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Female Sexuality Conceptions
Modern conceptions about female sexuality focus on social factors that shape the development of women. Authors such as Beauvoir (2011), Horney (1924), Kittay (1984), and Laplanche (2007) are among the psychologists who question the position propagated by Freud that femininity is biologically predetermined. Instead, the new group of thinkers perceives femininity as a result of social or environmental factors. Thus, the paper argues that Freud’s conception of sexuality cannot fit with the modern concept of sexuality.
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In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir sees a need to turn around the linked to the penis theory. Beauvoir (2011, p. 41) alleges that “the little girl’s covetousness, when it exists, results from a previous evaluation of virility”. The author rightly observes that the penis does not possess a special charm that possesses whoever sees it and perceives its worth. Rather, the social situation shapes what people see. As for boys, Beauvoir cannot find a reason for being proud of having the penis. For girls, the influence of the father in the family, coupled by the belief that males are superior, is likely to affect the way they perceive the penis. In brief, the social disadvantages magnify the challenges, leading to the realization that the penis might be the reason.
Overview of the Oedipus Complex
According to the Oedipus complex, a boy becomes fixated on his mother and competes with the father for her attention. In the case of a girl, the attraction is focused on the father and rivalry targets the mother. This form of attraction is called the Electra complex (Freud, Strachey & Gay, 1989). At a given point, sexual awakening occurs when the child realizes that there is a difference between the father and mother. At the same time, the child notices a bigger semblance to one parent than the other (Pollock, 2006). The development leads to the acquisition of gender. The baby might form erotic attachments to the parent of the opposite sex, although they do not fully understand the sexual act. Instead, the child displays primordial physical sensations in their relationship with the said parent.
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An awaken primitive drive towards parents might result in the jealous motivations to keep out the other parent. The transfer of affection also occurs as the child pursues to become independent to get away from the perceived dominance of the mother (Feynman, 2007). One of the critical awakening stages is the realization by the child that the mother displays affection to other individuals. The primitive feelings are not limited to the child, but they also affect mothers and fathers as they compete for the attention of their child. However, opposition to parents might not be based on sexuality as it might be a way of demonstrating one’s identity against parental control.
Freud (1933) argues that the difference between femininity and masculinity cannot be explained adequately because of anatomy. Furthermore, the psychologist observes that the distinction could not be attributed to the difference between passivity and activity. Thus, Freud forces psychologists to examine omens developing in children with bisexual dispositions. According to Freud’s understanding, femininity is a product of penis envy. He elaborates that the feeling arises when little girls discover that boys have penises and enjoy additional pleasure thanks to this body part. Out of jealously, girls renounce their infantile sexual pleasure via the clitoris, thus becoming envious of the penis, which later reinforces their affection to fathers in their Oedipus complex (René & Cobliner, 2006). The development leads to the passivity of girls’ sexuality. The outcome of penis envy and the Oedipus complex reflect normal femininity, and the desire for full feminism means having her own child boy to substitute the penis.
In a bid to understand the concept, it is worth considering the works of famous writers namely: Karen Horney, Eva Kittay and Simone de Beauvoir. The abovementioned psychologists have either refined and developed or questioned the psychoanalysis theory by Sigmund Freud. Although the jealousy of the penis provides a useful guide to understanding gender development, it is problematic to some extent. For instance, the perception implies that men are superior in sexuality, which amounts to biological determinism. In part, such a view neglects the symbolic worth of the penis and the role of social influence on the outcome (Pederson, 2015). By and large, the undermining of women sexuality is linked to the historical insubordination of women. Thus, for an extensive understanding of femininity to take place, there is a need to explore the issue considering the social circumstances.
Reference to the formation of the ego can give us more information about the associations at the family level and how such relations influence gendering of the society. In practice, children identify themselves with the same sex before developing object-cathexis (Shedler, 2010). Through identification, the child apes the characteristics of the same-sex parent. Upon the dissolution of the Oedipus complex, the child is likely to develop infantile bisexuality to a given gender, which is based on what they see from their same-sex identity figures.
The theoretical formulation by Freud is inconsistent in some ways with feminism. The theory of identification and penis envy can be assessed to develop a better understanding of the formation of feminism, although they display some setbacks (Cioffi, 2005). However, if we look at femininity based on gender identity development through the routine family process, social rather than biological influences shape the formation of gender.
