“Wie es wird, wie sich das Weib.”[1]

Throughout his teaching, Freud referred to femininity as an enigma.  He spoke of woman’s sexuality as a dark continent. And in his letter to Marie Bonaparte, he wrote his famous statement, “what does a woman want?”[2]. In many texts from his later teaching, Freud’s efforts to understand something about this matter are evident.

In his lecture ‘Femininity’[3] he wrote: “Psychoanalysis does not try to describe what a woman is, but sets about inquiring how she comes into being, how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition”. This is an interesting statement that captures a number of threads that Freud had been pursuing.

Freud’s answers to the issue of femininity are driven from the world of anatomy. In some of his writings, he attributed bisexuality to women [3, 4, 5]: “in the course of some women’s lives there is a repeated alternation between periods in which masculinity or femininity gains the upper hand”[3]. He was more precise in his paper ‘On Female Sexuality’ [4], in which he comments that a woman has two sexual areas: the clitoris and the vagina. The clitoris is parallel to the male organ while the vagina is the female organ in the full sense of the word. Therefore, he said, a woman’s sex life regularly splits into two stages. The first has a masculine character, and only the second has a unique feminine character. However, in spite of the significance he attributes to anatomy, he actually, at the same time, puts considerable weight on the notion that female sexuality is linked to the phallus.

In addition, Freud thought that the path to the development of femininity is more difficult than the one the young boy must go through until he reaches sexual maturity, since it involves going through two special tasks [3,4]. One is the replacement, in whole or in part, of the erogenous zone, the clitoris (similar to the boy’s penis), to the uterus / vagina. The additional complexity is the replacement of the object of love, from the mother, as the primary object, to the father. Thus it is imposed on the girl to replace both the erogenous zone and the object.

So how then does she come into being?

My curiosity led me to read the German original, where I found the following sentence: “wie es wird, wie sich das Weib.” The use of the terms “es wird” and “das Weib” is not common in the German language and so even for German speakers it requires effort to understand Freud’s intention. The nuances of the language make it possible to say that the meaning of this sentence comes in a posteriori manner. What is understood in retrospect is that the so-called “thing” (es) refers to the woman (das Weib) at the end of the sentence. That is, a thing which turns into a woman. Hence, the English translation – “comes into being” – emphasizes the dimension of being and misses out on the meaning which the German original uses – “comes into existence“.

In Miller’s paper, “Ex-sistence” [6], existence appears as absolute, as external to being, and he proposes a matrix that is external to the signifying chain, in order to denote it. He writes, “The failure of a meaning produced as an effect of the signifier eventually leaves ex-sisting a real that supports itself”. Hence, existence is what remains after the dissipation of meaning, after the dissipation of being.

In Seminar XX, “Encore”[7], Lacan says, ” every speaking being whatsoever, whether provided with the attributes of masculinity-attributes that remain to be determined-or not, is allowed to inscribe itself in this part” (the woman portion). This statement sharpens the subject’s position regarding feminine jouissance and refines the path he had taken, in analysis, in order to delimit it in his particular way. It is no coincidence that Lacan directs us to writing in order to capture something of the real [8], that which cannot be symbolized. The signifier “to inscribe” is used by Lacan as a sign of existence.

The binary “describe-existence”, as Freud conveys it, and the signifier “inscribe”, as Lacan uses it, both emphasize that a woman cannot be defined via any pre-determined schema, nor defined as being. Rather it’s that she comes into existence in a contingent way, and in the flickers of time, in moments when it becomes possible. This is when she is inscribed.

It is impossible to “describe” a woman, but only to understand the conditions that may allow her to be inscribed. This inscription may be related to a usage of the sinthome, and may also be not without some relation with man.  In Seminar XXIII, “The Sinthome”[8], Lacan says that, “for a woman, man is anything you please, specifically an affliction, a ravage even”. In this regard, could we not say that man may function as a sinthome, meaning he can be a condition for a woman to exist? In some cases, it may be that his presence supports the relationship between the subject and the real of her own body.

Edited by Yaron Gilat

[1] Freud, S. (1933). XXXIII: Vorlesun Die Weiblichkeit. Gesammelte Werke: XV, 119-145.

[2] Ernest, J. (1953). The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Plunnket Late Press. 2014.

[3] Freud, S. (1933). Lecture 33: Femininity. The Standard Edition of the Complete of Sigmund Freud. Vol: XXII. Translated from German.

[4] Freud, S. (1931). Female Sexuality. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931): The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other Works, 221-244 Freud, S. (1933).

[5] Freud, S. (1937). Analysis Terminable and Interminable. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. XVIII, Part 4.

[6] Miller, J.A. (2016). Ex-sistence. Lacanian Ink, no. 48.

[7] Lacan, J. Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX (1972-1973). Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller. Translated by Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 1998.

[8] Lacan, J. The Sinthome: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XXIII. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller. Translated by A.R. Price. Cambridge: Polity, 2016.