Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Penis Monologues?

Garrett Morrison's letter in response to the editorial we linked to yesterday argues that men also have unhealthy relationships with their sexual organs and only talk about their penises with "bravado."

I think it's partly true that there is not enough productive and honest discussion of male sexuality. But isn't it true that the way that culture "stifles" straight men's sexuality is far less dangerous to men than the way it stifles women's sexuality is to women? Let's face it - the distortion of male sexuality puts them in a powerful (often violently so) position with respect to women. The "Vagina Monologues" prove that the vagina is too often a symbol of pain and shame in our society. That's a little different than
bragging inappropriately about the power of your penis.


Laura Janoff said...

Of COURSE women are more oppressed in most ways (including sexually) than men. But you seem to think that just because men have a slightly more healthy sexual life means that the unhealthy aspects of their lives should be ignored. Let's stop playing more oppressed than thou. You yourselves point out the violence that can ensue because of men's sexual position in society. Do you think that's because they have a HEALTHY relationship with their penises? I certainly don't. Just because men have more power let's not be afraid to allow them to be empowered. Not only will it allow for more healthiness and happiness all around, I'm willing to bet that if men were truly empowered about their sexuality, rather than just powerful, there would be a heck of a lot less sexual violence.

Adda said...

agreed. i think that its unproductive to pit the two against each other. moreover, men's repression towards their sexuality has a hugely negative impact on women--its impossible for women to achieve equality and do away with sexual violence without actively engaging male sexuality and masculinity, because in the end the two things are directly related. thus, it behooves us as feminists to encourage men to do a real penis monologues and address their sexuality issues that lead to power being enacted through sex. i think that we also need to be careful about recognizing men who are our allies (like garrett) and encourage their continued self-examination. the letter he wrote to the ydn was brave, and offerred a friendly and warranted critique, lets recognize our own faults and missteps and give credit where its due.

Adda said...

ps i just read Joshua Tan's what? i could say some very un-pc things right now, but i will just leave it at that.

garrett morrison said...

wow - cool site, della and sabrina. i didn't know it existed until a couple days ago, when a friend sent me a link. ("you're clearly out of your depth here," he said, and i kind of agree.) i wish i had heard about it before.

so... first off, it's great to know that people actually read the editorial page of the ydn. and it's even better to see that my letter has sparked some discussion. yale could use more of this back-and-forth.

this thread is more than a week old, so perhaps i'm beating a dead horse, but i'd just like to submit my basic agreement with all of you - della, sabrina, laura, and adda. really, i think we're all on the same page. della and sabrina, i agree that our culture "stifles" (god, i'm starting to wish i used a different word) women more violently than men. i'd be a moron to deny that, and, well, i never have denied it. by writing that letter, i simply wanted to counter alex's apparent view that, because men talk openly (read: brag) about their cocks, all's well with male sexuality. all's NOT well, and i think we can agree on that, also.

it's no mystery that men are encouraged to adopt an attitude of dominance in sex. power is sexy, we're told. and as laura puts it, "if men were truly empowered about their sexuality, rather than just powerful, there would be a heck of a lot less sexual violence." that's beautifully articulated, and i don't want to mess with it.

furthermore, the prevailing definition of male sexuality puts a lot of men in straight jackets (pun intended). personally, i've always struggled with my sexual identity, even though i'm a relatively conventional straight guy who grew up with a feminist mother and an emotionally-accessible father. (i often wonder what it would be like if i were, say, effeminate, unathletic, and gay. i can't imagine how i'd go about fulfilling my need to fit in.) i have it easy, in other words, but i still have this subconscious feeling that, in order to be attractive, i must be more "masculine," more dominant and unflappable, especially in my relationships with women. of course, i find it deeply disturbing that i even have these impulses, but i do. i always have. and i'm lucky that i've been taught to fight them. but not every man has been as fortunate as i've been, and that means we have major work to do.

so basically what i'm saying is that our culture's definition of manhood is painfully narrow, and something like a "penis monologues," though it sounds like an anti-feminist joke, might help open it up... or at least ruffle some feathers, provoke some defensive reactions from men, and create a dialogue that might end up changing how people think about sexuality. which, come to think of it, is kinda what "the vagina monologues" has done, and to great effect.

as i look back on my letter, i see that brevity got the best of me. i can understand how it might have come off as whiny and "what-about-poor-old-me"-ish. and, of course, the title that the geniuses down at the ydn dreamt up - "play captures only half the story of stifled sexual expression" - didn't help my cause, making it seem as though i thought "the vagina monologues somehow SHOULD HAVE addressed men's issues. no, no, no. "the vagina monologues" is fine as it is; i just think there's ROOM FOR a "penis monologues." and i certainly didn't mean to say that men have it worse than women. in fact, the question of who has it worse, as adda and laura both say, is beside the point. we all have it pretty bad, and people like all of you, blogs like this, can help make things better - as long as we remember that complex problems require complex solutions.

okay, enough pedantry. i'm sure i'm not saying anything you haven't already thought of and expressed more eloquently.

by the way, did anyone read that excerpt of tariq nasheed's book in the ydn sex week issue. he quotes himself as saying on a talk show: "look ladies... we're relatively simple. if you want to please us, just give us oral sex and food."

and this guy passes himself off as some authority on "what men want." sweet jesus.

Matthew said...

Apparently everyone has already agreed and gone out for drinks together here, but I still wanted to quickly disagree with the assertion that
...the way that culture "stifles" straight men's sexuality is far less dangerous to men than the way it stifles women's sexuality is to women
I think that in a very real sense, it's far more harmful to a person to be a violator or opressor than to be violated or oppressed.

That's all.