Let me just tell you straight up that I have penis envy. Every Rorschach test you could possibly give me will prove it. Like O’Keefe, like Freud, like – Oh! – Hinduism, I can’t get the nethers off my mind. I discern shapes, nature and various abstractions as phallic or vulval. The latter I find sexy, spiritual, artistic, but complex, unlike the former. The former make me laugh, they make me ogle. The former have me fascinated by their humour, simplicity and ultimate alienness. For a pretty ballsy woman, my lack of supplementary equipment entertains and holds my attention to no end.
There, now that that’s out of the way, feel free to celebrate my complete discrediting from the feminist movement by lighting up, very aptly and traditionally, a cigar.
It was a cigar and a conversation with a male friend surprised by the sight of a woman smoking it that got me thinking about my penis envy and expressions of it. Coming to consider this, it surprised me too how few women take to the cigar. Like all the usual paradoxes of the more tasteful vices, it seems the premise of only sophisticated men and strange women.
From Che to Churchill, bastions of masculinity seem to like sticking big long objects in their mouths and sucking on them. Cigars are sexier, less subtle versions of the sceptres and swords of yore. The underlying motivation is practically kindergarten-level Freud to analyse, but worth the giggle.
Yet it remains risqué for women. Someone suggested it’s the gracelessness of it; essentially, one fellates a cigar. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t eat in public, either. Anything involving the mouth – including speech – is inevitably sensual.
After all, it’s mainly a decorative accessory; cigar-smoking is an art, not an addiction. And what could possibly be more sensual than a woman sitting by herself in a dress too fancy for the bar she’s in, sipping a gin and tonic, wearing shoes to tango in, exhaling from a Cuvee Rouge as she looks you in the eye?
I heard your breath still. See what I mean?
But back to business – do other women not smoke cigars because they do not have penis envy? Or could it be because – let me just throw this wild card in – the idea of a woman controlling a phallic object, having it literally at the mercy of her bite, is too disturbing to the (male) viewer to digest?
It’s important to note, of course, that as far as phalluses being evocative of power go, only the erect ones count. So good girls can eat spaghetti, no matter how long and uncut, without conjuring up any primal images in the onlooker. This is also why the cigarette, too skinny to be of consequence, is invalidated. Penis envy is not sex – on this count, size definitely matters. If it’s not obscene, it’s not an expression.
Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that the rooster-synonym is king. Men have their walking-sticks, their neckties, their Papua New Guinean penis sheaths. As well as their fleshly counterparts. What’s a woman with penis envy to do to take her power back but put a symbol between her teeth? What better way to deal with an object that can’t be owned than to objectify it?
A parting-shot defense of penis envy, then (because while it may be true that I’m a gay man stuck in a woman’s body, I’m thrilled it happens to be this one): war, after all, is just a manifestation of menstrual envy.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.