Psychodynamic explanation of gender development


Psychodynamic explanation of gender development

Freud's psychoanalytic theory

Pre-phallic children

  • The phallic stage is when gender development occurs
  • Prior to reaching the phallic stage, children have no concept of gender identity
  • Freud described pre-phallic children as bisexual (neither male nor female)
  • In the phallic stage, the focus of pleasure for the child switches to the genitals, and it is within this stage that children experience the oedipus/electra complex

Oedipus complex

  • In the phallic stage, boys develop incestuous feelings towards their mother
  • They harbour a jealous and murderous hatred for their father who stands in the way of the boy possessing his mother
  • The boy also recognises that his father is more powerful than he is and he gets castration anxiety
  • To resolve this conflict, the boy gives up his love for his mother and begins to identify with his father

Electra complex

  • At the same age, girls experience penis envy, seeing themselves and their mother as being in competition for their father's love
  • Girls develop a double-resentment towards their mother
  • The mother is a love rival and the girls blame their mother for their lack of penis
  • Freud was much less clear on the process in girls
  • Girls come to accept that they will never have a penis and substitute penis envy for the desire to have children, identifying with their own mother as a result

Identification and internalisation

  • Children of both sexes identify with the same-sex parent as a means of resolving their respective complexes
  • Children take on board the gender identity of the same-sex parent…


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