A child’s phrase amuses, then he repeats it: this time, they shrug their shoulders. In this world as unsure and unpredictable as Kafka’s universe, one stumbles at every step. That is why so many children are afraid of growing up; they desperately want their parents to continue taking them on their laps, taking them into their bed: through physical frustration they experience ever more cruelly that abandonment of which the human being never becomes aware without anguish.
It is here that little girls first appear privileged. A second weaning, slower and less brutal than the first one, withdraws the mother’s body from the child’s embraces; but little by little boys are the ones who are denied kisses and caresses; the little girl continues to be doted upon, she is allowed to hide behind her mother’s skirts, her father takes her on his knees and pats her hair; she is dressed in dresses as lovely as kisses, her tears and whims are treated indulgently, her hair is done carefully, her expressions and affectations amuse: physical contact and complaisant looks protect her against the anxiety of solitude. For the little boy, on the other hand, even affectations are forbidden; his attempts at seduction, his games irritate. “A man doesn’t ask for kisses … A man doesn’t look at himself in the mirror … A man doesn’t cry,” he is told. He has to be “a little man”; he obtains adults’ approbation by freeing himself from them. He will please by not seeming to seek to please.
Many boys, frightened by the harsh independence they are condemned to, thus desire to be girls; in times when they were first dressed as girls, they cried when they had to give dresses up for long pants and had to have their curls cut. Some obstinately would choose femininity, which is one of the ways of gravitating toward homosexuality: ... However, if the boy at first seems less favored than his sisters, it is because there are greater designs for him. The requirements he is subjected to immediately imply a higher estimation.
Anatomically, the penis is totally apt to play this role; considered apart from the body, it looks like a little natural plaything, a kind of doll. The child is esteemed by esteeming his double. A father told me that one of his sons at the age of three was still urinating sitting down; surrounded by sisters and girl cousins, he was a shy and sad child; one day his father took him with him to the toilet and said: “I will show you how men do it.” From then on, the child, proud to be urinating standing up, scorned the girls “who urinated through a hole”; his scorn came originally not from the fact that they were lacking an organ but that they had not like him been singled out and initiated by the father. So, far from the penis being discovered as an immediate privilege from which the boy would draw a feeling of superiority, its value seems, on the contrary, like a compensation—invented by adults and fervently accepted by the child—for the hardships of the last weaning: in that way he is protected against regret that he is no longer a breast-feeding baby or a girl. From then on, he will embody his transcendence and his arrogant sovereignty in his sex.
It is to be noted that this is a cultural and social phenomena however, and not at all out of necessity. This "perverted" transcendence demands an oppression of other people, namely women. ↩︎
—Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. -1