Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
This is an important term, both in the history of modem psychology and in the history of Adler's theoretical development, especially in his momentous movement from ideas of physical inferiority and its psychical compensations toward considering personal opinions and feelings of inferiority as also giving rise to compensatory striving. The cultural assumptions of the social and sexual inferiority of women, and the resistance to these assumptions mounted by socialist idealism and the demands of the Feminist Movement were powerful supports for his new way of thinking. As such they had a disruptive effect upon the discussions of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, of which Adler was now president. Adler argued that the presumed difference in value between the sexes, with images of man above and woman below, was experienced as a damaging source of discouragement. Girls and women responded with a claim to equal dignity as if to say, "Treat me like a man!" Boys and men, feeling in danger of a loss of dignity if they were to appear in any way other than superior, pressed a similar claim, as if to say, "Treat me like a real man!" (Much of this was unconsciously veiled by the "hysterical" symptoms female patients were presenting to male physicians, such as headaches, fainting spells, and vaginismus; and by the avoidance of women implied in fetishism and sexual phobias that male patients were presenting.) Each was protesting that he or she had a right to the kind of dignity that until now was associated with superiority.
Relationships between men and women were being disturbed, both outwardly, in the so-called "battle of the sexes," and inwardly by feelings of uneasiness and doubt about the meaning of one's sex to one's value. Freud objected to including a study of these things in psychology. He was convinced, as he put it, that "Anatomy is destiny," and in answer to the term masculine protest, constructed the idea of a "penis envy" he took as inherent in what he believed was the attenuated humanity of female sexuality. He also posited a male "castration anxiety" he thought must be an inherited trait from an archaic period of human development. Freud and his supporters were struggling to protect an organismic "libido" theory. To them the masculine protest represented too great a departure from physical determinism, thereby threatening the hope of psychology's congruence with the reductionism that characterized the science of that time.
Formal disputations on the masculine protest began in the meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1911, becoming more acrimonious and divisive until Adler resigned his presidency and, with his supporters formed what came to be known as the Individual Psychology Society. As Adler moved further to develop his theory of the inferiority feeling, and its compensatory fictional goals, he used the term masculine protest less and less, but still regarded it as an important example of the more general striving toward perfection. [See Individual Psychology/Adlerian Psychology.]
The neurotic goal of superiority is always more or less identified with the masculine role owing to the privileges, both real and imaginary, with which our present culture has invested the male. A girl's feeling of inferiority may be markedly increased when she realizes that she is a female, and a boy's also when he doubts his maleness. Both compensate by an exaggeration of what they imagine to be masculine behavior. This form of compensation I have called the masculine protest (p. 313).
The neurotic purpose is the enhancement of the self-esteem, for which the simplest formula can be recognized in the exaggerated "masculine protest." This formula, "I want to be a real man” is the guiding fiction (p. 108).
In the (private] sense of the patient, but not in the general [common] sense, memories, impulses, and actions are always arranged according to a classification of inferior=below=feminine versus powerful=above=masculine (p. 249).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 67).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.