Great Toilet Book: About Men Part 2
On having a Penis
The difficult truce between sons and fathers proceeds from both recognizing the importance of what they have in common: a penis. This simple fact is what makes all men “like” each other and all men “different” from women. Based on this fact, men come to share a belief that women are not really human beings. This belief is so crucial and so deep that it remains psychologically “invisible” to both men and women. For a number of reasons, both men and women either deny having such a belief, minimize or confuse its importance, or claim to “prefer” its hidden advantages.
The consequences of this belief are enormous. By recognizing that all men possess penises and by declaring that this is the root-sign of both humanity and true divinity, men may wince at the pain or humiliation inflicted upon other men, but not at the pain or humiliation inflicted upon other women. This deification of penises allows men to not experience female suffering as representative of human -- and therefore male – suffering. Female suffering is thereby condoned as less pertinent, less significant, less threatening than the pain which befalls men.
For example, men are horrified at the forcible anal rape of another man. But they are much less horrified at the anal or vaginal rape of another woman, especially if she is not a female relative by blood or marriage. Also, most men experience any and all expressions of female emotion as overly intense and threatening, as a form of attack, as an attempt at female control. Women are often stunned by the rigid disapproval, the contempt, the sadism that men display of female tears, of verbal demands and complaints.
Most men are respectful of female suffering at childbirth -- but not identify with it. Or as physicians, they frequently treat it sadistically. By comparison, women are both respectful of male suffering in all male economic or military wars and also identify with it as a human hardship or tragedy.
It is because men believe that women, creatures-without-a-penis, are not human beings – that women are devils or angels, goddesses, or whores – that many men do have a genuine urge to “protect” women. They “protect” women into corners where the harm they may do men is at least limited.
It is because men believe that women are not human beings that so many men are genuinely perplexed by, removed from and cannot identify or empathize with female “complaints” of unhappiness, paralysis, disappointment or anxiety.
Women, of course, have an equally difficult time really understanding male needs and are often contemptuous of the male need to be “taken care of” and “constantly agreed with.” But women have been taught to value whatever men value and need – even though it hurts or confuses them as wives or as women.
Among men, the presence of a penis is still proof of a shared humanity, still the proof of truce between father and son, however uneasy a truce it is. It is still the trigger for mae-male empathic identification. Thus are adult men always comparing themselves to other men: on the basis of penis-size and physical strength. They always feel the need for male “truce,” no matter the price. It is a transaction they have made once before. With their fathers.
Sons originally experience their “smallness” in terms of how small they – and their penises – are in relation to their fathers. The male idea or fear of being sexually castrated must involve some early fear of fathers doing this – as much as it ma be “triggered” by contemplating the absence of a penis in the castrated mother, and in all women.
Remember: one interpretation of the Patriarch Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac and the consequent substitute ritual of circumcision is that male gods and fathers can kill or castrate their young and even beloved sons, but can also choose not to. Men talking about castration anxiety seem to experience it, or associate it, with prolonged or intense heterosexual intimacy. Too intense or too “merged” a contact with women reminds men of their parent-without-a-penis who couldn’t or wouldn’t protect them from the parent-with-a-penis.
Men, upon being questioned about “castration anxiety,” either report having none – or immediately start telling me about how they fear being “castrated” by mothers and wives. They rarely mention fathers or other men. The silence of male truce runs deep; the fear of fathers is displaced onto mothers and surfaces in anecdotes about “castrating” women.
Men, upon being asked about their penises (not castration anxiety), often respond at first with a bristling, overwhelming concern with “size,” with “quantities,” and with “visible proofs” of penile activity. A thirty-one year old man said: “I can still have five erections in one session – especially with a new woman.”
Many men responded to this question by telling me that “penis size isn’t really important,” but tell me how “lucky” they are to have a “good-size” penis. When asked about having a penis, a fair number of men talked about “how many more orgasms women can have compared to a man.” At least ten men referred to the “female use of vibrators,” within five minutes of being asked about penises.
This particular pattern, of male focusing on female sexuality when asked about their own, this particularly aggressive insecurity, occurred repeatedly when I tried to talk to men about having a penis. It does seem related to male uterus-envy and, perhaps, to a newly awakened fear in men based on recent “discoveries” about female sexual capacities (multiple orgasms).
Absurd as it is, men tend to use male sexual behavior as the referent for human (sexual) behavior. Men assume that if women were as “free” as men given their supposed sexual insatiability, they’d behave sexually like men, i.e., fearfully, promiscuously. If men were not terrified of being found inadequate by the designated biological inferior; if men were not frightened and jealous of woman’s reproductive capacity; if men were not disgusted by female sexual needs or demands – then female sexuality would not be so cruelly exiled into colonies of (sexuality) undemanding girl-brides and girl-wives, or into colonies of (sexually) undemanding female prostitutes, concubine, or slaves.
When men posit sex, violence and death as elemental erotic truths, they mean this – that sex, or fucking, is the act which enables them to experience their own reality, or identity, or masculinity more concretely…and that death, or negation, or voidness, or contamination by the female is what they risk each time they penetrate into what they imagine to be the emptiness of the female hole…Each time he survives the peril of the female void, his masculinity is reified. He has proven that he is not her and that he is like other hims.
Since the penis is the proof of male existence, the proof of male power, it is too important and too vulnerable an organ to be exposed publicly – especially to women. While female nudity is everywhere exposed – in great art, in mass pornographic propaganda – male frontal nudity is relatively taboo. What if women began comparing the penises of aging husbands with those of younger, more beautifully shaped men? How could a man bear being compared, once again, by a woman, with another, “superior” man?