Book review for Rosemary Balsam, Women’s Bodies in Psychoanalysis. (Sussex, England: Routledge, 2012)

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Dr Fiona Giles, University of Sydney 


“…if one agrees that the pregnant and birthing body is currently virtually erased in our literature, one needs, I guess, to consider deeply the sheer and breathtaking force of the desire that would deny its ongoing role in the psyche.” (Balsam, p. 189)


After four decades of cultural constructivism being in the ascendant in feminist scholarship and throughout the humanities more generally, the body is making a comeback. There have of course been early adopters, such as the feminist rescue missions for the body in work from the 1990s by Elizabeth Grosz, Elizabeth Wilson and Vicki Kirby. But since the French Feminists, Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous in particular, were condemned as essentialists for embracing even the metaphorical power of the female genitals to critique phallocentrism and enable l’ecriture feminine, defensiveness and caveats have routinely been required before feminist theorists could embark wholeheartedly on listening to, and speaking from, the female body. This too was reinforced by the second-wave feminist rejection of the procreative female body as the cause (and victim) of centuries of oppression. Hence the emancipatory potential of culture over nature became paramount to women’s empowerment project.