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INT FORUM PSYCHOANAL 1:98-103, 1992

PERVERSION, EATING DISORDERS AND SEX ROLES

J. Michael Russell, Fullerton, CA, USA


Perversion is presented as a fascination with something we also regard as repugnant. A perversion like exhibitionism is a metaphor illuminating the stereotypically masculine. An eating disorder such as bulimia provides a metaphor illuminating the stereotypically feminine. It also fits the account given of perversion. Stereotypes for masculine and feminine, though cultivated in social expectations, are rooted in the infant fantasy world. One is fascinated with the fate of what one has ejected (projected). This contributes to a groundwork for masculinity and exhibitionism. One is fascinated and ambivalent about what one takes in (introjects) which contributes to a groundwork for femininity and bulimia. Genitalia are discovered subsequently, as appropriate representations of these options. Our capacity to be socialized into gender roles, and our discovery of our genitalia en route to this socialization, are foreshadowed by these deeper and earlier styles.




Sugar and spice and everything nice; that's what little girls are made of.
Snips and snails and puppy dog's tails; that's what little boys are made of. (English nursery rhyme.)


This paper will consider some implications of the sex role stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, and what these have to do with perversion and with eating disorders. Then I will set these observations in a context of speculation about infant fantasy life and how this sets the stage for sex role socialization.

The general outline of the stereotypes is pretty familiar:
girls are supposedly sweet, nice, virtuous, fastidious, polite, cute, pretty, and grow into women who are subservient, caretakers, nurturers, valued for their appearance, expected to have bodies which are sexually attractive to men. Boys are supposedly dirty, competitive, into mischief, and grow into men who are rough, domineering, who are sexually preoccupied, swear, belch, take pride in passing gas, and are generally crude. The unmistakable nuance of the quoted nursary rhyme is that boys are rather disgusting. When they grow up, maybe they'll be perverts, eventually, dirty old men with lecherous interest in young girls. The female's prospects are equally dismal. One might respond with disgust to the excessive sweetness of the image of little girls: when these girls grow up they can look forward to eating disorders and plastic surgery. If they can get their bodies to conform to the prevailing standards men will want to "get inside them." Later on, when they are no longer attractive to men, they become bitches and old bags. Within this portrait I am struck with how we seem ready to think of perversion as a male phenomena, though, of course, women can display the characteristically male perversions. Similarly, we seem ready to assume that eating disorders are more a phenomenon of women, even though men can and do have eating disorders.

Louise Kaplan, in Female Perversions,[1] has recently deliniated masculine and feminine perversions. Drawing from Kaplan, and also from Robert Stoller's Perversion: The Erotic Form Of Hatred,[2] I am finding it helpful to think of masculine perversion as a sort of angry caricature of a masculine stereotype. Exhibitionism, or "flashing", is a particularly good example of this parody of crude and disgusting masculine sexuality prophesized in the nursury rhyme account of what little boys are made of. Kaplan includes eating disorders on her list of the "feminine perversions,"[3] and it strikes me that anorxia, bulimia, and obesity may all represent dramatically "perverse" statements about the expectation that one be ones body as a sexually attractive container for the male's crude desire. My suggestion, then, is that both masculine and feminine perversions represent a mix of fascination, anger, and repugnance about something related to the expectations of ones sex role.

The authors of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual -- III Revised[4] elected to replace the pejorative term "perversion" with the less plainly judgmental term "paraphelias." But the fact is that we think of "perversions" in the same breath with "sick", "disgusting", "revolting", and "abnormal." The last is clearly the weakest of these terms, and it is far from clear when and whether not being normal is a bad thing or a good thing. Of course Freud, in his Three Essays On Sexuality[5] contended that perversion is normal, that we are all "polymorphously perverse": the whole gamut of perverse inclinations is ubiquitous in infancy. But something rather central is lost if we try to bypass the element of evaluation in perversity by presenting it as normal. Perhaps part of Freud's motivation for highlighting the "normalcy" of perverse inclinatations was to move us away from the judgmental aspect of the term, but then we lose a key strand of the meaning of the concept and of the phenomena the concept seeks to cover. Perversions generally are an eroticized fascination with the repugnant; they have to do with being drawn toward something the agent also finds repellent or repugnant.

