The body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, make it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.

Michel Foucault “Discipline and Punish”

The idea must have been for it to become somebody else’s turn to bring somebody else into a world.

Gary Lutz “Priority”

For every package of diapers you bring, any size, you will receive one raffle ticket.

Jason & Candy VanWinkle “Baby Shower Invitation”

In her article “Pre-Oedipal Gender Configurations,” Nancy Chodorow discusses the Pre-Oedipal Stage of attachment between mothers and daughters.[1] She uses an object-relations approach in order to examine how complex bonds are formed between mother and daughter because of variable dynamics at play in the process of ego boundary formation.[2] She writes that the Pre-Oedipal Stage “entails a relational complexity in feminine self-definition and personality which is not characteristic of masculine self-definition or personality” and that “because of their mothering by women, girls come to experience themselves as less separate than boys, as having more permeable ego boundaries” (471).[3] In this essay, I will explore the notion of permeable boundaries in order to suggest that Chodorow’s ideas may be applicable in pedagogical contexts.[4]

Chodorow describes a pivotal moment in ego formation where one may experience “a lack of self, or emptiness” (476).[5] She also notes that “women are more likely to experience themselves this way [and] feel that they are not being accorded a separate reality nor the agency to interpret the world in their own way” (476).[6] If it is true that “prolonged symbiosis and narcissistic over-identification are particularly characteristic of early relationships between mothers and daughters,” how does this identification play out in the classroom?[7] Some critics and educators suggest that the ego boundaries of female teachers and their students frequently intersect and merge.[8]. Pre-Oedipal sites of conflict cause differences in the ego formation between boys and girls and these disparities play themselves out differently in classroom environments.[9]

Chodorow notes that boys in the Pre-Oedipal Stage are “differentiated from their mothers” and that “mothers push this differentiation (even while retaining, in some cases, a kind of intrusive controlling power over their sons)” (484).[10] Mothers mark the configurations of difference in order to exclude boys from the more fluid boundaries of ego identification which defines the Pre-Oedipal experience for girls.[11] Interference and restriction that disallows boys from further identifying and coalescing with their mothers and a mother’s unconscious psychological fusion with girls can also be identified within the space of the classroom.[12] These cases are particularly noticeable where the male to female ratio in the classroom is remarkably stratified.[13]

Recent studies in post-structuralist psychoanalytic theory oppose strict gender demarcations and also suggest that the footnotes of this essay have begun rallying against marginalization.[14] Both Foucault and Chodorow share in common a complicated relationship with your mom.[15] Precisely because of the multiple psychological cohabitations of when I grow up I want to be a cowboy and Gem is truly outrageous, power dynamics operate every which way but loose as a potential site for reform in what are thought of as traditional practices.[16]

In conclusion, my friend wrote me an email the other day that said: “I decided to masturbate yesterday because I had some time and was a bit tired of staring at walls. I was about five minutes into it when I caught myself and suddenly realized that I was planning my class for today. What has my life become?”[17] We’ve decided to go back home.[18] Perhaps that is where we belong—alone and without the suffocating influence of the mother.[19] An awareness of the differences in the Pre-Oedipal stage for boys and girls can help to positively inform pedagogical practices.[20]


[1] Speaking of, I need to call my mom.

[2] I teach five classes at two universities, and some time has passed since I have engaged with academic writing because I am too busy teaching all of the time. Please pardon the frequent interruptions.

[3] Sometimes I forget where I am and who speaks and who I am and what I say and where this is going. I want to be explicit about the rampant anxiety I feel every time I assume academic discourse. I am a magician pulling knots of syntax from my throat.

[4] My mother wrote to me recently to say: “I survived my first meeting as president [of the Quilting Guild]. I kept looking at the past president for guidedince [sic]. At least I didn’t stutter but only turned red in the face.”

[5] Eckhart Tolle says in Stillness Speaks that “reincarnation doesn’t help you if in your next incarnation you still don’t know who you are” (52).

[6] In an essay entitled “The Wound in the Face,” Angela Carter examines model’s faces in order to figure out “the nature of the imagery of cosmetics.” She notes that “all the models appeared to be staring straight at [her] with such a heavy, static quality of being there that it was difficult to escape the feeling that they were accusing [her] of something” (90).

[7] I, too, feel accused beneath the gaze. Some students spend all semester in a perpetual state of staring, much like the models in magazines glazed over with a gauzy gaze. Yet each day I am expected to say something. Sometimes I just stare back at them silently and wait for something to happen.

[8] Rokelle Lerner writes in Affirmations for the Inner Child: “Sometimes I feel like a crowd—I can become a different person at anytime for anyone. No wonder it’s so easy for me to lose track of myself” (111).

[9] “Astonishment / inside me like a separate person, / sweat-soaked. How to grip. / For some people a bird sings, feathers shine. I just get this this” (Carson 87).

