Jessica Benjamin, PhD
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Jessica Benjamin’s identities as a Jewish feminist psychoanalyst intersect to inform her work and politics. When asked to describe the development of her feminist identity, Benjamin recalls being political since childhood. Long before the women’s liberation movement she had a strong sense of social injustice and what it meant to be an activist. She recalls being involved in the Civil Rights movement as a “young kid,” picketing Woolworth’s segregated lunch counters with her friends.
During college, Benjamin became active in anti-war organizing at the University of Wisconsin. At this time she began talking with other women about political issues. Since women were not actively resisting the draft, they wondered if there was something else they could do, “something in particular to think about as women.” In thinking about issues particular to women, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was an important starting point. Drawing upon texts, Benjamin participated in one of the early American women’s groups of the second-wave movement. These groups were known for their “consciousness-raising”, as women developed a political analysis through conversation with other women and connected their personal experiences to political issues. The group read together on the topics of oppression, domination and patriarchy, connecting these readings to their lives and experiences as individual women. Following her involvement with this group, Benjamin studied in Frankfurt, Germany. She was active outside of the classroom, fighting for the legalization of abortion in Germany (a fight not yet won). This experience highlighted for her the importance of and need for gendered politics. Specifically, she noted that people’s palpable discomfort with the concept of ‘woman’ as a political identity. Benjamin sought to understand this discomfort by incorporating the political and the psychological. She continued to explore questions of oppression, domination and patriarchy in developing her own understanding of women’s issues. This process was pivotal in developing the arguments of her first book, The Bonds of Love. Benjamin cites consciousness-raising as the most important political tool. She believes that consciousness-raising has the ability to empower people to make meaningful change on levels ranging from the individual to the societal. Benjamin completed a Master of Arts degree at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany on social theory. This education allowed her to explore her interest in psychoanalysis. While the degree was technically awarded through the Department of Sociology Benjamin is quick to note that she was never involved with sociology “as an empirical practice.” Benjamin’s critical thinking was also responsible for her originally choosing not to study psychology.
Jessica Benjamin is a psychoanalyst known for her contributions to psychoanalysis and social thought. She is currently a practicing psychoanalyst in New York City where she is on the faculty of the New York University Postdoctoral Psychology Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, and the Stephen Mitchell Center for
Relational Studies. Jessica Benjamin is one of the original contributors to the fields of relational psychoanalysis, theories of intersubjectivity, and gender studies and feminism as it relates to psychoanalysis and society. She is known for her ideas about recognition in both human development and the sociopolitical arena.
Jessica Benjamin was born to a Jewish family and earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1967, and her MA from the University of Frankfurt in West Germany, where she studied Psychology, Sociology and Philosophy. Jessica Benjamin earned her PhD in Sociology from NYU in 1978. She received her psychoanalytic training from New York University Postdoctoral Psychology Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and engaged in post doc research on infancy with Dr. Beatrice Beebe at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.