Phallic Phase

At approximately 3 or 4 years of age, children begin a third stage of infantile development—the phallic phase, a time when the genital area becomes the leading erogenous zone. This stage is marked for the first time by a dichotomy between male and female development, a distinction that Freud (1925/1961) believed to be due to the anatomical differences between the sexes. Freud (1924/1961, p. 178) took Napoleon's remark that "History is destiny" and changed it to "Anatomy is destiny." This dictum underlies Freud's belief that physical differences between males and females account for many important psychological differences.

Masturbation, which originated during the oral stage, now enters a second more crucial phase. During the phallic stage, masturbation is nearly universal, but because parents generally suppress these activities, children usually repress then conscious desire to masturbate by the time their phallic period comes to an end. Just as children's earlier experiences with weaning and toilet training helped shape the foundation of then psychosexual development, so too does their experience with the suppression of masturbation (Freud 1933/1964). However, then experience with the Oedipus complex plays an even more crucial role in then personality development.

Male Oedipus Complex Freud (1925/1961) believed that precedmg the phallic stage an infant boy forms an identification with his father; that is, he wants to be his father. Later he develops a sexual desire for his mother; that is, he wants to have his mother. These two wishes do not appear mutually contradictory to the underdeveloped ego, so they are able to exist side by side for a time. When the boy finally recognizes then inconsistency, he gives up his identification with his father and retams the stronger feeling—the desire to have his mother. The boy now sees his father as a rival for the mother's love. He desires to do away with his father and possess his mother hi a sexual relationship. This condition of rivalry toward the father and incestuous feelings toward the mother is known as the shnple male Oedipus complex. The term is taken from the Greek tragedy by Sophocles in which Oedipus, King of Thebes, is desthied by fate to kill his father and marry his mother.

Freud (1923/1961a) believed that the bisexual nature of the child (of either gender) complicates this picture. Before a young boy enters the Oedipus stage, he develops some amount of a feminine disposition. During the Oedipal period therefore, his feminine nature may lead him to display affection toward his father and express hostility toward his mother, while at the same thne his masculine tendency disposes him toward hostility for father and lust for mother. During this ambivalent condition, known as the complete Oedipus complex, affection and hostility coexist because one or both feelings may be unconscious. Freud believed that these feelings of ambivalence in a boy play a role hi the evolution of the castration complex, which for boys takes the form of castration anxiety or the fear of losing the penis.

To Freud (1905/1953b, 1917/1963, 1923/1961b), the castration complex beghis after a young boy (who has assumed that all other people, including girls, have genitals like his own) becomes aware of the absence of a penis on girls. This

42 Part II Psychodynamic Theories awareness becomes the greatest emotional shock of his life. After a period of mental struggle and attempts at denial, the young boy is forced to conclude that the girl has had her penis cut off. This belief may be reinforced by parental threats to punish the boy for his sexual behaviors. The boy is then forced to conclude that the little girl has been punished by having her penis removed because she masturbated or because she seduced her mother. For the boy, the threat of castration now becomes a dreaded possibility. Because this castration anxiety cannot long be tolerated the boy represses his impulses toward sexual activity, including his fantasies of carrying out a seduction of his mother.

Prior to his sudden experience of castration anxiety, the little boy may have "seen" the genital area of little girls or his mother, but this sight does not automatically instigate the castration complex. Castration anxiety bursts forth only when the boys ego is mature enough to comprehend the connection between sexual desires and the removal of the penis.

Freud believed that castration anxiety was present in all boys, even those not personally threatened with the removal of their penis or the stunting of its growth. According to Freud (1933/1964), a boy does not need to receive a clear threat of castration. Any mention of injury or shrinkage in connection with the penis is sufficient to activate the child's phylogenetic endowment. Phvlogenetic endowment is capable of filling the gaps of our individual experiences with the inherited experiences of our ancestors. Ancient man's fear of castration supports the individual child's experiences and results in universal castration anxiety. Freud stated: "It is not a question of whether castration is really carried out; what is decisive is that the danger threatens from the outside and that the child believes in it." He went on to say that hints at. . . punishment must regularly find a phylogenetic reinforcement in him. It is our suspicion that during the human family's primaeval period castration used actually to be carried out by a jealous and cruel father upon growing boys, and that circumcision, which so frequently plays a part in puberty rites among primitive peoples, is a clearly recognizable relic of it. (pp. 86-87)