[10] Of interest here are the inmates in Foucault’s panopticon, who are the “object[s] of information, never [the] subject[s] in communication” (554). Who are the inmates (mothers) and who tops the towers (the mothers)?

[11] Coppelia Kahn asks, “why do women mother children as well as give birth to them?” (826).

[12] One of my students recently wrote an email that effectively demonstrates the fluidity of ego boundaries. I quote merely a small portion of this text anonymously for illustration:

Life can be a whirlwind, things happen; I don’t want to go into the personal details of the harsher realities in my life first, because when I just think about it I get teary eyed, and second, everyone goes through unimaginable things in life, and while everyone is experiencing their own dark moments they may not care about what anyone else is going through, I guess that’s just a part of life, peole [sic] aren’t always as altruistic as we hope they would be. You [. . .] might not care that the anniversary of the death of someone that I loved more than any other human being on this planet (because it was my cat of fifteen years, who was more like my daughter than a pet, and no one could possibly undestand [sic] how much I love her) is coming up next Friday [. . .] and you might not care about the harsh things that I’ve been going through these past few months and honestly, I just don’t want to mention it because it’s just sad, frankly my personal issues are just that, personal, but the affects [sic] they have on me effect [sic] other parts of my life sometimes, like my schoolwork, which I hate because I care about my schoolwork. It’s ok if you don’t care about my personal life, I really don’t expect anyone to, it’s not anyone else’s problem. I’m not telling you all of this because I want your pity or anyone else’s for that matter, and I don’t want any judgments or preconceived notions about my life from anyone who hasn’t lived it, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, I’m still alive, and not so depressed that I’m completely incapable of living some type of normal life, so I think that’s a big enough accomplishment since it’s more than I can say for some people I know who simply don’t have a life anymore at all. I’m telling you all of this because my personal life affected my schoolwork, for your class, which unfortunately affects you, and I apologize for that, and no matter how many times I apolgize [sic] I can’t undo it, but like I said things happen, and I don’t want you to think that I’m just some lazy student who didn’t feel like doing my work, or is trying to take advantage of your kindness. No one plans tragedies, I’m sure you know that, and I didn’t plan to not have my midterm done.

[13] Can you tell when I’m just making shit up? I’ve exhausted the possibilities.

[14] Dear reader. We are escaping and moving across the territory of the text to fare better in the body. We don’t expect much because, let’s face it, the current situation is deplorable. Onward! We will bare and be born!

[15] Your mother’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies will be bequeathed to you upon her death. It’s the only thing you’ll be getting.

[16] Can I go to the bathroom?

[17] Anonymous.

[18] “Each town looks the same to me/ the movies and the factories/ and every stranger’s face I see/ reminds me that I long to be/ homeward bound/ I wish I was/ homeward bound” (Simon and Garfunkel).

[19] Part I.

The mother watches. She places her fingers in plaited nets and knits. She wonders how we weave our teeth through the green chlorophyllic leaves and saw so small. She watches us sometimes in jars as we shed skins. We would speak, but are without mouths. We can only sip nectar, suckling cups of buds. We do not eat, not exactly, but lust in fond full gulps of a flower’s special blood.

[20] Part II.

The moon narrows and we fly in one straight line. Men become distracted and motion toward candlelight, thinking they smell us in the seeping slicks of wax. No one knows why, with light, we cannot help spiral toward it. We can’t explain why we are called to our own endings, compelled to treat ourselves like pests. Glowing and bright, we fly forward, burning bodies, reddened and crackled from risk. We seek our own lonely light found in moments that quicken to end.

Works Cited
Anonymous. Email to the author. 20 April 2009.

Brown, Vicki. Letter to the author. 27 January 2008.

Carson, Anne. “Gnosticism I.” Decreation. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Carter, Angela. “The Wound in the Face”. Nothing Sacred. London: Virago, 1982.

Chodorow, Nancy. “Pre-Oedipal Gender Configurations.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd Edition. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 2004. 470-486.

Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd Edition. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 2004. 549-566.

Kahn, Coppelia. “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd Edition. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 2004. 826-837.

Lerner, Rokelle. Affirmations for the Inner Child. Florida: Health Communications, Inc., 1990.

Lutz, Gary. “Priority.” Stories in the Worst Way. Providence: 3rd bed, 1996

Simon and Garfunkel. “Homeward Bound.” Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. Sony Music Entertainment, 1972.

Tolle, Eckhart. Stillness Speaks. California: New World Library, 2003.

VanWinkle, Jason and Candy. “Baby Shower Invitation.” 2 May 2009.

Rebbecca Brown teaches writing at Hunter College in NYC. Her work has appeared in Confrontation, New South, The Means, 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, The Americal Literary Review, and Eclipse (among others).

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