Myth-making men reify the almighty phallus

The Washington Monument. A Fender Stratocaster. AK-47s. Neckties. Codpiece bayonets. Reminders of the penis are everywhere, from Victorian novels to skylines to fruit bowls. According to Freud, you either have a penis or you want one. If you drive a Ferrari, or smoke a Presidente cigar, you probably have one, but it’s just not enough. The ancient Greeks honored penises with enormous effigies. The Romans manufactured phallic figurines to ward off the evil. There is some evidence that every world religion originated in penis worship, based on the belief that the phallus created all mankind. Our Penis, who art in heaven, is the pulsing heart, the locus, the apex, the alpha and omega of a man’s manliest masculine manhood. Amen.

Not just any penis, but a really big, hard penis. Society mythologizes the penis as a symbol of sexual potency and prowess. A bigger bulge means better sex because the ultimate female fantasy is a 20-minute pounding by a 10-inch man stick. Actually, penetration (the penis part of the sex thing) is least likely to give sexual pleasure to women. Masters and Johnson, in their famous 1957 study, found that the “lowest intensity” female sexual response “was achieved during coition.” Only three out of 10 women can orgasm from intercourse. The vagina is also finite. A four-inch penis will fill it completely. The vagina can lengthen to fit your needs, but it doesn’t fill its own needs by doing so.

If not from women, then why the obsession? Men. Men love penises. Big penises. Men made the penis god. Men pick absurdly well-endowed actors to perform in pornos, which are then watched by other men. The height of a woman’s sexual pleasure doesn’t usually come from being impaled or plundered or plowed, although the man-made penis myth tells us it is. Porn stars, who are pummeled by foot-longs, often fake their ecstatic throes. The men who direct them tell them to. But women aren’t the only ones deceived by the man-made penis myth, so are the man-made penis myth-makers: men.

80 percent of men wish they had a bigger penis. Yes, I got this factoid from a penis-enhancement-product Web site. But if the true statistic nears this number, that signifies a pervasive male body complex. While girls glance through magazines and pray for a size two, boys watch porn clips and long for a size eight. Some have capitalized on this common insecurity, filling inboxes with ads for pills and pumps that promise inches, hotter girlfriends and better lives. When researchers tested out a few of these herbal remedies they found E. coli, lead and fecal contamination present. Over-enthusiastic penis-pumping, Wikipedia says, can lead to unseemly blood blisters. 5,000 men a year (this number is growing) also opt for penis-enlargement surgery, though it doesn’t increase the length of the penis when erect and may result in infection, deformation or loss of sensation.

The other male measure of manliness, besides length, is longevity. Men have imposed upon themselves the unrealistic expectation of hard, fast and long-lasting penis action. One in 10 men suffer from erectile dysfunction, and 10 to 20 percent of these cases are the result of performance anxiety. (This percentage grows the younger you are.) Men often express their fear that partners will silently judge and mentally measure them. That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure for one organ. Historically, women have been unable to express their own sexual desires and, instead, men projected their fantasies onto the opposite sex. If fertility, creativity and life itself are all wrapped up in a man’s genitals, then of course, men imagined, women must be desperate to fill their void with hard and holy manhood. Women may make passing comments about a man’s dimensions or duration, but not because these things are necessarily important. It’s because we’ve been told they are by TV, by Cosmo and by men.

Men often prefer more inexperienced women who are less capable of these imagined bedroom comparisons. The same logic explains the peculiar and violent male fantasy of being a girl’s first. Female experience is undesirable because it is feared, and the sexual double standard is affirmed. The pressure incubated in groups of men can also produce a competitive machismo and a violent sexual vocabulary of conquest. Boys pound, bang, bone, slay, slam and score girls. Even “I fucked her” suggests force that’s borderline brutal and transforms the woman into a passive receptacle. This language dehumanizes women and, as such, creates a culture conducive to sexual violence.

It makes little difference to women whether your guitar is a Fender or your gun’s a Kalashnikov. Most women would prefer, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “a more diffuse and tender sensuality that involves the whole body and a polymorphous tenderness.” Polymorphous tenderness sounds a lot less stressful. You don’t need pumps or drugs or surgery to improve your polymorphous tenderness. But instead of tenderness, so many women get tenderized. Thanks, patriarchy, for thoroughly deceiving men and women alike. The cult of the penis is a construct, a lie, a dangerous and destructive myth. The phallus may be God, but didn’t you hear? God is dead. Thank god.

