The Hidden Side of the Moon. Beyond the Feminine


 This paper is a brief excursion into the history of the issues of sexual difference and the development of psychoanalytic concepts of feminine.  It is concerned with the evolution of Freud’s views on the nature of masculine and feminine in psychoanalytic theory; the differences of an Oedipus stage for boys and girls as well as the contribution of other analysts to the consideration of these concepts. In particular, it is referred to the debate between Vienna and London Psychoanalytic Societies on the female issues, the concept of femininity phase introduced by M. Klein, the transformation of views on female issues taking into consideration Lacan’s contribution to the understanding of femininity. We also represent a brief excursus into social contexts for understanding of sexuality and feminine over the course of history.

This report was presented at the symposium “The Feminine. Sexuality and Sexual Difference”, June 1, 2013.

This short paper is a brief excursion into the history of the issues of sexual difference and the development of psychoanalytic concepts of feminine.

The questions of sexual difference as well as the psychoanalytic concept of femininity and the feminine are particularly important for psychoanalysis from the moment of its inception. Sexual differences were fundamental points for Sigmund Freud when creating psychoanalytic theory. In his work “The dissolution of the Oedipus complex” he writes that “Anatomy is Destiny” [4]. By this he meant that the differences in structure between the male and the female body had a crucial importance for the child’s psychic development.

In his 33rd lecture entitled “Femininity” Freud, wanting to show the impossibility of discovering the riddle of the feminine, uses Heine’s quatrain from the poem “The North Sea”. He says: “throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of the nature of femininity:


Heads in strange hieroglyphic bonnets,

Heads in turbans, and barret-caps black,

Heads in perukes, and a thousand other

Plagued and perspiring heads of mortals…” [3]


This passage contains an allusion on more global issues; this is because Heine in his poem wonders:


“…what is Man? And what’s his meaning?

Where does he come from? Where is he going?

Who dwells up there among the golden stars?”


For Freud, indeed, discovering the riddle of the feminine represents an opportunity to find answers to more global issues. After all, it is woman who is involved in the biggest mystery – the mystery of a birth.   

Freud’s views on the nature of the masculine and the feminine in the process of development of psychoanalytic theory gradually evolved from the idea that the original development of children of both sexes is the same until the phallic stage to the discovery, towards the end of his life, of a specific female aspect of a little girl’s development that cannot be understood by a male analyst.

As a whole, Freud’s account of sexual difference is based on the idea that there are certain psychical characteristics that can be called “masculine” and “feminine”, and that they differ from each other significantly. However, Freud does not give any definition for the terms “masculine” and “feminine”, arguing that they are foundational concepts that can be used but not elucidated by psychoanalytic theory.

These two aspects, “masculine” and “feminine”, do not function symmetrically. Masculinity is determined by Freud as a paradigm. He affirms that there is only one libido, which is masculine, and that the psychical development of the girl is at first identical to that of the boy, and only diverges at a later moment. Femininity is therefore that which diverges from the masculine paradigm, and Freud regards it as a mysterious, unexplored region, a “dark continent”, a “terra incognita”.

The “riddle of the nature of femininity” comes to preoccupy Freud in his later writings, leading him to ask the famous question “What does a woman want?” For Freud, masculinity is a self-evident matter of fact, femininity a zone of mystery. “psychoanalysis does not try to describe what a woman is,” Freud says, “that would be a task it could scarcely perform – but sets about enquiring how she comes into being, how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition” [3].

It is commonly known that Freud considered the Oedipus complex a defining point in the development of boys and girls. The differences in the development of the subjects of both sexes consist, first of all, in the correlation between the Oedipus and castration complexes. In the case of the girl the castration complex precedes and prepares the Oedipus complex. In the case of the boy, vice versa, the castration complex is a result of the Oedipus complex. There is a fundamental difference for both sexes in the correlation between the Oedipus and castration complexes. While the boy’s Oedipus complex is killed as a result of the castration complex, the girl’s Oedipus complex becomes possible and appears because of the castration complex.  This contrast is explained by the fact that the castration complex always takes its effect in the spirit of its content, delaying and limiting masculinity and promoting the development of femininity. Freud considered the differences in sexual development between men and women at this stage a consequence of the anatomic differences in the genitalia and of the related psychic situation. These differences correspond to that between executed castration and threatened castration. In the course of his reflections Freud speaks about the beginning of femininity only after a girl carries out, at least partially, two tasks: first a change in her main erogenous zone (the transition from clitoris to vagina), and second the change of love object (the transition from the love for a mother to the love for a father). Gradually, Freud comes to the conclusion that it is not so much the period of autoerotism that is decisive, but rather the acquisition of sex differences in the phallic phase of psychosexual development. The world of differences, the world as such, is that symbolic font the subject is born from, resulting from its anatomic structure and ideas of the radical difference of the opposite sex. It is the difference that gives rise to feelings and creates subjectivity.

