In terms of psychology, what exactly is the idea of penis envy?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term originated with the early theories of Sigmund Freud. According to these theories, female sexuality is the same as male sexuality until the "phallic development." It is then that girls develop penis envy. In Freud's On Narcissism he described women as developing an ideal of masculinity as "a survival of the boyish nature that they themselves once possessed."

Penis envy was supposedly the driving force of a girl's desire for her father and the power that having a penis seems to give. Until the Women's Rights Movement of the 1960's many girls wished to be boys not so much because they really wanted the genitals of boys, but because they wanted the opportunities afforded males, in being able to participate in sporting activities, travel, etc. In the 1960's the feminist movement campaigned for political and social equality, especially in the workplace, and women no longer needed to envy males.

Freud's theory of penis envy is considered very shortsighted in its scope. For, Freud believed that women were sexually passive and only engaged in sexual relations in order to reproduce men.This dismissal of women's sexuality poses problems today as Freud's theories remain prevalent and yet influence sexologists and psychologists (Jayne, 1984).

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