I had intended to stay away from hot topics this time because, honestly, I’m tired of dealing with the fallout. People seem to lose their sense of decorum when the topic of discrimination is on the table. So, in an attempt to short-circuit the attack that posts like this alway bring, readers should know that while I am wiling to entertain civil, respectful disagreement, I will simply delete anything that hits me the wrong way. Since gendered power is the topic, I own mine and will use it as I see fit.
A Facebook chat reminded of the pre-Columbian attitude toward women among the Cherokee (my father was Cherokee/Choctaw). When the Europeans came, they noted that the women kept apart from the rest of the tribe during menses. They concluded that even the “savages” recognized women were unclean then. However, that wasn’t the reason why. The Cherokee were matrilineal and actually respected women’s power to create life. “Women were embedded with menstruation and childbirth—times when women were thought to be most powerful. Because they had so much power, women were separated from the tribe or clan during menstruation and childbirth so as not to upset the powers that operated within the tribe (Perdue, p. 30).”
Feminist psychologists maintained that women are oppressed because men recognized our power and felt threatened by it. In order to manage their fear, they found ways of taking our power. I think it might have been Kim Chernin in “Fat is a Feminist Issue” who suggested keeping us small and thin was one way of doing that.
Freud, who was incredibly brilliant, got mired down in his love of his penis and wondered how women must feel when they realized they were shortchanged and didn’t have one. He reasoned he would feel incomplete and inferior, so thought women must envy men a penis.
One of his students, who later eclipsed his work, was Karen Horney. She said, yes, women have penis envy. (Paraphrasing here) but women didn’t want to grow one. It wasn’t the penis they (we) wanted, but the independence, power, and freedom that goes along with a penis in this culture.
She said that, in fact, men have womb envy.
When I covered the section on psychoanalysis and neoanalytic theories in History and Systems of Psychology, I would ask the students which theory might have more face validity….if you have a penis, you can write your name in the snow. If you have a womb, you can bring forth life.
My own opinion is that neither “envy” exists, at least not in commonly. There is no good supporting evidence for either, and with the exception of transsexuals, I think we’re pretty satisfied to be who we are.
I will go further and say that we do ourselves, women and men, a great disservice when put women and men in competition with each other. Men and women are far more similar than different. Focusing on differences and presumed advantages can only create problems. I despise the phrase “war between the sexes.” Why war? In the words of Edwin Starr, War! What is it good for! Absolutely nothin!