Femininity Based on Freud’s Account
According to Freud (1933), psychical development of women is largely affected by envy of the penis. The biological overtone, which is more-or-less deterministic, is a contentious issue. The position assumes that being born without a penis, castrated, women are sexually/ biologically inferior, and they are aware of the state even when they are little.; The psyche of women is deficient and incomplete, which is characterized by the initial failure in being a man. Also, the incomplete psyche is attributable to the castrated body.
The biological deficiency among women is not noted at the early stage of their development as alleged by Freud, considering the absence of major differences. During the initial stages, the bisexuality feature is more pronounced (Freud, 1933). Sometimes, masculinity is of a higher degree than femininity in both sexes. In addition, irrespective of the sex, children are attached to their mothers initially. The moment children get to the sexual development stage (phallic phase), they sense the pleasure connected to their genitals (Freud, 1933). Whereas, girls derive sexual satisfaction with the clitoris, boys achieve the same with the penis. According to Freud, at that point, girls are little men.
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The transition stage from infantile bisexuality to femininity occurs when they discover that boys have a penis. Upon sighting the penis, girls have a desire for developing one (Grose, 2010). Due to the frustrations that follow, girls embrace femininity, abandoning the idea of a little man.
According to Freud (1933), the discovery of the penis marks the beginning of body knowledge and sexuality. Girls envy the penis because of its perceived functionality. The fact that it is not possible to correct the penile mistake in girls gives them a sense of injustice that enhances their envy of the penis. The incompleteness of the girl is linked with the absence of a full penis. Freud (1933, 126) observed, “The discovery that she is castrated is a turning-point in a girl’s growth”. The above claim of the author is a clear allegation that the woman’s body is not definable unless in relation to that of men’s.
As a result, the biological psyche of women is transformed into a psychical issue of penis envy. The psychical impact influences girls’ development through two critical changes. First, sexual pleasure is transformed from the clitoris to the vagina. Second, object-cathexis shifts from the mother to father. The girl surrenders to holding to the clitoris and vagina because of its perceived inferiority compared to the penis. At the stage, the girl is prepared to forgo sexual pleasure. The renouncement is part of the process of developing passivity of the feminine ego.
After the transition involving object-cathexis from the mother to father, girls believe that their mothers are responsible for their misfortune. Thus, in the development of their relationship, daughter-mother association is disadvantaged. Later, girls note that even mothers are castrated. Thinking that mothers are guilty for their state, girls turn their attention to fathers.
Freud’s account of femininity is highly contested, especially by feminist scholars. The critics have focused on the casual association between feminism and the envy of the penis. Biological determinism and the negligence of symbolic significance of the male body organ have formed the basis for questioning Freud’s argument. In addition, the sheer ignorance that Freud demonstrates with regard to the role of the social environment is baffling.
The definition of a woman as a man without a penis is based on an invalid observation that devalues the sexuality of women. Freud thought that both girls and boys think that mothers have a penis. Once they discover that it is not the case, they are disappointed because of this incompleteness. Such an analysis is erroneous as it assumes that the possession of a penis implies completeness. It is highly questionable whether children have the capacity to perceive superiority and inferiority.
Eva Kittay Perspective
Eva Kittay observes that Freud makes a mistake by assessing female sexuality without paying attention to the patriarchal basis of the society. In practice, the society has already defined male as the superior sex. Kittay (1984) questions if womb envy exists. In other words, Kittay wonders why the male penis is not compensated by women’s child-bearing capacity. In line with Freud’s description, it is conceivable that during their psychical growth, boys envy some female aspects. In Kittay’s evaluation, Freud’s allegation of boys’ homosexual feelings to the father might be viewed as attributes of their envy for women. Further, Kittay believes that the assumption that boys are sexually complete is the genesis of labeling girls as incomplete. In Kittay’s conclusion, Freud is incapable of comprehending the dissatisfaction or envy that boys feel for their bodies because of the patriarchal distortion of sexuality. In addition, the adoption of an androcentric position might have largely influenced Freud’s view that female sexuality has an intrinsic value, which led him to believe that maternal health and desires focus on deficiencies when compared to those of males.
If Freud had taken into consideration the social context, he could have understood the presumption that manhood is the complete state of humanity. In her acknowledgement, Kittay perceives Freud as incapable of linking male dominance to the supposed envy of the penis.