Upon discovering the presence of the male sex organ, a female child wants one too and this leads to penis envy. She blames her mother for its absence and subsequently desires to obtain it from her father. This desire is then transformed into the desire to have a baby from him. Thus, according to Freud, the figure of the father is central in the psychic economy of a little girl in the process of the development of the drives.  

However, describing Dora’s case, Freud comes to the conclusion that his male understanding of female desire in terms of a simple oedipal scheme is not always correct.  He says that the key to understanding the woman’s soul lies in her sexuality. This is what is impossible for men to understand. In his later works Freud expressed the hope that women psychoanalysts would manage to explain the mysteries of female sexuality.

In the 1920s women analysts began seriously developing the issue of the feminine. It was a time particularly marked by a growing interest in female psychology and in the issue of the psychosexual development of girls. At the time many discoveries were made, thanks to psychoanalysis and to a direct observation of young children.

After World War I female emancipation gathered momentum, women were mastering a growing number of professions, gaining more and more social rights and were more and more involved in all spheres of social, cultural and political life. This influenced the process of revising psychoanalytic views on female psychology. It is obvious that Freud’s views on female sexuality, on female psychology and on women have historical causes; they were determined by the social relations of the nineteenth century. At that time, in the public life of almost all European countries, women were regarded as inferior beings in the social, moral, economic and anatomic sense. But, despite this, even at the time it was impossible to completely neutralize their important social role. One of the most influential thinkers of Freud’s time, Karl Marx, wrote: “The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. In this natural species-relationship man’s relation to nature is immediately his relation to man, just as his relation to man is immediately his relation to nature – his own natural destination. In this relationship, therefore, is sensuously manifested, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which the human essence has become nature to man, or to which nature to him has become the human essence of man…” [8]

Thus, the relations between men and women are indicators of the cultural development of society; they determine the level of social intercourse and create the foundation for the political organization of society.

In the 1920s and 30s more and more female psychoanalysts contributed to the psychoanalytic concept of female development. These included Karen Horney, Janine Rivière, Helen Deutsch, Jeanne Lampl-De Groot, Melanie Klein, Marie Bonaparte, to mention but a few. The contribution of these and many other women to the development of psychoanalysis is considerable, but in this paper we shall examine only some of its particular aspects.

Karen Horney, for example, refuted Freud’s ideas that one half of the human race is discontent with its assigned sex. She believed that this conclusion was unsatisfactory in explaining the phenomenon of female narcissism and not in accordance with biological science [7]. In her theory she opposed girls’ penis envy to men’s childbearing envy, which she thought moved all cultural achievements and scientific discoveries made by men, because of their inability to get in touch with the greatest secrets in the universe – the birth of a new person.

Horney disagreed with Freud’s psychoanalytic points of views on female psychology, so strongly focused on men. In 1933 she boldly declared that she believed in Melanie Klein’s discovery of an aggressive relation, tinted with anger and revengefulness, of the child towards the innercontent of the mother.

In these years M. Klein introduced the concept of the femininity phase. She believed that human nature has a deep ambivalence towards the primary object (the mother) at a primitive level – towards her breast. This involves a deviation of the child’s interest from the primary object and transition to the next object. There is a step forward in the development – the father’s importance increases. It occurs in the early pre-Oedipal period and is typical in both sexes. Thus the aggression towards the mother directs the child towards the father. By accepting the “feminine setting” the child enters a femininity phase. Otherwise, the degree of ambivalence may become so high that there would be an inhibition to further development. This phase, M. Klein says, “has its basis on the anal-sadistic level and imparts to that level a new content, for faeces are now equated with the child that is longed for, and the desire to rob the mother now applies to the child as well as to faeces. Here we can discern two aims which merge  with one another. The one is directed by the desire for children, the intention being to appropriate them, while the other aim is motivated by jealousy of the future brothers and sisters whose appearance is expected, and by the wish to destroy them in the mother” [6].

