Penis envy in Freudian psychoanalysis refers to the theorized reaction of a girl during her psychosexual development to the realization that she does not have a penis. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in the development of gender and sexual identity for women. According to Freud, the parallel reaction in boys to the realization that girls do not have a penis is castration anxiety.
In contemporary culture, the term is sometimes used symbolically or metaphorically to refer to the idea that women wish they had a penis, or to refer to anxieties between men about the size of their genitals.
Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of a little girl's interest in—and envy of— the penis in his 1908 article "On the Sexual Theories of Children," but did not fully develop the idea until substantially later in 1914 when his work On Narcissism was published. It was not mentioned in the first edition of Freud's earlier Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex (1905).
The term came to significance as Freud gradually refined his views of female sexuality, coming to describe a mental process he believed occurred in girls as they passed through the Electra complex from the phallic stage to the latency stage (see Psychosexual development).
In Freud’s psychosexual development theory, the phallic stage (approximately between the ages of 3.5 and 6) is the first period of development in which the libidinal focus is primarily on the genital area. Prior to this stage, the libido (broadly defined by Freud as the primary motivating energy force within the mind) focuses on other physiological areas. For instance, in the oral stage, in the first 12 to 18 months of life, libidinal needs concentrate on the desire to eat, sleep, suck and bite. The theory suggests that the penis becomes the organ of principal interest to both sexes in the phallic stage. This becomes the catalyst for a series of pivotal events in psychosexual development. These events—known as the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls—result in significantly different outcomes for each gender because of differences in anatomy.
The offshoot of these events, often cited in the media and colloquially, is that a girl really wants to become her mother, so that she can control her father.
A similar process occurs in boys of the same age as they pass through the phallic stage of development. The key differences being that the focus of sexual impulses need not switch from mother to father, and that the fear of castration (castration anxiety) remains. The boy desires his mother, and identifies with his father, whom he sees as having the object of his sexual impulses. Furthermore, the boy’s father, being the powerful aggressor of the family unit, is sufficiently menacing that the boy employs the defense mechanism of displacement to shift the object of his sexual desires from his mother to women in general.
Freud thought this series of events occurred prior to the development of a wider sense of sexual identity, and was required for an individual to continue to enter into his or her gender role.
While fashionable for a number of decades, the concept of penis envy is no longer regarded as a serious one by some modern psychoanalysts.
Although popular in the early twentieth century when the theory was initially floated, Freud’s theories regarding psychosexual development (in particular the phallic stage and the Oedipal crisis) have been discredited. Theories by other influential psychoanalysts, such as Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget are widely believed to be more broadly accurate and applicable to child psychological development. Having said this, Freud’s theory continues to be relevant in some theoretical circumstances, and is of such historical significance that it continues to find its way into psychoanalytical teachings. Most of Freud's theories are still taught as part of curriculum in almost all universities and academic circles.
A significant number of critics, activists and feminists, have been highly critical of penis envy as a concept and psychoanalysis as a discipline, arguing that the assumptions and approaches of the psychoanalytic project are profoundly patriarchal, anti-feminist, and misogynistic and represent women as broken or deficient men. Karen Horney—a German psychoanalyst who also placed great emphasis on childhood experiences in psychological development—was a particular advocate of this view. She asserted the concept of "womb envy" to challenge the idea of penis envy.
A small but influential number of Feminist philosophers have worked within Psychoanalysis (see Psychoanalytic feminism), including Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous who operate within a Post-Structuralist Feminist tradition inspired by Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. Juliet Mitchell—another Feminist theorist—attempted to reconcile Freud's thoughts on psychosexual development with Feminism and Marxism by declaring his theories to be simply observations of gender identity under capitalism. She proposed a shift to Marxist models of rearing children which would result in the dismantling of the Electra complex and the Oedipus complex and the avoidance of penis envy.
|“||I worked with Freud in Vienna. We broke over the concept of penis envy. He thought it should be limited to women.||”|
Unrelated to penis envy as referred to in psychoanalysis, is "small penis syndrome" which is the anxiety of thinking one's penis is too small - even though it isn't.  The female equivalent is "small breast anxiety" which is a woman's discontentment about her breast size.
The media attention given to penis size and some women being vocal in their penis size preferences have led some men to state their anxiety over their penis size. Television shows such as Sex and the City and Ally McBeal popularised the penis size issue when characters in these TV shows stated their preference for well-endowed men over more modestly-endowed men. Also, in the 1977 film Annie Hall, Woody Allen's character, upon hearing the question asked by the title character about penis envy, replied that he "was one of the few males that suffered from it."