Frigidity, Gender and Power in French Cultural History - From Jean Fauconney to Marie Bonaparte

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Journal Article
French Cultural Studies, 2009, 20 (4), pp. 331 - 349
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This paper interrogates the commonplace view of frigidity as a notion always founded upon the misogynist failure to understand female sexual specificity. As an historical explanation, this view fails to take into account the contextual parameters of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates about female desire within which the notion of la femme frigide emerged and developed. This paper discusses the work of a range of French medical and psychoanalytic thinkers across the turn of the twentieth century and through the interwar period, showing how `frigidity was developed at this time by those who saw themselves precisely as contesting prevailing notions of normative feminine desire, or as defending the rights of women to maximum pleasure. But the inventors of frigidity were no feminist avengers either. Their demands for female pleasure assumed a delicate axis between the avoidance of excess, on the one hand, and the dangers of perversion that would result from any attempt to deny sexuality generally, on the other. Viewed within the context of early twentieth-century French gender anxieties, thinkers like Fauconney and Marie Bonaparte are ambivalent exemplars of the `management of sexuality referred to by Michel Foucault.
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