According to M. Klein, the formation of femininity creates the content of girls’ anxiety in the difficult period when instincts drives develop, especially in the pre-genital phases. Thus the early development of girls is different from that of boys. These frightful anxieties become the basis of theirbelief in the possible damaging of their own bodies, later expressed in the classic form of penis envy. The question “what is inside her mother’s body” is also extremely important for the girl.  The interest in the mother’s maternal body is due to several factors. Here Klein proposes a theoretical postulation of innate knowledge about the presence of the father (his penis) inside the mother. The fantasies about father’s penis inside mother’s belly or mother’s breast give rise to extremely strong feelings of being rejected or deprived, as well as the feeling of anger for the child. These feelings are experienced as the relationship of hate and mutual infliction of damage.

The girl’s fantasies on the mutual destruction of the internal contents of bodies produce a particularly difficult relationship with the mother. As a result, the girl, as well as the boy, needs to keep this period of development beyond her memory. This is where the seeds of the adult woman’s anxiety concerning the attractiveness of her body, the loss of this attractiveness and the destructiveness of the ageing process lie. 

As for the development of femininity, M. Klein asserted the primary importance of the relationship with the mother.  This led Freud to say in one of his later papers: “Our insight into this early, pre-Oedipus, phase in girls comes to us as a surprise, like the discovery, in another field, of the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization behind the civilization of Greece” [2].

A great number of psychoanalysts of the time accused Freud of downplaying the girl’s familiarity with her inner internal space and with the ability of her body to reproduce life, i.e. of the “denial of vagina”.  

The new discoveries of aspects of female development and in female psychology in the 1930s led to the “female issue” becoming the epicenter of disagreement among the psychoanalysts of the Vienna and London Psychoanalytic Societies. It is significant that Ernest Jones (who was at that time the President of the International Psychoanalytic Association), while examining the aggravation of differences and the danger of a split, chose female sexuality as a central theme. In 1935 he gave a lecture “On new understanding of female psychology” at the meeting of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. It was the beginning of an exchange of lectures between Vienna and London. This exchange of theoretical and practical experience was necessary to prevent a split in connection with differences of opinion between the two leading centers of psychoanalysis of the time.

By the end of his life, in his work “Analysis Terminable and Interminable,” Freud comes to the idea that “the rejection of the feminine” by both sexes is an insurmountable obstacle in psychoanalytic work, that “bare rock” beyond which it is impossible to get on with analysis.

Generalizing the contribution of women-psychoanalysts to the theory of female development, we can stress some points of disagreement with Freud’s ideas:

-        the female sex is not castrated. A woman is an integral being but not an imperfect man, therefore female narcissism is phallic;

-         female passivity can be regarded as the female acceptance that allows to fulfill the specific female erotic maternal functions;

-         so-called “female masochism,” as distinct from perversion, does not only allow to integrate pain and pleasure, thereby promoting enjoyment, but also provides reproduction.

The opposition of maternal and erotic in the woman was another issue in regard to which there was a heated debate among representatives of the various psychoanalytic schools.

In 1958 Jacques Lacan begins to study the questions of femininity in a paper entitled “Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality”. In it he notes the impasses that had beset psychoanalytic discussions on the psychosexual development of girls and on female sexuality. Lacan argues that woman is the Other for both men and women.

Following Freud’s idea that “there is no symbolization of the female sex as such,” since there is no female equivalent to the phallus, he underlines that this symbolic dissymmetry forces the girl to take the same route as the boy, through the Oedipus complex, in other words to identify with the father.  However, this is a far more difficult route, since she is required to take the image of the body of the other sex as the basis for her identification.

