Interpreting “The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke” Through First Wave Feminist Ideas

The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke features the main character Edward, who is a woman in therapy with Dr. Merlin Knox following her problems with using public bathrooms. Her problem was something that is still a common occurrence with gender nonconforming people today – she did not feel as though she could use the men’s bathroom because she was not a man, but did not feel safe in the women’s bathroom because other women viewed her as too masculine to be there. The ideas of gender in this poem are interesting to look at when considering chapter two of Susan Stryker’s Transgender History. On page 48, Stryker shares that crossdressing became a controversial issue in the mid-nineteenth century after the urbanization that made queer communities more popular. Crossdressing became a topic in first-wave feminism when feminists began arguing that their gender presentation of dressing in long skirts was a form of oppression; antifeminists countered this because of how it represented “threatened loss of distinction between men and women” and could be seen as “tantamount to cross-dressing” (51).

The Work of a Common Woman by Judy Grahn was not written until about a hundred years after the regulation of crossdressing began, but the treatment of Edward because of her wardrobe is strikingly similar to that of the 1850s. In the introduction to her poetry collection, Grahn states that she wrote The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke to criticize the “mistreatment of women in the hands of medical professionals” (24). This alone is a very feminist argument to show how women were treated as hysterical under so many circumstances in this time period. However, Edward’s gender presentation provides an interesting look into the problems faced by women who did not conform to normalized gender expression. At one point in Edward’s session with Dr. Knox, she is speaking of dressing up in a highly feminine manner. When he asks if this made her feel truly feminine, she responded with “I felt truly immobilized. I could no longer run, walk bend stoop move my arms of spread my feet apart,” (Grahn 29). Following this, Edward tells about how she was physically stuck in place by her shoe going through the carpet when she wore heels. This idea of immobilization through feminine clothing relates back to Stryker’s analysis of first wave feminism and how women argued that pants were a way to “free them” of the oppression of dresses in which it made it harder to move or even breathe for them. In this poem Dr. Knox also echoes the idea of antifeminists at the time who compared gender nonconformity to cross-dressing through deciding that Edward was hysterical and had “penis envy” and wanted to “possess her father” (Grahn 30). When it is considered through the lens of first wave feminism, The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke goes from being a bizarre poem that explores problems in the medical field at the time to showing how queer people have been oppressed through noncompliance with gender expression. Although gender nonconformity and cross dressing are not the same thing and are done by people for very different reasons, they have been equated as being the same for centuries to further stigmatize people who do not follow gender roles – in some cases even to the point of oppressing them or convincing them they are crazy, as was the case in this poem.

One thought on “Interpreting “The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke” Through First Wave Feminist Ideas”

  1. This is such an interesting connection between The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke and Stryker’s explanation of first-wave feminism. I also wrote about this poem but missed that detail of Edward’s shoes getting stuck in the carpet as anything other than her being uncomfortable wearing clothing she felt did not fit her identity. In one of the other classes I’m taking, we talked about the suffragists’ dress and how they used their dresses to appeal to those who didn’t want women to vote, so there is an interesting contradiction to them wanting dress reform while also using their dresses to their advantage.

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