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Religion & Culture | Phallus: The castration of male-dominated societies

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
This combination of photos show some of the powerful men who have been toppled because of sexual misconduct allegations. Top row from left: broadcaster Bill O’Reilly, Senate candidate Roy Moore, Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., and broadcaster Matt Lauer. Bottom row from left are actor Kevin Spacey, conductor James Levine, broadcaster Charlie Rose, and film producer Harvey Weinstein.

When Sigmund Freud coined the term 'penis envy', he did not fathom its far-reaching implications. While Freud's work has since been discounted in some circles, one cannot help but concede that he offered incredulous insight into the role of sexuality in religion, politics, and culture.

According to the famed psychoanalyst, children become aware of their bodies during the phallic stage of development (three to six years old).

It is during this period that they recognise the principal physical difference among themselves, that being, the absence of a penis in girls. While girls viewed this body part with envy, boys identified with it as a representation of power.

The castration anxiety, or the fear of literally or metaphorically, losing the penis, emerged as a social and psychological construct. The child learns, or is taught, how to resist emasculation at all costs. This explains why homosexuality is still a taboo in many societies. This explains why narcissistic individuals manipulate and bend others to their will sexually, a kind of subconscious assurance that they are not castrated.

Culturally, religions and cults revolve around the phallus. Every cult leader is known to have attached significance to the phallus. Female members, in particular, succumb to the deceptive claims of the cult leaders, who use sex as a form of control.

The phallus stage and penis envy could also explain misandry (women who hate men).

Great civilisations of Rome and Egypt, the United States, and tribal cultures have all embraced the phallus as a symbol of naked masculinity, authority, and power.

In the United States, the Washington monument is an obelisk, a phallic symbol, constructed to commemorate George Washington.

In Ancient Egypt, the dark-skinned fertility god Min was depicted with an erect penis (phallus).

In Ancient Greece, the god Hermes is a phallic deity. And the presence of the phallus was present in pre-Colombian and sub-Saharan societies.

In modern societies, the phallus (as a representation of power and domination) is projected in the form of big cars, motorcycles, cigars, and ostentatious jewellery.

The presence of the phallus represents patriarchal societies where gender inequality persists. In some societies, more than others, women remain underclass citizens. They are victims of child marriage, lack of education, wage inequality, domestic violence, and rape.

In some cases, discriminatory practices are sometimes protected and promoted by religious edicts. In larger societies, women are victimised by age-old stereotypes and cultural behaviour.

Women's suffrage, feminism, higher education, access to higher-paying jobs and political participation at a national level have contributed to some measurable change.

In the last year, though, this change has occurred at a dizzying pace.

In many ways, we can call the last few years the castration years. The pillars of male-dominated societies are threatened like never before. The castration of men is not being played out physically (as in the Lorena Bobbitt case), but on an intellectually militant level.


Case in point:


1) #MeToo movement: This movement was formed as a result of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual excess directed at women at the workplace. Wielding considerable clout the #MeToo movement has led to the firing of countless high-profile men who were once deemed invincible.

The movement has since reified its standing with the public support of megastar Oprah Winfrey.

2) The Anti-Confederacy movement: While the fight to remove statues of confederate leaders and modern political figures is not female driven, it represents another crack in the armour of patriarchy and another example of male castration in the metaphorical sense.

We can also argue that the acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle and the fight for transgender rights on a national level, are indicators that the full castration of the virile, powerful male figure in the United States is imminent.

While the writing is on the wall for patriarchy in western societies, theocracies, in particular, continue to resist. Using scriptures and holy books to justify the status quo, the struggle for women's suffrage is that much harder.

Here, resistance to change (castration) is political, religious, and sexual.

These are the societies where the word of the sacerdotal class is preeminent, leading to abuses that are viewed as sanctioned by God's command.

According to Human Rights Watch, gender inequality on a disturbing scale is evident in some countries. The following assessment is presented in its website: "Despite great strides made by the international women's rights movement over many years, women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked in forced labour and sex slavery.

"They are refused access to educational and political participation, and some are trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. Around the world, death related to pregnancy and childbirth is needlessly high, and women are prevented from making deeply personal choices in their private lives." (

The castration of theocracies will be arduous, no doubt. Centuries-long indoctrination and warped interpretation of scriptures and other religious writings have had a hold on entire segments of these societies. In other words, women, too, have embraced these teachings.

But we now live in a global village. The shift in mass communication towards digitisation has made these repressive societies tenuous and vulnerable. And consequently, the 'alpha male' will be castrated as he has been in the United States and elsewhere.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author, lecturer, and wellness therapist. Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby