Part of the nonsense of this theory for me is that, even in Freud's day, middle- and upper-class families (the primary focus of his thinking) tended to hide their genitalia. Knowing who has and doesn't have a penis would be pretty challenging in the days of breeches and voluminous skirts. But think of it another way- as Juliet Mitchell did in her text "Psychoanalysis and Feminism"- what are other "obvious" sex differences? There are so many other traits associated with male-ness and female-ness that are more readily generalized to one sex or another than, say, facial hair, and that are easier to identify. What Freud failed to acknowledge was that penises aren't the be-all and end-all of human identification with their sex, and I don't just mean that in terms of inner sexual identity. That's right. I'm talking about breasts.
The first time I remember actively noticing and thinking about sex characteristics, I was pretty young- maybe three or four- and I'd seen both my parents naked when they were on their way to and from the shower at night, after my sister and I were supposed to be in bed. What struck me wasn't the fact that Dad had something Mom didn't; it was the other way around. Juliet Mitchell had it right, at least for me: what I noticed was that my mother had breasts, and my father did not. And when I asked the inevitable question that comes from children in this gender-binary society, about the physical characteristics that seemed to separate the people I knew into one category or the other, it was phrased as, "Mama, why doesn't Daddy have breasts?"
That phrasing has been rather telling for me, as I've never conceptualized my body as the one that lacks anything. Instead of developing Freud's so-called Electra complex, in which I'm supposed to fall in love with my father in the hopes that I can gain some of the social and sexual power that's associated with having a penis, I developed a superiority complex. Sure, men thought they ruled the world, but I was part of the sex and gender group that knew better. I would have breasts. I would have the capacity to MAKE LIFE and then give birth to it. To my knowledge, no amount of penis could empower any male to do THAT.
Even as my understandings of gender and sex have changed to accommodate the variety of ways in which peoples' bodies express gender and sex identities- including the women who identify as cis females but whose bodies don't allow them to make life in the traditional sense- that formulation of the question, that demanding to know why my father was lacking and not why I was, has stuck with me and influenced the way I perceived gender-based social powers.
So here are some questions to consider today:
- What do you remember about the first time you noticed sex and/or gender differences?
- How has that shaped your understanding of who has or lacks what?
- How do you think your early conceptualizations of sex differences has influenced your own sex identity and, maybe, your gender identity?