Jumping right in, today we’re starting with Sigmund Freud. German and born in 1856, he gave us what these days we refer to as therapy, a structured and codified method for understanding the mentally ill instead of locking them up. In doing so, he laid the foundations of the field of Psychology.
A good place to begin is his Psychosexual Stages theory, first published in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905. Also known as the Family Drama, this is his model for how personalities form. This theory gave us a lot of familiar words – Ego, Libido, Penis Envy. Some of the meanings have slipped over time, Libido is the survival impulse which supports the instinct for procreation. Not just your level of sexual desire as we use it these days, but still pretty raunchy. Penis Envy was the reason women were incompetent.
Basically, a child goes through five stages from birth to adulthood, which are marked by getting pleasure from a succession of body parts. This just strikes me as damn weird, but I guess I’m not much of a hedonist.
Freud said that everything from the very beginning is motivated by trying to fulfill our Libido’s desires. Okay at first glance, but I have difficulty with the idea that seeking sexual pleasure as an adult is analogous to an infant sucking on something. And I don’t agree that everything we do is somehow motivated by procreation. I understand the idea that, since it’s reproduction and all organisms exist to reproduce, everything we do probably boils down to sex.
I don’t agree with this for 3 reasons:
1. It fails to take into account how the universe actually works. Sometimes things just happen for no (apparent) reason. Some things are accidental. No motivation applies to everyone everywhere all the time. That’s childish.
2. Our intelligence has allowed us to build and explore many different ideas and schools of thought. If you look for sex in everything you will find it but it’s like mysticism of confirmation bias. Some things at this level of complexity are genuinely tangential enough from reproduction as to be said to have legit nothing to do with sex.
3. My personal experience. I was not a sexual person as a child. I wasn’t really a sexual person at 20. I always needed the stimulation of having someone there with me, otherwise I had more interesting things to do. It wasn’t until I was over 30 that the engine kicked on by itself for the first time. So that’s what everyone has been talking about!
They say that Freud used the term ‘sexual’ in a very general way to mean everything pleasurable. Even so, I don’t believe that satisfying hedonism is the primary motivation for living. It sounds like Old Siggy could have used a little Buddhism! But he bases his entire premise on this concept, not just procreation but pleasure specifically. He says the higher parts of the mind, the Ego and Superego, develop in order to direct the need for gratification into socially acceptable channels.
I disagree with this, too. The higher parts of the mind develop because they can. Things in nature keep growing so long as they have room and resources. Our species has cultivated higher thought for a very long time. Not to control so much as to organize. To build. Communication is integral to our survival. We need not just help but also company. Eventually the individual realizes that if they don’t reel it in, they will be left alone.
One of the stages, around age 3, is the “phallic” one. Girls realize we don’t have a penis and freak out…. I must have blocked this out or something because I sure don’t remember being upset I don’t have one of those freaky-looking things!
Feeling bereft without a penis somehow transmutes into yearning for a baby. She can’t have her dad’s penis (*shiver*) so she substitutes wanting sons because that’s the closest a girl can get to having her own penis.
Now, leaving aside for a moment the assumption that penises are just the awesomest things ever and of course everyone wants one! Freud also believed that fear of losing your penis – a Castration Complex – was the root of all morality, and therefore women could never develop a sense of right and wrong. We’re just little softheads running around conning men into getting us pregnant. In hopes of acquiring a penis of our very own.
This Sigmund guy was clearly so preoccupied with his member that he just couldn’t imagine a life without it. Or didn’t want to. I know this may upset some people but I think it needs to be said:
The world does not revolve around your penis.
Thankfully there have been women speak up to correct this nonsense. They argue that to assume a girl envies and desires a penis is misogynistic, implying women are missing something. If there is any truth to Penis Envy, it is that men have had more direct influence in life than women for a long time and it was not a desire for the organ but for the personal liberty it came to represent.
In the early 20th century, a student of Freud named Karen Horney put forward the theory of Womb Envy. This is the idea that men feel insecure because of their lack of control over reproduction. Dr. Horney (great name, right?) posited that this feeling of inferiority explained much of men’s behavior, from social climbing in the boardroom to promiscuity. Even female oppression itself.
Without the women in their lives, great rulers would never have been born and would have no heirs. This lack of involvement in the creation of life exposes the farce of their ambitions of power. Dr. Horney believed that Womb Envy arises when men realize that they are not as in control of their lives as they had thought.
I have often felt compelled to ask, why are men so obsessed with controlling women’s reproductive system? Why are we told lies about the Pill while so many men get away with so much? Politicians, priests, comedians, college students, actors and executives, the list of sexual predators seems to go on forever, and that’s just the famous ones!
And this nonsense about Pro-Life people being so concerned about babies! I can’t even entertain that drivel anymore. If they are so concerned about babies, maybe make it easier to get contraception so those unwanted babies never happen. Maybe make it easier for more people to adopt. Or support social programs so the single mother who got knocked up because she didn’t understand how her body works can feed her baby that she got shamed into keeping. No? Then shut up.
Womb Envy explains why I have had the privilege of hearing the opinions of every political candidate on the subject of whether women should be able to terminate a pregnancy. Imagine if every stump speech contained that person’s stance on whether old men deserved boner pills. Because they might be promiscuous, you know. Our society makes it daily business to control women’s sexuality. Men (and thereby society) are usually totally okay with fetishizing female breasts, but god forbid a woman uses them to feed her child.
Relying so heavily on women to birth their descendants must have really stricken fear into the hearts of powerful men. Women have to be the ones to produce the next generation. Men became insecure and overcompensated by consolidating power. They have used that power to control women’s reproductive practices. They feel inferior and it makes them want to control the female body as much as they possibly can.
This is why everything associated with women is taken less seriously, even if we borrowed it from them in the first place. When you fear someone, you seek to weaken them whenever possible. Wishing for control over progeny sure makes a lot more sense than wishing for a penis! I’ll keep my nifty vagina, thank you, tucked neatly away yet still so convenient.
And personally I think it also stems from residual anger at the mother figure. She is Woman, and she can be a tyrant. Resentment over forgotten injustices could also fuel the way men so often excuse themselves from having to deal with us as equals. But I suppose that’s more Jungian and part of a different post.
Thanks for Reading! Comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have suggestions for future Readings.