Phallic Woman

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The term phallic woman refers to the fantasmatic image of a woman (or mother) endowed with a phallus or a phallic attribute. It also refers to the fantasy of the woman (or the mother) retaining the phallus internally after coitus.

The expression "phallic mother" appeared in Freud's work in 1933 in the New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in reference to Karl Abraham's interpretation of the image of a spider. "According to Karl Abraham (1922)," Freud wrote, "a spider in dreams is a symbol of the mother, but the phallic mother" (1933a, p. 24). In fact, Abraham had not used the exact expression in 1922, but it could be inferred from what he wrote. Even though the term appeared quite late in Freud's career, the idea itself was present a number of years earlier in Freud's work.

In the essay on "Fetishism" (1927e), Freud returned to the idea that he had first advanced in 1910 in Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood. The small child believes that the woman (the mother) has a phallus and refuses to give up this belief. The "infantile hypothesis of the maternal phallus," Freud argued, led to the dominant role that the young Leonardo gave to the vulture's tail in his childhood fantasy (1910c, p. 98). It also underlies the formation of a fetish, which is, according to Freud, a substitute for the maternal phallus, the absence of which is denied. The image of the phallic woman or mother is often found in dreams and fantasies, and also in mythology. This imaginary "form of the mother's body" has its basis in the infantile theory of the maternal phallus and is maintained even after the recognition of the difference between the sexes.

The image of the phallic woman as Freud described it has only given rise to a few tentative elaborations, for example, those of Ruth Mack Brunswick (1940). But it should also be noted that since Felix Boehm brought attention to another version of the fantasy that came to light in his analyses of homosexuals (1926), the term "phallic woman" also refers to the fantasmatic image of a woman with an internal phallus, retained inside her body after coitus. In this version of the fantasy, the woman still "possesses" the phallus.

The notion of the phallic woman generally does not refer to the identification that a girl or woman has with either the maternal or male phallus, nor to the fantasy of possessing a phallus, on which the masculinity complex is founded. And even though women who present so-called masculine traits are often called "phallic," this is not necessarily what is meant by the term "phallic woman (or mother)."

Catherine Desprats-PÉquignot

See also: Castration complex; Disavowal; Female sexuality; Femininity; Fetishism; Masculinity/femininity; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Penis envy; Phallic mother; Phallic stage; Phallus; "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes."


Boehm, Felix. (1926). Homosexualität und Oedipuskomplex. Internat. Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, 12.

Freud, Sigmund. (1927e). Fetishism. SE, 21: 147-157.

. (1910c). Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. SE, 11: 57-137.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

Mack Brunswick, Ruth. (1940). The preoedipal phase of the libido development. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 9, 293-319.