Alyssa Royse was enjoying the year-end round up of sexy male celebrity bulges—until she realized that this is sexual objectification, just like what she fights against every day.
I will admit right upfront that I totally enjoyed starting my morning by lying in bed with a hot cup of coffee and looking at pictures of men’s penises outlined by clothing that accentuated the obvious in just the right way. I now know with relative certainty that Jon Hamm is circumcised and his penis is bigger than the penises I enjoy the most. Also, some Swedish Olympic athlete appears to poses a penis of proportion and design that I dream about —average sized, not circumcised.
But as I was flipping through the images on The Frisky’s list of The 12 Biggest Bulges of 2012, I began to feel a little uncomfortable, and not just because my sweetie had just started his 24-hour shift at the fire station, leaving me to deal with Swedish penis fantasies on my own. It bothered me because these men did not ask to have their penises judged and evaluated when they were simply walking down the street.
It went deeper than that, actually. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to combat sex-negative images about women’s bodies in the media, such as the seemingly non-stop lists of celebrities with the best butts or hottest tits—lists that objectify women by focusing only on their sexy bits, and only those that fit a narrow description of what’s “hot”.
And there I was, doing the same thing to Joe Manganiello.
For the most part, these guys were just out doing their thing. Jon Hamm was walking down the street, not posing. There were some rowers rowing, runners running, rock stars doing whatever weird thing it is they do. I don’t have any idea what a Channing Tatum is, or what he was doing, but he was in there too. David Beckham was posing, but he was wearing a modesty panel, so we couldn’t really tell what he was packing. (But I’ll admit, I’m an ab girl, so I didn’t really care.)
The point is, they were not asking to have their junk judged any more than bikini-clad celebs on vacation are. Yet when candid photos of women in bikinis are published and judged, there is tremendous outcry about how women are objectified and treated in the media: about how wrong it is to do that to us, about how it harms our self-esteem and creates unrealistic expectations. All of which I believe, in every bone and fiber of my body.
So where was the outcry at men being objectified this way? I thought I’d look for some in the comments on the article. None. I thought I’d look on Facebook. None. So I posted it on my own wall and asked about the double standard.
As I (unfortunately) expected, there was a lot of suggestion that it’s okay to do it to guys because: A) they do it to us, B) it doesn’t bother them, C) men don’t fear for their safety around women, and D) men like being known for their prodigious packages.
I’m not sure I buy all of that. Or any of it, really.
“But he started it” has never made retaliatory action okay. Nor does it change the fundamental dynamic. If what we want is LESS sexual objectification of people and a more holistic approach to appreciating humans for the complex creatures that they are, then this is counterproductive.
I’m pretty sure it does bother some men. After all, men are humans too. It hasn’t served most men well to be constantly told that to be the best, they have to be strong, rich, fast, handsome, and emotionless. Feminism did a terrific job of illustrating how women are much more than the damsel in distress in need of rescue by Prince Charming. YAY! However, we haven’t really tackled the Prince Charming part of this fallacy, and right now, the Prince Charming is fucking us all. I’m curious if when men see things like this, it has the same impact on their body image that critiques of female bodies have on women.
I think there is more to a sense of safety in the world than just knowing no one is going to rape you. (And let’s be clear, women do rape men, and it’s wrong when they do it too.) Safety, in a larger sense, means that you feel accepted, like you will be protected, like you don’t have to prove and defend yourself all the time. It seems to me that men have it way easier in this regard. However, making them feel less safe and secure isn’t going to make the world more safe and secure for us as women, because safety and respect is not a zero-sum game.
If we’re not choosing to show them off, our genitals really need to be off the table for discussion. They are, arguably, our most private and intimate parts. They, and the things we do with them, are the parts that society has instilled the most shame on as it is. As horrible as we are to women in the media—and we are horrible—I have never seen a woman’s labia openly critiqued. And that’s what this is.
I have talked to hundreds of men who have told me that they are afraid that their penis isn’t good enough. And let’s be clear, by good enough, we mean big enough. Because that is all that the media talks about when it comes to men’s penises.
So no, the question isn’t whether Jon Hamm feels good about the world knowing he has a huge penis, the question is: how does our myopic praise of that huge penis make other men feel? And what does it add to our culture of mixed messages about sex and masculinity?
Ultimately, I am the most bothered by the double standard and how counterproductive it feels.
I like The Frisky, and I really like Amelia McDonnell-Perry who wrote the piece. She commented on my Facebook post that it was just a silly end of the year round-up, no big deal, and she’s not wrong. But all those round-ups of women’s bodies are met with uproar.
It feels a bit like coming down from the high road. As my mother-in-law says, “There’s no point in fighting with pigs, you both get dirty and they like the mud.”
All of which leaves me with a lot of questions, and very few answers—at least partly because I’m not a guy. So I thought I’d ask you guys, the men of The Good Men Project.
Is turnabout fair play? Does this level the playing field, or make it harder to play on?
Is there much difference between that photo of Jon Hamm and an upskirt shot of a girl on a bus?
Do images and messages like this bother men? If so, how?
Maybe we all need to relax a bit. Maybe openly judging bodies is a step towards accepting that we all have them. Maybe if we get comfortable here, then we can look at more diverse bodies? Then more diverse gender expression?
I really don’t know. All I know is that it didn’t seem any more “right” to me than all those posts about women’s bodies. And that awareness totally ruined my fantasy about the Swedish dude with his average-sized, uncircumcised penis.
Which gets me back to thinking that maybe more awareness, and more discussion about these complex issues, is what is needed in order to create a world in which we all feel safe expressing ourselves, our gender and our sexuality in a way that creates pleasure rather than harm.
I know I’m an over thinker. Easily one of the best things about having smart friends like Amelia is that they make me think, they trigger perspectives in me that I might not otherwise see. So I don’t want to go making devils out of people whom we all know mean no harm. But I do think we need to continually look at an question that things that we just do out of habit, because those habits eventually create societal patterns—or at least reflect them.
For a penis-free end-of-year list from The Frisky, check out The 12 Best Dressed Men of 2012.