Google News, 26.3.2014. A businesswoman is sitting at the table with some “dudes.” She feels they devalue her work, her skills, and herself merely because she is a woman. She loses confidence; what to do? Holly Wilson, a sculptor from Mustang, Oklahoma, thinks she has the answer. She has created a miniature penis, one-and a half inches long, and available in either bronze or silver. A woman who purchases it will be able to take it along to meetings. At the appropriate moment she can fumble in her pocket or handbag, put the tiny marvel on the table, and show it to her male business partners; after which, it is hoped, business can really get under way.
Ms. Wilson is hardly the only emancipated woman who hopes for a penis that will somehow empower her. Take Naomi Wolf, a self-declared “power feminist” writer who advised candidate Al Gore during the 2000 U.S presidential campaign. In Fire by Fire (1993) she explains how delighted she was by some ads she saw showing “phallic objects… emerg[ing]… from women’s [emphasis in the original] groins.” In the 1997 movie GI Jane the lead character, acted by Demmi More, demands that a U.S Army male instructor “suck her dick” (which, of course, she doesn’t have). The grand-priestess of modern feminism, Betty Friedan, in her 1981 book The Second Stage expressed her confidence that women would soon be able to join men in the “ballfield” where important political economic and social issues are decided. The list goes on and on.
The words of these and other leading feminist seem to belie the claim, made by Kate Millett and others, that penis envy is a lie invented by Freud specifically in order to keep women in their proper place. Freud himself first mentioned the term in a 1908 essay called “On the Sexual Theories of Children.” Later his followers picked it up and started strewing it over their own works like sequins over a dress. Yet the precise origin and significance of the phenomenon has always been in doubt. Karen Horney (1885-1952), one of Freud’s more important female students, believed that the penis merely acted as the symbol for all the advantages, real or imagined, men enjoy in society. Wrong, said another female disciple of the master, Jeanne Lampl de Groot (1895-1987). “The absence of a penis cannot be regarded as a matter of secondary and trifling significance for the little girl, as Karen Horney [thinks]… The material,” meaning her own clinical experiences and that of others brought to her attention, proved that “penis envy is a central point.” It is “from this point that the development into normal femininity begins”. Woman’s “wish for a penis is the consequence of a biological datum that underlies her psychic reaction of feeling inferior and is ‘rock bottom.’”
Many of these debates took place at Freud’s famous analytical seminars, held every Wednesday evening at his home. Another female analyst who participated in some of them was Helene Deutsch (1884-1982). Deutsch, one of the first women to receive a medical degree from any Austrian university, rightly considered herself, “a leader in female emancipation.” In 1925 she became the first member of Freud’s circle to publish a paper specifically dealing with the psychology of women, shocking Freud who himself had yet to produce anything of the kind. None of this prevented her from embracing the theory of the biological origin of penis envy heart and soul. The clitoris, she explained was but “an inadequate substitute” for the male organ. In 1935 Deutsch fled Germany for the U.S. Beautiful and very hard-working, she became a highly successful therapist, teacher and lecturer. In 1944-45 she published her two-volume work, The Psychology of Women. It turned her into the world’s foremost authority on the subject, a position she continued to hold for about three decades.
While psychoanalytical opinion remains divided, a look at the world around us may help resolve the riddle. Indeed one could argue that the whole of modern feminism itself is nothing but the most gigantic, best-organized, exercise in penis-envy ever. If men wear trousers, women must do the same. If men spend most of their lives slaving away in factories and offices, then unless women share their fate and find jobs they consider themselves only half-human. If men undertake years of intensive training and embark on hazardous journeys to the moon and back, women must join them there. If men hit each other half to death in sports such as boxing, women too must enter the rink. If men join the military, travel to some war in some godforsaken country halfway around the world to fight and die there, then so must women. If men enjoy one-night stands then so, some recent psychologists claim, must women.
Not only is the list of examples endless, but it and continues to expand almost day by day. Judging by them, women’s—especially feminist women seeking “emancipation”—jealousy of men knows no bounds. Were Lampl de Groot and Deutsch right in claiming that it is rooted in biology? Or is the penis simply a symbol for the advantages men enjoy in society, as Horney claimed? Like most attempts to separate nature from nurture, the question does not seem to admit a final answer. But does it really matter? Perhaps the real clue to understanding the relationship between men and women is contained in the following sentence, uttered by God when he drove the first couple out of paradise. “Unto your man shall be your passion,” He told Eve; “and he shall govern you.”
So it has been, so it remains, and so, presumably, it will always be.