The Cradle of Sexual Politics

  • Louise Armstrong
Part of the Women in Context: Development and Stresses book series (WICO)


Freud was ambivalent about his discovery, reported in Studies of Hysteria in 1896, both that the sexual abuse of female children was more frequent than suspected and that it endangered the psychological health of the victim in later years. His own ambivalence plus the outraged criticism of his colleagues, in a culture where fathers could do no wrong, forced his continued questioning of his “seduction theory” and led to his discovery of infantile sexual fantasies (including his own) and the oedipal period in psychosexual development. The recognition of the power of fantasies and the regularity of “sexual” fantasies about the parents led to the theory that the origin of the neurosis was to be found in the repression of the conflicting desires and fears of that period. The oedipal father was vindicated, and professional enthusiasm delved ever deeper into the no-longer-innocent psyche of the child. While Freud, in a 1924 footnote to his original paper, made clear that he still believed that actual sexual abuse did take place and did cause later difficulties, his followers’ pursuit of fantasies ignored the impulse-ridden father and left the victimized child unacknowledged and unprotected. Fantasies play a powerful role in psychological health and illness. However, to believe that incest is limited to fantasy is to be as provincial as those who believe that only “facts” count. If repressed incestuous fantasies were the cause of hysteria, one would expect a plethora of male hysterics, since testosterone gives such urgency and intensity to male sexuality. If sexual abuse of girls is more common than expected, then why has hysteria almost disappeared—or is the contemporary woman’s common complaint of arousal or orgasmic difficulty the hysteria of our time? Should we suspect early sexual abuse in every case of such complaints? After reading these papers, I believe that we should have that suspicion more regularly than we have in the past. Fantasies (i.e., the mental consequences of these events) may make the difference in degree and style of later neurotic difficulties.


Sexual Abuse Child Abuse Child Sexual Abuse Physical Child Abuse Child Molestation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Armstrong
    • 1
  1. 1.National Women’s Health NetworkUSA

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