Letter to the Editor of the London Review of Books by Estela Weldon

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I was very interested to read Jacqueline Rose’s article on mothers since the main focus of my work as a psychiatrist has had to do with women who suffer from the strange feelings they have about their babies. In my book Mother, Madonna, Whore: The Idealisation and Denigration of Motherhood (1988), I argue that the main difference between male and female perverse action lies in the aim. Whereas in men the act is aimed at an external part-object, in women it is against themselves: either against their bodies or against objects of their own creation – that is, their babies.

‘In some women,’ I wrote, ‘any sexual pleasure related to their breasts ceases not only in pregnancy, but for years after weaning has occurred. This phenomenon has been described to me by many women who experience a tremendous sense of loss when they renew lovemaking with their partners and become aware of this missing dimension that had previously afforded them such erotic excitement.’ This was the assertion that resulted in the book’s banning by feminist bookstores and in an outcry from some psychoanalysts, who maintained that perversion was the exclusive domain of men. But, as Juliet Mitchell wrote in a prologue to the latest edition, ‘at the centre of female perversion is the perversion of motherhood.’ The mother can use her child for her own sexual gratification, sometimes to an extreme degree. ‘Our whole culture supports the idea that mothers have complete dominion over their babies,’ I said later. ‘Thus we encourage the very ideas the perverse mother exploits. We help neither her nor her children, nor society in general, if we glorify motherhood so blindly as to exclude the fact that some mothers can act perversely.’

Estela Welldon
London W1

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