Women Versus the Penis Envy
In a startling proposition put forth in the nineteenth century, it was averred that during their psychosexual development phases, girls develop a strong envy towards the boys’ penises. The jealousy (blended with the desire to have one) is so unyieldingly strong that the girls are driven from being homosexuals to heterosexuals (in general).
Now, the theory (which we shall see in a while) still subsists; while there were efforts to thwart and refute it contemporarily, the endeavors seem to have died for now. It seems either the people have come around to accept it (which might be because of the element of the patriarchal society – that since it relates to the male dominance and female submission, it needn’t be countered) or that the general and the intellectual populace have grown to be unaware of the theory altogether.
It wouldn’t be hard for any of the people who have gone through some or the other professional or philosophical courses (or psychological ones) to guess who really proposed the aforesaid theory. It was none other than Sigmund Freud. This very revelation is bound to astound most of the female readers who once might actually have admired Freud’s works.
Psychosexual Development – the Phallic Stage
As theorized by Sigmund, during the psychosexual development phases, the phallic stage features at the age of 3.5 years and continues all the way through the age of 6 years. It is, for the first time, during this stage that the focus of attention of both the sexes (boy and girl alike) is the male penis. Now, different psychological mechanisms occur in boys and girls.
As far as the boys are concerned, they have by now (3.5 years of age) developed a sexual desire for their mother and spite and sort of hate their fathers because it’s the father who gets to sleep with the mother. The boy’s id wants to kill the father but his ego suggests that it wouldn’t be possible because the father is the stronger of the two. Such a situation is called as the Oedipus Complex, named after the Greek mythological character who unknowingly killed his father and bedded his mother. It is only because of this fear of Castration Anxiety that the boy fears establishing sexual relations with the mother and ‘hence’ starts focusing towards other girls.
As for the girls, they are initially homosexuals and develop sexual desire toward their mothers. But they realize by the age of 3.5 years that without a penis, they cannot establish sexual relations with her. So they crave for penises and develop envy towards the male genitals. It is then that their sexual attention shifts from their mothers toward their fathers and they move from being homosexuals to heterosexuals. But they also fear their mothers’ wrath (which would strike if they establish sexual relations with the father) and hence begin to focus on other males.
While both of the aforementioned psychological mechanisms (for boys and for girls) are equally debate-worthy, let us try to analyze and identify the loopholes in the penis envy part.
Penis Envy – the Lacunae
One should know, right through the onset, that Freud’s theory of Penis Envy is based around phallogocentrism, i.e. in his quest to give sense to his arguments Sigmund Freud gave too much importance and privilege to the male phallus. While such a behavior would be expected on the part of a male, it also divulges the extensively prevalent nature of the patriarchal society and lack of empathy towards the female counterparts.
I’d say being a male, Freud naturally wouldn’t have been able to view things from the female perspective. Hence there is little (or diminutive) possibility that Freud could have been right. His views were even contested and opposed by many feminists as being profoundly misogynistic and patriarchal in nature.
Although most of Freudian assertions were based on (and theorized only after) long sessions of interactions with his patients, that comprised males as well as females (and hence one could cite tangible elimination of subjectivity and gender bias), it nonetheless is noteworthy that his critics often cited that the patients’ experiences he used to record were (more often than not) not actually their own and were rather the constructs he would force upon them. What is also striking and notable is that, Sigmund used to practice hypnosis (before giving it up at a later stage); thus it wouldn’t be too stiff for him to force his constructs upon his patients.
Some feminist psychoanalysts (Karen Horney being the most notable among them) also coined other terms to depict how similar sort of envy could mount and cultivate in males – womb envy and vagina envy. While their effort to tackle and combat against Freudian ideas met with some success (it gave feminists a platform to argue), there seems to me there was a fundamental flaw in their measures and terminologies.
Consider the womb envy for instance; the womb remains hidden from physical appearance in the first place, and hence its likelihood of sparking an envy stands void – more so in infants. To say that the males might feel the vagina envy, too, wouldn’t be an apt approach as it is the ‘presence’ of some noticeable stuff in other’s possession that is more likely to trigger an envy, rather than the absence of it. Thus, a boy, upon discovering that his female counterpart does not have a penis (equivalent to his discovering that she has a vagina) would not necessarily experience an envy ensuing. A better argument would have been for the feminists to cite the Breast Envy. Their ‘presence’ is noticeable and going by the Freudian norms, is potent enough to ignite envy. One might argue that breasts in girls develop only at a later stage and hence are unlikely to affect the thinking processes in infants. But then again, an infant male grows up not only noticing female infants but also female adolescents and adults.
