I Bet You’ve Never Heard of Womb Envy, and I Bet You’re Exemplifying it

Men experience womb envy more than women experience penis envy; however, our society doesn’t talk about womb envy

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Most people have heard of Sigmund Freud and his infamous works in psychology and psychoanalysis. Many are also familiar with his concept of penis envy, which is the idea that little girls desire to be little boys, and that females desire to have a penis. Freud even called the clitoris a “little penis,” and quite honestly avoided conversing about the female anatomy at all. Penis envy contributed to the problems of associating sex and gender, and the dominance and inferiority we created within our sexes and genders. Since the penis is associated with the male body, males are also associated with dominance, while females are seen as inferior. “Our society devalues unique strengths of the female gender, the gender this culture quietly seeks to represent as inferior.” However, Freud never mentioned the opposition to penis envy: womb envy. In Gayatri Spivak’s “Feminism and Critical Theory,” she analyzes the opposition to penis envy and introduces how males exemplify womb envy. I will be introducing womb envy, and how female’s reproductive rights revolve around the male-control of the female body.

Womb envy is the want or desire of possessing a womb. The womb is the site of reproduction, and is only possessed by females. The ability to carry and produce life is only possible if you have a womb, and males envy that because they can not procreate or have the babies that they want without a womb. However, Freud was so obsessed with the fact that females are jealous of a penis, that he never considered that females have the strength and anatomy to create life…the womb is even the reproductive site of the penis. Karen Horney states that men experience womb envy more that women experience penis envy because “men need to disparage women more than women need to disparage men.” Men who are jealous of the reproductive rights of women seek to dominate females socially “as psychological compensation for what men cannot do biologically.”

The devaluation of nurturing

“The possession of a tangible place of production, the womb, situates women as agents in any theory of production.” In contemporary society, we devalue nurturing and childbearing. “It is difficult to see womb envy clearly because we are part of the culture that devalues nurturing.” Not only do we not take into account that the womb is the only site of reproduction, but we control female reproductive rights and men continue to take credit for the production of the child. The “legal possession of the child is an inalienable fact of the property right of the man who “produces” the child.” Men who take credit for the production of the child are very much exemplifying womb envy because the male body doesn’t have any part in the creation of a baby besides the sperm. “Womb envy arises, as Karen Horney states, when men realize that they are not as in control of their lives as they thought they were.” Men not only desire a woman to take their last names, but their children too. Men want families, but they can’t do that on their own. Therefore, they have to control and labor through someone else’s body to accomplish their goals. So Freud, what you’re telling me is that males don’t envy the womb for being the site of reproduction and for being able to nurture, carry, and birth a child, but females are jealous of a penis? Can a penis hold a baby for 9 months and push the baby out of it? We’re jealous of a penis because why, Freud?

Men taking credit for their child’s birth

If you’re a man and you take credit for the birth of your child: congratulations, you’re exemplifying womb envy. In addition to the devaluation of nurturing, the childbearing process is ignored as the sole experience of the female body. Throughout pregnancy and labor, it is only the female body who experiences it all. Some husbands who accompany their wives during labor feel nauseous, and experience post-traumatic stress disorder after watching their wives give birth. Although it’s understandable to feel uneasy watching a birth, men continue to give credit to themselves for being the “producer,” the “provider,” the “protector,” yet a birth is too much for them. A husband, Drew Le, felt woozy after watching his wife receive epidural, and “worried that he wouldn’t be able to handle the birth itself.” Many men feel this way, yet women are still viewed as inferior. Womb envy is prevalent in men who beg for a child and take credit for producing it, but don’t want to handle the birth.

Religions emphasizing male-control of the female body

Our society creates gender roles that make men dominant over women, and a contribution to this divide is the influence of religion. “The patriarchal gender roles constructed long ago by men, partially in revulsion against women, are now represented as if they were simply natural characteristics of men and women.” Many religions state that men and women are biologically significantly different, and validate the appropriation of childbearing by men. Womb envy is prevalent in religions where the male seed is the greater importance in the childbearing process. For example, Roman Catholics are very hostile against women who control their own procreative powers. Their purpose is to “procreate and submit to the will of God.” Women are taught that the worst sin they could commit is to deflect the male seed from it’s intended course in the womb. Rape isn’t as sinful as abortion or using contraceptive methods because at least the male seed isn’t being blocked from creating a baby. In addition, in Islam, new mothers and menstruates are viewed as pollution and should be avoided until they are “cleansed.” If the desire to control the female body isn’t exemplifying womb envy, then I don’t know what it is.

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Imagine if womb envy was introduced and conversed about more; do you think our world would be like it is right now? If we switched the roles and emphasized that the female body is the site of reproduction and the only site of reproduction, maybe women would be seen as superior in today’s society. Since men lack the womb and don’t have the ability to carry life, maybe we’d place them as inferior and weak. Spivak makes an argument in “Feminism and Critical Theory” that states if we analyzed Freud’s opposition to penis envy and placed more emphasis on womb envy, then our society would view the sexes and genders differently.

So consider this now: are you exemplifying womb envy?