Entering the Phallic Phase: Psychoanalytic Feminists, Help!

May 24, 2018

Poopy poop head. Our daughter, Cozy, is transitioning out of what Freud called the “anal stage” of child development. She was was fully potty trained by three and half. Sometimes I’ll look for her in the house and she is sitting on the toilet having her morning constitutional. The diapers are long gone and her kiddy potty is in the basement for the next trainee. She has marked this occasion by proclaiming that calling everyone “poop head” is the funniest thing ever. It’s pretty funny.

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Sigmund Frued (1856-1939) made the case that there are three stages of child development and by the end of the process the child’s psychodynamic (essentially, their personality) is formed. The first two years take up the oral phase. I’ve written about how Cozy survived putting nearly everything not nailed down into her mouth. Two to four takes up the anal phase, where the requirements of society appear in the form of potty training. It’s been fun sharing Cozy’s journey to the john with the world. Next and last for Dr. Freud is the phallic phase in which children become aware of sexual pleasure and learn to control their sexuality, going from age 4 to 6. In this phase it’s not uncommon for little kids to “touch themselves” as they figure out what the rest of know. That God put our junk exactly at arm’s length for a good reason.

Let’s get this out of the way at the start. There is a danger in putting all our faith in Sigmund’s tight timeline. Added to that is that Freud theorized that girls in this third stage develop “penis envy,” when they realize they are not getting a tallywhacker. This leads to the quintessential “anxiety of womanhood.” (Um, that can’t compete with my male anxiety, Siggy.) There is a whole Electra Complex as the little girl has to detach from her mother and fight her for dad’s attention. Freud has been roasted for reinforcing the sexist tropes of his time.

The cool news is we don’t have to eject all the insight Freud had to offer because of this really dumb and sexist idea. (I remember a bumper sticker in a feminist bookstore that said, “War is menstrual envy.”) There are Freudian psychoanalytic feminists who make the case that penis envy isn’t about the envy of male genitals but of male power. It’s patriarchy envy. There was a classic cartoon in the 1970’s that had a female baby looking in a male baby’s diaper and saying, “Oh, that’s why you’re going to make more money than me.”

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Cozy doesn’t turn 4 until mid-August but the phallic stage is already showing up. When she was 2, I was getting out of the shower and she came into the bathroom, pointed at my crotch and said, “Daddy, your booty is CRAZY!” It was funny and also the first acknowledgment of the physical differences between us. Last month, though, was the classic Freudian moment when, while she was on the potty, she asked me she when her penis would grow. I had to explain to her that, because she was a girl, she wasn’t going to have a penis and she burst into tears. Then I tried to explain to her that her vagina was pretty awesome than there are plenty of boys who wish they had a vagina instead of a penis.

Why I didn’t know this would come up or how to respond says a lot. I can’t be the only one that’s had this conversation land in their gendered lap. Apparently, it’s just me and Thor, God of Thunder.

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Psychoanalytic feminists put a lot of emphasis on the early bonding girls have with mothers and learning the domestic house duties. In our home, that’s me. As the stay-at-home dad, Cozy gets a lot more of time with me, including preparing her meals, washing dishes, and doing the laundry. (Oh, the drudgery.) Much to the chagrin of my wife (who is the most wonderful mother), Cozy seems more attached to me just based on the number hours and diaper changes I’ve got with her. I have a feeling that’s added to her “penis” envy in one way, but since my wife has been working more, it could just as easily be vagina envy. Inspired by the work of psychoanalytic feminist Nancy Chodrow, I’ve tried to model both male and female attributes for Cozy as does her mother. (Are Mexican mothers more authoritarian? I’m just asking.)

I feel like as we enter Freud’s phallic stage, there’s a real possibility of screwing up the whole thing. She’s already confronting sexism from the outside world. A little boy in her pre-school told her that “girls couldn’t be bosses.” (The owner of the daycare facility is a woman). The message that those with penises are the defacto authority and those “without” are the second sex is showing up with more regularity. There’s gotta be a good way of turning this penis envy thing on it’s head, or, even better, just erasing it. Maybe we need a handy psychoanalytic guide for parents with cute pictures and tips to spare our children years of therapy.

