Penis envy does explain, neatly, though mistakenly, why many women of his time were frustrated. They saw men had so many more opportunities for growth and self-expression in the 19th century Europe (and the rest of the world, for that matter). But to place this frustration, whose root cause was antiquated ideas of women’s roles in a paternalistic society, on wanting to have a male appendage for excretion, is far- fetched to me.
Another area of Freud’s thought that never rang true to me was the Oedipus complex, and its sister, the Electra complex. This is an explanation of the human psyche that postulates that boys fall in love with their mothers and want to kill their fathers or at least exclude them as rivals and vice versa: Girls fall in love with their fathers and want to exclude their mothers as rivals. According to Freud, this is a natural development for both males and females and they grow out of it. But if something arrests them in this stage of growth, then they get fixated on their mother or father forever and cannot form healthy sexual relationships with others.
Again, from my own personal experience, I cannot affirm this. As a child, I loved my parents equally, with a deep attachment to my mother that had nothing to do with rivalry for my father. It seems prurient and distasteful to put such motives in my childhood relationship with my parents. And it reflects more of Freud’s own hang-ups than that of the general population.
Freud dealt with a very exclusive, bourgeois element of society, mostly women, who could afford his services and had the means to sit around and be neurotic. Working women and men did not have the luxury of analysis and did not have the leisure to contemplate their psychological pain, as they were too busy surviving.
Also, what about orphans and children who never knew their mothers or fathers? Do they get excluded from the Oedipus and Electra complexes? You can see where Freud’s theories break down right there. They applied to small segment of society at a certain time in history. Yet they are valuable in their focus on levels of consciousness that go beyond the surface of the human mind.