Small girl, you don’t know the ting. I am teaching you the ting. But you are playing with the ting…
In my opinion, the penis occupies this really fascinating place in social consciousness. It is virile. It is powerful. It is imposing. It is to be feared. It is positioned within society as this object that makes every human being who is born with it automatically superior. But it is also funny. It is used as a punch line. It is framed as this thing that makes every human being who was born with it weak to desire, controlled by lust, and a little bit stupid. How many of us growing up heard some world-weary aunt talk about “the thing” and how it has a mind of its own, how one day you will be chased with it until you are tired and when you see it coming you will run away and feign a headache? Only me? I doubt it. The thing is spoken of in all kitchens.
You see, the almighty dick is this symbol of dominance and strength almost everywhere you go. It is spoken of in hushed tones. But it is feared; it is not loved. Though men are privileged in most societies, especially ours, the most complex truth about the system that favors men is that it is such a rigid system that while it privileges it also stifles and suppresses them. And nowhere is this more true than when it comes to men’s physical forms and the way they are presented in society. A woman’s body unless it is deformed in some way is generally thought to be this symbol of beauty. Individual women, as much as we agonize about not looking like some airbrushed ideal, are all very aware that were we to take off all our clothes in the middle of Kwame Nkrumah Circle no matter what our size or shape or circumstance, as long as we had two boobs and two thighs and two buttocks, one waist, one set of hips and one head that was not Medusa’s, at least ONE MAN would want to fuck us. At least one man would desire our naked bodies.
Let’s reverse the situation. Can any man; just any man, not Denzel Washington or Brad Pitt but any ordinary Joe Blow without a handsome face; strip naked at circle and be assured of desire? Solely for his body, not because he has some emotional or moral quality women like? Not because he has a bank account or a car? I don’t think so. Now I’m not saying that this is because no one actually desires men’s bodies just in a carnal sense. But I am arguing that there is very little room in societal consciousness for the expression of this desire. Men’s bodies are not objects of desire. They are very rarely viewed as aesthetically pleasing just for aesthetic’s sake. They have to have utility; they have be good for something. Men’s muscles are hot only because they signal things that we equate with virility; they make men strong and strong men provide and protect. (Breasts are not hot because they feed children; they are just hot. The deeper evolutionary psychology-based reason might be that they are hot because they signal fertility but that thinking is several layers underneath our conscious cognitive thoughts about boobs. Even fake boobs, which are purely aesthetic and not made with breastfeeding children in mind are used to sell everything from beer to cars). It may seem like nothing worth noting but it is a bit of a mindfuck because society allows men, and by extension their penises, to be held as this standard of dominance and empoweredness but it also makes it clear that this symbol of power it is very rarely seen as a symbol of desire and love. Men are revered and respected in our culture but they are very rarely loved by anyone except their mothers, and let’s face it, their mothers want as little to do with their penises or sexual selves as possible. So basically we live in a world where men and by extension their penises are never beautiful.This might seem like it doesn’t matter. But i would argue that it does. Because we live in a world where total validation is seen as the holy grail. And yet neither gender really ever gets it.
Almost all the validation women get is physical because women are valued for their bodies at the expense of their minds and souls. Yet almost all the validation men get is social because men are valued for their minds and souls at the expense of their bodies. It’s not a trade-off. It’s really problematic. Because then sexual desire is constantly framed as something that men have and something women (reluctantly) acquiesce to. Men desire. Men fuck. Men come. Men are not desired. Men are not fucked. Men are not made to come. Men are not something you want simply for their own sakes. Only women are. And this belief sets up a paradigm where women are seen as these things to be desired and obtained.
Mutual desire, purely because, is seen as some unattainable ideal. So the situation everyone takes as a given is this one: A guy sees a woman, has this surge of attraction on a purely prurient sexual level and then has to find a way to get her to want him. He does this with words, or with power, or status, or with money, or with the promise of marriage or with an emotional connection. When she wants him (not him the body but him the person; the social idea of having someone to love, the fine guy that society will validate her for having snagged) then he gets sex. His penis gets to be interacted with if he does something else that wins him brownie points. His penis gets to be interacted with if he passes some other kind of test.
