Castration of the Female, Penis Envy


When it comes to Freud’s bafflement with female sexuality – that ‘dark continent’ as he called it – many commentators say his sexism is nowhere more in the grips of the demeaning prejudice of his day. Perhaps and even so, I find it difficult to understand why children, especially girls, want unicorns. Why unicorns?  The standard reading of Freud goes like this: having now realized that she can’t have her father or his phallus, the girl turns back to her mother and sorrowfully seeks a relationship with her. Envious of his phallus (unicorn horn) that she can’t have or posses, she must now submit to socialization, which generates her desire to make babies, which she can get by seducing the phallus. This road of socialization is the way to sexual difference and gendered identity. There is, perhaps, no reason to take this account literally since being already castrated, there is no reason she should be disappointed or concerned about her castration. But, there’s always this weird fascination with unicorns… what to do with unicorns? And what if we read Freud not literally but as offering a generalizable narrative that in symbolic terms accounts for the emergence of the subject and their subjectivity as such through socialization. In other words, not even Freud believed kids are scared they are going to have the penises cut off, and girls didn’t really want their father’s penis. Rather, castration and penis envy refer to a whole array of cuts and wounds that have to take place in order for children to become functioning subjects, adults capable of subjecting themselves to any number of social coordinates. So here, then, is a video that I believe nicely illustrates one moment in what I would consider this person’s transition from the pleasure principle to the reality principle – out of the pre-oedipal stages and through the oedipal castration into young adulthood. Enjoy:


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