Masculism and Metaphor in Freud’s Essay ‘Some Physical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes’

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

A lot of what has been written and perhaps a lot of what will be written, will be written with the use of some form of technology. Language is the most obvious example, it is with the use of this technology that we understand, interpret and reinterpret what we experience. It is most often the case that throughout history those understandings, interpretations and reinterpretations are affected by biases of the individual mind/body or the collective minds/bodies, as such as I attempt to write this essay on Masculism, I am aware that beyond the fact that I am of the masculine sex, I can easily fall under the prejudices that lie well beyond my conscious understanding of the workings and memories of my body and of my mind respectively. In spite of this fact, I do not attempt to purposely write in an unbiased way as it is very certain that discursivity in discourse brings forth power, regardless.

There has been an increasing interest in feminist discourse, dealing with notions of the women in society which has articulated the sphere of the women in their domestic life, work life, education, sexuality and identity in connection to a repression from the opposite sex, the male/masculine. On the opposite side, writings that deal with the notions of the male/masculine are much less prominent at a historical and philosophical level in the discourses of our time. Instead at a simple glance what we see is a battle between the sexes, genders and powers of control in the interconnected networks of the economic, technological, biological, psychological and political to name a few. As such the following text tries to look into the topic of sexuality, gender and modes of practices and how we come to have an understanding of these things. Moreover, I intend to analyse how this relates to masculism with the aim to provide a different way of talking about the male, one that it is less metaphoric commonly used in the feminist discourse but also pointing to a multiplicity of the sexes. I begin by tracing a historical view on gender, one proposed by (Coontz & Henderson).

I follow this by using a similar train of thought proposed by Professor DuBois Page in her analysis on the historicity on women and the female body within the ideological frameworks of ancient Greek philosophy and psychoanalysis. In addition, I use it also as a source for asking the question of why man/male felt the need to understand, conquer and master himself within the world, in effect from a feminist stand, it produced an metaphysical interpretation of man at the center of the universe, as a certain type of metaphorical discourse which has colonised the very narratives of the written word.

Write what goes in the middle? (Machinery of Dominance)

For the final part of this essay I proceed to look into possible reinterpretations of masculism, looking at two opposites directions, one that says we should completely abandon traditional values of the masculine and on the other hand considering a return perhaps to a more egalitarian version of the historical masculine message. In the end to conclude I will argue that there is a need for further critical analysis of the position of men from a masculine point of view.

Technology, Production and Body Practices

The difficulty in trying to trace the origins of gender roles and differences lead to the theorizing of possible causes, to which there are different angles that have been written about including a biological essentialist perspective that talks about difference in gender roles determined in the sexual organs and biological constitutions of both the female and male body. In tangent to this there is also the economic and technological view that gender roles appeared to proliferate with the outset of the agricultural revolution and its sexual division of labour. Alesina, Giuliano, Nunn (2013) attempts to correlate the use of the plough in agriculture with female labour participation, creating a hypothesis that suggests that women’s participation declined as prior practices such as shifting-agriculture became replaced by the more intensive practice of the plow which was more adequate to the characteristics of a male body. “Agricultural societies were more gender- biased than hunter-gatherer societies. Population growth and land scarcity made cultivation of food more labour-intensive, which created “a premium on male brawn in ploughing and other heavy farm work” (Iversen and Rosenbluth, 2010, p. 32). This argument cannot be framed and should not be framed as a historical evidence for male dominance or female subordinating to it but a tendency for the potentiality to give rise to modes of identity and classification that become reinterpreted generation after generation.

In other words, the developments in the tools of production and practices of production is and was gendered in the sense that the technology itself (Plow) marked a mode of difference for both bodies but it is not the origin itself, instead it simply aided different practices of productions. In Coontz, S., & Henderson, P. (1986), Lila Leibowitz provides a much more holistic historical narrative that avoids a reductive linking of the sexual division of labour to the division of productive activities by sex. She discusses the sexual division of labour “as the totality of social relations between men and women joint together by production, arguing that production itself at much earlier times was undifferentiated of any sort of social classification, “Short life spans, a relatively late age of sexual maturation and rates of population growth which suggests that fertility levels were low, combined to indicate the early hominid populations were composed primarily of young non-dimorphic members. Species survival could not, then, have hinged on the subsistence activities of the few adults in a group but must have depended on the development of cooperative production by all and for all” (Coontz, S., & Henderson, P. (1986) p. 55). Leibowitz touches on a range of factors all playing a role in constructing a sexual division of labour, as varied as production and productivity, population profiles, subsistence technologies, intergroup exchange, incest rules, alliances and sex role socialisation. She argues, fire and projectile hunting tools created new modes of practices”” which changed how production in a local group was pursued establishing the underlying conditions for dividing labour by sex and by age”. Projectile Hunting required smaller groups, its techniques demanded training and self control, these qualities were best fitted to adults. Hunting became more efficient, this meant the production of food increased.

As a consequence, to excessive production, it required more demanding fire and hearth centered processing technologies, falling more often than not to women, the young and the disabled, primarily those who did no go hunting. For Leibowitz such initial division, was pragmatic which remained for some time essentially flexible. A proscriptive division appeared much later, even after intergroup exchanges appeared. In essence the idea that production can be tied down to biological sexual differences is problematic, because as seen before production precedes any type of classification, and that at the beginning, initial forms of delegating activities were of a more pragmatic nature, therefore “An informal or circumstantial division of labour along sex line seems likely”. A bio-essentialist explanation of gender differences becomes limited as it seems to be the case that roles of the female and male and their separation in practices evolved some time after projectile hunting and the use of fire. As such these roles are not determined in our biology but rather are constructed within a flux of interactions in the environment. In positing the idea that there is no single cause for the difference between the male/female, that gender sexuality is not the origins of gender roles, that neither production or practices of productions are the sole genesis means there is a need to provide an analysis of how we come to understand the binary difference that arises from a world in constant flux, therefore I now turn to explore metaphors and metonymy around the female body in Ancient Greek society explored by Professor DuBois Page (1988).