What this lack of permission to desire a male body creates is a very uneven sexual landscape. For most women (through no fault of theirs, and mostly due to social conditioning I must add) the penis is a scary thing. It is this thing you touch with a squeal, like a mouse or a cockroach or a dead wall gecko. It is this thing you look at with your eyes agape and your mouth ajar, not in wonderment and awe, but in trepidation and amazement—the way you stare at the scene in the Exorcist where the girl’s head swivels around and projectile vomit comes out of her mouth. It is this thing you touch reluctantly, not purely for its own sake, but for what it can do once it reaches whatever state you desire, or more commonly, for what its desire for you can make the man do. For most women, a penis isn’t something to be enamored with. It is something to be endured, something one must interact with in order to be fair so one can obtain all the other things that come with sex: the affection, the intimacy, the kissing, the touching, the stroking, the eating out.
I am not for one second blaming women. Women don’t look at penises in disgust because we are inherently insensitive. We look at penises with…hesitation, because the whole world does and we, more than any other living creatures, are taught to adhere to the mores of the world. Women are scared of penises because we are taught to be.
This teaching is so all-encompassing and ubiquitous that it affects both genders. Even men don’t really love their penises. I know this might be hard to believe. That thing they are always bragging about, and playing with, and obeying the whims of? That thing that topples presidencies and shatters kingdoms and alters the course of Holy Books? That thing almost all buildings are designed to look like? And women are forced to pretend to like even when they are smelly and sweaty and gross? That ting there was a hit song about last year? What in this world is more loved than a penis? My answer would be “many many things, even pussies.” And we all know that despite tomes and tomes of poetry and all the Georgia O’Keefe paintings in the world pussies could use a lot more love. So that should tell you how little love penises get.
Why does this matter? Aren’t there bigger things to worry about? Aren’t there more political issues that I should be concerned about as a feminist? Perhaps. But I would argue that this societal fear and disgust with penises does something really damaging to men. It orients their reality in a very bipolar duality in which they have access and dominance over everything but are also in possession of this thing that they know is borne only under extreme sufferance. It makes men lead their lives with a very tangible sense of superiority but also with a very real fear of rejection. This in my opinion is a political and social issue because I think it sets up a pretty debilitating fucked-up situation for both genders. Think about it. Women are taught not to want sex, not to enjoy it, not to request it. Men are taught to always want sex, to always enjoy it or at least to pretend to, to request it from everyone they might be moderately attracted to. And because quite a few men want to have sex with women and vice versa these differing schools of thought and different modes of socialization lead to quite the clusterfuck. They very unfortunately put women in this position of having to be persuaded and obtained. They also leave men in this position of having to almost always be vetted and physically rejected. In the absence of women being able to freely and openly sexually desire men, men are raised to believe that all kinds of shenanigans are necessary in order to obtain sexual interactions. These shenanigans dehumanize women, render sex a commodity and make all sex transactional. The transactional nature of sex then becomes something both men and women deeply resent. Women, particularly post-colonial African women who are taught that what is between our legs is sacred, sancrosanct, hallowed and finite— and as such the more people we give it to the less we have—loathe that we are coaxed into giving up something that we sometimes later feel we were not adequately compensated in return for. So women resent that they often feel manipulated into having sex. Men resent that they can never be desired purely on a physical basis, just because—without the trappings of success, the promises of marriage and commitment and the faux-sensitivity they cultivate to get into women’s pants. The paradigm makes men inherently suspicious that when it comes to matters of sexual interaction women hold all the cards, all the power, all the possible adoration, affection and love. (Just see some of the responses to Nana Darkoa’s post on sex and politics where guys bemoan that due to the laws of supply and demand women (by dint of controlling the supply) have all the upper hand.) It makes men feel like sex is something only they can demand or yearn for and in my opinion it makes them engage in sexual activity with the most misogynistic and frightening undertones. This paradigm also makes women think that the only power we have is what is between our legs and that that power must be maintained at all costs because all other things will be a natural offshoot of it. In short, this paradigm sucks. I think cultivating coticulturism could help but who can think of other ways to undo it?