The astonishing cover-story photo of the October issue of the Atlantic makes perfect sense to anyone familiar with the psychoanalytic theories – recently validated by Nobel-winning neuroscientists – of Sigmund Freud!
Can you spot the phallic and “yonic” images in the Atlantic cover picture?
Here a couple of helpful definitions, to increase or refresh your understanding of these words:
- phallus: 1610s, “an image of the penis,” from Latin phallus, from Greek phallos “penis,” also “carving or image of an erect penis (symbolizing the generative power in nature) used in the cult of Dionysus,” … (From Online Etymology Dictionary)
- yoni: a stylized representation of the female genitalia that in Hinduism is a sign of generative power and that symbolizes the goddess Shakti … -yonic \ˈyō-nik\ adjective. (From Merriam-Webster online dictionary)
Because I am a clinical social work with training in psychoanalytic theory (at NYU, a school with strong focus on Freud’s work – here’s an article I wrote for a psychiatric journal), the symbolism in these hand gestures jumps at me, when others might not notice it at all:
- Trump has his finger raised – it’s vertical.
- Clinton has her hand more or less in the shape of a cup.
These are phallus and yoni!
Yoni seems the best word to use, though it comes to us from the East – Sanskrit – not the West.
The critical importance of this cover-story photo
One could write a book on this cover. For now, here are a few thoughts:
- In these gestures we have both the holy grail and the scepter.
- Though this topic is funny on the surface, it packs serious and enormous power. These simple hand gestures encapsulate the huge emotional issues surrounding male and female archetypes that lie at the heart this election.
- In these gestures are present the struggle for women’s rights; the enduring power of traditional male roles; the nature of authoritarianism; the importance of body – our physical selves – in human life and politics; the power of the unconscious in media communications; and the unstoppable emergence of female power in the modern era.
- It’s not clear whether the editors who created and reviewed this photo – and approved it for the cover of this famous American publication, more than 150 years old – consciously designed the photo with this Freudian symbolism dead center.
- A key principle of psychoanalytic theory is that humor is dead-serious. Freud’s major work on humor is shown here (can you spot the phallic symbol in the photo of Freud?!) As Freud famously joked, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
phallic (adj.): “Pertaining to the phallus,” 1789, from Greek phallikos, from phallos (see phallus). First record of phallic symbol is from 1809. (From Online Etymology Dictionary)
phallus (n.): 1610s, “an image of the penis,” from Latin phallus, from Greek phallos “penis,” also “carving or image of an erect penis (symbolizing the generative power in nature) used in the cult of Dionysus,” from PIE *bhel-no-, from root *bhel- (2) “to blow, inflate, swell” (source also of Old Norse boli “bull,” Old English bulluc “little bull,” and possibly Greek phalle “whale;” see bole). Used of the penis itself (often in symbolic context) from 1924, originally in jargon of psychoanalysis. (From Online Etymology Dictionary)
Definition of yoni: a stylized representation of the female genitalia that in Hinduism is a sign of generative power and that symbolizes the goddess Shakti — compare lingam. -yonic \ˈyō-nik\ adjective. (From Merriam-Webster online dictionary)
yoni (n.): 1799, from Sanskrit, “female sexual principle as an object of veneration,” literally “vulva, womb.”
Definition of lingam: A stylized phallic symbol that is worshipped in Hinduism as a sign of generative power and that represents the god Shiva — compare yoni. (From Merriam-Webster online dictionary)
priapic (adj.) “phallic,” 1786, with -ic + Priapus (Greek Priapos), son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, the god who personified male reproductive power. His name is of unknown origin. (From Online Etymology Dictionary)
The phallic world of rock and roll – and politics!
Below are several images I will talk about soon in blog posts. I’ll also present concepts of what scholars in psychology call “the phallic woman.”
Can you spot in the pictures below the phallic images?