Claire Gordon is a sophomore in Saybrook College.


  • Anonymous

    How is this column stupid? Oh, let me count the ways:

    1. The author cites a penis-enhancement product Web site, Wikipedia, and Sigmund Freud.

    2. While citing Freud (whose theories have been widely debunked for decades now), she overlooks the fact that the Freud saying she uses suggests that women are fascinated by penises (the famous "penis envy"), an argument she dismisses.

    3. The author suggests (and not as a joke) that electric guitars and automatic weapons are shaped the way they are in order to look like penises. It couldn't be, of course, that their shape is essential to their proper functioning.

    4. Even if we assume that the 5,000 men per year who opt for penis-enlargement surgery are all Americans, then they account for 0.00003% of the American male population. Does that really signify a pervasive male body complex?

    I'll grant that many of the points made here are true, and one (the hyperbolically named "violent sexual vocabulary of conquest") is even interesting. But for the most part, this piece just takes something we already knew (the fact that penises play a role in our culture is not news to anyone who's ever checked Webmail or watched a TV commercial break) and proceeds to exaggerate it, obsess over it, and misrepresent it with bogus statistics.

    All of this begs the following question, which is intended not as a slight but an honest query given the intense feminist discourse on a subject most of us recognize but don't care much about: Is it possible that the people most obsessed with penises are not insecure males, but rather female feminists?

  • Hail priapus! Morituri te!

    Ms Gordon's cathartically castrating analysis of phallus worship ignores Thornton Wilder's detached and anti-freudian analysis: "Nature's goal is to cover the planet with as much protoplasm as it can as fast as it can". This "force-that-through-the-green-fuse-drives-the-flower-drives-my-soul [and groin]" analysis produces a planet on which 18,000 people die of starvation each day (one every four seconds?) while Nature looks blithely on, against a background music of pelvises ineluctably colliding. God is not dead, He is impotent.
    John Osbourne said it best in Look Back in Anger: "the injustice of it is about perfect - the wrong people going hungry, the wrong people being loved, the wrong people dying. …"

    Hail Priapus! Morituri te!

  • Anonymous

    Beautiful. It's like I'm back in the sixties. The hysterical, uncontrollable, men hating feminism. And I loved the invocation of Kalashnikov. As if all pointy things in the world are deliberately phallic: trees, tunnels, bottles, bridges, they are all a product of violent male fascination with penises. Maybe we should make everything round in the future, or cubic. Cubic tunnels, cubic bottles, cubic knives and forks, maybe even try to create cubic trees. Jesus Christ! This is ridiculous. There is male fascination with penises, and there is also paranoia.

  • Anonymous

    Above posters wring their hands and twirl their mustaches in consternation. Somehow the female orgasm continues to elude them. They think to themselves, "If only these damn feminists would shut up about what women want long enough for me to give women what they really want…"

  • Anonymous

    Where is Gao Zhisheng?

  • Caroline

    I don't think the point was that all pointy things are designed to be the shape of penises and we should destroy them all and build a world of only round and cubic objects.

    I think she was just being humorous. No?

  • Meh…

    Way to seethe and froth. Sure, phallic suggestion is out there, but it ain't the only kind -- just the easiest to spot. Keep in mind, you can find anything if you're looking for it. The question is always whether it's intended.

    BTW, as a male, even if I was hung like an elephant, I would still want to drive a Ferrari. That has more to do with my obsession with power, control, and dominance than with my genitals. It's the same reason I wrote this response. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hang with my buddies. We're making plaster casts of our penises.

    One last thing: your real enemy is testosterone.

  • Anonyme

    Amen #3!
    As a female with a diverse and… expansive array of experiences, I can tell you that anyone who has slept with more than one guy has figured out that it ain't the size, it's the angle of the dangle. So quit forcing women into the victim role with your assertions that we're too dumb to realize that penises are all about men - we know. Get over it. It's insulting to the rest of us when you raise this hue and cry.

    And it wasn't even well written.

  • JE 10

    Jeez people are angry. I thought it was pretty interesting.

