Chodorow, Nancy

Chodorow, Nancy

Bio: (1944-) American sociologist and gender theorist. Nancy Chodorow taught sociology and psychiatry at several Universities including the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Medical School. She combined sociology, anthropology, and psychoanalysis in her approach to the study of gender and sexuality. In her book The Reproduction of Mothering (1978) she studies strategies created to maintain and strengthen existing social hierarchies. She states that gender roles and norms are not adopted by imitation or coercion, but are a consequence of the early relationship between a mother and a child (especially regarding attachment and separation). Both sexes identify with the mother after birth, but that relationship changes later.

Likewise, mothers begin, over time, to treat children of different genders differently. Girls build their identity by maintaining a connection with their mothers, while boys build a sense of identity by separating from their mothers. Boys build an identity by rejecting and suppressing the feminine side and by belittling femininity in women. Maintaining masculinity requires constant self-examination and struggle with oneself, which leads to its fragility. Femininity is more stable, but it involves the self-sabotage of women. Chodorow believes that there is a universal female self that transcends racial and class differences. Women's relationships within the family are relational institutions that include emotional and psychological interpersonal relationships, that serve to meet the needs of the domestic sphere. Women are defined, above all, through particular and affective relations in the family, while the definition of a man's gender role is based, first of all, on his role within the sphere of economic production.

Chodorow believes that the task of postmodern feminism should be to deal with diversity and abandon the great narratives of gender and sexuality. Sexuality, like gender identification, is complex and individual, full of conflicts, and represents a compromise between binary alternatives: heterosexuality-homosexuality, masculinity-femininity. In practice, sexuality is much more complicated than these binary alternatives and implies a unique combination of what creates excitement or pleasure, a specific gender identity, and specific sexual preferences and fantasies.

Main works

The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (1978);

Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989);

Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond (1994);

The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture (1999);

Individualizing Gender and Sexuality (2012);

The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye (2019).

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