The Symbolic Equation – Girl = Phallus : 1936 : Otto Fenichel

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1936


– Int. Ztschr. f. Psa., XXII, 1936, No. 3

– Translated by Henry Alden Bunker, in Psychoanalytical Quarterly, v18, 1949, p303-324

Quoted by Jacques Lacan 

Seminar IV : 6th February 1957 : See Seminar IV : The Object Relation & Freudian Structures 1956-1957 : begins 21st November 1956 : Jacques Lacan or here :   para 8  On the topic of scopophilic transvestism: where the author senses – in a more or less obscure way – a kinship, a common group of stems, you can in fact see events which are extremely well distinguished from one another. And in particular this is how, in the process of learning about this vast and insipid literature – which allowed me to realise to what extent analysts have attained a true articulation of these facts – I recently became interested in one of Fenichel’s articles which appeared in Psychoanalytical Journal, on what he calls the ‘girl = phallus’ equivalence. He himself authorised us to do this with respect to other equivalences in the well known series of equations, ‘feces = child = penis’ – in fact, an interesting equation which does bear some relation to the equation that Fenichel is trying to offer us, the ‘girl = phallus’ equation

See p324 : Likewise, the phallus girl is, generally speaking, not only a penis but also a child, feces (content of the mother’s body) and milk. It is the introject, and one which is again projected. The penis thus is only the final member of the series of introjects. It was primarily my intention at this time to lay emphasis upon this final member of the series.

Citations of Sigmund Freud

p304 : [2] : The situation might parallel that of the ‘Wolf-man’, in that a relatively primary feminine longing is opposed by the realization that ‘the gratification of this desire would cost the penis’, as it might be that an originally strong penis pride and a phallic tendency to exhibitionism were inhibited by castration anxiety, and then became replaced by a feminine tendency to exhibitionism.

2 Freud: From the History of an Infantile Neurosis. Coll. Papers, III, p. 473.

History of an Infantile Neurosis (The ‘Wolf Man’) : 1914 : Sigmund Freud, Published 1918b : SE XVII : p3-123 : See From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (The ‘Wolf Man’) : 1914 : Sigmund Freud  or here : or Published at and available here

SEXVII p109-110 : The analysis of the anxiety-dream shows us that the repression was connected with his recognition of the existence of castration. The new element was rejected because its acceptance would have cost him his penis. Closer consideration leads us to some such conclusion as the following. What was repressed was the homosexual attitude understood in the genital sense, an attitude which had been formed under the influence of this recognition of castration. But that attitude was retained as regards the unconscious and set up as a dissociated and deeper stratum. The motive force of the repression seems to have been the narcissistic masculinity which attached to the boy’s genitals, and which had come into a long-prepared conflict with the passivity of his homosexual sexual aim. The repression was thus a result of his masculinity.

p308 [6] This fear manifested itself as a fear of retaliation for corresponding oral-sadistic tendencies, primarily against the penis. For instance, in order to escape the sadomasochistic temptation [6] involved in defloration by a man, she had deflorated herself, and was filled with a great longing for ‘peaceful’ sexuality.

6 Freud: The Taboo of Virginity. Coll. Papers, IV, p. 217.

The Taboo of Virginity (Contributions to the Psychology of Love III) : 12th December 1917 (Vienna) (1918a) : Sigmund Freud : SE XI : p193-208

