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Marie Bonaparte (c) The Freud Museum

So this is the Strong Sex: Early Women Psychoanalysts at the Freud Museum

19 December 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Though Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung might be synonymous with psychoanalysis, the achievements of women in the field are often overlooked; women are undoubtedly central to the popularisation of psychoanalysis as both medical practice and philosophical and critical discourse.

This exhibition seeks to rectify this by highlighting the achievements of six women crucial to the development of psychoanalysis. As well as Anna Freud, they also include Marie Bonaparte, Helene Deutsch, Sabina Spielrien, Emma Eckstein and Lou Andreas-Salome. Incorporating information panels, timelines and photography, as well as early editions of their published works, visitors are encouraged to re-think their preconceived ideas about the shaping and establishment of this important 20th century movement.  

Anna Freud is probably the most immediately well-known as the daughter of Sigmund Freud. She lived in the house in which the museum is installed, until her death in 1982. It was her wish that the house be enshrined as a museum dedicated to the work and life of herself and her father. In doing this, Freud ensured that the house remained central in psychoanalysis groups and societies. Freud developed psychoanalysis for children, publishing many works on the subject, and establishing the Hampstead Centre – later the Anna Freud Centre - in 1951. Her work established her as a pioneer, opening up the possibilities for studying the rich inner lives of children, as well as investigating the effects of historical events and subsequent traumas caused by the turbulent history of the mid 20th century.


Image credit: Anna Freud (c) The Freud Musuem

Though the exhibition is quick to expose the relationship between women psychoanalysts and their role in child psychoanalysis, it contends that this connection says more about society than it does about women in and of themselves. Women were not interested in children because of some innate biological reason, but because it was an area with which they were traditionally related; moreover, it also allowed women to forge ahead, discovering a new medical and critical practice, ones less likely to be of ‘interest’ to men.

These women were also determined to rethink established ideals about sex and pleasure. Many of the women were radical in their writing and campaigning for more recognition of the importance of female sexuality; for example, Helene Deutsch was the first woman to write a book about women and psychoanalysis, specifically about sexuality, in 1925. Moreover, close friend of both Sigmund and Anna Freud  and psychoanalyst in her own right, Lou Andreas Salomé is often touted as influencing Sigmund Freud and leading him to give more attention to female sexuality in his own work, as well as writing about it at length in her own.  


Image credit: Lou Andreas Salomé (c) The Freud Museum

Several of the other writers were important in relating politics to the practice of psychoanalysis, fighting for increased rights for women whilst pioneering new areas of thought and study. Emma Eckstein, who started out as one of Freud’s patients, became the first working woman psychoanalyst. Throughout her life, she was an active campaigner in women’s rights groups, as well as a proponent of sexual education for children.  In this, the exhibition demonstrates that these women were embedded in the politics of their time, and that their achievements cannot be divorced from wider movements that saw increased rights for women, increasing self-determination and better access to education.

Any exhibition that seeks to reassess the importance of women is important, particularly in science or medicine. Though this is only a small exhibition, there is plenty of information on offer for anyone who wants to spend some time learning about important individuals, their relationship to politics, and their individual achievements.
 
So this is the Strong Sex: Early Women Psychoanalysts is at the Freud Museum until 4 February 2018. Entrance included with the museum.
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