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The Psychodynamic Explanation for Gender Differences
What does the Psychodynamic Approach say about Gender Differences?
You may be familiar, or at least have heard of, the famous psychodynamic theorist Sigmund Freud. Maybe even the branch of psychology he invented: The Psychodynamic Approach.
Quite shockingly to some, Freud's theories and ideas have been applied to try to explain the mysteries behind gender differences.
The chief questions: 1. Why do they exist? 2. How do they develop?
[Readers should be warned that the Psychodynamic Approach revolves around the idea that children have sexual desires for their parents. This may be disturbing for the easily offended]
The psychodynamic approach however is not the only branch of psychology with its convincing ideas about gender differences, see also:
Key Principles of the Psychodynamic Approach About Gender Differences
- The unconscious mind results in our gender differences.
- A healthy person will have already identified his gender by the age of five.
- Subconscious conflicts of sexual desire for the parent of our opposite sex results in a lot of gender differences.
Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory
Freud's theory states that we all went through, are going through, or should have gone through five important psychosexual developmental stages of our lives - these stages define men and women and even our personalities.
It is possible to get stuck at each stage and stay there into our adulthood and this can explain dysfunctional personalities: see here for more.
Freud's Five Stages of Psychosexual Development and Gender Differences
Stages one (oral) and two (anal)
These are gender ambiguous - children in these stages have not yet begun to identify as any gender, they merely explore different ways of receiving pleasure from their mouths and anuses. These stages last up until three years of age.
Stage Three (Phallic)
Children begin forming ideas of what it means to be masculine and feminine and which of those they should be. They explore their own genitalia and at the same time observe, compare and realise the differences between theirs and others. This stage lasts up until the age of 6.
It is at this point that boys begin to form sexual desires for their mothers and girls for their fathers.
The Oedipus Complex and Gender Differences
The Oedipus complex is something that Freud theorised about. It states that young boys in the phallic stage develop a sexual lust for their mothers and subsequently feel very threatened by their fathers.
This causes them to become jealous of their fathers to the point that they wish their fathers died. Consequently, the boys become afraid of their fathers and become worried that their fathers will find out about the lustful desires they have. Freud states that the boys develop something known as "castration anxiety" in which the boys worry that their father will remove their penises as a punishment for their inappropriate desires.
Freud says that the boys fear their father because he has a larger penis, the boys also think that fathers have castrated their mothers because they do not have penises - making the threat of castration real and adding to the anxiety.
The result of all of this is that boys will try and behave like their fathers to reduce the risk of castration. They also want to be more like their fathers because they are the ones who have their mothers in the way that they want them - sexually.
The Electra Complex and Gender Differences
The Electra complex is the proposed counterpart to the Oedipus complex: it is the idea that little girls in the phallic stage have sexual desires for their fathers.
In addition the girls, realising that they do not have a penis, believe that they have already been castrated and feel cheated - blaming their mothers and forming a hatred for them.
Girls develop something known to Freud as 'penis envy' in which they long for a penis like they see males have. They soon realise that they will not get a penis and instead fill this desire with the desire for a baby, which they want their fathers to provide. This is where the sexual desire for their father arises from.
Girls, although hating their mothers, fear the loss of their mother's love and are afraid that they will lose it if it comes to light that they desire their fathers. Therefore, girls like boys, identify with their mothers and behave like they do in order to appease their mothers and become more attractive to their fathers.
Freud's Evidence for his Oedipus and Electra Complexes
Freud only really provides one piece of evidence for his theory and it is based on only one child. Further to that, there are many criticisms for this sole experiment! For this reason, I urge readers not to take Freud's views too seriously.
Freud's Famous Case study with Little Hans (1909)
- Little Hans was a boy aged five and so, according to Freud, in the phallic stage of his psychosexual development.
- He had a phobia of horses.
- Freud concluded from details given to him by the boy's father that:
- Because the boy was more afraid of: large white horses, horses with black around the mouth and horses with black blinkers on, the boy was afraid of his father.
- The black blinkers represented the father's glasses, the black mouth his beard, and the size and white colour his father's white skin and relative size.
- The boy was also afraid of horses falling down and this, according to Freud, represented the boys' guilt for wanting his father to drop dead.
What do you think?
How would you describe the psychodynamic explanation for gender differences?
The Ideas of other Approaches concerning Gender Differences
- The Biological Explanation for Gender Differences
The biological approach's explanation for why men and women are different. Evidence for the biological approach and its views on gender development. Key studies and research and their conclusions about gender development.
- The Social Learning Theory Explanation for Gender Differences
A summary of the social learning theory explanation for gender differences. Outlines the key principles of the social learning theory regarding this matter.
- The Cognitive Approach Explanation for Gender Differences
The views and studies conducted within the cognitive branch of psychology that relate to gender differences.
- Are there Known Gender Differences?
Consider Other Psychological Approaches
- What is the Behaviourist Approach?
An explanation of what the behaviourist approach is as well as the key psychologists and findings of behaviourism; with videos and explanations.
- What is the Biological Approach?
An outline of what the biological approach is and the main evidences and cases supporting it.
- What is the Cognitive Approach?
An explanation of what the cognitive approach, the common theories, and the strengths and weaknesses of this new approach.
- What is the Humanistic Approach?
A summary of the key points and ideas of the Humanistic Approach in psychology.
- What is the Psychodynamic Approach?
A summary of the key points in the psychodynamic approach or psychodynamic theory of psychology.
- What is the Social Learning Approach?
A summary of the Social Learning Approach in psychology.