Nancy Chodorow is a contemporary feminist psychologist and sociologist who has examined the mother-child relationship and applied feminist theories to traditional Freudian psychoanalysis. Much of her work has been used to develop the field of feminist psychoanalysis.

Professional Life

Nancy Chodorow was born on January 20, 1944 in New York. She studied at Radcliffe College and received her BA from Radcliffe before attending Brandeis University. In 1975, Chodorow graduated from Brandeis with a PhD in sociology

She was heavily influenced by feminist theorists, including Beatrice Whiting and Philip Slater. Chodorow explored personality through the lens of psychology and began to revise, expand upon, and in some cases oppose traditional Freudian doctrine. Chodorow expanded on Karen Horney’s work on ego formation during childhood and was inspired by other feminists, such as Melanie Klein. In 1973, Chodorow taught women’s studies at Wellesley. The following year, she took a position at UC Santa Cruz as the Assistant Professor of Sociology, where she remained until 1986.

Chodorow has received many awards for her work, including the Jessie Bernard Award. She is a member of the National Women’s Study Association, the Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences, and the American Sociological Association. She taught sociology at the University of California at Berkeley until her retirement in 2005. 

Contribution to Psychology

Chodorow argues that relational transactions form the basis of our identity and subjectivity. Unlike Jacques Lacan, a popular philosopher of psychology, she emphasizes that autonomy is not generated from within, but rather from without, from the experience of connecting, separating, and reconnecting with others. She emphasizes that people develop a real sense of experience through these actions, thus creating a connection between their past and their present.

Chodorow approached psychoanalysis from a feminist viewpoint and focused on the relationship of the mother and child rather than the father-son dyad. She described psychoanalysis as the process of reconstructing the felt past. 

Chodorow argues that gender differences in behavior grow out of the Oedipal complex. Like Freud, she argues that children are born bisexual and that a mother is a child's first sexual object. Unlike Freud, however, she emphasizes that a child's ego is formed as a reaction to the mother's dominating presence. Male children identify with their fathers and detach from their mothers, while female children often struggle more to form an independent identity. They tend to struggle with their eroticized love for the father and their alignment with the mother.

Chodorow emphasizes that this process helps to explain the oppression of women. She also argues that, in marriage, women tend to focus primarily on their children, alienating their partners. 

She has published many books that detail her views on feminism and psychology. The journal Contemporary Sociology named her book, The Reproduction of Mothering (1978/1999), one of the 10 most influential books of the last 25 years. Other works include:

  • The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture (1999)
  • Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond (1994)
  • Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989)