Early Origins of Envy and
Devaluation of Women:
HARRIET E. LERNER
Psychoanalysts have long believed that penis envy is central to the understanding of women and have invoked this concept to explain everything from a woman's desire for a husband and child to her strivings to work and compete in traditionally masculine fields. Those outside psychoanalytic circles have shown less enthusiasm for such explanations—particularly members of the women's liberation movement, who angrily protest that women have cause to be envious of men's position in society for reasons other than their possession of the desired penis. Certain psychoanalysts have, in turn, insisted that the women's liberation movement is itself a manifestation of penis envy and that discontent with the female role is a psychiatric problem.
Narrow and stereotyped notions concerning women's appropriate place in society are not confined to a mere handful of psychoanalysts. The most authoritative of psychoanalysts have concurred that the____________________