That was one side of the multifaceted set of feasible arguments against the penis envy. Mull over another prospective occurrence of a thinking phenomenon. What if the female infant, upon discovering the presence of penis in males, develops a revulsion against it (or against the males in general) rather than building up envy? What makes Sigmund believe it would only be envy? Just imagine a female infant who at the age of 4 discovers that her male counterpart has a penis. Now, isn’t it equally likely that she develops a distaste and loathing for it given the fact that some nasty stuff is sticking out of the concerned place of genitals, while she has it clean?
Moreover, many a times at such an age, children don’t even know that the boys have penises and the girls have vaginas. Whatever happens to the Freudian concept of psychosexual development then? There seems to be another fundamental flaw in Sigmund’s assertions. He assumes that by the age of 3.5, female infants have developed a sexual proclivity towards their mothers and discover between the age of 3.5 years and 6 years that without a penis they can’t indulge in sexual relations with them. It seems almost rubbish that a female infant would know by that time that it is the penis and the vagina that are involved in an intercourse. While some might know, a vast majority might not.
Also worth mentioning is that the base that Freud cited for the inception of penis envy could actually be futilely unjustifiable and groundless. Freud believed that the prime reason for it was that the females would first develop sexual penchant towards their mothers, then there’d be a penis envy ensuing, then the sexual tendency toward their fathers and ultimately towards other males. The nature’s laws exhibit otherwise in general. Generally, it’s the unlike poles and the opposite genders that attract. It isn’t necessarily only after the Freudian phases that the girl would get sexually inclined toward a male. And it isn’t necessary that owing to some months of breast feeding, the girl would develop sexual tendency toward her mother. And it also isn’t necessary that she would develop a sexual tendency even toward her father.
It has been shown scientifically that naturally, occurrences of incest are rare, even among animals. Incest, resulting in inbreeding, leads to recessive genes rather than the progressive ones. Such offspring suffer from reduced fertility, increased genetic disorder, slower growth rates, loss of immunity and higher mortality rates. Thus, naturally and generally, we can conclude that sexual attractions toward father (or mother) would be rare; and Freudian theory says it occurs universally. In critical theory and deconstruction, Freudian theories would be classified as aporetic, i.e. based on indeterminate grounds.
Maybe Sigmund Freud was weak in evolutionary science, or maybe he didn’t have access and recourse to such discoveries at that point of time. Or maybe it was something else (as we will see later toward the end of this article that I identified, after studying in depth about Sigmund Freud, that there could be other reasons for his controversial inferences). Furthermore, animals lead lives quite differently than humans do. They don’t necessarily have both their parents guarding them throughout. Do they then end up having intercourse with their parents? No, it is rare. Naturally, to prevent recessive or deleterious traits in genes, species are not sexually inclined toward their parents. Horses and some other animals drive off the young of both genders to avoid inbreeding (either parent-offspring or offspring-offspring) and their instinct of avoiding incest is reflected in the genotype of even their offspring. Hence to expect the traits of sexual proclivity toward the parents, and more so in almost all the cases, would be imprudent.
If the base that triggers the inception of penis envy itself is indeterminate and groundless, why would then the penis envy ensue in females in the first place?
A multitude of accounts are available of criticisms of Sigmund Freud that he was unable to document even a solitary unequivocally and successfully effective treatment. If Freud was so insightful and aware about all he claimed were the psychosexual development phases, maybe he needed to demonstrate a bit more of evidence. Many historians of psychoanalysis have also written that the things actually did not happen the way Sigmund Freud told they did. Why, then, on earth someone should so firmly believe his aporetic theories?
Sigmund Freud – The Veiled Reality
When we theorize an assertion that is aporetic rather than apodictic (i.e. based on indeterminate bases rather than determinate ones), we are, more often than not, affected by subjectivity and our own lives. Why did Sigmund Freud theorize all that he did? Was there something identical associated with his own life? Exploring these quests, I came across a fact that helped me understand issues to some extent (or at-least I think so). Once on a train journey (when Freud was around 2.5 years of age), he had seen his mother naked when she was undressing (possibly changing clothes). He had then developed sexual feelings toward her (and he had accepted that). He had also felt hostility toward his father (possibly after the incident).
Maybe Freud was affected by such personal incidences, was disturbed by what he felt and embarked upon a quest to find answers that could allay his guilt or inquisitiveness. Maybe that was why he practiced projection of his own psychological feelings, stereotyping and strong fractions of subjectivity in his inferences and theories. He might have consciously/unconsciously thought that if somehow he could come around believing that such feelings are common in every single person, he would be able to extricate himself from the guilt of feeling that way.
It seems the poor chap was successful in what he sought. And it also seems that most of the people accept his theories and rather than trying to repudiate them, they instead preach them; thanks to the prevalent patriarchy or misogynist tendency. Had the society been female dominated, maybe we had had some different version of psychosexual development theory.
Author: S.S Niks
‘Freethinker’, ‘an agnostic’, ‘an atheist’!
Want constructive evolution!!
Tackle and combat the vagaries of life in whatever form I can!!!