tagReviews & EssaysThe Phallic Woman Theory

The Phallic Woman Theory


Being sexually attracted to hairy women ineluctably has homoerotic overtones. In the unconscious, internalized iconography of our culture, body hair is a masculine trait, not a feminine one. A hirsute woman is, in effect, a masculinized woman.

One of the most intriguing and original psychoanalytic treatises to appear in the past 20 years is Female Perversions: The Temptations of Emma Bovary (Doubleday, 1991) by Louise J. Kaplan, a practicing psychoanalyst who has studied both male and female "paraphiliacs."

A paraphiliac is what we used to call a "pervert." Pervert, however, is a word charged with moral opprobrium, and that is something people in the helping professions seek to avoid. Thus, we now have the politically correct, coldly clinical term paraphiliac.

Kaplan posits that hairy women lovers and other fetishists are created young—-between ages three and six—-as a consequence of oedipal conflicts emanating from the "primal scene."

The classic oedipal conflict is when a young boy unconsciously wants to kill Dad so he can "have" Mom. (With girls, of course, it's reversed and termed an "Electra complex.")

The infant is a bundle of narcissistic needs. As he grows from toddler to child, this solipsism continues. As such, the child comes to see Dad as competition for Mom's attention, which the child yearns to have all to himself.

The conflict is that Dad might retaliate by cutting off the child's penis. The child knows Dad is capable of doing this because the child has seen Mom naked in the bath or wherever and could not help noticing that Mom did not have a penis. Instead there was what looked like a cut or wound. In child's fantasy, Mom once DID have a penis, just like Dad's, but in a fit of rage and a demonstration of omnipotence, Dad cut it off.

So the child knows full well what Dad is capable of doing. Therein lies the unconscious tension. The important point, though, is that this fantasy is a normal phase in a child's psychosexual development. But it IS supposed to be a phase on the route to emotional maturity. For some people, though, it becomes a permanent destination.

The Oedipal fantasy is unconscious. The primal scene, however, is something the child IS consciously aware of. The primal scene, in psychoanalytic parlance, is the moment when the child discovers that Mom and Dad are doing something mysterious in the bedroom with the door locked.

The child, accustomed to being the center of attention, is appalled and outraged (the technical term is "narcissistic mortification") to discover that Mom and Dad won't open the bedroom door and invite him to join them.

The child then makes up a story (that is, has a fantasy) to explain what his parents are doing behind closed doors. In the fantasy, the age distinction between parents and child are blurred. The child imagines that he's his parents' equal, because, if this were so, he could be admitted to the bedroom and be permitted to join in whatever is going on there.

There's another important component to this fantasy. The child does not merely blur age distinctions but gender distinctions as well. That's because the threat of castration, as a result of the Oedipal conflict, still looms large in the child's unconscious mind. The child resolves the conflict, again on a subconscious level, by conflating Mom and Dad into a single fabulous being: a woman who embodies the attributes of both Mom and Dad—a woman with a penis. In effect, a phallic woman.

According to Louise Kaplan, the unconscious scenario imagined to make sense of and cope with the primal scene, like the Oedipal fantasy of which it is an extension, or rather an evolution, is also a normal part of psychosexual development in both little boys and little girls.

Some kids outgrow it as they grow older, become more independent, and find new love objects. Others, for a variety of reasons, may not. If Dad is an aloof figure, or seldom present in the child's life (perhaps because he's a workaholic, alcoholic, or emotionally distant), a fantasy in which the erotic object is a figure representing a merger of both Mom and Dad may become burned onto the template of the child's consciousness.

This fantasy serves an important purpose: it helps to alleviate the anxiety the child experiences when he has primitive sexual feelings for Mom, an anxiety arising out of his unconscious fear of Dad's retaliation.

Growing up with a fixation about hairy women is, according to Kaplan, an infantile fantasy that survives into adulthood. A hairy woman fantasy is really an incest fantasy that involves both Mom and Dad.

A hairy woman is, then, a masculinized woman who represents the psychic merger of Dad's masculine traits (body hair) and Mom's feminine traits.

A hairy woman, Kaplan posits, is a phallic woman. In Freudian terms, however, a phallic woman is not merely a woman who has a penis. A phallic woman represents a woman who IS a penis.

It's an intriguing theory, and there's much in it that has the ring of truth. But Kaplan fails to address a problematic issue: If hairy women lovers really seek a woman with a penis, or a woman who represents a penis, why aren't they all flocking to have sex with transvestites?

After all, a transvestite may look remarkably like a woman, she has a cock, and underneath her clothes, she may be hairy. And not just hairy, but adorned with the coarse, thick, specifically masculine hair that got grafted onto Mom during the primal scene fantasy of childhood.

In my capacity as a journalist, I have had many opportunities to chat with men who love hairy women, and to ask whether they visit transvestites. None do, or at least would admit to it. Most were discomfited that I would even suggest such a thing. But given the unfettered intimacy of our conversations, I found them persuasive.

Conversely, in an article I was writing on transvestites, I posed the opposite question: Are any of your sexual partners hairy woman lovers? Which had my interviewees scratching their heads. They didn't know what I was talking about. When I explained, I received detailed recountings of the types of men who DO go out with transvestites. Not the same type of guys at all.

Alas, Kaplan doesn't address this issue. So let me suggest my own hypothesis. All sexual preferences and fantasies exist on a continuum of possibilities. At one extreme is a theoretically pure heterosexual, at the other, a theoretically pure homosexual. Most of us, regardless of gender, exist somewhere in between.

Hairy women lovers may be a closer to the homosexual end of the spectrum than some other people, but this is not to suggest that they are homosexual. Homosexual men are turned on by men, period, not masculinized women, although there's no denying that finding body hair on a woman sexually appealing is a homoerotic trait.

"Homoerotic," however, is not a synonym for "homosexual," as many people mistakenly think. In psychoanalytic terms, if you're a member of a football team, or enjoy an all-boys poker night, or attend a stag party, or snap towels in a gym locker room, or bathe a public shower, or take a leak in a public lavatory, you're also exhibiting homoerotic traits.

Most men and women exhibit some homoerotic traits. It's normal. It doesn't mean they're closeted gays. No! In fact, one could make the case that the people who really ARE teetering on the brink of threatening sexual ambiguity are gay-bashers—-men who experience so much anxiety at the prospect of homosexuality that they resort to violence to prove their heterosexual manhood, when in reality it proves just the reverse.

I have a few bones to pick with Kaplan and her theory regarding its implications for hairy women lovers, so stay tuned.

Oh, and if you found this essay provocative and compelling, check out my previous essay in this series: "Are Hairy Women Lovers Normal?"

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