Madonna–whore complex

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In psychoanalytic literature, a Madonna–whore complex is the inability to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving relationship.[1] First identified by Sigmund Freud, under the rubric of psychic impotence,[2] this psychological complex is said to develop in men who see women as either saintly Madonnas or debased prostitutes. Men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna).[3] Freud wrote: "Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love."[4] Clinical psychologist Uwe Hartmann, writing in 2009, stated that the complex "is still highly prevalent in today's patients".[3]

The term is also used popularly, if sometimes with subtly different meanings.

Causes[edit]

Freud argued that the Madonna–whore complex was caused by a split between the affectionate and the sexual currents in male desire.[5] Oedipal and castration anxiety fears prohibit the affection felt for past incestuous objects from being attached to women who are sensually desired: "The whole sphere of love in such persons remains divided in the two directions personified in art as sacred and profane (or animal) love".[5] In order to minimize anxiety, the man categorizes women into two groups: women he can admire and women he finds sexually attractive. Whereas the man loves women in the former category, he despises and devalues the latter group.[6] Psychoanalyst Richard Tuch suggests that Freud offered at least one alternative explanation for the Madonna–whore complex:

This earlier theory is based not on oedipal-based castration anxiety but on man's primary hatred of women, stimulated by the child's sense that he had been made to experience intolerable frustration and/or narcissistic injury at the hands of his mother. According to this theory, in adulthood the boy-turned-man seeks to avenge these mistreatments through sadistic attacks on women who are stand-ins for mother.[6]

It is possible that such a split may be exacerbated when the sufferer is raised by a cold but overprotective mother[7] – a lack of emotional nurturing paradoxically strengthening an incestuous tie.[8] Such a man will often court someone with maternal qualities, hoping to fulfill a need for maternal intimacy unmet in childhood, only for a return of the repressed feelings surrounding the earlier relationship to prevent sexual satisfaction in the new.[5]

Another theory claims that the Madonna–whore complex derives from the representations of women as either madonnas or whores in mythology and Judeo-Christian theology rather than developmental disabilities of individual men.[9]

Sexual politics[edit]

Naomi Wolf considered that the sexual revolution had paradoxically intensified the importance of the virgin–whore split, leaving women to contend with the worst aspects of both images.[10] Others consider that both men and women find integrating sensuality and an ideal femininity difficult to do within the same relationship.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Alfred Hitchcock used the Madonna–whore dichotomy as an important mode of representing women.[12] In Vertigo (1958), for example, Kim Novak portrays two women that the hero cannot reconcile: a virtuous, blonde, sophisticated, sexually repressed "madonna" and a dark-haired, single, sensual "fallen woman".[13]
  • The Martin Scorsese films, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, feature sexually obsessed protagonists, both played by Robert De Niro, who exhibit the Madonna–whore complex with the women they interact with.
  • In American Horror Story: Asylum, set in a mental asylum during the 1960s, a time when the field of psychoanalysis was in chaos, the repressed character Dr. Arthur Arden, as portrayed by James Cromwell, is fixated on a seemingly innocent and virtuous nun. When she later sexually propositions him, he bitterly defaces and then destroys a statue of the Virgin Mary (a.k.a. the Madonna), screaming "Whore!" at it accusingly. Earlier in the series, Arden had shown to subscribe to Freudian theory regarding feminine sexuality.
  • Pamela Thurschwell highlighted "the range of Dylan's women, which may often begin with a fine line in madonnas and whores but which often go on to undercut each other in spectacular reversals".[14]
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, women are strictly categorised and forced to wear a uniform of a specified colour, representative of their status as "Madonna" or "whore". The handmaids, who are disrespected and violated continually, are made to wear red, which is associated with sex and fertility; the protagonist, a Handmaid named June, is objectified and abused by Fred. In contrast, the wives wear blue which is reminiscent of the virgin Mary; Serena, Fred's wife, doesn't get the attention she wants from her husband.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kaplan, Helen Singer (1988). "Intimacy disorders and sexual panic states". Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 14 (1): 3&ndash, 12. doi:10.1080/00926238808403902.
  2. ^ W. M. Bernstein, A Basic Theory of Neuropsychoanalysis (2011) p. 106
  3. ^ a b Hartmann, Uwe (2009). "Sigmund Freud and His Impact on Our Understanding of Male Sexual Dysfunction". The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 6 (8): 2332&ndash, 2339. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01332.x. PMID 19493285.
  4. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1912). "Über die allgemeinste Erniedrigung des Liebeslebens" [The most prevalent form of degradation in erotic life]. Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytische und Psychopathologische Forschungen. 4: 40&ndash, 50.
  5. ^ a b c Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 251
  6. ^ a b Tuch, Richard (2010). "Murder on the Mind: Tyrannical Power and Other Points along the Perverse Spectrum". The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 91 (1): 141-162. doi:10.1111/j.1745-8315.2009.00220.x.
  7. ^ P. A Sacco, Madonna Complex (2011) p. 48
  8. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism (1993) p. 99
  9. ^ Feinman, Clarice. Women in the criminal justice system. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994, pp. 3–4, ISBN 978-0-275-94486-5.
  10. ^ Naomi Wolf, Promiscuities (1997) p. 5 and p. 131
  11. ^ Robert Bly/Marion Woodman, The Maiden King (1999) p. 203
  12. ^ Gay, Volney P. (2001). Joy and the Objects of Psychoanalysis: Literature, Belief, and Neurosis. SUNY series in psychoanalysis and culture. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-7914-5099-4.
  13. ^ Gordon, Paul. Dial "M" for Mother: A Freudian Hitchcock. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008, pp. 89–91, ISBN 978-0-8386-4133-0.
  14. ^ Quoted in N. Corcoran ed., Do You, Mr Jones? (2002) p. 269
  15. ^ ScreenPrism (2018-05-10), The Handmaid's Tale is About the Present, retrieved 2018-06-12

Further reading[edit]

  • Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XI: "A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men", pp. 165–175; "On the Universal Tendency of Debasement in the Sphere of Love", pp. 179–190; London: Hogarth Press, 1957, ISBN 978-0-7012-0067-1.

External links[edit]



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