This post is part of the Bodies, Gender, and Domination OOPS Series.

Penis envy is a catchy term, which is one reason it effectively made its way into popular culture. Coined in Freud’s 1925 Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes, it is widely misunderstood to mean, or used to perpetuate, the idea that those who posses a penis are superior to those who do not, and that women, for this reason, envy the anatomy and wish for themselves the pleasure and the power of the penis. Here are some alternatives to the term that retain nuances of the theory but take the ‘fun’ out — making it harder to evade the real implications of the term that may not be apparent to those who haven’t studied Freud’s texts, or who are not awake to the social consequences of anatomical distinction between the male and non-male sexed bodies:

1) Autonomy envy

2) Opportunity envy

3) Self-determination envy

4) Freedom from catcalling envy

5) Freedom-to-wear-as-much-or-as-little-clothing-as-desired-without-the-threat-of-violence-or-harassment envy

6) Freedom-from-constant-bombardment-of-marketing-for-products-to-use-to-alter-every-inch-of-your-body-into-an-unnatural-form envy

7) Freedom from dick pics envy

8) Freedom from pay gap envy

9) Freedom from gaslighting envy

10) Freedom from motherhood discrimination envy

11) Freedom from “pink tax” envy

12) Freedom from victim blaming envy

13) Freedom from mansplaining envy

14) Freedom from manterrupting envy

15) Manspreading envy

16) Ability-to-be-considered-for-the-position-of-president-of-the-United-States –without-having-to-be-married-to-a-former-president envy

17) Opportunity to excel without judgment of physical appearance envy

18) Not being grabbed by the pussy envy

19) Never-being-taken-less seriously-because-you-have-“blood coming out of her wherever” envy

20) Being taken seriously in the doctor’s office envy

21) Emotional labor avoidance envy

22) Devalued labor avoidance envy

23) Historical representation envy

24) Political representation envy

25) Boys being boys envy

In his Lecture on Femininity, Freud spends some time pointing out the large part suppression plays in the development of a “normal woman.” He mentions several forms: suppression of aggressiveness, suppression of defiance, suppression of self-sufficiency, suppression of instinctual life, suppression of masturbatory activity and suppression of ambition. But in his sexual vacuum, he does not place much importance on how much of this suppression is social, cultural and/or biological. This seems an important determination to make before prescribing what is normal in the sexual life of “woman.”

It’s telling that, when Freud was faced with defining the opposite of female sexual suppression, he settled on the penis. The organ has historically been one of the most effective tools used in the suppression and silencing of women. By funneling all of these socially and culturally enforced suppressions down his pants, Freud can invoke the old, irrefutable playground retort: “she’s just jealous.” Certainly, this envy may exist. But by naming this phenomenon after the flesh hanging between his legs instead of the cultural constructs that enable the suppression of women, Freud has created a pop-psychology phenomenon that can easily penetrate both the psyche and the vocabulary, and prop up any existing belief in male dominance.

We might consider, radical though it may be (Still? After all these years?), that woman’s lack is not physical in any way. Perhaps, after all, her envy is for the considerable advantages and higher degrees of freedom and self-determination culturally gifted to boys and men and withheld from girls and women. Flesh is so much less interesting than power, autonomy, voice, rights and all the rest that just so happen to be attached to the penis.

One thought on “25 Alternatives to Penis Envy

  1. this is well stated and succinct. I agree with it. I do like the idea of the fantasy of the phallus developed by Laconian feminists, though, where the phallus is the fantasy of total domination, or erasing of lack, as we all lack and how we deal with this lack is important. The more there is a denial of lack or incompleteness the stronger the hold of the fantasy of the phallus, as in Trump and perhaps the women who supported him (and men, too, of course. )

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