A Philosophical Meditation on Vagina Envy

Blue Nude Souvenir de Biskra. 1907. Henri Matisse. Artist

 by LJ Frank

The birth and evolution of the human species on Earth is curious with a sense of the phenomenal. Life occurs in various and diverse shapes and forms. The vagina, womb and penis are real and purposeful organs but also serve as metaphors of the provocative. These human organs instill sensual and spiritual exploration and have inspired empowerment, insecurity, doubt, fear, despair, anger, lust, fantasy, and hope.

Allegorically speaking, when Adam and Eve ate an apple via the symbolic seduction of a serpent’s almost Faustian urging (a story effected through ancient tribal beliefs, magic, and superstition), an awareness of our human nakedness apparently became recognized – for the sake of conforming to those emerging beliefs. (See works of Mircea Eliade among others).

As humans evolved metaphors and symbols were used to give meaning to the otherwise existential meaninglessness of life – survival was a matter of adaptation to the surrounding environs. After a relatively brief struggling journey on Earth, came death. It took time and reflection to even ask the question of what is the point of life? The most obvious vision was birth and the clash between pain and pleasure. The vagina was literally a conduit or channel to existence, to meaning through birth. The womb held promise for another chance through descendants and to prolong the journey. And those that became rulers were dependent on followers, hence, the call to populate the Earth, whether tribal, civil, or ecclesiastical. Man’s adaptability well-served his vanity. Nature itself was to be mastered.

And the human genitals were not only an evolving reality but symbolic of what affected the essence of life. Anthropologically, awakening of the prurient senses evolved through the development of animistic beliefs, incorporating supernatural beings, magic, rituals, and subsequent control.

The existential, or to exist, was and is in the want of something greater than man. The awareness of self was/is elevated during the process of believing in a higher consciousness.

Curiously, Berossus, a Chaldean Priest who wrote a history of the world circa 250 BCE noted in the original manuscript stored at the Library of Alexandria and lost or destroyed during various centuries (the effect of accident and purpose) with only fragments remaining. Within those fragments he appeared to trace the history of man dating back as much as 600,000 years where man behaved truly as animals. One cannot help but wonder what the full scroll manuscript read…the implication was that male and female progress may have been contextual within the tribe.

What was written in it and other source material at the library? Hypatia was a renowned teacher who appreciated the resources of Alexandria and was praised so much that envious Christians and others feared her. They spoke of woman’s vagina having power over men. Hypatia was gossiped as a threat. Disinformation has a long history. Students and other teachers’ tales suggest her horrific end. She overshaded ignorance and arrogance. But arrogance and ignorance can be merciless. She was arrested and skinned alive; her body dragged through the streets behind a chariot. Such was the power of one woman and the fear of the vagina and womb. Who knows what would happen if she had conceived a child? Her situation along with so much history lost at the Library of Alexandria, both seemed like metaphors based on man’s patriarchy, insecurity, and fear of loss of power. Religion can be bent to serve evil. The fear bred loathing. The vagina as conduit and the womb as life giving was praised and feared in the same breath.

Pre-Patriarchal engravings on stone and oral traditions point to the female womb as something to be honored and that the womb and birth gave rise in affecting man’s conscience.  But with patriarchy came conflicting emotions that also engaged in abuse, torture, order, control, and the redefinition of possession and wealth.

Through the centuries the role of the female and her organs served as a potential instrument of reflection, adoration, awe, uneasiness, and envy with emotional, psychological, and philosophical twists and turns within the context of culture throughout the world. The womb and the vagina were envied among ancient cultures giving birth and the opening to that birth canal. Control of the vagina was basis of many social and emotional processes of control, patriarchy being just one of them.

Under patriarchy a woman was a piece of property like cattle and land. To possess a woman was to possess her body. And laws and custom were instruments to aid man in his insecurities about power. Children meant both life but X number of followers. Spreading seed meant conquering the vagina and planting the male seed effecting birth which meant more followers. That equaled more people to esteem their ruler.

A ruler needs followers, birth is important, so religion and belief become participants in the metaphor. In modern terms it is in the form of legislating a woman’s uterus and being anti-abortion. Legislating the man’s penis is not part of the patriarchal equation. Perhaps that might equal things out. Legislating the penis is dangerous talk. Penis envy is understandable in terms of male empowerment. And to legislate the penis, might be translated as loss of control. Existentialism has its place within the phallic and vagina predicament.

For this writer, envy or jealousy is an emotional wasteland and drains the humanity of the person and society as a whole. Envy whether penis or in this case vagina envy is promulgated by culture, workplace, politics, religion, and the wealthy. Wealth retains an element of exhibitionism, pointing to the idea of being like me (which will never happen).

Work hard, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, be self-reliant (Emerson) and become wealthy so you too can enjoy the perks of life.  They are all lies. No one makes it in the singular even when the idea is told to the masses. That is psychological and philosophical manipulative nonsense but it’s sold every hour of every day.

Competition for wealth to possess, whether property or power is where the envy of the vagina plays a role.  Part of the power equation is the ability of a woman regardless of wealth or stature in society to become pregnant. As men cannot have children the womb is something the man seeking power tries to manipulate and dominate.

The vagina is more powerful and can take more punishment than the penis. Just as penis envy is about power so is vagina envy and it is more potent via pregnancy…once entered and sperm deposited, produces a child. And a woman regardless of what the courts say can choose…. the religious guilt and laws are domination tactics.

German Psychoanalyst, Karen Horney suggested that ~ In feminist psychology, the terms womb envy and vagina envy denote the unexpressed anxiety that men may feel in natural envy of the biological functions of the female sex: (pregnancy, parturition, breast feeding) — emotions which could impel their social subordination of women, and to drive themselves to succeed in perpetuating their names via material legacies. Each term is analogous to the concept of female penis envy, derived from the theory of psychosexual development, presented in Freudian psychology; they address the gender role social dynamics underlying the “envy and fascination with the female breasts and lactation, with pregnancy and childbearing, and vagina envy [that] are clues and signs of transsexualism and to a femininity complex of men, which is defended against by psychological and sociocultural means.

The question that dances around in one’s mind is the vagina predicament similar to the phallic predicament? Whether vagina envy might lead to misogyny or simply jealousy or perhaps a more submissive role is open-ended. The increased use of chastity devices for men may be related to the desire to submit and be more attentive in relating to his partner who has more power or at least shared power.

As an aside, it is not uncommon in studies of reincarnation that a man sees himself returning in the form of a female in the next life and possessing the organs to become a receptacle. The reincarnation is a rebirth – an existential leap into a future self-disclosure.

I suspect vagina envy though not learned is a complex spiritual, moral, sexual, and existential path. It offers the opportunity to chart a course for a better understanding of oneself while opening the door to greater self-disclosure (Sidney Jourard) and an appreciation of I and Thou (Martin Buber).