We rightfully honor women’s stories about their bodies. But what about men?
Laura Dodsworth has photographed 100 penises and published them. The book is titled Manhood: the Bare Reality. It makes a lovely addition to the coffee table for when company drops by. Perhaps the kids would like a look?
And there you have it. Our nearly universal anxiety when confronted with what Dodsworth describes as something completely taboo. Namely, the male reproductive organ. But Dodsworth’s images aren’t the central focus of the book. The central focus of Dodsworth’s book is men’s personal stories. Which brings us to more taboos of a different sort.
Men are all the same, right?
This idea underlies every story we have about men in bars, men at work, men on the street, men in marriages, men in love. Describe the fellow at the office who won’t stop making awkward jokes about women, and we all nod our heads in agreement. Yeah, him.
But here’s the challenge. The often ugly stereotypes we have about men flourish in the absence of more personal stories; in what is a near vacuum of any intimate understanding of actual men’s lives. What do we ever hear of men’s anxieties, fears, challenges, and secret joys? Men are daily policed and bullied to hide these stories because our culture enforces a version of manhood that is emotionally stoic, self reliant and unrelentingly self-assured. We live in a culture where “real” men don’t fail or cry and they sure as hell don’t need any damn help.
Telling our stories is an act giving and receiving help at the most basic human level.
When we tell our stories of living, of our struggles, our joys and losses; healing and affirmation are granted to the teller and the listener, equally. But when generations of men are taught from a very early age to hide their private selves, their intimate stories, a narrative vacuum ensues. And as we all know, nature abhors a vacuum. So, men’s stories are told for them, by the red headlines of rape and war, blood thirsty CEO’s and power mad politicians; themes that rush in to take over the narrative, declaring men, in the collective silence, to be this or that, or the other.
We rightfully honor women’s stories about their bodies, their journeys, their lives. The challenges women face in our garishly photoshopped world of unyielding abuse, violence and murder are spirit crushing. Women bravely telling their stories are acts of defiance and liberation.
But what of men?
It turns out that images of penises are the perfect metaphor for men’s most private selves, walled off from our collective awareness by shaming, held in check by our collective uncertainty about why we should give them our attention and for what possible purpose?
Refreshingly, Dodsworth’s book is full of men’s stories and men’s bodies, their appetites, their joys, their insecurities and the path their lives take. One would have to assume that having your penis photographed keeps it top of mind. As such, these are quite surprising stories, refreshingly frank and honest observations, funny and sad.
By constructing her book in the way Dodsworth has, balancing straight forward images of men’s penises against their winding complex stories, Dodsworth dares us to look. Which is an important pattern breaking moment, both personally and culturally. And when we do take that risk, when we do look, we discover not only the refreshing courage of each man’s choice to be visible, but also the importance of acknowledging how vastly diverse men actually are.
Manhood: the Bare Reality is available at Amazon.
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