Let us amplify this notion of the repugnant. It is common in adolescence, when one youth shows a romantic interest in another, and the advance is not wanted, that the derogatory response will be to say or imply that the suitor "nauseates me." There is a kind of a chilling and ultimate rejection in saying that something or someone is disgusting. Persons, deeds, inclinations, things utterly reprehensible, all may be met with, "That makes me sick." This is understood as the ultimate in judgementalness. If there is negation in the human unconscious, nausea captures it. Nothing could be a more natural language of the human body's expressing its utter rejection of something than to treat it as something to be expelled by vomit [6]. To vomit something is to treat it as repellant, and to declare, "This is
utterly foreign to me. I do not want this in me. I do not want this to be a part of me. I cannot and I will not digest it. I want nothing to do with it." My proposal is that when we say of someone that they are inclined toward something perverted we are suggesting they are drawn toward something which they themselves regard as repulsive, and/or are drawn to it because they themselves reckon that it is so regarded by others and they are drawn to it (partly) for this very reason.

So, what is repugnant? Paradigms here are excrement, spit, urine, blood, and intestines. An interesting fact about this family of items is that they are all ordinarily contained within the body. Further, they are typically unproblematic to someone who contemplates them, so long as they are contained where they are supposed to be. None of us is offended by the existence of intestines, for instance, provided that they are where they belong. We know that creatures have guts, intestines, and that's fine: but an animal squashed on the highway is disgusting; we don't want things that are supposed to be inside the skin to get outside the skin. That is my clue to the disgusting: it pertains to circumstances where that which is supposedly inside the skin is not in the container.

Consider saliva as a good example of stuff which is alright when it is where it is supposed to be. None of us minds the saliva of our own mouths, and yet would be appalled at the prospect of putting our own saliva into a glass and then sipping on it. This is an interesting fact, worthy of attention. None of us-- who are happy enough to have mouths in which there is saliva-- would really suppose something awful has happened to this stuff while it has been in a glass, but now the idea of it is repellant. Or, when we consider another person: few of us who are adults are repelled at the prospect of kissing, or deep kissing someone to whom we are attracted. This involves an exchange of saliva, which doesn't seem to stop us. We don't give it a lot of thought, but neither does it come as news to us that this is what is at stake. I think we would have every bit as much a reaction of revulsion to the idea of sharing somebody else's saliva, by the intermediary of a glass, as we would to reimbibing our own saliva from a glass. Saliva is alright as long as it is contained, but as soon as it's out of the container it becomes revolting. Equally, we would be revolted at the idea of a deep kiss with someone to whom we felt no attraction. If, on independent grounds, we find a person unattractive, the thought of their saliva is all the more repugnant. (So there is more to the phenomenology of the revolting than that it is what is not contained within skin as it should be.) Children will show these lines of connection very clearly. They will shirk from touching something that a hated sibling or schoolmate has touched, fantasizing that they may have "gotten germs on it," that it "has cooties" (perhaps "cooties" is uniquely American slang) or spit on it. It appears that disgust is a fantasy about someone's insides getting outside.

Erotic passion exists like a dare on the edge of the repulsive. The lover declares "I would do anything for you" and seeks to prove it by trying to imagine and offer something "kinky" enough to demonstrate the level of sexual excitement. The point is made by the ubiquitous fellatio scenes in the pornographic movies, in which the woman is portrayed as taking delight in ingesting the man's visibly spilled semen: she is to be excited by what another might regard with disgust. (Kaplan [7] has observed that the feminine perversions have their counterpart "pornography" in the romantic novels. The key fantasy, I think, is "Love me for the good that is inside of me, in spite of how I look. Don't be put off by the physically unattractive, nor preoccupied with attraction. The masculine fantasy, perhaps, is "Be excited by me in spite of what is inside me that you might find repellant.")

