In attempting to fill in the areas of psychology that Freud left blank, Samuel Slipp considers the writings of those who came after Freud, who are concerned with very early childhood psychology and female identity as other than a form of deviance from a putative “normative” masculinity. The attempts by Nancy Chodorow and others to formulate a “psychology of the feminine” are presumably well-known.
Unfortunately, these efforts end up essentializing gender, since they deny, in their calculations, any variables that could influence childhood development apart from the basic binaries of “male and female”, which they take for granted. The polarities of physics are seemingly invoked in the idea that there exists a stronger repulsive force of the male child with his mother than in there is between the female child and hers. Separation is hard, apparently, if you are female. This is a categorical oversimplification, all the same. There are many other factors, apart from those relating to biology, sexuality or anatomy, that could lead to results other than those assumed. My experience was of having to get away from both parents, because they often fought, in front of me, about what perceptions they were causing me to have, and how I should be raised. I was extremely alert to the contradictions that came as reversals – the noisy resolutions that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. First it was not okay to sit on a wall marked private property, and then it was necessary to do so, so that I could have my photo taken.
I learned to escape my parents control whenever possible. Both were too full of tricks and told me little of what I needed to know. One may also want to escape from painful emotional contradictions, such as hearing what’s not allowed without a doubt, and then trying to understand how the idea of what’s permitted was turned on its end. Within two painful minutes,”expressly forbidden” had become “necessary and compulsory for you.”
Having very young parents who weren’t quite sure what “impression” they ought to create for me, who thought it important to build one, and who nonetheless vastly underestimated my capacity to watch and understand their vacillations, meant I sought freedom from control whenever possible. I became a loner, quite happily involved with my own games.
I never had any doubt that my parents deeply cared for me. Apart from these troubling moments, I felt very secure. I remember my father walking ten or eleven paced behind me shouting, “She’s getting away, she’s getting away!” Even if I succeeded in running away from them (which they literally tricked me into thinking I was doing on the beach at Beira, aged about 2), I felt sure I would end up somewhere interesting and safe.
Neither my biology nor my gender caused me to seek independence from my caregivers, ultimately. That was down to the positive and negative aspects in my upbringing. These feelings and support fired my quest for freedom at a very early age.