Oedipus Schmoedipus

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On a visit to the ladies’ lavatories in Ealing Art School in the 1960s, I overheard two girls from the Fashion department describing their ideal chap.

‘I like him’, said one, ‘because he’s manly without being brutal.’ They both agreed that this was as near perfection as one might reasonably expect to find. Fashion girls were much sneered at by us proper artists in Fine Arts, but in this case we thought them spot on. Boys were different from girls and not often up to scratch. We had a brutal one in the Art School. He lurched about the corridors searching for our friend Ingrid, and then he bashed her up. So ‘manly’ was comparatively acceptable and our expectations were limited.

Nothing much changed when we grew up. We thought New Man rather a washout. He hoovered, looked after babies, often wore a bobble-hat in winter, grew a beard and was sensitive, but was he sexy? No. He was a capon. We still preferred manly-without-being-brutal. And manly meant tough – the only alternative available.

So what heaven it was to find a book that explained tough men and why they are still problematic. Eighty years ago Ian Suttie, a Scottish psychiatrist, wrote The Origins of Love and Hate, in which he fiercely criticized Freud’s theories. Freud saw human beings as ‘isolates wrestling with their instincts’, Suttie saw them as dreading isolation, ‘striving from the first to relate to [the] mother, and [their] future mental health turning on the success or failure of this first relationship’. Love was social rather than sexual in its biological function, thought Suttie, and was derived from a ‘self-preservation instinct rather than the genital appetite’.

This was a brave position to take at the time. People were thrilled by Freud’s ideas on the subconscious, involving aggression, death, fathers, sex, sex, sex, and the penis as star of the show. Then along comes Suttie suggesting that mothers are supremely important and the infa

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About the contributor

Michele Hanson was never keen on Freud and never quite understood men, but she was very fond of dogs.

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