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Midlife CrisisThe Feminist Origins of a Chauvinist Cliché$
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Susanne Schmidt

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226686851

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226686998.001.0001

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Psychology and the Crisis of Masculinity

Psychology and the Crisis of Masculinity

(p.102) 5 Psychology and the Crisis of Masculinity
Midlife Crisis

Susanne Schmidt

University of Chicago Press

For all the success, Passages was not to everybody’s liking—and if Sheehy’s feminist framework and engagement with social science made her concept of midlife crisis popular, they also constituted a critical target. The most influential criticism came from psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts. Rather than rejecting the idea of middle life reinvention, they appropriated and reversed it. Chapter 5 makes visible the anti-feminist politics that motivated the redefinition of the midlife crisis and shows how the notion of popularization was weaponized to silence Sheehy. In the wake of Passages, the psychologist Daniel Levinson and the psychiatrists George Vaillant and Roger Gould advanced a male-centered definition of midlife rejuvenation that echoed Playboy fantasies and barred women from changing their lives. Demarcating “professional” from “popularized” science allowed them not just to discredit Sheehy’s authority, as other instruments of boundary work would have done; it also created expert competence over a concept of popular culture: Levinson, Vaillant, and Gould cast Sheehy’s bestseller as a watered-down version of their own research. This was successful: anti-feminism was allowed to parade as better science and the term “midlife crisis” was now primarily connected to men and corroborated, rather than abolished, traditional gender hierarchies.

Keywords:   anti-feminism, backlash, boundary work, crisis of masculinity, Roger Gould, Daniel Levinson, Playboy, popularization, popular psychology, George Vaillant

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