SE XI p201, p275 of v7, pfl  :  I do not want to introduce at this point the attempts – which are so frequent – to take flight from the first occasion of sexual intercourse, because they are open to several interpretations and are in the main, although not altogether, to be understood as an expression of the general female tendency to take a defensive line. As against this, I do believe that light is thrown on the riddle of female frigidity by certain pathological cases in which, after the first and indeed after each repeated instance of sexual intercourse, the woman gives unconcealed expression to her hostility towards the man by abusing him, raising her hand against him or actually striking him. In one very clear case of this kind, which I was able to submit to a thorough analysis, this happened although the woman loved the man very much, used to demand intercourse herself and unmistakably found great satisfaction in it. I think that this strange, contradictory reaction is the result of the very same impulses which ordinarily can only find expression as frigidity – which, that is, can hold back the tender reaction without at the same time being able to put themselves into effect. In the pathological case we find separated so to speak into its two components what in the far more common instance of frigidity is united to produce an inhibiting effect, just like the process we have long recognized in the so-called ‘diphasic symptoms’ of obsessional neurosis. The danger which is thus aroused through the defloration of a woman would consist in drawing her hostility down upon oneself, and the prospective husband is just the person who would have every reason to avoid such enmity.

Now analysis enables us to infer without difficulty which impulses in women take part in bringing about this paradoxical behaviour, in which I expect to find the explanation of frigidity.

[8] p310 As is well known, the fantasy of men rescuing women or girls has been interpreted by Freud in the sense that the rescued women represent the mother. [8]

8 Freud: On a Special Type of Choice of Objects Made by Men. Coll. Papers, IV, p. 192.

Sigmund Freud: A Special Type of Choice of Object made by Men: (Contributions to the Psychology of Love I) : 1910h : Sigmund Freud : SE Vol XI

p234-235 of v7,pfl : SEXI p168-169 (4) What is most startling of all to the observer in lovers of this type is the urge they show to ‘rescue’ the woman they love. The man is convinced that she is in need of him, that without him she would lose all moral control and rapidly sink to a lamentable level. He rescues her, therefore, by not giving her up. In some individual cases the idea of having to rescue her can be justified by reference to her sexual unreliability and the dangers of her social position: but it is no less conspicuous where there is no such basis in reality. One man of the type I am describing, who knew how to win his ladies by clever methods of seduction and subtle arguments, spared no efforts in the subsequent course of these affairs to keep the woman he was for the time being in love with on the path of ‘virtue’ by presenting her with tracts of his own composition.

If we survey the different features of the picture presented here – the conditions imposed on the man that his loved one should not be unattached and should be like a prostitute, the high value he sets on her, his need for feeling jealousy, his fidelity, which is nevertheless compatible with being broken down into a long series of instances, and the urge to rescue the woman – it will seem scarcely probable that they should all be derived from a single source. Yet psycho-analytic exploration into the life- histories of men of this type has no difficulty in showing that there is such a single source. The object-choice which is so strangely conditioned, and this very singular way of behaving in love, have the same psychical origin as we find in the loves of normal people. They are derived from the infantile fixation of tender feelings on the mother, and represent one of the consequences of that fixation. In normal love only a few characteristics survive which reveal unmistakably the maternal prototype of the object-choice, as, for instance, the preference shown by young men for maturer women; the detachment of libido from the mother has been effected relatively swiftly. In our type, on the other hand, the libido has remained attached to the mother for so long, even after the onset of puberty, that the maternal characteristics remain stamped on the love- objects that are chosen later, and all these turn into easily recognizable mother-surrogates. The comparison with the way in which the skull of a newly born child is shaped springs to mind at this point: after a protracted labour it always takes the form of a cast of the narrow part of the mother’s pelvis.

We have now to show the plausibility of our assertion that the characteristic features of our type – its conditions for loving and its behaviour in love – do in fact arise from the psychical constellation connected with the mother. This would seem to be easiest where the first precondition is concerned – the condition that the woman should not be unattached, or that there should be an injured third party. It is at once clear that for the child who is growing up in the family circle the fact of the mother belonging to the father becomes an inseparable part of the mother’s essence, and that the injured third party is none other than the father himself. The trait of overvaluing the loved one, and regarding her as unique and irreplaceable, can be seen to fall just as naturally into the context of the child’s experience, for no one possesses more than one mother, and the relation to her is based on an event that is not open to any doubt and cannot be repeated.