Lacan’s most important contributions to the understanding of femininity come late on in his work. In the seminar of 1972 Lacan introduces the concept of the feminine. In his opinion woman is marked by a lack. Lacan speaks of the feminine as “not-all” (pas-toute), unlike the masculine, which is a universal function founded upon the phallic exception (castration), the woman is non-universal. In this case Lacan emphasizes the definite article ‘La’ whenever it precedes the noun “woman” by striking it through. The question is not that there is no such being as a woman, but that she cannot be a universal generalizing category.  The definition of this category is impossible. It will never be complete. The woman remains incomplete because of her lack. She is not-all. She is the Other for the masculine. Such uncertainty brings feminine together with the true. After all, both truth and woman are beyond logic and can never be completely comprehended since they cannot become absolute and complete. The desire of a man is focused on truth and the feminine.

Lacan advances the concept of feminine jouissance that goes “beyond the phallus”; this jouissance is “of the order of the infinite” like mystical ecstasy. Women may experience this “supplementary jouissance”, but they know nothing about it. Jouissance is opposite to pleasure. Freud’s pleasure principle – unpleasure functions as a limit to enjoyment since this principle is intended to keep enjoyment at the lowest level.  The subject constantly attempts to transgress the borders imposed by this principle, to go beyond this principle. The result is not more pleasure, but pain. This painful pleasure is what Lacan calls “jouissance”.  The jouissance that draws the path towards death. The persistent intention to go beyond the pleasure principle points directly to the death drive and leads out of the law of the phallus, becoming the supplementary jouissance of the woman. There is no other jouissance other than the supplementary. According to Lacan, the answer to Freud’s question “What does a woman want?” is: “Woman wants “More and more!”.

Considering the etymology of the words, it is interesting to note that in Russian we find a direct link with Freud’s ideas about the pleasure principle.  The word «удовольствие» (enjoyment) is composed of two Old Slavic roots «volya» (воля) (will) and «ud» (уд). «Ud» is an archaism meaning ‘male genital organ’. That is to say that the word “enjoyment” means “Ud’s will”, in other words, the law of the phallus is laid in the Russian word “enjoyment”.

We shall not give a further description of Lacan’s other more radical views on issues regarding the feminine and sexual relationships, because in such a brief review it would be impossible to view all sides of the theory of concepts we are interested in, or to mention all the authors who have developed this issue in psychoanalysis.

However, we must mention the one point all psychoanalysts who have developed the theoretical aspects of sexual difference agree on: the fact that the anatomically associated sexual differences have far-reaching consequences in the mental life of the subject and lead to insuperable contradictions between the male and the female halves of humanity.

Perhaps, in order to realize what woman is, as Freud recommends, we should turn to poets, since “storytellers are valuable allies, and their testimony is to be rated high, for they usually know many things between heaven and earth that our academic wisdom does not even dream of” [1]. Perhaps, the cultural and social aspects will help us understand the nature of the feminine more deeply.

As already mentioned relations among men and women define the social order, create the foundations for any state system and at the same time demonstrate the universal psychic mechanisms common to all, as well as the primal phantasies reflected in the actual myths of every epoch.

  According to Freud, the primal phantasies organize imagination regardless of the subject’s personal experience. Their universalism stems from the fact that they are a phylogenetically transmitted heritage. Freud considered that there are only four basic primal phantasies: the primal scene, castration, seduction and reversion into the womb.

What myths of the last several thousand years formed the consciousness of Europeans? Certainly, first of all, the Biblical story of the creation, the creation of Man, the origin of Woman and the fall of man. These myths are the basis of two major world religions: Judaism and Christianity. In the canonical text of the Old Testament we read the story of how God created Adam, ensouled him, and later, to content Adam, bored with his loneliness, God created woman from Adam’s rib and commanded her to help her husband and obey him in all things. Does this not remind us of Karen Horney’s theory of male child-bearing envy?

