“Penis envy” may be simply explained as a woman feeling inadequate for not having a penis, but this concept by Sigmund Freud (“Father of Psychoanalysis” – 1856–1939) has been co-opted by popular culture to mean other things since he proposed it in the early 1900s.
Freud also wrote about “castration” concepts where a male subconsciously fears having their penis chopped off or that the female anatomy looks like it’s missing a penis. These are just simple definitions of complex concepts that have been heavily studied and debated over the past century.
Sometimes people use “penis envy” to mean one person feeling inadequate about the size of their penis compared to another’s. It may have nothing to do with an actual penis as some interpret it as jealousy over perceived male power or superiority.
Although these century-old concepts of Freud’s are controversial, they are still being discussed and are part of popular culture even if some misinterpret the original concept. Offshoot terms not put forth by Freud like “breast envy” and “womb envy” are just among the many phrases ending in “envy” people use to describe a form of jealousy over a body part or sexual reference.
The sourced articles below should provide more information on the concept of penis envy.
- Freud Is Renowned, But His Ideas Are Ill-Substantiated
“Of course, there are many ideas we’ve left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women’s penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men’s castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it. If Freud’s legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.”
Kevin Dickinson, bigthink.com, 3/7/2019
- “Sigmund Freud: Austrian Psychoanalyst”
“Turning, as he often did, to evidence from literary and mythical texts as anticipations of his psychological insights, Freud interpreted that source in terms of Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex. The universal applicability of its plot, he conjectured, lies in the desire of every male child to sleep with his mother and remove the obstacle to the realization of that wish, his father. What he later dubbed the Oedipus complex presents the child with a critical problem, for the unrealizable yearning at its root provokes an imagined response on the part of the father: the threat of castration.”
Martin Evan Jay, britannica.com, 1/18/2019
- Penis Envy And Other Bad Feelings: The Emotional Costs Of Everyday Life
“At the beginning of the last chapter, I argued that a degree of anxiety is inevitable in human life, that our intellectual tradition has often linked it to the responsibilities of freedom, and that being slightly out of joint, off balance, or just plain wacky can be aligned with creativity and existential intensity. It would be possible to stage similar arguments about the potential benefits of many of the other bad feelings I’ve discussed in this book. Penis envy can lead to feminist anger, which can over time force a society to become more egalitarian.”
Mari Ruti, jstor.org, 2018
- Oedipal Complex
“In the young boy, the Oedipus complex or more correctly, conflict, arises because the boy develops unconscious sexual (pleasurable) desires for his mother. Envy and Jealous is aimed at the father, the object of the mother’s affection and attention. These feelings for the mother and rivalry toward the father lead to fantasies of getting rid of his father and taking his place with the mother. The hostile feelings towards the father lead to castration anxiety, an irrational fear that the father will castrate (remove his penis) him as punishment.”
Saul McLeod, simplypsychology.org, 2018
- Penis Size Envy Is Killing Your Sex Life
“In a separate study, published in the book Jockocracy: Queering Masculinity and Sport, athletes gave interviews detailing their experiences of comparing their own penis sizes to those of other athletes while in the locker room. The research suggests that male athletes often look at each other’s penises as a gauge to see how their own size compares to others, as well as in a more anthropological way of viewing human diversity or to evaluating penis size relative to a player’s ability on the court.”
David Artavia, advocate.com, 11/13/2017
- “Freud Is Everywhere: At 161, Sigmund Freud Is Still “Alive.”
“Freud captured the educated public’s attention with his ideas of the Oedipus complex, castration complex, primal scene and family romance, all formulated from Freud’s self-analysis of his own dreams and associations. Dreams and associated screen memories were disguised and distorted pathways to the reconstruction of the formative events of our childhood, which could be revealed in clinical psychoanalysis.”
American Psychoanalytic Association, psychologytoday.com, 5/5/2017
- 25 Alternatives To Penis Envy
“Penis envy is a catchy term, which is one reason it effectively made its way into popular culture. Coined in Freud’s 1925 Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes, it is widely misunderstood to mean, or used to perpetuate, the idea that those who posses a penis are superior to those who do not, and that women, for this reason, envy the anatomy and wish for themselves the pleasure and the power of the penis.”
Elizabeth Harnarine Wentling, publicseminar.org, 1/12/2017 (Broken link removed 12/2022)
- Penis Envy
“There is little empirical evidence that penis envy actually occurs, and the theory has been heavily criticized, particularly by feminist scholars. They argue that to assume a girl envies and desires a penis is to assume that women are substandard, a misogynistic stance. Some feminist followers of Freud have reframed the theory that penis envy is not about actual envy of a penis, but about envy and resentment for the social power accorded to the male gender role.”
GoodTherapy.org, goodtherapy.org, 8/17/2015