Once his Oedipus complex is dissolved or repressed the boy surrenders his incestuous desires, changes them into feelings of tender love, and begms to develop a primitive superego. He may identify with either the father or the mother, depending on the strength of his feminine disposition. Normally identification is with the father, but it is not the same as pre-Oedipal identification. The boy no longer wants to be his father; instead he uses his father as a model for determining right and wrong behavior. He introjects or mcorporates his father's authority mto his own ego, thereby sowing the seeds of a mature superego. The buddmg superego takes over his father's prohibitions agamst nicest and ensures the continued repression of the Oedipus complex (Freud 1933/1964).

Female Oedipus Complex The phallic phase takes a more complicated path for girls than for boys, and these differences are due to anatomical differences between the sexes (Freud 1925/1961). Like boys, pre-Oedipal girls assume that all other children have genitals similar to their own. Soon they discover that boys not only possess different genital equipment, but apparently something extra. Girls then become envious of this appendage, feel cheated and desire to have a penis. This experience of penis envy is a powerful force in the formation of girls' personality Unlike castration anxiety in boys, which is quickly repressed, penis envy may last for years in one form or another. Freud (1933/1964) believed that penis envy is often expressed as a wish to be a boy or a desire to have a man. Ahnost universally, it is carried over into a wish to have a baby, and eventually it may find expression in the act of giving birth to a baby, especially a boy.

Preceding the castration complex, a girl establishes an identification with her mother similar to that developed by a boy; that is, she fantasizes being seduced by her mother. These incestuous feelings, according to Freud (1933/1964), are later turned into hostility when the girl holds her mother responsible for bringing her into the world without a penis. Her libido is then turned toward her father, who can satisfy her wish for a penis by giving her a baby, an object that to her has become a substitute for the phallus. The desire for sexual intercourse with the father and accompanying feelings of hostility for the mother are known as the simple female Oedipus complex. Incidentally, Freud (1920/1955b, 1931/1961) objected to the term Electro complex, sometimes used by others when referring to the female Oedipus complex, because it suggests a direct parallel between male and female development during the phallic stage. Freud believed that no such parallel exists and that differences in anatomy determine different courses in male and female sexual development after the phallic stage.

Not all girls, however, transfer their sexual interest onto their father and develop hostility toward their mother. Freud (1931/1961, 1933/1964) suggested that when pre-Oedipal girls acknowledge their castration and recognize their inferiority to boys, they will rebel in one of three ways. First, they may give up their sexuality— both the feminine and the masculine dispositions—and develop an intense hostility toward their mother; second they may cling defiantly to their masculinity, hoping for a penis and fantasizing being a man; and third, they may develop normally: that is, they may take their father as a sexual choice and undergo the simple Oedipus complex. A girl's choice is influenced in part by her inherent bisexuality and the degree of masculinity she developed during the pre-Oedipal period.

The simple female Oedipus complex is resolved when a girl gives up mastur-batory activity, surrenders her sexual desire for her father, and identifies once again with her mother. However, the female Oedipus complex is usually broken up more slowly and less completely than is the male's. Because the superego is built from the relics of the shattered Oedipus complex, Freud (1924/1961,1933/1964) believed that the girl's superego is usually weaker, more flexible, and less severe than the boy's. The reason the girl's superego is not as strict as the boy's is traceable to the difference between the sexes during their Oedipal histories. For boys, castration anxiety follows the Oedipus complex, breaks it up nearly completely, and renders unnecessary the continued expenditure of psychic energy on its remnants. Once the Oedipus complex is shattered energy used to maintain it is free to establish a superego. For girls, however, the Oedipus complex follows the castration complex (penis envy), and because girls do not experience a threat of castration, they experience no traumatic sudden shock. The female Oedipus complex is only incompletely resolved by the girl's gradual realization that she may lose the love of her mother and that sexual intercourse with her father is not forthcoming. Her libido thus remains partially expended to maintain the castration complex and its relics, thereby blocking some psychic energy that might otherwise be used to build a strong superego (Freud, (1931/1961).

