Women and men share a cultural history, retold in a multitude of ways including literature, politics, myth, and religious text, which define women as beings whose fertility and sexuality are controlled by men through their legislative, economic and religious power. Women produce heirs who inherit property. Women’s potential infidelity introduces the possibility of property passing to persons who are not biologically related. Female sexuality has historically been viewed as the property of male relatives and its exploitation has become an avenue for dishonoring men defeated in battle. Men and women are to this day steeped in sociopolitical forces that inevitably infiltrate their inner lives. Muriel Dimen (2011) writes: “…it made sense to consider psychoanalysis’ conventional subject—interior life—as steeped in sociopolitical forces, that psychic life is made equally of inner and outer worlds…” (With Culture in Mind, p.3) Dimen goes on to state that “Culture saturates subjective experience. Indeed, it is the business of psychoanalytic practice to document this approach to treatment.” The following clinical vignettes illustrate, I believe, the powerful scripts that shape women’s and men’s views of female sexuality and reproductive autonomy.
The following excerpt from a clinical treatment illustrates the ways in which our culturally prescribed views of women infiltrate our individual lives in ways that are very difficult to eradicate. It involves a man who entered treatment after breaking up with a woman for whom he cared deeply. The break-up involved in part the fact that she was in a higher socio-economic class and held ambitions for him that he could not meet. The patient whom I shall call Charlie began treatment in his earl y fifties. He had been married twice previously and had a daughter who he was trying to help. She had five children and no partner. Charlie also had a chronic inherited medical condition that required careful and frequent monitoring. Though he followed protocol he was in denial about the serious nature of his illness and pushed himself physically beyond realistic limits.
It took a while but we finally got to the driving issue that had tormented Charlie his whole life. We’ll talk about that next week and grapple with the question of what Charlie REALLY felt about women.