Phallic woman

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In psychoanalysis, phallic woman is a concept to describe a woman with the symbolic attributes of the phallus. More generally, it describes any woman possessing traditionally masculine characteristics.[1]

Phallic mother[edit]

Freud considered that at the phallic stage of early childhood development, children of both sexes attribute possession of a penis to the mother—a belief the loss of which helps precipitate the castration complex.[2] Thereafter males may seek fetishistic substitutes in women for the lost penis in the form of high heels, earrings or long hair to alleviate the castrative threat[3]—terrifying phallic women such as witches (with their broomsticks) representing the failure of such substitutes to cover the underlying anxiety.[4] The female, whose love (in Freud's view) was originally "directed to her phallic mother",[5] may thereafter either turn to her father for love, or may return to an identification with the original phallic mother in a neurotic development.[6]

The phallic mother can be (though need not necessarily be) an actively castrative figure, stifling her children by pre-empting all room for autonomous action.[7]

Phallus girl[edit]

Rather than seeking or identifying with the phallic mother, libido may instead be directed at the figure that has been termed the phallus-girl.[8] For the male, the phallus girl may be represented by a younger (perhaps boyish) girl, in whom he can find an image of his own adolescent self.[9] For the female, such a position may either entail a submissive merger with the male partner (identification with a body-part),[10] or an exhibitionist display of the self as phallus: as Ella Sharpe put it of a dancer, "she was the magical phallus. The dancing was in her".[11]

Soft porn marks out the phallus girl through such symbols as whips, bikes and guns;[12] while she also underpins the action heroine such as Ripley or Lara Croft.[13]

Later developments[edit]

The twenty-first century ladette can be seen as a phallic girl—her emphasis on light-hearted, recreational sex serving as a passport to being 'one of the boys'.[14]

Artistic analogues[edit]

  • Picasso in the interwar years produced many paintings of women with phallic attributes.[15]
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer demonstrates an ambivalent relationship to her phallic power as slayer/staker.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ B. Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine (2012) p. 157
  2. ^ S. Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 310-11
  3. ^ E. A. Kaplan, Rocking Around the Clock (1991) p. 91
  4. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 330 and p. 341
  5. ^ S. Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 2) p. 160
  6. ^ M. Borch-Jacobsen, Lacan (1991) p. 215
  7. ^ M. Parsons, The Dove that Returns, the Dove that Vanishes (2000) p. 109
  8. ^ J. Mitchell/J. Rose eds., Feminine Sexuality (1982) p. 94
  9. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 332-3
  10. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 350
  11. ^ Quoted in M. Jacobus, The Poetics of Psychoanalysis (2005) p. 29
  12. ^ B. Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine (2012) p. 116
  13. ^ M. Mark, Divas on Screen (2004) p. 68
  14. ^ A. McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism (2009) p. 83
  15. ^ R. Penrose ed., Picasso 1881/1973 (1973) p. 91-4
  16. ^ J. Davidson, The Psychology of Joss Whedon (2013) p. 107

Further reading[edit]

  • Henry A. Bunker, 'The Voice as (Female) Phallus', Psychoanalytic Quarterly (1934) III: 391-420
  • Otto Fenichel, 'The Symbolic Equation: Girl = Phallus', Psychoanalytic Quarterly (1949 [1936]) XX (3): 303-24
  • Marcia Ian, Remembering the Phallic Mother (1993)

External links[edit]