On Penis Envy

mark 4a

I have a love-hate relationship with the term “penis envy.”

It was invented by Freud, and he used it to describe a phenomenon in which a vulva-owning person sees that some individuals have penises, feels inferior in comparison, and therefore becomes envious and wishes to have a penis.

These claims are disgustingly sexist and objectively untrue. They are partially on the concept that having a vulva is akin to having no sex organs whatsoever. In fact, “nothing” was a slang term for vulvas/vaginas for a while (see Shakespeare.) It is also based on the viewpoint that penises are superior to vulvas, and similarly, that men are superior to women. Otherwise, women wouldn’t “envy” penis-havers their “superior” genitals.

Freud believed women and girls experience penis envy subconsciously, so they aren’t aware of it, but it does influences their behavior. This is an extremely annoying “gotcha.” If a woman says “um, no, I don’t want a penis,” Freud comes back with “yes you do, subconsciously, you just don’t know it!” which seems to be just another way to discount women’s experiences and knowledge of their own desires.

A common feminist critique of penis envy is that if having a certain body part allows someone to be treated as a person instead of an object, it makes sense that individuals with other body parts might go “gee, I wish I had that thing that allowed my personhood to be recognized.” In this framework, the feelings have nothing to do with body parts and everything to do with oppression. I think this is a smart and reasonable interpretation which does not explain my personal feelings at all.

The phrase “penis envy” was created by a misogynist who meant hateful, derogatory things by it. Those aren’t connotations that I want anywhere near me. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a phrase that more accurately describes my feelings.

I feel a thing that I call penis envy, for lack of a better, more specific term. When I talk about penis envy, I mean that I would rather like to have a penis. That’s kinda it, really. I really like penises and I kinda wish I had one. I’ve wondered what it would be like to have different bits. I’ve pondered how dick of my own would be: the size, shape, feel, smell. I got the dildo in the above pic because I wanted a realistic strapon that looked like me. It’s pretty close to what I think my cock might look like.

Before you ask, no, I’m not really sure what this means about my gender. (I’m still working on that one.) What I do know is that my feelings have nothing to do with the misogynistic lack of self-esteem Freud described. They also don’t really have to do with internalized misogyny or a desperate wish to have my personhood recognized, although I think that feminist interpretation has merit in other areas. They really just have to do with me wanting a penis.

If you have a better word for the feelings I have, feel free to let me know! Til then, I am in search of a phrase that’s as short and clear as “penis envy,” without all the complicated sexist baggage, and I guess I’ll continue to use the phrase I have.


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