Karen Horney and Determinism
The theory is also accused of encouraging biological determinism, which in essence ignores the symbolic value of the penis. The mere sight of the penis cannot evoke the chain of reaction in a small girl as suggested by Freud (Samuel, 2013). Feminist philosophers pose concerns whether psychical characteristics and the instant realization of the value of the penis are the only determinants of femininity. In particular, Karen Horney (1924) observes that penis envy and the castration complex are not enough for explaining femininity, given that girls who have not seen the penis at an early stage do not demonstrate any significant differences. Horney’s suggestion implies that girls’ immediate reactions are not as postulated by Freud. In addition, Horney alleges that girls do not experience the psychic mechanisms resulting from the loss of a real body organ. According to Horney, penis envy and the castration complex only emerge when girls look at the penis which responds to the child’s curiosity and body formation. Horney indicates that the visibility of the penis makes it easier to use it for erotic purposes and guarantees urethral erotism. Thus, in the eyes of girls, boys enjoy the permission to touch their organs.
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The father’s authority is linked to the authority that the man enjoys in the house. Thus, Horney (1924) believes that biology has nothing to do with the state of affairs but rather the social construction of roles and positions occupied by males and females determine sexual perceptions. In other words, Horney agrees with Freud on the accuracy of penis envy and the castration complex but disagrees on the issue of biological determinism. Given that Freud’s account rests on the biological aspect, it is evident that the observation by Horney contravenes the theory. According to Horney’s evaluation, it is not the absence of the penis that causes females to be envious but rather the value of the organ, which implies a series of privileges enjoyed by men.
Introducing the symbolic significance of the organ into the theory, Horney contends that Freud’s comprehension of femininity was not constrained to biological determinism as it was open to symbolism and social factors that influence anatomical development. Horney perceives the penis envy theory as worth refining to include the configuration of the gendered ego in the context of the family within the environment of parental relations. Horney is also convinced that the position of the father affects the perception of children regarding their sex organs.
It is noted that Karen Horney is largely known for criticizing the work of Sigmund Freud. For example, Horney questioned the idea of penis envy. In the author’s opinion, Freud detected that women were envious of the power enjoyed by men. On the contrary, Horney thought that men were envious of female childbearing capacity. In her assessment, Horney indicates that occasionally penis envy would occur in neurotic women but it was countered by men’s envy of the womb. The author observes further that the extent to which men pursue the goal of leaving their names is an attempt to compensate for the inability to extend themselves through childbearing ability. Horney is perplexed by the decision of psychologists to emphasize men’s sexuality. Thus, it is not surprising that the author desexualizes Freud’s oedipal complex, observing that adoring or hating one of the parents is the result of anxiety based on a disturbed child-parent relationship. Developing her personality theory, Horney revises the Freudian thought by presenting a holistic and humanistic position that highlighted social and cultural influences such as self-actualization and human growth.
Reference to feminine psychology demonstrates that Horney is the first female to present a paper on feminism. The pioneering work offered an alternative way of looking at women. In her assessment, Horney feels that it was time to understand female attitudes and trends. The author thinks that feminine masochism is a way of regarding psychology through women’s lens. Further, Horney indicates that women are forced to depend on men for protection, care, prestige, love, and wealth. Women were expected to be idols for men and the society at large. For women to be viewed as useful, they have to gain the usefulness from their families, children, and husbands. Without a doubt, Horney has significant influence on self-psychologists, cognitive therapists, humanists, psychoanalysts, existentialists, and feminists.
In the end, it appears that biological determinism advanced by Freud leads to the neglect of symbolism. Thus, Freud leaves out the value of the penis, exposing his position to criticism based on the role of social influence on situations. For Freud, women are disadvantaged due to their biological incompleteness. According to Horney, the presumption that girls will instantaneously be drawn to the penis upon spotting it is based on social conventions.
The review of the theory demonstrates inaccuracies such as the presumption of male sexual superiority, biological determinism, symbolic significance of the body organ, as well as the role of social circumstances. However, regardless of the criticism directed at the theory’s reliance on genetic/ biological determinism, the theory by Freud remains critical for understanding the construction of femininity. I have opined that Freud is not only insightful but also influential in affirming that the devaluation of the sexuality of women is linked to the subordination the sex faces in social situations. However, later works such as those by Horney and Katty demonstrate that in order to understand feminism, there is a need to take a broader perspective by including the social conditions that surround the life of children, for example, family set-ups. The identification process with the mother fails to map onto the ‘penis envy’ theory given that the comparison is focused on the presence or absence of the penis. It is evident that parents and close relatives or friends shape the development of gender rather than envy of the mother. Thus, it must be concluded that Freud’s construction of femininity does not fit with modern-day femininity.
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