  • y07 guy

    hey all,
    stop hating - i personally thought it was decent, if a bit over the top at times. the part about guys needing to remember that a woman's sexual pleasure is not always on the tip of their penises is spot on.

  • Man at Yale

    The author ignores the perfect design of the penis for insemination purposes.

  • Anonymous

    I have never seen a penis that looked like an AK-47. A cannon might be a better example, but an AK? The banana clip, stock, and grip really don't scream "penis!" to me.

    Luis M: I've never understood the idea of the female orgasm as "elusive". I've never had any problems in that regard…do people really have such trouble with it that they need to resort to mustache-twirling?

  • Anonymous

    Ok, I have to admit it's absolutely hilarious, even if most of it is pure speculation. I can't help but comment on the extensive research and its accuracy, such as the figures retrieved from the penis-enhancement website and the results of Wikipedia studies. Admittedly, the following quote was my favorite: "Over-enthusiastic penis-pumping, Wikipedia says, can lead to unseemly blood blisters. 5,000 men a year (this number is growing) also opt for penis-enlargement surgery, though it doesn’t increase the length of the penis when erect and may result in infection, deformation or loss of sensation."

    There are two points I would actually like to address though. Gordon states that "The other male measure of manliness, besides length, is longevity." She then argues that it is because men express fears that their partners will silently judge them and because, historically, men projected what they believed to be women's sexual desires. But Gordon, herself, may be projecting in this instance. An alternative theory for the current societal obsession with erectile longevity could be the fact that women can have multiple, consecutive orgasms within a period of time, as long as the plateau phase of sex is sustained. This is different from men who immediately follow orgasm with a refractory period. So, assuming he is able to bring his female partner to orgasm simply by means of direct vaginal penetration by the penis, in theory, if he is able to sustain his erection for a much longer period of time, he may be able to please his partner with multiple, consecutive orgasms. In short, the assumption that women desire "20 minute pounding," as Gordon puts in, may not be that far off, even if the likelihood is slim.

    Gordon also argues that the reason men prefer inexperienced sexual partners is because of a fear of comparison to previous male partners. I don't disagree that this bizarre desire for the sexual purity of females has reaffirmed the ridiculous societal double standard, but maybe there's an alternative theory as to why men prefer sexual novices. Sexually inexperienced women, in particular virgins, are much more likely to have vaginal tissues that will produce more friction. Unfortunately, the correlation of friction with male sexual pleasure is seen as the result of "dry sex" practices in some parts of Africa, as well as intercourse that happens after some forms of female genital mutilation outside of the U.S. So, though peculiar, the male obsession with sexual amateurs (no pun intended) could, in part, be attributed to their own sexual pleasure.

  • Rudy

    Oh, Claire, I was chuckling along until I got to your 2nd to last paragraph. Sigh. Old recycled, men-dehumanize-women argument. Men with any sense recognize that the more experience a woman has the better at sex she will be. Some guys have hangups about wanting virgins or relatively "unsullied" women, but those guys are idiots. And please, please never again cite Andrea Dworkin to a general audience on a topic of heterosexual activity. Leave her misandric rantings for closed doors among the elite of her kind.

    Three cheers for sex-positive feminism! Those kind of women are happy and free to say they fuck their lovers. Fucking for them is not just something men do to women.

    On the rest of your column--so I guess you're saying that for you size doesn't matter. As a distinctly average guy myself, I am glad to hear it.

  • Anonymous

    To rectify this situation, Fender is coming out with a new vagina-shaped guitar!

  • Hail Priapus

    You all sound like wine tasters or engineers, as if sex were some kind of epicurean delight whose subtleties can only be appreciated if they are described in aesthetic formulas or in the trajectories of Archimedes. It's just erogenous flesh for god's sake.

  • Recent Alum

    It is truly astonishing that someone could write an entire article on this topic without even mentioning the organ unique's status as a life-creating organ. Though I suppose that this is to be expected coming from an abortionist, who probably see the creation of new life as a bug, not a feature, of this organ.

  • gay blade

    Number 16 seems rather angry that Ms Gordon has subjected his precious "life-creating" dick to any analysis whatsoever. I suspect from his tone that what issues from said organ will forever find itself in a municipal landfill wrapped in Kleenex.

