Gender/Domination © Chiara Bottici
Gender/Domination © Chiara Bottici

This post is part of the Gender and Domination Course in OOPS.

“Look at those hands; are they small hands?” the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination Donald Trump said during the debate on March 3, 2016. Trump added, “And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.” During this presidential campaign, Trump has said some very stupid things. Yet, his compulsion to defend the size of his penis on national television without being prompted may prove to be an exception.

Luce Irigaray, the feminist psychoanalyst who situated Freud’s sexist doctrine of penis envy within “phallocentric” discourse, may be of some help in explaining Trump’s penis envy. To start with ourselves though, I don’t think that we can wipe our hands entirely clean. We love talking about penises. Just last week, an article was published about “Hitler’s Micro Penis” as if to say, “well he probably killed all those Jews because he had a small dick and one weird testicle” — as if the horror that was the Holocaust originated in a man’s penis.

This kind of reductio ad penis is exactly what Irigaray is talking about in Speculum of the Other Woman when she claims that the penis would not be such a privileged object in our society “were it not to be interpreted as an appropriation of the relation to origin and of the desire for and as origin” (p. 47). Irigaray levels her main criticism against Freud in arguing that the world does not revolve around the penis. Someone’s gender and sexual orientation cannot originate simply in whether they lack a penis, that is, whether they are “castrated.”

According to Freud on “Femininity,” the story goes that the little girl recognizes she is “without a penis” (SE22, 125). This blow to her narcissism leads her to resent her mother who is also without a penis. Little “girls hold their mother[s] responsible for their lack of a penis” and being put “at a disadvantage” (SE22, 124). Fortunately, the father then takes the mother’s place as the privileged object of desire because he has what the little girl wanted all along — a penis. Irigaray responds to this phallocentric fairy tale, stating “[w]oman’s castration is defined as her having nothing you can see, as her having nothing” (p. 48). For Irigaray, this penile lack takes on a powerful almost mythic force, “hence the impetus it gives to fictive, mythic, or ideal productions” (p. 52).

Irigaray may be right in pointing out that Freud makes it seem as if the world revolves around the penis. And lots of people love to make fun of the absurd story Freud tells about “penis envy.” Surely not all women become women because they really, deep down, want a penis…but wouldn’t Hitler’s micro penis explain why he was miserable enough to devote his life to genocide? And to be a powerful businessman and presidential candidate, your dick has to be huge, right?

Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from Freud’s (albeit sexist) explanation of “femininity” is not that women love penises, but that men do. That should go without saying, right? Surely, men have a lot more penis envy than women do.

Who can piss the farthest? Who can crush the most beers? Who has slept with the most chicks? At the end of the day, aren’t these competitions about penis envy? Contests such as these are just stand-ins for who has the biggest dick. They are what Irigaray calls “phallomorphic” sexual metaphors (p. 47), which reminds me of when Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were having their own pissing contest during the eighth Republican GOP nomination debate about who would be better at torturing terrorists. “I’d bring back waterboarding,” Trump said during the debate, “and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump went on to call Cruz a pussy for not bringing back torture in any sort of “widespread use.”

I’m not entirely convinced that Freud was wrong about penis envy. However, I don’t think that women have it. But Donald Trump certainly does.