Metaphors and Women in Ancient Greece

Looking into the metaphors of ancient pre-platonic narrative and the change, to the use of metonymy rather than metaphor in post-platonic discourse. Page argues that much of Greek literacy around the 5th century BC, had a particular framework for understanding the female’s body, one which relied on metaphor and the analogizing of the reproductive notions of the women, to those of agricultural and religious traditions practiced at the time. The pre-platonic logic emphasized difference in bodies and a sense of otherness but did not proclaimed the female body as necessarily “lacking” or as “less”. However, such use of metaphors in time lead to a reinterpretation by those who can speak and write, a change to the logic, to colonize, to become the signifier, to be able to name those that are marked by difference, resulting in a disembodied prose in a manner that is degrading and lacking. In “Metaphors we live by” (2003), Lakoff and Johnsen provide a clear definition of metaphor and metonymy:

“Metaphor and metonymy are different kinds of processes. Metaphor is principally a way of conceiving of one thing in terms of another, and its primary function is understanding. Metonymy, on the other hand, has primarily a referential function, that is, it allows us to use one entity to stand for another. But metonymy is not merely a referential device. It also serves the function of providing understanding.” “And so it was when Demeter of the lovely hair, yielding to her desire, lay down with Iaison and loved him in a thrice-turned field,” (p, 49)

Women and the Oven

“There were many other gifts of no great importance including round silver basins; but I must not forget to mention a figure of a woman in gold, four and a half feet high, said by the Delphians to represent the women who baked Croesu’s bread”. (p, 115)

“As it inflates (in the womb), the seeds forms a membrane around itself; for its surface, because of its vicinity, stretches around it without a break, in just as in the same way as a membrane is formed on the surface of bread when it is being baked; the bread rises as it grows warm and inflates, and as it is inflated, so the membrane surface forms.” -The nature of the Child (p, 124).

“Perhaps I should say a word or two, on the duties among you are now widowed. I can say all I have to say in a short word of advice. Your great glory is not to be inferior to what God has made you, and the greatest glory of a woman is to be least talked about men, whether they are praising you or criticising you” (p,147) These metaphors are written as stories that belong to Greek Mythology, at the same time they offer a perspective of the relations of women and the environment first and foremost, and how men come to understand those relations, they reflect on the woman in likeness to the Earth, as the mother of production and reproduction, to which men must help to continue the cycle. They refer to women in relation to a vessel, to an oven, that men have to fill and heat. “…as a stone that must be laboured over, set in place, and constructed which guards the property and chastity of the home, the metaphor of the tablet is the final logical moment in this process, a metaphor that emphasizes the passivity and receptivity of female interiority, that assumes that the mover of the stylus, the inscriber, the literate male who carves and marks the passive”

However, these metaphors do not show in any emphatic way that the female is inferior to the male, they show an understanding of difference using metaphors. It attempts to define what the male does not know, does not see, and does not understand, to what he sees, knows from experience, e.g. sexual reproduction to earthly reproduction, and the women’s practice in the home. Having said this, with the way language is used, it seems also that there is a tendency to suggest that there is a form of appropriation “…. Femininity and agriculture are in relation of structural symmetry instead of a relation of sympathy….as in the Demeter myth. Both women and land are objects of domination, exercised through masculine labour: the hard but honourable labour of the small landowner; the exhausting labour of a husband endowed with a wife with an insatiable sexual appetite, but who bears sons. The economic and social reality which preceded and coexisted these metaphors are startlingly different, many texts show that monarchy states around these time periods primarily relied on slave production for wealth accumulation,” … and it turns out that the monarch’s wealth rests on cloth, oil and the wine trade, in other words women’s labour. (176). A singular division of sexes is impossible to draw, there was already social classification which included the royal offices, priests (priest-kings), sacerdotal families, warriors, farmers, slaves. Women operated in each of these class divisions, but there is little written about the wives of peasants, and women as slaves. Plato & Socrates

Prior to the formation of Greek democracy, women of royal lineage had been associated as transactions that strengthen clan alliances and her ability to pass down power, women were used by men to preserve the ability to reign over land property. And on the other hand the royal women were also considered to have power and having the capacity to be able to use it, in many cases the typical case of the hero killing the king and marrying the daughter or wives played out. The different manifestations of lineage power were a problem for Greek democracy, because allowing citizenship for women would make democracy impossible to succeed, if democratic laws were to include women, it would undermine the power structure of a patrilineal system, which for them was simpler to the the instability of power they inherited.

The essay ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes’ by Sigmund Freud offers one the most dogmatic and even opinionated constructions of our psychological understanding of sexuality, even though there may be some kind of general insights in the statements made by Freud regarding sex, the conclusions it tries to reach are rather proscriptive and denotes behavioural responses with metonymic descriptive language. In the essay Freud describes a girl’s discovery. “They notice the penis of a brother or playmate, strikingly visible and of large proportions, at once recognize it as the superior counterpart of their own small and inconspicuous organ, and from that time forward fall a victim to envy for the penis” 11. Professor page (1988) makes a case for the irrationality of such a texts and provides a key insight stating, “Freud imagined himself as a little girl, seeing the massive organ of the little boy. This is the theatricality of his text: the taking of the place of the other, writing a part for her, dressing up engaging in transvestism, in theory”.


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