In summary, the female and male phallic stages take quite different routes. First, the castration complex for girls takes the form of penis envy—not castration anxiety. Second, penis envy precedes the female Oedipus complex, whereas for boys the opposite is true; that is, the castration anxiety follows the male Oedipus complex. Third, because penis envy takes place prior to the female Oedipus complex, little girls do not experience a traumatic event comparable to boys' castration anxiety. Fourth, because girls do not experience this traumatic event, the female Oedipus complex is more slowly and less completely dissolved than the male Oedipus complex.

The simple male and female Oedipus complexes are summarized in Table 2.1.

Freud presented his views on the female Oedipus complex more tentatively than he did his ideas regarding the male phallic stage. Although he framed these views on femininity in a tentative and provisional manner, he soon began to vigorously defend them. When some of his followers objected to his harsh view of women, Freud became even more adamant in his position and insisted that psychological differences between men and women could not be erased by culture because they were the inevitable consequences of anatomical differences between the sexes (Freud, 1925/1961). This rigid public stance on feminine development has led some writers (Breger, 2000; Brannon, 2005; Chodorow, 1989, 1991, 1994; Irigaray, 1986; Krausz, 1994) to criticize him as being sexist and uncomplimentary to women.

Despite his steadfast public position, Freud privately was uncertain that his views on women represented a final answer. One year after his pronouncement that "anatomy is destiny," he expressed some doubts, admitting that his understanding of girls and women was incomplete. "We know less about the sexual life of little girls than of boys. But we need not feel ashamed of this distinction; after all, the sexual life of adult women is a 'dark continent' for psychology" (Freud 1926/1959b, p. 212).


Parallel Paths of the Simple Male and Female Phallic Phases


Parallel Paths of the Simple Male and Female Phallic Phases

Male Phallic Phase

Female Phallic Phase


Oedipus complex (sexual desires for


Castration complex in the form of

the mother/hostility for the father)

penis envy


Castration complex in the form of


Oedipus complex develops as an

castration anxiety shatters the

attempt to obtain a penis (sexual

Oedipus complex

desires for the father; hostility for


Identification with the father

the mother)


Strong superego replaces the nearly


Gradual realization that the Oedipal

completely dissolved Oedipus

desires are self-defeating



Identification with the mother


Weak superego replaces the partially

dissolved Oedipus complex

Feist-Feist: Theories of I II. Psychodynamic I 2. Freud: Psychoanalysis I I <£>The McGraw-Hill

Personality, Sixth Edition Theories Companies, 2005

Chapter 2 Freud: Psychoanalysis 45

Throughout his career, Freud often proposed theories without much clinical or experimental evidence to support them. He would later come to see most of these theories as established facts, even though he possessed no intervening substantiating evidence. For as long as he lived, however, he remained doubtful of the absolute validity of his theories on women. Freud once admitted to his friend Marie Bonaparte that he did not understand women: "The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul is 'What does a woman want?'" (E. Jones, 1955, p. 421). Such a question posed after many years of theorizing suggests that Freud regarded women not only as quite different from men, but as enigmas, not comprehensible to the male gender.

Beyond Biography Did Freud misunderstand women? For information on Freud's lifelong struggle to understand women, see our website at

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Stammering Its Cause and Its Cure

Stammering Its Cause and Its Cure

This book discusses the futility of curing stammering by common means. It traces various attempts at curing stammering in the past and how wasteful these attempt were, until he discovered a simple program to cure it. The book presents the life of Benjamin Nathaniel Bogue and his struggles with the handicap. Bogue devotes a great deal of text to explain the handicap of stammering, its effects on the body and psychology of the sufferer, and its cure.

Get My Free Ebook


  • josefiina
    Does toddler masterbate at phallic stage?
    3 years ago

Post a comment