Georgia O’Keeffe is well known for her paintings of zoomed-in, detailed flowers. Often these paintings are compared to vaginas, which would lead towards an easy analysis for a psychocritical analysis of the artist and her work. However, this paper will present a psychocritical analysis on O’Keeffe’s Black Door with Snow, which was created in 1955, using the concepts of the Neo-Freudian Karen Danielsen Horney. This painting enables the viewers to have a male perspective and better understand the concept of “womb envy,” thus enabling us to see the Western social and cultural constructs of male psyche.
Horney, who lived from 16 September 1885 until 4 December 1952, was a German Neo-Freudian. This Neo-Freudian discipline was formed by Alfred Adler and Horney together, although Horney is often overlooked. She practiced in the United States of America later on in her career and presented theories which questioned Freud’s theories. Horney, one of the first psychiatrists who was female, founded the feminist psychology in response to Freud’s patriarchal theory and disagreed with Freud, arguing that differences in psychology among men and women occur because of society and culture instead of biology.
Horney believed that sex and aggression were not the main ingredients in creating personality. Horney disagreed with Freud’s concept of “penis envy,” arguing that Freud only figured that women were jealous of male power in the world. Neurotic women might desire to have penises, but Horney introduces the idea of “womb envy”—that men are envious of women’s ability to bear children. Additionally, she argues that men are envious of women because women are able to “fulfill” their role in society by simply “being,” since women can become pregnant and give birth. In contrast, men must look externally to satisfy their need to be productive, and men think they must achieve manhood through the ability to provide and succeed. The focus on the male sexual organ was puzzling to Horney. For her, men were envious of pregnancy, nursing, and motherhood, which led to men making claims of superiority in other areas of life, specifically the workforce. Therefore, by reformulating Freudian thought, Horney presents a more humanist perspective on the human psyche, emphasizing on social and cultural differences.
Black Door with Snow is beautifully painted with neutral colors. The sharp diagonal lines in the painting add drama to the piece. A deeply tan wall stands bare and unadorned, and in the top left hand corner, we see a glimpse of a grey sky. Perhaps we, the viewers, are walking towards the house, looking to the opening from the side rather from directly in the front. This wall is both protective as well as inviting, drawing the viewers towards the entrance of the black doorframe. What stands out on this austere exterior are the snowflakes. As a female artist of New Mexico, it seems strange that she chose to depict snow. These snowflakes do not appear to be real snow but rather dabs of abstraction. Instead, they look more like falling white flowers or tissues from an unknown source. Interestingly, the snowflakes on or close to the ground are not white but rather a pink shade, which are next to the orange-red of the stones before the door.
This painting could be representative of womb envy, or the envious feelings that men feel towards women’s ability to create life. The tan wall looks almost like smooth skin, perhaps both sides of the legs spreading open for the black entrance, becoming symbolic of the vagina. Because we do not see the entrance directly but from an angle, perhaps we are experiencing the male gaze and perspective. Men, for Horney, experience womb envy, yet patriarchal society has many misconceptions and taboos about female anatomy. We see a sharp binary between the white—of the snowflakes—and the black—of the doorframe/vagina. In our Western patriarchal society, men and women are often seen as binaries, thus suggesting the black as women (represented by the female anatomy) and white as men (represented by a whole instead of a part, as with the women here). This is not a sexual depiction, and there are no phallic symbols here. Instead, although men may enter the vagina during sexual intercourse and be a part of the woman, this is only momentarily. Men never truly experience what is like to have a vagina or give birth. Just as the snowflakes stay out of the house so do men stay separated from women biologically because men lack vaginas and cannot experience pregnancy and birth. As a result, tension arises from this lacking, which is portrayed through the strong diagonal lines. Because women have their roles biologically assigned internally, men feel the need to search for purpose externally, reinforced by the painting of the snow remaining on the outside.
Western women can be labeled derogatorily based on their anatomy, and female anatomy is sometimes considered ugly or less developed in Western society. The splotches of color before the doorframe are pink, orange, and red, which could be connected with menstruation. A woman’s monthly bleeding occurs when the lining of the uterus or womb is shed. The menstrual blood passes through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. On heavier days, the color is more red, while on lighter days, the color is pink. Sometimes menstrual fluid, which is often referred to as blood, is sometimes a darker color, black or brown, which means that the blood is flowing out of the body at a slower rate. This change in color is normal. However, menstrual fluids can sometimes be orange, which means that the bright red menstrual blood becomes mixed with fluids from the cervix; as a result of this mixture, the menstrual blood appears orange with red streaks, and this color can be associated with infections and should be inspected by a doctor.
Although men may experience womb envy, they may not actually fully comprehend the responsibilities and associations that happen with having female anatomy. Additionally, men are commonly disgusted with the mere mention of menstruation, let alone the actual fact that it occurs naturally with most women. The orange splotches could represent a disease—here meaning the widespread problems with Western men and how they talk about and try to control female bodies. Something here is strange: How do we account for the pink snowflakes on the ground? Perhaps these pink spots are representative of men, who may still have womb envy, but are tolerant and even understanding of female anatomy and its natural processes. Rather than dismissing women and their problems with menstruation, men can potentially be sympathetic with biological differences and what occurs naturally, even if men do not have vaginas. If sympathy is possible, this tolerance can be extended to other areas of gender inequality, presenting a societal construct that can be changed rather than a biological stagnation.