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Get out of your country!

May 15, 2018

Here’s a depressing statistic; only 36% of Americans have a passport. I got my first U.S. passport at age 18 and have kept it current since 1982. You never know when you might need to get the hell out. But, in reality, you should get the hell out. America is not the world. In fact, the United States is only 6% of the Earth’s landmass. How much of the other 94% have you seen?

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I’m in Oslo, Norway now attending another workshop on gender and extremism. (Suddenly, a hot topic it seems.) I spent a few weeks in Denmark in 1986, but this is my first time to Norway and it’s spectacular. Andrea came with me and we are enjoying the long days (Is it 10 pm or 4 pm? Who knows?) and the wonderful people of the vibrant socialist nation where everything seems to work perfectly. Beer, salmon, and discussions of feminist theories of violence with scholars from around the world. I can’t complain about much at the moment.

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That my passport is getting a workout is beside the point. (Toronto is next.) Each time I’m taken out of my American comfort zone, I’m forced to grow a little. It could be just finding my way around a strange city like Oslo where all the street signs look like eye charts. “Get off the Metro at the Forskningsparken station.” It could be not knowing if I should eat the brown cheese (Brunost). Eat it! It could be wondering how expensive a 129 Kroner jazz album is. (I don’t know but I still bought it.) Bonus points if you have to figure out how a bidet works. Like an elder playing Soudoku to stave off the looming Alzheimers diagnosis, all this momentary discomfort is good for your brain, or at least your soul.

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My first trip to Paris was when I was 20 and bumped into a small group of American girls on the Champs Elysees. We were all hungry and I suggested we go get a table at a sidewalk bistro and make fun of tourists. They went to Burger King instead. They came to the the City of Lights but were too intimidated to experience Paris. They went home to their Whoppers. Le Whopper. What did they miss because they went for the safety of the familiar? McDonalds around the world are chocked full of Americans who are afraid to sample the local cuisine. Maybe they should just stay home and watch the Travel Channel while they eat meatloaf on the couch.

I was at a Home Depot once and this white guy started complaining that all the signs were also in Spanish. “They’re still in English, too,” I told him. “Now you know that ‘plumbing’ is also ‘plomería.’ Be glad.” You better bet all those American tourists are pleased as punsj about all those signs that are in the local language AND English. Are they afraid they might have to work a little bit to figure things out, like most everybody else? Or are they “special” because they’re Americans? Aren’t they special?

It’s bad enough there is a Starbucks and a Foot Locker everywhere you go on this planet. It’s like a grand conspiracy to make Americans feel safe and unchallenged wherever they go in the world. Did you go to Morocco or just the Epcot Center version of Morocco and is there a difference? Pretty much everywhere you go, people will speak English and deliver Dominoes pizza. Globalization has done what colonialism only dreamed of – Made the world our Subway sandwich.

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Sometimes it’s good to be out of your element. Know that comes out on your dinner plate might not look like what you expect. That surprise is for you! Know how to ask directions in the local tongue. I can ask how to find the toilet in seven languages. Kde je záchod? We don’t run the world so act like it. I was in a shop in London and this American, when hearing the price in pounds and pence, asked, “How much is that in real money?” It’s okay to show a little humility. The world will actually look on you with favor.

When you come down to it, you can find the familiar in the strange fairly easily.  Everybody everywhere is addicted to their phones. People all love coffee and chocolate.  Parents are all trying to keep and eye on their money and their kids. And everyone makes fun of how Swedes talk. It’s basic. So the little variations are where the action is. Here in Norway, businesses respond to the needs of families instead of the opposite, like in America. That’s pretty cool. I’m different for learning that. The record store is closed.

Go get lost. Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be better for it.