“The feminine Oedipal structure as Freud discerned it in his young hysteric patients in the first half of the twentieth century has taught us that the question “what is a woman?” is first posed by a girl to her mother. Later, upon finding that the maternal response has only misled her, she chooses to pose the question to her father, as if, in the course of her searching, she had the presentiment that an appeal to the father’s desire was likelier to enlighten her as to what awaits her as a woman than the connection she maintains with her mother, privileged as this is. Whether Dora or the case of the young female homosexual, these patients showed Freud—well before he was able to properly gauge the measure of the problematic—that an Oedipal girl chooses to avail herself of the father, of his desiring gazeor, lacking that, of the signs of his desire, in order to “turn into” a woman. The fact is that if she models herself on the mother, her femininity risks finding itself at an impasse. Since the mother was the first big Other, the Other of the primordial demand, the relation of a girl to her mother always remains contaminated by the question of the satisfaction of maternal jouissance, regardless of whether the girl chooses to devote herself to it or defend herself from it.
It is only in his late texts elaborating feminine sexuality (1925–1932) that Freud succeeds in theorizing the particulars of the feminine Oedipus complex. He was thus led—none too soon—to recognize the full importance, in the life of a woman, of the trace of that first love for the mother, which she felt as a little girl. “Many phenomena of female sexual life which were not properly understood before can be fully explained by reference to this phase [of exclusive attachment to the mother],” writes Freud (1931b) in “Female Sexuality.””