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Couching Resistance

Women, Film, and Psychoanalytic Psychiatry

1993
Author:

Janet Walker

Couching Resistance

Explores how American psychoanalytic psychiatry and Hollywood cinema between World War II and the mid-1960s negotiated women’s psychosexuality and life experience.

Explores how American psychoanalytic psychiatry and Hollywood cinema between World War II and the mid-1960s negotiated women’s psychosexuality and life experience.

Marvelously confirms how the very best achievements in film contribute in central ways to the work of cultural studies. This exciting and rich study is of intense importance to film scholars, cultural analysts, critical theorists, feminist historians, and anyone concerned with the interweaves of gender, mass cultural representations, and new technologies of the self.

Dana Polan

In Couching Resistance, Janet Walker examines professional and popular literature published between World War II and the mid-1960’s to develop a picture of psychiatry’s ambivalent response to women patients. This ambivalence, Walker argues, is also evident in the profusion of Hollywood films form the same period on the subject of psychiatry and women. Even though in many cases men and women made up an equal number of patients, medical and fictional psychiatry often relied on the adjustment of “deviant” women in order to present their respective solutions.

Walker reveals a self-critical strain in psychiatry that attacked the profession’s authoritarianism. Over the time period in question she sees an increasing willingness on the part of Hollywood cinema to deal with volatile issues, including childhood sexual trauma and the social origins of female mental illness. These issues were coming up, Walker says, in the emergent feminist critique of conformist psychiatry.

Walker brilliantly explores how psychoanalytic psychiatry and Hollywood cinema negotiated women’s psychosexuality and life experience during the mid-twentieth century. Ultimately, her reading of films including The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve, Lilith, and Freud, in conjunction with such cultural representations as marriage manuals, pharmaceutical ads, and letters from psychiatrists to motion-picture personnel, responds to the challenge to understand film in its wider cultural context.

Couching Resistance

Janet Walker resides in Los Angeles and teaches at the University of Southern California and the University of California.

Couching Resistance

This study of how Freudian psychiatry was translated into American films after World War II provides serious yet accessible reading. Walker traces the relationship between psychiatry and women, and shows how mental health experts, mostly male, regarded women's mental health as a set of problems to be normalized by consigning women to traditional roles, such as the happy homemaker. Walker also offers insight into how filmmakers presented psychiatric discourse to the public through such films as Spellbound, Bedlam, The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve and Lilith. Throughout, Walker discusses how certain figures, both male and female, in films and medical discourse-such as Karen Horney in the psychoanalytic world and John Huston in his film Freud-resisted classically Freudian ideas about women. Generously illustrated with film stills and magazine advertisements, this work should have crossover appeal to nonacademic readers with interests in cinema, psychiatry or women's issues. Walker teaches film studies at the University of Southern California.

Publisher's Weekly

This outstanding book explores the psychiatric boom in America after World War II. . . . . Couching Resistance provides a model for understanding the connections between psychoanalysis and the historical and cultural currents of society as a whole. Combining psychoanalytic history with film, sex roles, advertising, and the climate of postwar America, Walker forges a persuasive document of psychoanalysis’ integral role in cultural history.

Psychoanalytic Books: A Quarterly Journal of Reviews

Marvelously confirms how the very best achievements in film contribute in central ways to the work of cultural studies. This exciting and rich study is of intense importance to film scholars, cultural analysts, critical theorists, feminist historians, and anyone concerned with the interweaves of gender, mass cultural representations, and new technologies of the self.

Dana Polan