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Feminism and Social Phallocentrism: Psychoanalytic Approach

Language is a unique feature typical of representatives of the human race; it is natural for people to talk because language is the means of communication. We transmit some messages through language and speech; we learn something new with the help of common rules established in various languages. It is obvious that all nations have their specific languages and linguistic rules which help them to maintain the day-to-day processes.

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It was not typical for women of antiquity to talk about sex discrimination and expression of sex distinctions in language. Moreover, the tendency of fighting against discrimination in terms of gender roles and limitations was not regarded as a problem until the period of development of different psychological theories when people came to know that some problems of their behavior are connected to sexual problems and recognition of personal needs and inclination.

So, there appeared a question about the language and its gender coloring. How is language “marked” by gender? It is easy to say that the personal pronouns he and she are the most vivid expression of the language marked by gender, though some features of a marked language can be traced in the overall impression made by texts written by male writers.

French feminists Helen Cixous and Julia Kristeva criticized the representation of the concept of phallocentrism made by Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. Female writers try to protect at least the language from the cases of displaying the gender differences. The discussion of the gender’s influence on language ca be clearly traced in the essay “The Laugh of the Medusa” written by Helene Cixous. The author explains the difference and impossibility of confusing the biological aspects of human life with the cultural ones (Cixous 2039).

Both female writers argue about the relevance of discussion of the phallocentrism in literature and in language. Julia Kristeva suggested the concept of semiotic chora which involves discussion of the inner and outer space, theoretical and practical aspects of human life. It is natural that the nature gives two variants; male and female concepts are doomed to be compared, contrasted, and analyzed through their relevance, influence, and energy. Women are always thought to be gentle and fragile, Cixous presents the way women speak:

… she [woman] physically materializes what she’s thinking, she signifies it with her body. In a certain way she inscribes what she’s saying because she doesn’t deny her drives the intractable and impassioned part they have in speaking. Her speech, even when ‘theoretical’ or political, never simple or linear or ‘objectified,’ generalized: she draws her story into history (Cixous 2044-2045).

It is natural that the yin is believed to be the dark and passive, while the yang sign is suggested as a positive alternative to the dark; yang is active and light. However, the literature and language present the real expression of the male aspect.

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Sometimes the male nature speaks for itself; it does not seem to be so light and active when associated with the phallus and the panegyric on drives and natural instincts. Kristeva includes the idea of “[d]rives [that] involve pre-Oedipal semiotic functions” (Kristeva 2172); in terms of psychoanalytic poststructuralism this statement gives more space for discussion because the essence of male aspects in language is often revealed through the profound analysis of the background reasons predetermining male behavior and obvious bravado of a male sexual organ.

Phallocentrism and Language

It brings me to the discussion of this particular organ and a certain cult established to worship the essence of the male existence in terms of description in language. The process of making a cult out of phallus seems very inappropriate, though it would not have been emphasized so much without people being aware of psychoanalysis and theories about implied meaning of words, symbols, and mimicry.

The literary works by Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan can be considered an embodiment of poststucturalism and psychoanalysis in terms of analyzing the phallocentrism as one of the techniques. Female critics contrast their opinion to that of men; they put into practice the concept of feminine writing which are deprived of symbolic meaning of phallus and phallic objects. It is easy to write without being under the influence of the drives (which were explained by Freud as natural instincts); people can control their emotions and desires, though the female aspect (that is believed to be evil, dark, and passive) can be opposed to the male one (that is believed good, light, and active) because the natural instincts cannot be considered positive.

Jacques Lacan introduced another concept in his work “Mirror stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience”; he presents an inner stage, to be more exact, a stadium which serves as an inner mirror of all actions, deeds; this becomes a place of self-analysis and self-signification and counter-signification (Lacan 1288-1289). This concept was retained by female critics under consideration because it did not contradict the feminist views of Cixous and Kristeva.

It is necessary to discuss the body, its particular elements, and their influence on the process of signification. History saw a great number of events when the sexual desire and derives caused global changes in the consciousness of human beings and various events that changed the history. As you can see, the history repeats itself and we can only participate in this cyclic process.

Ancient women were deprived of the right to speak; centuries passed and the theory of psychoanalysis made it less possible for women to be considered as full-fledged members of society because they lacked some parts of their body which were typical for men only. This means that the fact of having or not-having a phallus can be regarded as the basic aspect of treating your actions as masculine or feminine.

It is worth mentioning that the concept of human body (and the phallus particularly) happened to be treated as the universal truth, though it seems impossible to analyze all events in human life from the point of view of Freudian theory. One can recognize phallic implications in everything existing in one’s consciousness. However, it is not appropriate to think phallicaly about things around us. When a man thinks about something, as a rule, he implies the concept of phallus into notions; while a woman does not try to explain everything with the help of the phallic model.

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Human consciousness should be free from stereotypes and concerns about discrimination in society, language, and literature as well as the society, language, and literature should not consist of phallic expressions and signification of particular parts of human body. Some aspects cannot be explained or understood; sometimes one just has to take it as it appears without trying to put it into the cycle of psychoanalytical discussion. In terms of gender markers in language, as discussed by female critics Cixous and Kristeva, the problem of body and signification of the self is one of the basic ones established in order to analyze the concept of phallus in literature.


The problem of femininity and gender discrimination can be considered one of the most burning ones since the period of introducing psychoanalysis began. It is natural to divide the society on male and female population, though it should not be presented in language. The theory of psychoanalysis suggests that all events and human actions are predetermined by sexual desires and that human behavior roots from phallocentrism and odes to phallus.

The female critics tend to retain the position of the mirror stage which is used to analyze the concept of self and the essence of the human being. However, Cixous and Kristeva deny the methods of psychoanalysis because it involves the discussion of sexual and lewd instincts and phallic implications in the literature and human speech. The theory introduced by Freud played a significant role in the discussion of gender importance and distinction between sexes.

The body plays a significant role in the process of establishing and maintaining the concept of self. It is typical for male representatives of the human population of the planet to be fond of themselves, though the theory of psychoanalysis has contributed greatly to the understanding of the motivation or background for some actions. The language should free from sex discrimination in any possible expression; it cannot be marked as feminine writing or male ode to phallic objects.

Works Cited

Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Peter Simon. London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 2039-2056. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “Difference” Margins of Philosophy (1982): 3-27. Print

Kristeva, Julia. “Revolution in Poetic Language. The Semiotic Chora Ordering the Drives. ” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Peter Simon. London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 2169-2179. Print.

Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.” ” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Peter Simon. London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 1285-1310. Print.

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