    On the other hand, Ms. Gordon fails to acknowledge that it takes two to tango evolution-wise. The human penis is the largest in ratio to body size of any primate. Gorillas are hung like flies. Perhaps that's the deity's plan, # 16 - more likely it's the result of tens of thousands of years of selective pressure from females who choose males with larger "automatic weapons". Why? How the hell should I know?

  • Nero Fiddling

    My dear Recent Alum:
    What is 'astonishing' about the most hedonistic society since Nero's Rome having transformed procreation into recreation, by the popping of a pill or the plundering performed by a pair of surgeon's pliers? Are you blind to achievements of the last 35 years?

  • Anonymous

    Why is this blatant, ignorant ,misandry tolerated while a stupid prank brings threats of lawsuits, wild allegations of rape and demands for policy change?

    Feminists appointed themselves as the spokespersons (ha!) of all women simply by being the loudest, pushiest and most influential.

    Many women and rape victims like myself are disgusted with the entire movement. The constant victim identification, the vilification of men in pop culture, the complete misunderstanding of the motives of men, denigration of motherhood or marriage, promotion of hedonism, abortion and a general lack of understanding of human relationships . It is actually harmful to regular woman who prefer to follow the path God (or if you prefer, nature) has laid for them.

    Frankly, as a woman I'm sick of them pushing their agenda. They do NOT represent the needs or promote the well being of most women.

  • Rudy

    #15 and #16 are the yin and yang of Claire's critics.

    Nero, tell the truth. Aren't you really Pat Buchanan? Come on, "popping of a pill or the plundering performed by a pairof surgeon's pliers"? I haven't seen that much alliteration since you wrote "nattering nabobs of negativity" for Spiro Agnew.

  • anonymous

    Something like 97% of violent crime is committed by males. While most violent crime victims are male, 91% of rape victims are female.

    I hardly mean to suggest that all men are violent criminals or rapists. The vast majority are not, are decent people who care for the other people in their lives. Nor do I mean to suggest that all women are always victims. But I think these statistics are indicative of the fact that men, more than women, desperately seek power, and that for men, more than for women, violence and power, and also sex and power are intimately connected. Other indicators of this trend are all the slang words Claire has listed that men use for having sex with women. Moreover, Claire's assertion that guitars and automatic weapons are phallic symbols is spot on in that the guitar, the weapon, the expensive car that goes fast, and the large, hard penis are all symbols of male power.

    So before you accuse Claire of being misandric, I suggest you take a good hard look at crime statistics, and wonder what societal attitudes might be contributing to them.

  • ac

    Why do some men get so threatened by articles like this? I thought it was interesting at the very least. And it was also quite funny.

    That said, this kind of critique I equate to that of a Marxist rant. Sure, some of the points are absolutely valid and interesting, but not every facet of society can be explained by such a worldview. Not all cylinders are projections of a penis. Lots of men want "unsullied women" partly because of their own ridiculous hang-ups but also because more friction (i.e. tighter) equals more pleasure for the man. Guns are shaped that way because that's the best functional design. The idea that a man is a victim of his own sexual patriarchy means that women have had ZERO contribution to our society's mores. Is that something that Claire wants to admit?

  • Glaring Omission

    No mention of the phallocentric castrations through out American history of black men who because of their purported sexual prowess and alleged huge penises were deemed as threats to a white supremacist society? I find that to be a glaring omission. Can you imagine for a moment what it's like for black men who aren't well endowed as many of them are not, who nevertheless suffer because of the mythology surrounding their sexual organ? While the author discusses pornography's obsession with large penises, she neglected to note that many of those titles feature well-endowed black men a la Lexington Steele, and others, with white "prostitutes.
    It's really just "Birth of a Nation" all over again isn't it?

  • ac

    Anonymous, you are absolutely right that sex and power have a connection with men. But is that a result of some social construct or the effect from testosterone production during sex for men and not women? Guns are a symbol of power, but I think it's a huge step to say they are symbols of "male power" because they are also violent. With your logic then any object connoting power and violence would be "male" and "phallic"…and since all violence exhibits some form of power dynamics, then all violence is "male". This is just simply not true.

  • Voice of Reason


    I will grant you your assertion that many things are phallic.

    I will absolutely agree that pornography and rape and lust are things to be resisted.

