Masculine Protest (Individual Psychology)

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Masculine protest is a concept described by Alfred Adler. In women it gives expression to a rejection of their feminine condition, the consequence of a devalorization of girls in their family or cultural milieu and the choice of a masculine ideal in the formation of their guiding fiction. In men it expresses itself as a superiority complex.

In Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind (1933/1938), Alfred Adler wrote: "When a girl imagines that she can change into a boy, it is because the feminine role has not been presented to her as the equal of the masculine role. She revolts against what she believes to be a permanent perspective of inferiority for her. The Freudians have interpreted this fact as what they call the 'castration complex."' This rejection of the feminine role is also the consequence of the mother's preference for her son or sons, which constitutes a paradox. Writing about one of his patients, Adler said: "Her mother, a fact that is unfortunately very frequent, had more affection for her sons than for her daughter, which confirms that she also accorded greater value to the male principle without, however, giving her husband the advantage that is inherent in this mode of appreciation" (Adler, 1912/1926). This decathexis of the father facilitates father-daughter alliances. This patient had become the absolute mistress of the house. Speaking of another patient, he commented: "In her childhood antecedents we find a powerful feeling of inferiority, maintained in a constant state of tension by the fact that her mother preferred her younger brother and that he was more intelligent than she was. This patient's most ardent conscious desire was always to be tall, very intelligent, to be a man."

A conflictual relationship with the mother exacerbates the need to compensate against the inferiority complex through the elaboration of an ideal virile model and leads to a hostile attitude to women. Sexual and aggressive instincts then come together either in masculine behavior that rivals with men or in homosexual behavior where a dominant role is assumed. When the woman becomes a mother herself, she can transpose these problems to her relations with her children, as described by Adler in the following case: "Her attitude of rivalry with regard to her daughter was completely unconscious and might be said to act as a cover for an infantile attitude: the desire to surpass a sister that her parents had spoilt to the point of excess. But this latter attitude proved in turn to be equivalent to the fundamental attitude, namely her desire to acquire greater importance, to occupy her brother's position" (Adler, 1912/1926).

For Adler the organization of the Self is indissociable from the history of the subject and the subject's culture. As he wrote in Understanding Human Nature : "In civilization every woman wants to be a man" (1927/1992). The choice of a son to express this masculine protest could encourage delinquent or transsexual behavior. Social feeling plays an essential role in the socialization of such behaviors, or indeed their sublimation. In men, masculine protest becomes manifest in the cult of the superman, wherein human feelings are considered to be a sign of feminine weakness.

FranÇois Compan

See also: Analyzability; Biological bedrock; Castration complex; Change; Feminity, rejection of; Masculinity/femininity; Narcissism; "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement"; Penis envy; Primary narcissism.


Adler, Alfred. (1926). The neurotic constitution; Outlines of a comparative individualistic psychology and psychotherapy. (Bernard Glueck and John E. Lind, Trans.). New York: Dodd, Mead. (Original work published 1912)

. (1938). Social interest: A challenge to mankind. London: Faber and Faber. (Original work published 1933.)

. (1979). Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings (Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Norton.

. (1992). (1) Understanding human nature (Colin Brett, Trans.). Oxford: Oneworld. (Original work published 1927)