The Electra complex is an ambiguous psychiatric concept which attempts
to explain the maturation of the human female. It is said to be the female
counterpart to the Oedipus complex in males. Its name comes from the Greek
myth of Electra who sought to avenge the murder of her father Agamemnon.
Electra was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who wanted her
brother to avenge their father's death by killing their mother.
Carl Gustav Jung proposed the name Electra complex for Sigmund Freud's
concept of the "feminine Oedipus attitude" in young girls. According
to Sigmund Freud, the girl is originally attached to the mother as well;
however, when she discovers that she lacks a penis during the phallic
stage the daughter becomes libidinally attached to her father and imagines
that she will become pregnant by him, while becoming more hostile towards
her mother. This is due mostly to the idea that the girl is "envious"
of her father's penis and wants to possess it so strongly that she dreams
of bearing his children, thus the term "penis-envy". She believes
that the pregnancy would replace the missing penis which she envies, and
would allow her to gain equal status with the father.
This leads to resentment towards her mother, whom the girl believes caused
her castration. According to some radical psychologists, the male psyche
is the dominant entity in human relations. This may be due in part to
the belief that females have a weaker superego, where morality is developed
and values internalized. This judicial component of human personality
is developed during the phallic stage.
Furthermore, if there is a perversion in the development of females or
if their aggression is somehow stifled, resentment can in turn be displaced
towards the dominant male (the father) or patriarchal cultures in general.
This, according to some, explains the phenomena of lesbianism and by extention
feminism (though this not universally accepted, as it assumes that women
loving and/or supporting equality for other women requires an animosity
Feminists generally regard this theory as sexist. The assertion that
women suffer from penis envy is generally attributed to the Victorian
assertion that male sex organs are somehow better than those of females.
Others believe that due to the extensive privilege of the male sex in
comparison to the female sex that at the time it was true, because women
wanted these rights and after the success of the women's rights movement
this penis envy ended for all but a few women.
Feminist theory has mostly rejected Freud's concept of penis envy, either
by dismissing psychoanalysis as a project of masculine mastery, by essentializing
femininity thus reclaiming difference as an asset, by using psychoanalysis
and simply ignoring it, for example by adopting a version of the Electra
Complex or an alternative identificatory pattern (e.g. Hélène
Cixous) or by adopting / developing more progressive rereadings of Freud,
like those of Jacques Lacan (e.g. Juliet Mitchell, Jacqueline Rose and
These theories are highly controversial and are continually subject to
much heated debate. While fashionable for a number of decades, the theory
lost mainstream acceptance during the 1960s and 1970s.It has since gone
mainly rejected or ignored by mainstream academia. A modern counter to
this idea is offered, known as the Westermarck effect in which imprinting
during childhood prevents incestual sexual attraction. However, there
are some psychologists who still subscribe to the Electra Complex theory.
Supporters of this theory blame it's loss of mainstream acceptance on
rise in socialist and neo-liberal ideological stances that occured around
the same time, though there are capitalists and conservatives who also
reject the Electra Complex theory.