Research suggests women envy moustaches, not penises

Illustration by Cara Seccafien

Illustration by Cara Seccafien

UBC study builds on Freud’s theory of female psychology

By Jake Wray, News Editor


“Her self-love is mortified by the comparison with the boy’s far superior equipment.” – Sigmund Freud, 1933


One of Sigmund Freud’s most controversial and discredited theories might have some truth to it.

As part of his overall theory about the psycho-sexual development of pre-adolescent girls, Freud postulated that girls are deeply affected at an early age by the realization that they do not have penises. He theorized that girls have an innate desire to have heterosexual intercourse with their mothers, and that they are unable to do so without a penis, so they envy boys and men (including their father) for having penises. This envy, according to Freud, is held subconsciously for the rest of a woman’s life, and influences her personality. The penis envy theory has been criticized as heteronormative, misogynistic, and patriarchal.

Freud’s psycho-sexual theories lack empirical proof and, until now, have been more a matter of philosophy than science. In early 2014, a group of researchers at UBC set out to change that by starting a scientific study to verify the penis envoy theory. What they found took them by surprise.

“We anticipated that our research would show Freud’s theory to be completely baseless,” said Karen Green, UBC psychology research fellow and lead author of the study. “Instead, we found his envy framework mostly sound, except it was centered on the wrong object.”

Using re-purposed Iranian copper mind plugs and state-of-the-art brain imaging software, researchers tapped directly into the brains of 2458 female test subjects to view what the subjects were subconsciously thinking. The researchers found that most of the test subjects did not want to have intercourse with their mothers when they were children, as Freud suggested, but instead simply wanted to impress their mothers. Consequently, the test subjects did not envy men’s penises—they envied men’s moustaches.

Green and her team then conducted an additional experiment which found moustaches are innately impressive to adult women.

“There was already a wealth of scientific evidence telling us that women don’t find penises impressive,” Green said. “Despite the obvious glory of moustaches, there was no empirical evidence indicating how women felt about them.”

A primary group of female test subjects were exposed to a man with a real moustache, a placebo group of test subjects was exposed to that man with a fake moustache, and a control group of test subjects was exposed to the same man clean-shaven. Post-exposure questionnaires filled out by all participants showed that many women in the primary and placebo groups experienced elevated moods and an increased libido after the encounter, even if they claimed to not like moustaches. The control group experienced little or no elevation of mood or libido.

“The implications of this research are vast,” said Deepthi Arora, a psychology professor at McGill University who also runs a private practice. “I’m ashamed to admit that I have counselled numerous female patients with slight moustaches, and I encouraged all of them to shave or wax.”

Tom Churchill, a barber who has owned a shop in Vancouver’s East Side neighbourhood since 1963, said the study confirms something he had already observed.

“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and moustaches have easily been the most common fixation among both men and women,” he said. “Some women ask me if I can give them a moustache. I tell them ‘Lady, I just cut hair—I don’t grow it!’”

Green said that while she was surprised her study showed that women are both impressed by and envious of moustaches, it also came as a relief.

“It explains a lot of confusing feelings I’ve been having,” she said. “For years I thought that I didn’t like moustaches but that also felt wrong on a primal level. Now I think everyone should have a moustache.”


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The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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