A few days ago, I realized why I get so angry with my husband for having to clean a house that takes me all day to clean, for having to make dinner, for having to pick up after everyone in the house, including the damn golden retriever: I am angry because I have penis envy.
According to Freud, “The discovery of her castration is a turning-point in the life of the girl.” In his 1908 article On the Sexual Theories of Children, he concludes that “She is wounded in her self-love by the unfavourable comparison with the boy, who is so much better equipped.” And this wound leaves in her the feeling that she is ill-equipped, castrated, and inferior to the male that has the penis. She is lacking the thing which yields him power and significance in society. And this is how I feel: emasculated, inferior, and castrated. And I feel this way not because my husband makes me feel this way; he is just playing the part of the man, a privileged man. And this privilege did not come to him in the form of money, but in the possession of a penis in a society that worships it and the masculinity and power it assigns it. He is a man, and even though he came from nothing and built himself into someone through hard work and unfettered drive, success comes to him easier than it does me because he has a penis. A penis-possessor can do anything he wants to do, and can achieve his wildest dreams – and even though he has to fight for it, it is easier for him because he is a man. The world takes him seriously – his anger, when voiced, is not ridiculed or labeled hysterical. His anger is impassioned, virile, and masculine. He is empowered by the appendage – by his position of maleness.
I envy his penis – not the appendage – but the power, the ease, the masculinity that comes with being male. Men don’t have to choose their careers over their children. When they marry, life remains the same; for some, it even gets better, because now they will have a woman that will cook for them, clean for them, bear children for them, and raise those children with the love and nurturance they had acquired from their own mothers. Men wake up in the morning and shower with unhurried movements because when their children awaken, they will not have to rush to them; the mothers will. They don’t have to hurry downstairs, make breakfast, pack lunches, make sure the kids are dressed and ready for school or the school bus, have brushed their teeth and have packed their book bags. Men saunter to their cars, sipping coffee, drive to work with their windows down, listening to music or the news, without knowing what it’s like to hear screaming and the sound of hands violently thrashing against the other, chaos hurtling itself from the back seat, attacking the mother that drives the car. Men have lunch breaks with buddies, go shopping or to the movies when the market is slow, by themselves or with other men, none of whom has a kid, a toddler, screaming, squirming, whining, running out of reach, clinging to the fabric of their pants.
Men go biking, running, golfing, drinking, golfing and drinking, and many men travel for work, experiencing the absence of child-rearing madness that befalls upon the lone women they married. Mothers are left behind, in the home, raising the kids by themselves, toting them from school to play dates to basketball to soccer to football to ballet to boy scouts, and so on. His job typically ends at five, while hers continues until all the kids are in bed, and then even after they have been read to and tucked in, she has to sweep the floors, wash the tubs, pick up after the kids, vacuum the carpets, put in a load of dishes or laundry until she finally falls onto her face, in her clothes, upon the soft mattress of her bed. Tomorrow looks pretty much the same.
This is not my life; I rebel against this kind of life because I want more than this. And when I fall into the trap of such domestication, I wail, I scream, I protest with great derision. I create a battlefield in which I cannot be ignored. And it may not be the best way to make myself be heard, but it is the only way I know how to fight against the silencing of my own ambitions – it is the only way I know how to say no to the domestication of my gender, which becomes very restrictive once we become mothers.
Freud says that once a girl discovers her “lack,” she either accepts her fate by subscribing to the rules of her femininity, repressing her true desires, or she acquires a “masculinity complex” in which she takes part in “phallic” activity that is characteristic of the male. Freud came up with this theory of his during the Victorian Era, when societal norms dictated that men govern the public spheres and women, the domestic spheres. He dominated the world and home in which he lived and the woman and children with whom he lived. She was a child-like woman that belonged to her father and then her husband, without voice or volition. And as much as things have changed and as much as women have been liberated, we continue to subscribe to many ancient notions of what it means to be male and female. The penis continues to award men with ambition and drive, and women, because they lack the symbol of masculine power, continue to live as second to men, their needs second to the needs of the men and the children in their lives.
Thus the battlefield of my making – the battlefield in which I wage war on men, society, marriage, and motherhood when they attempt to limit me, to label me as second, as insignificant, as powerless. I have no penis, but I am a force of my nature. I stay home to care for my daughter, but I work, I write, I vent, I yell, I refuse to clean and cook and slave as if a domestic animal, the fruits of her work taken for granted and dismissed as “woman’s work,” monotony prevailing. I prove myself worthy of masculinity by mowing the lawn, power washing the house and deck, painting the railing and exterior of my home, hauling and planting sod while eight months pregnant. I write, not chic lit and romance books, not idyllic motherhood narratives, but about the dark side of motherhood, the dark and hidden sides of womanhood; I write with passion, anger, and vehemence. I write with a phallic voice, a phallic pen, my unmanicured, unpainted nails smashing onto the keys of my keyboard with masculine force.
I don’t have a penis, and neither do I want one. But I do want the power that men have, the ease with which they can identify themselves as significant. I envy the freedom that comes with being husbands and fathers, the driven ambition to pursue their dreams without having to sacrifice family and love, because for women, family and love, husbands and children, often ask her to sacrifice her dreams, lay her ambitions aside, and assume the role of passive and secondary femininity- a caretaker of all things domestic. And quite often, women submit for the sake of family, for the sake of traditions, without really understanding what it is they give up: their power.
Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.