And yet, to reiterate, disgust is learned. Like the sex role that implies that there is something about masculinity which puts one at risk of being found disgusting, these are matters into which, it would appear, we are socialized. I doubt that the phenomena of disgust and nausea make much of an appearance, if any, in infancy. Disgust seems more to be an experience that flourishes in latency, as an outcome of the resolution of oedipal conflicts. I am convinced that both the masculine and the feminine perversions receive their central and decisive stamp from oedipal issues and reaction formations that develop during latency. Thus as Freud [8] believed, the fetish can be understood as an object of sexual excitement representing a displacement that allows the fetishist to avoid the anxiety of castration [9] experienced in connection with the sight of the female genitalia and the absence of the maternal phallus. Or, to consider the exhibitionist, he may be understood in terms of a stratagy of seeking to establish before a parental substitute evidence that he still has his penis. Sadism and masochism may be understood in terms of mastering castration anxiety, by subserviating the other or oneself. And so on. Among the feminine perversions, specifically the eating disorders, we may illuminate the anorexic's behavior as a solution to whether or how to sexualize and desexualize ones relationship with Father. While highlighting oedipal conflicts we may allow that we are socialized into our sex roles, and as part of this we acquire complex ideas about what to regard as disgusting and how to make use of our fear that we may evoke disgust. Since I think that perversions, eating disorders, and sex roles, all are organized around oedipal conflicts, if I turn my focus to speculation about very early pre-oedipal development this is not because I think it is more important, but just because at this point in time I am finding this very engaging. The fact is that the target phenomena of this paper -- perversion, eating disorders, and sex roles -- can each be clarified from the perspective of any of the classical Freudian psycho-sexual stages (in reverse order) of latency, the Oedipal conflicts of the phallic stage, the anal stage, or the oral, and equally from each of the stages of separation and individuation delineated by Mahler [10].

I have another reason for wanting to turn to the pre-oedipel. I do not find it credible that the sexual identity of males and females can be attributed to their discovering the presence, absence, or prospect of losing a penis. I do find it plausible that the phallus serves as a solidifying symbol of sex roles, an organizing motif for the roles into which we are socialized. But it seems to me that the encouragement of society, and the vicissitudes of intrapsychic conflict, must take hold of earlier developmental features. So we should ask what is it that socialization manages to foster, in such a way that we can become as responsive to stereotypic roles as it seems we are.

Melanie Klein [11] has maintained that from birth the infant is engaged in a relationship with the maternal breast which she describes in terms of projection of feelings outside of oneself and into the breast, getting rid of those feelings which are presumably unpleasant, and introjecting or taking in of experiences which are good, which Klein describes as an infant fantasy of scooping out and devouring the contents of the breast. These sorts of ideas which attribute such seeming sophistication to the mind of the newborn are, of course, matters of very considerable controversy among psychoanalysts. It would fall beyond the scope of this paper to try to argue in any depth a liberal position with respect to these issues. But I can present in dogmatic form a few premises which are in some sympathy to Klein's views, without assuming too much that is too radical about infant fantasy or about how much or little sophistication we should attribute to infants. Elaborate defense of these claims will have to wait for another occasion.

The infant presumably attempts to take in or incorporate what feels good, and expel or get rid of what feels bad. Inhaling, sucking, ingesting, digesting, relaxing, attending, enjoying -- these may all be thought of as prototypical forms of taking in. And expelling may be captured in terms of exhaling, spitting, vomiting, tensing, excreting, hating. I propose that tacit (cf. Polyoni [12]) or unreflective (cf. Sartre [13]) discriminations of "me" and "not-me" evolve through repeated experiences of taking in and ridding of affective experience which evolves into an affective representation of that which is other than oneself, which holds or contains that which one ejects. I am thinking of a representation as an organized experience of a thing, possibly in the absence of that thing; representations need not be "visual images"; they can be any sort of remembered experience of a thing, in the absence of that thing, including visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, or affective reenactments. This representation Klein describes as the breast, and this breast-source-container provides the grounding for what will become the experience of Mother. We put our bad feelings into Mother. [14]

Paradoxically, it feels good to get rid of bad feelings. This provides a dimension of infantile ambivalence, and part of the foundation for that perverse trait that we may feel drawn toward something of which we have sought to rid ourselves. This sort of voluptuous attention to something which we want to expel can be found in the fascination with trying to dig out a splinter, expressing a pimple, or compulsively picking away at rough spot on the furniture. There is a reciprocal paradox in the fact that taking in what feels good leads to satiation and then disdain. So ambivalence has an early start, when we consider how readily good turns to bad and bad turns to good. At this juncture I postulate that we take interest in that which contains what we get rid of, and interest in the contents tacitly assumed to have been put into that container. This, I think, is sexual interest: it is a fascination with the fate of what we have gotten rid of, and an inclination to expropriate it.

