Jessica Benjamin argues that identity is formed from mutual recognition and intersubjectivity. In traditional psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud’s theory on subjectivity states that a childs identity is created from the father (a figure of authority) raising a conflict between the child and their mother (symbol of comfort and nurturing). This enlightenment marks the end of the childs “mirror stage” where they believe that they are an extension of their mother. However, as many psychology analysts will note, this theory is flawed because it it leaves out a crucial group of people: women. For women, since the anatomical difference between the mother and daughter is not as clear cut, a hole in reasoning opens up to the development of subjectivity of women under Freud’s theory. In his time, Freud shrugged off this logical hole by using it to say that women have inferior reasoning skills to men. Evidently, this is not true, which has led many psychoanalysts to revise Freuds theory and create new ways to explain the development of subjectivity.
This is where Benjamin steps in to share her comprehensive argument on intersubjectivity and mutual recognition. Rather than proposing a binary system where the child is their own person because they are NOT their mother, Benjamin proposes that a person becomes a subject through mutual recognition. She explains that through interactions between people who each believe that the other is an individual with a separate identity, one strengthens their own individuality. This idea shatters the thought that one builds individuality through differentiation, and instead proposes one’s individuality through connections with others. This theory also builds on power struggles. It proposes the idea that domination and submission (or any power struggle/imbalance) are the result of unbalanced relationships of mutual recognition, where one person does not believe that the other is a subject (submission), while the other one asserts themselves (domination). Overall, this explanation, although optimistic regarding mutual recognition, better explains intersubjectivity compared to Freud’s theory.