Gender and Life

What is womb envy?
Answered by Discovery Fit & Health
  • Discovery Fit & Health

    Discovery Fit & Health

  1. In a 1914 book, psychologist Sigmund Freud developed his idea of "penis envy." According to Freud, young girls realize, in the course of their development, that they lack a penis, which they desire because of the power it represents. Freud went on to say that penis envy caused these girls to develop sexual desire for their fathers, who did possess penises. This theory came under attack by many psychologists, including one named Karen Horney. Horney put forth the idea that there's a male counterpart to penis envy called womb envy, in which men are jealous of women's ability to become pregnant and give birth. This envy, according to Horney, drives men to become successful in other arenas, such as the workplace or elected office.

    As a contemporary of Freud (Horney was born in Germany in 1885), Horney turned to Freudian analysis to help her through some difficult times, including the feeling that her father favored her brother, the death of her mother soon after Horney's own marriage and birth of three daughters. What's more, Horney decided to go to medical school, a move often met with resistance for women in the early 1900s; she earned her degree in 1913 [source: Webster University]. Horney went on to teach and practice as a psychoanalyst, eventually coming to the United States [source: AIP].

    It was Horney's pioneering works on feminine psychology that made her famous, however. She was the first women to present a paper on the subject at an international meeting and she published 14 papers on women and psychology between 1922 and 1937. Most of all, she openly rejected Freud's theories on penis envy by saying that women were justifiably envious of the power men held in the world. She added that men's envy regarding women's wombs was entirely possible because men were so concerned about success and carrying on their names, but could not control bearing their own children.

    In 1955, the Karen Horney Clinic was opened in New York City to honor her achievements in psychology. The clinic offers adult treatment programs, child and adolescent services, foster care and treatment for those who have experienced incest and abuse [source: Karen Horney Clinic].

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