In summary, Klein's views on the early infant's means of defending against strong impulse by projection and introjection gives us a model for speculating that there are two sorts of psychological prototypes present in all persons, both genders, one being the cluster of traits having to do with getting rid of something from oneself and putting it into the other, the second having to do with taking something from the other, seeking to incorporate it, take it into oneself. These provide us with a theoretical framework suggesting basic psychological styles or formats or prototypes, within which to understand stereotypic sex roles of the masculine concern for aggressively seeking to penetrate and appropriate the other, to control the other by ejecting into her, and understand the alloted feminine project of nurturing, nourishing, containing. I assume all of us have all of these capacities, but that as we are brought more and more into a world of sex role expectations we conform more and more to one role or the other; we are originally androgynous but come to think of ourselves as more masculine or feminine. Each of these psychological prototypes carries within it seeds of opposition, paradox, so that any of us who is encouraged to specialize in one role at the expense of the other is liable to remain fascinated with and drawn to the other. This conflict can be expressed in all manner of ways, but my suggestion is that it is expressed in terms of masculine and feminine perversions, where the perversion is constituted by a fascination with something about ones sex role expectations that one finds radically unacceptable, and toward which one is drawn.

Of these, the masculine perversions, epitomized by the exhbitionist, the flasher, take some aspect of oneself that the pervert himself regards as liable to be found repellant, as repulsive, and flaunts this as if daring the other person, the container, to accept that repelled part of oneself. The male pervert has found means to externalize his internal contents, and then dares the other to accept (or reject) this. In contrast, the feminine perversions rebel against being assigned the lot of an attractive and nurturing container. They make a mockery out of this, by shopping addictions, obsessive housecleaning, feminine exhibitionism, kleptomania, delicate self-cutting (Kaplan's term for certain subtle forms of harming ones body) and the various eating disorders. (By feminine exhibitionism I mean a kind of daring to be found worthwhile in spite of being attractive, perhaps manifested by the expectation that one's eyes not take advantage of an unbuttoned blouse or carelessly crossed legs. In contrast, masculine exhibitionism dares the other to not be rejecting in spite of the exposure of something repulsive.) The feminine perversions make a mockery out of the expectation that one be a consuming, attractive, nurturing container. Bulimia captures the point well, as an enshrinement of ambivalence about whether to take in not only Mother and Mother's food, but the whole role expectation that Mother represents. So the bulimic stuffs her container as a caricature of containment, purges herself, as a caricature of rejecting that expectation, is drawn toward the social expectation of thinness out of a passion for being attractive, and has a ravenous appetite out of a passion to fill her emptiness with "junk" [15] which endangers the appearance of the container.

Given parental encouragement toward one sex role over another, the infantile invitation to be an intruding, demanding, aggressive, protruding phallus cultivates in the child a form of organization in which the penis is eventually discovered as an instrument which happens to serve well the interest of entering another and leaving something of oneself in that other. Similarly, the woman can discover the capacity to be regarded as a container. Perhaps the breast is the first fantasy container, and really should be thought of as an oriface through which are ejected bad feelings, so that one can subsequently evolve a curiousity about the fate of these contents and a desire to reappropriate them. Eventually the vagina comes to represent a means of entry. Here the central point is that we discover our genitals in light of the sex roles that we have, rather than the converse, whereby our sex roles would somehow follow from the discovery of our genitals. It is, of course, true, that the sex roles assigned us by others are done on the basis of observable genatalia. If "anatomy is destiny" this is because of how we are destined to be regarded by others: our discovery of our anatomical differences comes after we have well developed "masculine" and "feminine" prototypes available to us equally as males and females. Either of these prototypes, should it become linked with something radically repellant, sets the stage for some form of perverse interest. [16]



Footnotes

1. Louise Kaplan, (1991a), Female Perversions (New York, Doubleday).

2. Robert J. Stoller (1975), Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred (New York: Pantheon).

3. Kaplan's (op. cit.) book jacket lists male perversions of fetishism; transvestism; sexual masochism; sexual sadism; exhibitionism; voyeurism; pedophilia; necrophilia; zoophilia, and female perversions of kleptomania; homovestism; extreme submissiveness ("Women Who Love Too Much"); mutilations including delicate self-cutting (in contrast to more flagrant self-injury), surgical addiction, trichotillomania; female impersonation; anorexia; the incest wife.

