Penis Envy


Everyone’s got penis envy nowadays. It cropped up in Natalie Portman’s Saturday Night Live performance where she aggressively commanded male fans to ‘suck my dick’; it shot further into mainstream media with the quintessential nightmare girlfriend in The Hangover telling her boyfriend the same thing at a wedding; and it’s continued in a variety of forms throughout pop music, most notably through the often inspired and certainly genital-centric lyrics of Nicki Minaj (where there are so many ‘dicks’ and ‘balls’ self-attributed to her that even The Guardian mentioned it.)

So is it time for us to all grow a pair, or is this just a phallus-y (sorry)? It’s hard to tell whether we’re moving towards ‘dick’ as a general term for genitalia, irrespective of sex - and in the case of ‘balls’, it’s going to be pretty hard to swing it that they could also be ovaries. ‘Being ballsy’, ‘having bigger balls than you’ - it’s all good stuff; needless to say, ‘being a pussy’ doesn’t carry the same clout. Ballsy people are powerful; pussies are weak. Nicki Minaj says she has bigger balls than all the male rappers in the game, and who am I to argue with her? But do we now have to talk that talk to get ahead?

I don’t cringe quite as much as when I hear actual women say to men: ‘You throw like a girl!’ when I hear teenage girls talk casually about their imaginary penises and accompanying testicles nowadays, but it is a feminist ‘progression’ that sits strangely with me. I mean, has everyone here actually seen balls? They’re ridiculously delicate, oddly textured little sacs that hang like skin-coloured chrysalises near a guy’s ass. I literally can’t think of anything less appropriate for a power symbol. Vaginas, on the other hand, can sometimes have teeth. TEETH. Case closed.

On an ever-so-slightly more serious level, this linguistic shift has a poignant undertone. It’s used with increasing frequency on the playground (the teenage playground mostly, hopefully) and it underscores how much girls don’t want to be girls and women don’t want to be women anymore. We’ve reached a time where there is no doubt in our collective female mind that we are clever, able, capable equals of the men who we study and work and share lives with, but society is lagging in its deliverance of results that reflect this. ‘Girl’ - or, by extension, ‘pussy’ - has therefore become a convenient ‘other’ to refer to, even if you’re a woman. If you get on board with insulting other people for ‘acting like a girl’ and talk loudly about your ‘massive balls’, you might just be OK with the guys around you. But every time you use language that way, someone out there has to be the girl.

Like ‘that’s so gay’, I don’t imagine ‘you’ve got balls’ is going to disappear anytime soon, although it might wear itself out. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a cultural overhang from the time, not so long ago, when my business advisor mother’s report sheets came back from a seminar and one man had written that she ‘clearly has penis envy.’ Yes, he was being serious, and was taken seriously - nowadays, we’d probably laugh in the face of that dude and tell him to ‘grow a pair.’ Which, in its own special way, is progress - albeit with room for improvement.