Jerome Cornelius observes that we can’t even talk about the male tool without nervousness and laughter. And he wonders why.
“It’s incredible that they just cover their nipple and it’s not considered nudity”
The scene: my friends and I attended our first burlesque show, with headliner Louis de Ville.
The question of what would happen with a male burlesque dancer was what got me thinking. This is, of course, an oxymoron as male burlesque is not something real (or common, as far as I know) and YES, women are the marginalised sex and need empowerment spaces and redress. I am not knocking that at all, but rather wondering why there is still such a taboo around the male tool. Even saying it elicits a fit of laughter and nervousness.
In the burlesque show, Louise de Ville starts out as Louis. A male impersonator, the biologically born female, dressed as a male, strips down to reveal a strap-on dildo. He gyrates, as a male dancer would, spits on it, simulates masturbation and then, in a moment Madonna and Lady Gaga would applaud, lights it up with sparks shooting from the tip.
This is a move that is meant to take power away from the penis, detached from the male physique, and set fire to the symbol. The problem with this act was that it only empowered those in the room. It spoke to the empowered females.
In October I watched Louise’s documentary, and in a double-bill feature, watched another documentary, In Their Room: London. Men (who are gay) were on screen (nude) talking about their lives and expectations in love. We were literally behind the curtain which is only open to certain audiences. The amount of penises were undeniable, mostly because they were literally in your face the entire film through. This was fantastic as it got the audience talking, and a few laughing.
In mainstream cinema, however, the penis still appears as something which is a) super controversial b) a gag to get audiences laughing c)an object of art. Like Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or Michael Fassbender in Shame.
Why it cannot be any of the above is not my point; why it cannot just be, is. By hiding the penis, when everything else is on full display, including the entire female form, is hypocritical and merely reinforces the myth that it is something to be feared or revered.
It seems that whenever an actor flashes his junk, it becomes a sensational experience, rather than normal, or nothing. We don’t seem to have a measure of beauty for the penis, as uncomfortable as that may be to read. When it comes to female genitalia, they are usually compared and now, thankfully, diversity is celebrated. In television and films, the male genitalia is scandalous, usually ugly, even shameful. It is hardly ever beautiful.
Earlier this year I read a poem I wrote at an event. Even with my preceding explanation (that it was a feminist statement, meant to take power away from the patriarchal symbol and was not literal), the audience still giggled at the mention of that word. The poem was my take on my anger about the world today. It was titled “I hate my penis.” For the record, I do not really hate it.
This plea for the penis could, of course, go the other way in which men become sexual objects and reduced to the physical, as women are. This is not that big a concern as our world is still a patriarchal one, but getting to know each other better could start with knowing what we’re working with.
This reminded me of how I was recently bombarded by two (female) friends who told me more than I thought. The topic somehow veered towards how lucky I am that I don’t have a vagina.
A few excerpts from this conversation included
– “and that’s why we have to trim”
I’d heard enough. It appears that I too have a long way to go in dispelling my romantic views of the female form. I didn’t like what I had heard, but it was necessary.
In South Africa we even had our own penis controversy when our president objected to an artwork in which he was painted having one. Shocking really. The artwork was fittingly titled, The Spear. When we consider that he was indicted on rape charges, the protests over this artwork suddenly seem less valid. We as good men unfortunately come with a stigma already attached, and it happens to be dangling between our legs. Due to patriarchy, we come with a certain degree of power, and considering that most heads of state are male, the world is literally run by the penis. If we are to break down that stigma, we need to start reinforcing positive of what we do not see, or want to talk about, whether we like it or not.
Photo: lukasz-dunikowski / flickr