By reading the apocryphal sources, however, we find out that Eve was not the first woman. Lilith was. God created her and Adam out of clay and enlivened them with his breath. Hence she was equal to Adam. She is known as “the one who engendered Adam’s soul,” for he had no soul until then. Lilith was the first who tasted the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and found out that “desire is sweet”. Possessing this knowledge, she began to argue with Adam as she didn’t want to lie underneath during coitus. Once, while quarreling with Adam, Lilith commits a sin: she says God’s name. Having said “Shem-ha-Mephorash” (God’s secret name) Lilith soared up into the air and flew away from Adam. Then Adam complained to God of his runaway wife and petitioned God to have her back. God sent after her three angels known as Senoi, Sansenoi, and Sammangelof. They found Lilith by the Red Sea, but she categorically refused to return to her husband. Then God took Lilith’s body away, leaving only her spirit and God created a new wife for Adam. Deprived of her body, Lilith did not abandon her carnal desires and visited men at night to drink their “sap”. Having borrowed this legend, Christians imagined Lilith as “the one who had said “No” and started to describe her as a witch, a Queen of the Black Moon, a leader of devils or a girlfriend of the demon Samael. In some medieval Catholic engravings Lilith was depicted with a vagina on her forehead.

          We find Lilith appearing at the ball in Goethe’s “Faust”:


Who is that, there?



Note that madam,

That’s Lilith.





First wife to Adam.

Pay attention to her lovely hair,

The only adornment she need wear.

When she traps a young man in her snare,

She won’t soon let him from her care» [5].


These ancient myths show us metaphorically the history of the development of relations between man and woman, the developmental history of civilization. Today female emancipation seems to represent the return of the repressed, the return of Lilith and the restoration of her legal rights.

Another important Mediterranean myth is the birth of Aphrodite, the divine apotheosis of femininity. Cruel Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus. Cronus threw into the depth of the sea the reproductive organ of his father, and beauteous Aphrodite – the goddess of love and beauty – came into existence out of the sea-foam and this organ. Here we can see the primal phantom of castration which embodies the ideas of the phallicity of the wanted female body. Though woman is deprived of visible genitals, her body is in itself phallic.

Surprisingly, today Aphrodite seems to be the living female personification: she is immortal; therefore she does not grow old; she has a great number of sexual partners and takes an active part in politics and relationships.

Rapidly changing modernity makes humanity create new myths. What are these new myths in cardinally changed social conditions?

In the post-Soviet cultural discursive space there is a writer who is rightfully considered to be the founder of new mythology, Victor Pelevin. Many consider his works to be the symbols of our controversial epoch, and he himself is considered to be its chronicler and interpreter.

In Pelevin’s futuristic  novel “S.N.U.F.F.”  Sura is a woman of the future, i.e. a surrogate woman, a high-tech machine, a computer, created upon the individual project. She is complicated, criminally beautiful and unique. She combines a perfect body, a high spirituality, a high intelligence connected to all world intellectual resources and the highest level of temptation. Sura looks like a living woman, but she does not grow old and remains young for all time. The main character in the novel, Domilola Karpov, manually adjusts settings for his expensive Sura Kaya to the highest level: spirituality, temptation and abysmal bitchery. These very aspects in the process of their interaction produce the highest level of the feminine. This combination creates the incredibly desirable woman for the protagonist. And herewith he only has a possibility to control her movements and memory, making their union (despite the constant contradictions and quarrels between them), supposedly completely safe. Kaya is always controlled by Domilola and she cannot leave him. But at the end of the novel Sura Kaya runs away and becomes, like Lilith, the leader of rebellious Orcs. Addressing his despair to God, Manitou, the main character exclaims: “How can he love us if even our own devices for voluptuousness made in our image and likeness run away from us? What’s his business with the world where only a rubber doll is capable of unconditional love?”[9] Thus, humanity’s hope for a techno revolution which might smooth over the eternal differences between the sexes does not live up to itsexpectations. And even the surrogate woman remains inconceivable and elusive for man.






Freud S.:

-       (1907) Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva, S.E., 9, pp. 3-95

-        (1916-17) Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. 1916-1917, S.E., pp. 15-16.

-        (1924d) The Dissolution Of The Oedipus Complex, S.E., 19, 173-183.

-      (1931b) Female Sexuality, S.E., 21, pp. 223-243


Goethe J. W. (1998) Faust (USA: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition)


Hinshelwood R. D. (1998) A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought (London: Free Association Books; updated edition)


Horney K. (1993) Feminine Psychology (USA: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition)


Marx K. (2013) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844(New York: Start Publishing LLC)


Pelevin V. (2013) S.N.U.F.F. (Moscow: EKSMO)



Published by I.S.A.P. - ISSN 2284-1059