If we are to understand the love-objects chosen by our type as being above all mother-surrogates, then the formation of a series of them, which seems so flatly to contradict the condition of being faithful to one, can now also be understood.

[9] p310 : Might not the interpretation be justified that all these female figures too have a penis significance? Freud’s interpretation of Lear’s Cordelia, that she represents the death-goddess, [9] does not run counter to such a conception.

9 Freud: The Theme of the Three Caskets. Coll. Papers, IV, p. 244.

The theme of the three caskets : 1913 : Sigmund Freud, SEXII : 290–301

SE XII p301 : Lear is an old man. It is for this reason, as we have already said, that the three sisters appear as his daughters. The relationship of a father to his children, which might be a fruitful source of many dramatic situations, is not turned to further account in the play. But Lear is not only an old man: he is a dying man. In this way the extraordinary premiss of the division of his inheritance loses all its strangeness. But the doomed man is not willing to renounce the love of women; he insists on hearing how much he is loved. Let us now recall the moving final scene, one of the culminating points of tragedy in modern drama. Lear carries Cordelia’s dead body on to the stage. Cordelia is Death. If we reverse the situation it becomes intelligible and familiar to us. She is the Death-goddess who, like the Valkyrie in German mythology, carries away the dead hero from the battlefield. Eternal wisdom, clothed in the primaeval myth, bids the old man renounce love, choose death and make friends with the necessity of dying.

The dramatist brings us nearer to the ancient theme by representing the man who makes the choice between the three sisters as aged and dying. The regressive revision which he has thus applied to the myth, distorted as it was by wishful transformation, allows us enough glimpses of its original meaning to enable us perhaps to reach as well a superficial allegorical interpretation of the three female figures in the theme. We might argue that what is represented here are the three inevitable relations that a man has with a woman – the woman who bears him, the woman who is his mate and the woman who destroys him; or that they are the three forms taken by the figure of the mother in the course of a man’s life – the mother herself, the beloved one who is chosen after her pattern, and lastly the Mother Earth who receives him once more. But it is in vain that an old man yearns for the love of woman as he had it first from his mother; the third of the Fates alone, the silent Goddess of Death, will take him into her arms.

[12] p312 The same mechanism of object choice here involved, as Freud has described, pertains to a certain type of male homosexuality, [12] and it is now established that it also occurs in the heterosexual.

12 Freud: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Trans. by James Strachey. London: Imago Publishing Co., 1949, pp. 22, ff.

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: 1905d : Sigmund Freud, SE VII p123-245, Published at see here  : Essay I – The Sexual Aberrations : in Three Essays of the Theory of Sexuality : 1905

probably Footnote p56 of v11 pfl,  SE VII p144 : Footnote 1 : Thus the sexual object is a kind of reflection of the subject’s own bisexual nature.[1] 1 [Footnote added 1910:] It is true that psycho-analysis has not yet produced a complete explanation of the origin of inversion; nevertheless, it has discovered the psychical mechanism of its development, and has made essential contributions to the statement of the problems involved. In all the cases we have examined we have established the fact that the future inverts, in the earliest years of their childhood, pass through a phase of very intense but short lived fixation to a woman (usually their mother), and that, after leaving this behind, they identify themselves with a woman and take themselves as their sexual object. That is to say, they proceed from a narcissistic basis, and look for a young man who resembles themselves and whom they may love as their mother loved them. Moreover, we have frequently found that alleged inverts have been by no means insusceptible to the charms of women, but have continually transposed the excitation aroused by women on to a male object. They have thus repeated all through their lives the mechanism by which their inversion arose. Their compulsive longing for men has turned out to be determined by their ceaseless flight from women.

