Penis envy () is a stage theorized by Sigmund Freud regarding female psychosexual development, in which female adolescents experience anxiety upon realization that they do not have a penis. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in a series of transitions toward a mature female sexuality and gender identity. In Freudian theory, the penis envy stage begins the transition from an attachment to the mother to competition with the mother for the attention, recognition and affection of the father. The parallel reaction of a boy’s realization that women do not have a penis is castration anxiety. Freud’s theories regarding psychosexual development, and in particular the phallic stage, were criticized and refined by other psychoanalysts, such as Karen Horney, Otto Fenichel, Ernest Jones, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Juliet Mitchell, Clara Thompson. Feminists argue that Freud’s developmental theory is heteronormative and denies women a mature sexuality independent of men and for privileging the vagina over the clitoris as the center of women’s sexuality. Freud’s sociosexual theory has additionally come under criticism from feminists for privileging heterosexual sexual activity and penile penetration in defining women’s “mature state of sexuality”. Counter-critics have responded that feminists misunderstand penis envy, which was not intended by Freud to refer literally to the envy of the male physical penis but to be understood as an abstract, evolving force in psychosexual development. Penis envy is theorized as a discrete event and reoccurring force in psychosexual development, not as “envy of the penis,” but is sometimes used inexactly in contemporary culture to refer to women who are presumed to wish they were men.
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