Liz Evans on Joyce McFadden
As a New York-based psychoanalyst, Joyce McFadden has treated countless women whose lives have been shaped by fear and shame. Stories of isolation, disempowerment and uncertainty have been a mainstay of her work.
In 2006 she launched the Women’s Realities Study in an attempt to document some of the innermost experiences of contemporary American women. Her original aim was to publish the results as an emotional and psychological companion to Our Bodies, Ourselves—a comprehensive sexual health manual which has been in print for 45 years and is now available in 29 languages.
Joyce’s study was comprised of 63 questionnaires covering a range of topics from masturbation and sexual health to miscarriage, marriage and family relationships. The questionnaires were issued far and wide, and delivered responses from 450 women aged 18 to 105 from diverse backgrounds: gay, straight, bisexual, childless, partnered, professional, Hispanic American, Chinese American, African American and many more.
An increase in online resources meant Joyce was unlikely to find a publisher for her collated research, so book editors advised her to narrow the scope of her results. She did this by analysing the three most popular questionnaires, thereby letting her respondents lead the focus of the book. Masturbation, menstruation and mother-daughter relationships came up trumps.
Centring on these core issues, and drawing on related material from the other 60 questionnaires, as well as stories gathered from her 25 years as a psychoanalyst, Joyce weaved together a powerful narrative about how mothers impart a sense of female sexuality to their daughters. Titled, Your Daughter’s Bedroom (which, incidentally, she detests), the book is now taught in women’s studies courses across America, and has received critical acclaim and endorsements from respected psychoanalysts, paediatricians and feminists.
Joyce now speaks regularly on mother-daughter relationships at girls’ schools across New York. She has opened an important dialogue about the perceived discomfort and longstanding secrecy shrouding female sexuality, and has shown how this secrecy has been passed on from mothers to daughters across generations. As we speak, Joyce is lively, engaging and impassioned. She breathes life and light into the darkest corners of female experience, normalising the taboos, demystifying the unmentionables and diffusing the tensions that so often accompany what is still regarded as the “awkward subject of sex.”