Although it begins with the discussions of the so-called phallic stage of development that took place in the 1920s and 1930s, it took on a new importance in the 1970s as questions of gender and its reproduction came to the fore.
In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan argued that psychoanalysis was one of the major sources of the mystique of her title, which persuaded women to collude in their own domination by men. Beauvoir, for her part, had already describe psychoanalysis as encouraging or even engineering a social conformity that was detrimental to women's interests. Feminists agreed that psychoanalysis was part of the ideology of patriarchy. However, far from being a prescription for patriarchy, psychoanalysis offered a theory of patriarchy and gender that could contribute to the liberation of women.
Freud states that 'anatomy is destiny' and explains the little girl's 'sense of inferiority' in terms of the [[narcissism}narcissistic]] wound inflicted by her realization that she does not have a penis. Elsewhere Freud argues that, whilst psychoanalysis cannot describe 'what a woman is,' it can helpt to elucidate 'how she comes into being, how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition.' Despite this claim, Freud's writings are full of metaphors of darkness and obscurity that help to turn femininity into a 'dark continent which is almost impossible to understand.
The Freudian notion of penis envy was the central issue in the early debates over the phallic phase, or that stage in psychosexual development in which children of both genders believe in the existence ofonly one genital organ. Feminists found this emphasis on penis envy which defined women as incomplete males very offensive. The girl's realization that she does not have a penis leads her to conclude that she once had one but has been castrated, and she then embarks on the long process of feminization which will lead her to transform her wish for the penis into a wish for a child.
Lacan's main contributions to the debate are the concepts of the symbolic, the phallus and the name-of-the-father, which do move the discussion away from the biologism of Freud's remarks about anatomy and destiny. They also create new problems. It is difficult to find precedents for the use of 'phallus rather than 'penis' in Freud, adn the link that is established by Lacan between the phallus and access to the symbolic is vulnerable to Derrida's accusation of phallogocentrism. The importance acribed to the name-of-the-father, for its part, can be seen as rearguard action against the greater emphasis that is placed on mothering by Klein, Winnicott and others. Whilst elements of Lacanian psychoanalysis have become an essential part of certain forms of feminism, critics such as Irigaray argue that both its basic epistemology and its practices are inherently masculinist.