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Satow, R. (1983). A Severe Case of Penis Envy: The Convergence of Cultural and Individual Intra-Psychic Factors. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 11(4):547-556.

(1983). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 11(4):547-556

A Severe Case of Penis Envy: The Convergence of Cultural and Individual Intra-Psychic Factors

Roberta Satow, Ph.D.

There is a tendency for discussions of penis envy to fall into one of two general categories — either purely psychoanalytic interpretations or purely cultural ones. On the one hand, many feminists argue that Freud's concept of penis envy was the result of the social reality of Victorian Vienna. They seem to agree that if the people with the penises have more power, freedom, and respect than those with vaginas, it makes perfect sense to have penis envy. However, they believe, in a nonsexist society, there would be no such thing as penis envy. Conversely, the typical psychoanalytic view tends to discount social reality entirely and rests its case on inherent characteristics of penises — such as observability.

This paper is an attempt to illustrate the convergence of cultural and individual intra-psychic factors in a case of severe penis envy in a young Puerto Rican woman. It is an extreme case both in terms of the patient and the culture. The Puerto Rican culture idealizes the penis more than most non-Hispanic societies. But, the interplay of cultural factors and idiosyncratic personal factors is always there, even if to a lesser extent than in the case of cultures with severely rigid sex roles, such as Puerto Rico. The problem is that individuals internalize the cultural attitudes of the groups to which they belong from the same significant others from whom they internalize idiosyncratic personal attitudes. Thus separating out what is cultural and what is idiosyncratic in the object relations and ego development of an individual is very difficult because both become part of the psychic structure of that individual.

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