Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Junk And Fig Leaves: The Curse of Genital Shaming

Western society has form when it comes to the image of the nude masculine beauty ideal: far from ars gratia artis, these images form useful symbolism for the promotion of nationalism. From Ancient Greece through J.J.Winckelmann’s 18th Century revivalism, to the Nazi purchase of The Discobolus and on to us via 1950’s American muscle culture, we observe a recurrent theme. The attractive representation reinforces a doctrine of male perfectibility through restraint and self-discipline, with “weakness” being kept in check. Penises are also notably kept in check: deliberately infantilized male genitalia represent status and control over moral turpitude in the Classical oeuvre, and the habit permeates modern maleness from the cradle to the grave. We are then left to question exactly what the perfect nude male and his genitalia subliminally represents to the homosexualist, and how it will impact on his sexual psyche and subsequent emotional wellbeing.

The most famous dick of all time is worn by Michelangelo’s shamelessly naked and sexually ambiguous David. It’s also the most ridiculed dick of all time – to the point that art and cartoon are now one, and nobody ever mentions his ass. It’s become the crude moustache painted on the Mona Lisa postcard. The public discourse has nothing to do with relaxed comfort around the male nude, just as it has nothing to do with appreciation of flawlessly executed sculpture. Scholars don’t help by assigning lofty messages of freedom and republicanism to the piece while overlooking the sexuality of both sculptor and subject.

Defiantly pagan in political intent and powerfully homoerotic in personal intent, David and his little dick are culturally diminished to four meters of marble which neither threatens nor arouses. Viewed from straight-on without the sculptor’s intended perspective, we’re a man just looking at a disproportionate and apparently defenseless youth. The homoerotic charge is experienced when we look up at the statue as intended: we become a boy contemplating a naked man. His focus on preparation for the battle (of brains versus brawn) doesn’t initially involve us because we first sense a massive and reassuring male right hand in gentle repose. Devoid of false modesty or fetish, David dignifies innate homosexuality to its core, with his dick being as complementary as any dick could be.

But dicks and dignity don't usually crop up in the same sentence. The resurgence of pejorative usage of "dick" to put a man down isn't exactly a giant step for mankind, despite its apparent political correctness. One debate we could all benefit from is “Just how damaging is male genital shaming?” The practice is widespread across society. It includes – but is not limited to – everything from outright disgust to ridicule and snickering. Women routinely lead the charge, but many men who should know better have taken to referring to men‘s genitalia as “junk” and “dangly bits”, and include their own. It’s not as warm and fuzzy as it all purports to be: “junk” is defined as useless and valueless, and when underscored with connotations of general filth you can be certain that some male somewhere is experiencing significant devaluation of his humanity and male identity. If similar derogatory terminologies were used towards tits and women’s genitals then appropriate outrage would surely ensue. Obversely, the reactionary “masculinism” movement could probably serve us all a whole lot better by thinking more about male genital packages and less about the perceived threat of feminism.

Our hyper-masculine world isn’t quite as it appears: pubescent boys aren’t encouraged to sport any bulge at all – let alone an impressive one. Modesty as a tease is erotic, but modesty as a political statement is dangerous and we’re wise to know the difference. It makes perfect sense for any healthy male of any age to be attracted to pornography: it’s currently the only guaranteed “safe space” where a guy won’t be subjected to genital shaming despite viewing usually more impressive equipment than his own. Within that apparent paradox lie obvious business opportunities for penile enhancement industries, but admiration and shame are two different things.

One is then left to wonder about the impact of male genital shaming on gender fluidity issues, and if it’s one reason why a guy can come to believe that his genitals are in conflict with the sex or gender he has come to believe is his “real self”. Treasure trails after all don’t lead to “junk”: you don’t have to be a size queen or The Bottom That Ate Boston to sense wonder when you pull down a guy’s pants to experience whatever he’s got between his legs. 

That it’s there is cause enough for celebration.

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