The Phallus Fallacy

Alfred Adler
Sigmund Freud

This will be the first post under my newest category, “Psychological Detours,” and I couldn’t be more excited about the many posts you will find here over time, as Psychology is my passion, or, in all fairness, one of. I took an Introduction to Personality Psychology course in the summer of last year and after a particular assignment, my Professor asked my opinion of one of the theories we had studied that week. I am going to post my response exactly as I sent it to him; however, I do intend to do a lot more research and put some honest work into further developing my views sometime in the near future. Any suggestions regarding research to further support what I have so far is very welcome and any personal comments or opinions that are made in addition, will, if used in a future writing on the matter, be fully credited to the individual whose mind it came from. In the meantime, here is the response I sent and remember, this was in addition to regular assignments in all classes during a summer session, so it was done quickly and not given the time it deserves.

May 11, 2011

Greetings Professor French,

Thank you for asking my opinion of the questions you have presented me. Please forgive the informality in which I have written my answer, but since this is not an actual assignment and is strictly my opinion, I chose to write freely, giving you more of a first draft than a final. I would be very interested in hearing what you think of what I have written, but I know you have papers to grade, so please do take your time.

You have asked, “Would it make more sense if ‘masculine’ means ‘power’ which is what I believe Freud meant by ‘penis envy’?  If that is the case, have we as the human race overemphasize the need for power? Consider every skyscraper you see and its physical for, the phallus. Skyscrapers do represent power and wealth. The overemphasis helps create the neurotic drive we see in people, racing to be #1. These are my opinions. What do you think?” The original question that this is based on is, I believe, “How would you explain Adler’s notion of ‘masculine protest’ to someone who argues that the concept is sexist? How might this aspect of Adler’s theory have been different if he had developed it during contemporary times?” My response was, “I believe it would be hard for me to explain Adler’s notion without supporting the argument that the concept is, indeed, sexist. I disagree with his theory entirely. Had he developed it in contemporary times, I don’t think it would have been accepted. In today’s world, gender is becoming more and more believed to be more than just biological and certainly ‘masculinity’ is not associated with males only, as ‘femininity’ is no longer associated with strictly females.”  I continue to stand by my original answer, however, where I may not explain to the contrary to one who believes it is sexist, I believe I could better explain where I see many holes in this concept and why.

I believe that a skyscraper being phallic is a fallacy. A phallus is, by one definition, an image of a penis. If you think of the actual structure of a skyscraper, what is really there? It is a structure that is hollow on the inside with an opening at the bottom, more similar to a vagina. As I have referenced below, I have broken down the definition of vagina to the term ‘box,’ a term I will use for the sake of my argument. In summary, a vagina is a…tubular tract leading from the uterus to the exterior of the body in female; any sheath or sheath-like structure; a surrounding frame or framework; anything that contains or can contain something, as a…box; slang for the vulva or vagina. Also important to note another definition for box is  any enclosing, protective case or housing; a compartment or section in a public place, shut or railed off for the accommodation of a number of people, especially in a theater, opera house, sports stadium, etc. That all being said, a skyscraper is shaped more like a box, or vagina, in that, it has an opening into a space. Generally speaking, spaces such as you would find in a skyscraper, you would find people entering into in order to produce, gain, succeed, etc. Think of many other things that have a box shape and represent the female reproductive organ, the vagina. Houses, cars, hospitals, schools, even the many forms of media, such as the television, radio, cameras, and the like. They are all boxes is which people seek warmth, comfort, healing, education, and information. You have to enter these boxes to find the things in life that people strive for, including, but not limited to, “racing to be #1.” If you want to go evolution, cave men and women found shelter and safety in caves, a hollow cavity into the side of a mountain with an opening for its entrance. What about airplanes and trains? They too could be misconstrued as being phallic-like, but they are also hollow with openings in which people enter and are carried, such as in pregnancy. Maybe in the days of Freud and Adler, men seemed powerful, but even then, they contradicted their power. They must have known that true power came from females. Why else would they have, and continue to do to this day, oppress women in all that they do? If the male is powerful and the female weak, then why do men feel the need to beat down women, demand obedience and respect, and are higher paid in the work place? In earlier times, women were not allowed to speak unless spoken to. Women were forbidden to vote. They were expected to stay home and not have jobs or careers. If men had to exert their power over women, then they never had true power to begin with. If so many restrictions had to be put on women for the sake of forcing power over them, then I believe they were afraid to allow the women to learn of their own power and potentially be overcome by it. Why else would they feel a need to prove what they claim already existed?

In Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits: A Selection includes an essay titled The Significance of the Phallus, he articulates “the difference between ‘being’ and ‘having’ the phallus. Men are positioned as men insofar as they are seen to have the phallus. Women, not having the phallus, are seen to ‘be’ the phallus.” Judith Butler further explores the possibilities for the phallus in her discussion of The Lesbian Phallus. “If, as she notes, Freud enumerates a set of analogies and substitutions that rhetorically affirm the fundamental transferability of the phallus from the penis elsewhere, then any number of other things might come to stand in for the phallus” (62). So, you see, even if one is stuck on the term phallus, it does not necessary need to refer to the penis, the male, or masculinity. When structures, such as the skyscraper, are seen in their truest from, they more closely resemble and represent the vagina, the female reproductive organ, and therefore, femininity is where you will find true power.

These are my opinions and views. They can either be seen as a sort of feminine psychology or they can be considered ridiculous, rendering the common view of skyscrapers and the like representing power and wealth because they are phalluses, just as equally ridiculous.

As for Freud’s concept of “penis envy” and the context of his psychosexual stages of development in which it is found, I find it all to be vulgar and disgusting and wonder how Freud, or anyone else for that matter, could know the things he claims to be true. “In the first part of the anal stage (age 2) pleasure derives from feces expulsion. In the later anal stage, pleasure comes from feces possession.” (pg. 40) In the phallic stage (age 3-5), regarding the Oedipus complex, “…because of breast-feeding and sexual contact from bathing and grooming, both male and female children develop erotic feelings toward their mother. The boy begins to fear the father as a dominant rival for his mother’s affection…and develops a fear of losing his sex organs because they are assumed to be responsible for the conflict between him and his father. Female children also have a strong attraction to their mothers. This attraction is reduced when the girl discovers she does not possess a penis. The female child holds the mother responsible for purposely depriving her of this valued organ. The rejection of the mother is coupled with an attraction to the father whom she knows possesses the valued organ she wants to share.” (pp 41-42) Seriously, how could this man know that at age two, children find pleasure from feces expulsion or possession? Or that a three-year old girl finds her mother at fault because she doesn’t have a penis? Or that she wants to share her father’s penis with him? How could he know what such young children are thinking and feeling? Did he ask them? Take surveys? Does he remember these things specifically from his own childhood? And even that would only be the male perspective. I don’t understand why he believes and claims that very young children are obsessed with things of a sexual nature or where he came up with these ideas, but I completely disagree and find his whole theory to be completely false and unfounded.

As with any theory, hypothesis, idea, or view, I could go on, however, Carl Rogers is awaiting my attention.  Again, you will find my references below. I am eager to hear your thoughts on my interpretations.

-Cindy L Riemersma

Phallus: an image of the penis, esp. as a religious symbol of reproductive power

World English Dictionary

The symbolic version of the phallus, a phallic symbol is meant to represent male generative powers. According to Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, while males possess a penis, no one can possess the symbolic phallus. Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits: A Selection includes an essay titled The Significance of the Phallus which articulates the difference between “being” and “having” the phallus. Men are positioned as men insofar as they are seen to have the phallus. Women, not having the phallus, are seen to “be” the phallus. The symbolic phallus is the concept of being the ultimate man, and having this is compared to having the divine gift of God.

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler explores Freud’s and Lacan’s discussions of the symbolic phallus by pointing out the connection between the phallus and the penis. She writes, “The law requires conformity to its own notion of ‘nature’. It gains its legitimacy through the binary and asymmetrical naturalization of bodies in which the phallus, though clearly not identical to the penis, deploys the penis as its naturalized instrument and sign” (135). In Bodies that Matter, she further explores the possibilities for the phallus in her discussion of The Lesbian Phallus. If, as she notes, Freud enumerates a set of analogies and substitutions that rhetorically affirm the fundamental transferability of the phallus from the penis elsewhere, then any number of other things might come to stand in for the phallus (62).

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Last updated on Saturday October 11, 2008 at 04:25:08 PDT (GMT -0700)

The vagina (from Latin, literally “sheath” or “scabbard”) is a fibro-muscular tubular tract leading from the uterus to the exterior of the body in female

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Last updated on Thursday October 02, 2008 at 22:06:19 PDT (GMT -0700)

Vagina: the passage leading from the uterus to the vulva that extends from the cervix of the uterus to an external opening between the labia minora; anatomy, biology any sheath or sheath-like structure

World English Dictionary

Sheath: a closely enveloping part or structure; any similar close-fitting covering or case.

Case: a sheath or outer covering; an often…portable container for enclosing something; a surrounding frame or framework

Container: anything that contains or can contain something, as a carton, box, crate, or can.

Box: a container, case, or receptacle; any enclosing, protective case or housing; a compartment or section in a public place, shut or railed off for the accommodation of a number of people, especially in a theater, opera house, sports stadium, etc.; slang for the vulva or vagina.

dictionary.com

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One response to “The Phallus Fallacy

  1. Pingback: Book: Gender Trouble (First Read) « jameskennedybeijing

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