Kaplan describes "homovestism as an impersonation of the idealized phallic parent of the same sex to overcome shameful and frightening cross-gender identifications." (Page 546, footnote to page 250.) She credits this concept to the work of George Zavitzianos (1967), "Problems of Technique in the Anbalysis of a Juvenile Delinguent," International Journal of Psychoanalysis 48: 439-47; _____ (1971), "Fetishism and Exhibitionism in the Female
and Their Relationship to Psychopathy and Kleptomania;" International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 52: 297-305; _____(1972),"Homeovestism: Perverse Form of Behaviour Involving the Wearing of Clothes of the Same Sex," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53: 471-77; _____(1977), "The Object in Fetishism, Homeovestism, and Transvestism," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 58:487-95.

Also see Louise Kaplan (1991b), "Woman Masquerading as Women", in Gerald Fogel and Wayne Myers, Perversions and Near-Perversons in Clinical Practice (New Haven, Yale University Press), pp.127-152.

4. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (3rd edition, revised, Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Association) 1987.

5. Sigmund Freud [1905] (1953), "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," in Standard Edition, 7:125-245.

6. Freud dsecribes vomiting as a substitute for moral and physical disgust. [1895] (1953), "Studies on Hysteria," Standard Edition (London, Hogarth Press), page 131.

7. Louise Kaplan, (1991a) op cit, chapter 10.

8. Sigmund Freud [1927] (1953), "Fetishism," in Standard Edition 21:152-57.

9. Joyce McDougall holds that "the leading theme of the neosexual plot is invariably castration. ...In every case the unconscious meaning remains the same. These are all substitute acts of castration and thus serve to master castration anxiety in illusory fashion..." (1981), Theaters of the Mind (New York, Basic Books).

10. M. Mahler, F. Pine, A. Bergman (1975), The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant (New York, Basic Books).

11. For instance, Melanie Klein, [1946] (1975) "Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms," in The Writings of Melanie Klein, Volume III: Envy And Gratitude (New York, Macmillan), pages 1- 24.

12. Michael Polanyi (Marjorie Grene, ed.) (1969), Knowing and Being (Chicago, University of Chicago).
13. Jean-Paul Sartre (1956), Being and Nothingness (New York, Philosophical Library).

14. See Joseph Sandler and Anne-Marie Sandler [1978] (1986), "On the Development of Object Relationships and Affects," reprinted in Peter Buckley (editor), Essential Papers On Object Relations (New York, New York University Press), pages 272-92. Sandler and Sandler are highly critical of Klein's views on very early unconscious fantasy, but I find the way I would want to read Klein, and the way I would want to develop an account of what a representation is -- namely as an affective organization which need not be linked with anything like a mental image -- gets me reasonably close to Klein's perspective, and yet also comes close to language Sandler and Sandler employ. For instance, "If we stretch the concept of `object' a little furtherthan usual, we could say that the first objects of the child are the experiences of pleasure and satisfaction on the one hand, and those of unpleasure and pain on the other." (Page 285.) In a footnote on this same page Sandler and Sandler say, "These primary affective objects are relatively chaotic masses of pleasureable feelings and sensations on the one hand and unpleasurable ones on the other." They go on to distinguish their view as "a view very different from the Kleinian theory of extremely early unconscious fantasy." In this paper I am understanding "fantasy" to mean what I suppose Sandler and Sandler mean by "primary affective objects."

15. Marion Oliner (1988), "Anal Components in Overeating," in Harvey Schwartz (1988), Bulemia: Psychoanalytic Treatment and Theory, (Madison, Connecticut, International Universities Press), pages 227-253: "Also, almost invariably, the food that is the object of such binges is described as junk or garbage, thus implicitly transforming the person who contains it into a receptacle for noxious products." (Page 227.)

16. The heart of what I am calling the feminine stereotype comes from identification with the Mother who contains us (our projections). That capacity to identify with the container is itself founded upon earlier experience of being a container, of taking in experience; but it would seem to be the identification with Mother that is really the key to the feminine role. This being so, we might conclude that although we are all psychologically androgynous, we are first of all male, if the male prototype is this active controlling of the universe, including taking in and also getting rid of experience. It seems to me we all start off with this (what is to become the ground for the) "masculine" stance, and then subsequently come to identify with that -- the feminine -- which contains us. So in this light I take exception to Stoller's (op. cit) notion of primary femininity, and would prefer to say that what is primary is masculinity, and from this evolves a capacity to identify, and then, in agreement with Stoller, the first identification (and symbiotic relationship) is with the feminine.





Professor Michael Russell
Jmrussell@fullerton.edu
Philosophy and Human Services
California State University
Fullerton, California 92634
(714)278-2752





 

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