[Added 1915:] Psycho-analytic research is most decidedly opposed to any attempt at separating off homosexuals from the rest of mankind as a group of a special character. By studying sexual excitations other than those that are manifestly displayed, it has found that all human beings are capable of making a homosexual object-choice and have in fact made one in their unconscious. Indeed, libidinal attachments to persons of the same sex play no less a part as factors in normal mental life, and a greater part as a motive force for illness, than do similar attachments to the opposite sex. On the contrary, psycho-analysis considers that a choice of an object independently of its sex – freedom to range equally over male and female objects – as it is found in childhood, in primitive states of society and early periods of history, is the original basis from which, as a result of restriction in one direction or the other, both the normal and the inverted types develop. Thus from the point of view of psycho-analysis the exclusive sexual interest felt by men for women is also a problem that needs elucidating and is not a self-evident fact based upon an attraction that is ultimately of a chemical nature. A person’s final sexual attitude is not decided until after puberty and is the result of a number of factors, not all of which are yet known; some are of a constitutional nature but others are accidental. No doubt a few of these factors may happen to carry so much weight that they influence the result in their sense. But in general the multiplicity of determining factors is reflected in the variety of manifest sexual attitudes in which they find their issue in mankind. In inverted types, a predominance of archaic constitutions and primitive psychical mechanisms is regularly to be found. Their most essential characteristics seem to be a coming into operation of narcissistic object- choice and a retention of the erotic significance of the anal zone. There is nothing to be gained, however, by separating the most extreme types of inversion from the rest on the basis of constitutional peculiarities of that kind. What we find as an apparently sufficient explanation of these types can be equally shown to be present, though less strongly, in the constitution of transitional types and of those whose manifest attitude is normal. The differences in the end-products may be of a qualitative nature, but analysis shows that the differences between their determinants are only quantitative. Among the accidental factors that influence object-choice we have found that frustration (in the form of an early deterrence, by fear, from sexual activity) deserves attention, and we have observed that the presence of both parents plays an important part. The absence of a strong father in childhood not infrequently favours the occurrence of inversion. Finally, it may be insisted that the concept of inversion in respect of the sexual object should be sharply distinguished from that of the occurrence in the subject of a mixture of sexual characters. In the relation between these two factors, too, a certain degree of reciprocal independence is unmistakably present. …..

[16] p315 : The more these actually projected pregenital tendencies are covered by an æsthetic façade which tempts us to the ‘premium of laughter’, the more we attribute to such slapstick comics the character of real art. [16] The anal-sadistic element seems herein to play an especially prominent rôle. It would seem that slapstick belongs under the rubric of sadomasochism: beatings are constantly administered.

16 Cf. Freud: Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious. In, Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. Trans. by A. A. Brill. New York: Modern Library, 1938.

See Jokes and their relation to the Unconscious : 1905 : Sigmund Freud, SE VIII P3-237 & published by : available here :

[21] p321 In this instance … the sexual object is not someone of the same sex but someone who combines the characters of both sexes; there is, as it were, a compromise between an impulse that seeks for a man and one that seeks for a woman, while it remains a paramount condition that the object’s body (i.e., genitals) shall be masculine. [21]

21 Freud: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Trans. by James Strachey. London: Imago Publishing Co., 1949, pp. 22–23.

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: 1905d : Sigmund Freud, SE VII p123-245, Published at see here  : 

Probably as above SE VII p144, Essay I – The Sexual Aberrations : in Three Essays of the Theory of Sexuality : 1905

[22] p322, Moreover, we have frequently found that alleged inverts have been by no means insusceptible to the charms of women, but have continually transposed the excitation aroused by women on to a male object. [22]

As [21]

[24] p323, The unconscious fantasies of ‘infantile totemism’ which magically unite a human being with an animal species [24] are certainly not entirely based on the fact that the animal is fantasied as a part of one’s own body, as oneself in phallic form.

24 Freud: Totem and Taboo. Chapter IV, The Infantile Recurrence of Totemism. In, The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. New York: Modern Library, 1938.

Totem and Taboo: 1912-1913 : Sigmund Freud, SE Vol XIII  : Published by : available here  


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Julia Evans 

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London & Sandwich, Kent


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