    But I will NEVER, and no reasonable person on the planet, not even the most cold blooded feminist, should EVER, EVER, EVER try to argue that penises in and of themselves are bad.

    That is exactly what your letter conveys. Vaginas= good. Penis=bad.

    If you believe that, then you have made yourself irrelevant. Congratulations on achieving a worthless point of view at such an early age.

  • Binky

    Does anyone pay attention anymore? What she's stressing is that thanks to advertising and profits to be made off the insecurity of BOTH SEXES, men wrongly think they're inadequate in the size department just like women wrongly think they're too fat, too short, too brunette and so on.

  • Stunned

    Why is everyone failing to actually read the article? This is an article extremely sympathetic to men - she's saying we should recognize that men face as much massive cultural pressure to feel their own bodies are inadequate as women do. What's man hating about that?
    As for comment #1's points - man, have you even read the article? To respond point by point:
    1: She's commenting on the popular culture around us. So pointing out the bombardment of advertising from penis enlargement companies we all get in our spam boxes = telling us its an issue. The fact that Wikipedia talks about penis-pounding reads like an attempt at a joke to me: the fact that our latest shared source of authority on the internet even has a page warning you about how to deal with your attempts to enlarge your penis = funny + indicative that the obsession has even reached something as bland and pervasive as Wikipedia!

    2:Similarly Freud - she's not saying he's right, just that he's influential. We've all listened to him for so long that his own obsession with the penis (which Gordon rejects) has been absorbed in culture.
    3: She's not saying they were shaped the way they are in order to look like penises. She's saying that the fact they share a shape has caused them to be fetished and obsessed over in our culture more than they would have been otherwise.
    4: The fact that even 5000 have surgery anywhere near their dicks freaks me out. Jeez, that's some anxiety if you resort to such an extreme!

  • Mike

    I think the author fails to notice our society's ubiquitous vagina reminders: the change purse, hot tub jets, tacos, a grilled cheese sandwich (cut diagonally), potholes, bird's nests and, of course, movies, tv, magazines, books and the Internet.

  • Dave-O

    Has anyone ever seen the women's table? If other monuments are designed to be phallic (forget about the concept of being able to see it anywhere in the city), The Women's Table is the most yonic(resembling the yoni, or essentially the vagina) thing ever created. I don't mean to make a philosophic point, but just wanted to make people aware of that. Andthere is no way Maya Lin's design was subconscious, it was deliberate.

  • Anonymous

    Why do people think that this article is about everything in the world being modeled after penises? The author was being funny. Codpiece bayonets anyone?

    And the women's table is deliberately yonic. It's an artistic statement. It's striking for the very fact that so little sculpture is made in that shape, because so few artists have been female, because women have historically been denied education and money and power.

    The women's table is not a testament to the pervasiveness of vaginas in our society. It is a testament to the fact that women were admitted to Yale less than forty years ago and that before that gender apartheid in education was the norm. It's a testament to the end of the tragic "separate but equal" myth.

    I just don't understand how #29 can use it as a counterexample to Claire's argument.


  • Anonymous

    Very little sculpture is made in the shape of a vagina because it's an odd shape that doesn't suit itself to large constructions. In contrast, any tall building can be pointed out as evidence of "phallus worship". Ludicrous.

  • Anonymous

    harkness anyone?

  • wicked_beatz

    This is the funniest thing I've read after a Gilbert Sheldon cartoon/Freak Brothers bi-monthly

  • Anonymous

    Dear Claire,

    Now what don't you provide us with your wise statistics and references in regards to why women get so many breast implants or other cosmetic surgery?

    Or will you somehow twist your breast implants argument around to blame the nasty phallicentric men for this like other feminists do? You poor victims!! Tch Tch…

  • tolu ajayi

    dear claire
    the problem is not limited to human "men". Have the seen the way the chicken "man" takes his female? The cock claims his girl with an imperiously violent flourish. There is a pattern of dominance-submission ritual game playing to sexuality which cuts across the world of higher animals- the problem did not begin with the human male. Its a sado-masochistic sort of partnership. The male derives his "kicks" by violent assertion of his power and potency; he impales his partner on a golgotha stake. The man assumes that his partner derives her "kicks" from being so dominated, and the cross-cultural tendency of women to assume a submissive posture in the process augments the impression.