to binge eating, which then triggers body dissatisfaction. In addition, progesterone contributes to pre-menstrual anxiety, a state that can make women feel more critical of their bodies.

What are the implications of this research for the treatment of eating disorders? Just as women with mood disorders are more prone to an increase in symptoms during the pre-menstrual phase, women who express anxiety and depression through disordered eating, particularly binge eating, would be expected to show an increase in symptoms during the pre-menstrual phase. This is exactly what Klump’s research found!

Jean Petrucelli, Ph.D., Director of the Eating Disorders, Compulsions and Addictions Service at the William Alanson White Institute emphasizes the importance of creative treatment strategies.  She asserts that eating disorder symptoms are not something to simply eradicate, but rather part of a story about the patient’s relational experience with caretakers. She stresses the importance of helping patients become aware of all that contributes to their disordered eating.

Dr. Petrucelli often recommends patients keep a food journal as a vehicle for examining symptoms. The journal is a record of eating times, locations, and food choices, as well as associated feelings and eating disorder “behaviors”.  She may suggest patients email a report of their weekly food intake and other ingested substances (alcohol, laxatives, diuretics, drugs, etc.) prior to meeting with her.  Pictures of plates of food may also be included when portion sizes are in question. Active documentation helps alert the patient to feelings and experiences that trigger disordered eating.

Given the new research findings implicating sex hormones in eating behavior, it’s likely useful to expand the journal to include notes about the timing of menstrual cycle phases.

In recognition of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, let’s make an effort to become aware of the effect of sex hormones and the menstrual cycle on appetite and body image.

Rage, Guns, Drugs and Therapy: the Jean Harris Murder Case

The fact that she aimed the gun at Tarnower and not herself made her case unique
Published on January 14, 2013 by The Contemporary Psychoanalysis Group in Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action
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The Jean Harris story was a compelling erotic fantasy: seduction, humiliation, abandonment and retribution.  It captured our attention in 1980, but if you are under 50 you may not know much of the private school headmistress who killed her philandering lover, Herman Tarnower, the “Scarsdale Diet Doctor.”  Jean Harris died on December 23rd at age 89. (Headmistress, Jilted Love, Killer, Then a Force for Good in Jail; New York Times December 28, 2012).

What made her snap?  Was it an accident or murder?  Was she justified? Public debate raged. Harris evoked vastly different thoughts and feelings about women, love, fidelity and aggression. To Diana Trilling, the literary critic, Harris was a modern-day Anna Karenina, to Betty Friedan, the famous feminist, a pathetic masochist.

Jean Harris took the pistol out of her small purse and plugged Tarnower 4 times. Was it an accident, as she claimed?  Did he have it coming, as the female murderers sing in the “Chicago” musical number “The Cell-Block Tango”?

Unlike the “merry mistresses of mayhem” in “Chicago”, Mrs. Harris was a petite, lady-like, Smith-educated, 56-year old woman with no prior criminal record. A woman of wit and intelligence, she testified she went to her lover’s home with a gun, not to kill him, but to ask him to kill her. If he refused, she planned to kill herself. Tarnower, asleep in bed when she arrived, must have reacted inappropriately, because he ended up with 4 bullets in him.

Much of the debate that ensued over this case reflected the feminist challenge to theories about “normal” female development that stigmatized women during that period. Classical Freudian theory, still the prevailing authority in 1980 but since abandoned by contemporary psychoanalysts, postulated that passivity and masochism are part of normal female development.  The fact that a woman as “normal” as Harris aimed the gun at Tarnower rather than at herself made her case unique.

Ann Jones had just finished writing her seminal text on female murders, “Women Who Kill” when the Tarnower murder occurred. Jones found the case to be so note-worthy that she added a new chapter to her book.

Women perpetrate a very small percentage of the killings in this country—figures range from 7 to 15%.  Jones writes that “The so-called classic murder of jealous passion, like every other murder, is far more likely to be committed by a man who murders ‘his’ woman in a fit of possessiveness”. Women, on the other hand, are taught not to become angry about such things as infidelity. Instead, they often become depressed and self-destructive. Women like Harris, according to Jones, are programmed to commit suicide, not homicide.

At the same time, The “Battered Woman Syndrome” was being debated in the courts as a defense in cases where a woman killed her abusing partner.  Lenore Walker described this syndrome in her book “The Battered Woman” (1979). but Jean Harris didn’t fit that mold, since she had never been physically abused by Tarnower.

He had taken up with a younger woman, Lynn Tryforos, and the two were quite public about their affair. Harris testified at the trial that she discovered a birthday greeting from Tryforos to Tarnover in an advertisement on the front page of the New York Times. She commented to Tarnower, “Herman, why don’t you use the Goodyear blimp next time? I think it’s available.”

In a letter Harris sent Tarnower the day of the murder, she revealed her deeply wounded self-image and recounted that “to be jeered at and called ‘old and pathetic’ made me seriously consider borrowing $5000 and telling a doctor to make me young again—anything but make me not feel like discarded trash.”

Humiliation, abandonment, methamphetamine and barbiturates (prescribed by Tarnower), exhaustion and possibly menopausal hormones—were too much for a woman like Harris, who was already unable to express anger. She kept it to herself, until she exploded in rage. And then there was the gun.

Harris was undoubtedly confused, distraught and furious as she got into the car that day to drive to Tarnower’s house. Her sense of reality  shaken, she wasn’t clear whether she intended to kill him, herself or just threaten him. If she hadn’t had a gun, there would have been a scene, maybe even a physical fight, but he would not have died and she would not have gone to prison for half of the rest of her life.

Harris had purchased the gun two years prior for “self-protection.”  That aspect of the case, the fact that she bought a gun in the first place, was ignored in the public debate. A single comment made by Harris’s son, James, who was 27 years old and a marine lieutenant at the time, made reference to the weapon. At the bail hearing he commented to a New York Times photographer, “This is a very sad thing—perhaps your paper should write a good story on gun control ”(Gun Used in Slaying of Doctor is Tie to Suspect, New York Times, March 12, 1980).

Or perhaps the paper should have written a good story about psychotherapy.  Harris had never sought psychotherapy or psychiatric medication, according to her biographer, Shana Alexander (Very Much a Lady, 1983) relying instead on Tarnower’s amphetamine and barbiturate prescriptions.  There is no question that therapy, perhaps with appropriate medication, would have helped her to cope with her distress and likely find a way out of it.

Repressed anger is a problem therapists encounter frequently in practice. I find it particularly prevalent among female patients anxious about expressing anger directly towards a loved one for fear of losing the relationship. If untreated, repressed anger may become self-directed rage and can take the form of eating disorders, physical symptoms, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Treatment focuses on helping the patient first to become aware of angry thoughts and then to start to express them. As the patient becomes more aware of and comfortable with anger, the physical symptoms and depression start to lift.

In Harris’ case, the repressed anger was complicated by her intense dependency on Tarnower. She appears to have been drug addicted and was dependent on him both emotionally and for drugs, calling him her “life-line”.  Although not physically abused by Tarnower, the cycle of humiliation and reconciliation, amplified by drug dependency, may have rendered her helpless to leave. Had she sought psychotherapy, it could have helped disentangle her from this abusive relationship.

In 1980 I was a young woman and Harris symbolized a different way for women to express rage—take it out on the person who humiliated you! But Harris was not a fantasy or a symbol. She was a woman pushed to the edge, deeply remorseful afterward; she killed her lover and companion of 14 years and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Today, I wonder what might have been different if the form of self-protection she had opted for had been psychotherapy rather than a gun.

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