The Weaponized Phallus (and Five Easy-to-Remember Steps)

11/21/2006 01:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here is a thought exercise. Think of all the euphemisms used to describe the distinctly male external appendage, or eroticized acts from the male point of view, that call to mind conquest, war, or violence.

Examples: I'd like to hit that ("hit" as act of aggression, "that" as objectification). He shot his load (gun metaphor). I knocked the bottom out of that pussy (penis as an instrument to wreck a "thing," woman reduced to an instrumental body part). Bob added her to his list of conquests (self-explanatory). He made her ("he" is the subject, she is the object to be taken).

Porn advertising uses very warlike metaphors, if anyone is interested in what the market says about what men find popular in the arena of sex-commodified.

Now flip the exercise. Think of all the euphemisms to describe war and aggression that are sexualized.

Examples: We're going to pop it to the enemy. Our forces will penetrate here. He made that guy his bitch. Abu Ghraib.

Anyone who thinks for a moment can come up with her own list. Or just listen to other people, television, the radio...

These figures of speech are so common that we have the tendency to overlook, and even repeat them, never stopping to think how these figures of speech devalue women, or how they construct male sexuality as conquest and violence.

Anyone who has not seen the Media Education Foundation film Wrestling with Manhood is hereby strongly encouraged to see it, and to use it as a collective teaching tool about how masculinity is constructed as violence, and how immensely popular is its misogynistic core. It shows the frothing audiences as theatrical wrestling events cheer at macho posturing, which included the feminization of enemies, at the brutality of the "fights," but with the most disturbingly enthusiasm, at the staged and real abuse of women during these intensely popular public "entertainment" events.

Here is the problem I am having with the weaponized phallus, a problem of a more limited scale than men's deeply enculturated hatred of all things female, especially the female body (which they see as a thing to be conquered, defiled, humiliated... taken). It's that fact that so-called "progressive" men (people really should look up the sordid history of that modifier), those who claim to stand for justice and against domination and exploitation, engage in the self-same, woman-hating, weaponized-phallus trash-talk as right-wing men.

And here is a small step I am proposing to left-wing men. Stop that. Stop it right now, and never do it again.

Here is a short list, with explanation, that I'd like you to stop:

(1) Stop using gendered language thoughtlessly. There is a politics to language, and it is not just being "PC." That term was invented by right-wingers to fight back against things like women's studies, African American studies, and other non-white, non-male, non-imperial challenges to a racist, Eurocentric, and patriarchal canon. When you use male nouns and pronouns to describe human, you are reinforcing the idea and practice that makes male the norm. Calling the species homo sapien "Man" is a problem. Calling land and ships and other things "she" and "her," that men are seen to control, is a problem... because it assigns the controlling role to males. Saying that "it is colder than a witch's tit" is a sexist turn of phrase. Using the term "balls" to describe courage, and making courage a male characteristic, is a problem. Calling people who lack courage or strength "pussies" is a devaluation, as well as objectification, of women.

(2) Stop saying things that are homophobic, and stop tolerating homophobia. Homophobia, as Suzanne Pharr once pointed out, is a weapon of patriarchy. When you make jokes about prison rape, that is homophobic, as well as buying into a notion of rape as legitimate tool for social control, and masculinity constructed as sexual revenge. The ideological basis for men's control over women is what Adrienne Rich called "compulsory heterosexuality." Policing people based on the masculine-feminine binary is policing a binary of domination and subjugation.

(3) Stop saying clueless shit about sex that makes sex an unmitigated good (in reaction to the theocratic right's squeamishness about sex). It might sound liberated if you are still trying to shock you aging parents, but it erases women's experience of sex as often obligatory, manipulative, humiliating, and even frightening -- one of the practices in a system where they are on the wrong end of social power. A recent article by Joe Garifoli in the San Francisco Chronicle, called "Anti-war couple conceive new way to generate peace," is a perfect example.

Living on their houseboat off the Marin County coast, anti-war activists Donna Sheehan and her partner, Paul Reffel, concocted a way for the world to communally create a lot of peaceful vibes.

They want everyone to have an orgasm on the same day.

They go on to say, "If you're experiencing pleasure, you're not engaging in aggressive, destructive behavior."

Really? Does that mean, asks my friend De, that the rape of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim, in which three men apparently had their peacemaking orgasms, contributed to world peace?

Don't say dumb shit like this. It betrays your own cocooned privilege, and not just become some Haitian peasant woman might be more worried about the food that's not in her belly than her daily orgasm, but because sex has been experienced as violence by millions of women... imposed by men who took physical pleasure from their violence.

(4) Stop reinforcing the devaluation of women by measuring them by some media-concocted version of what they are supposed to look like. This is a tough one, because we het-men (and even gay men) have been trained very early and very thoroughly to cast the pornographic gaze on women first... judging her "fuckability" (think about that term before we inquire about anything else). This is a form of oppression, and until we make an intentional effort to stop that, everything we say about relieving oppression is hypocrisy. If we say we are for justice, and we say we are against oppression, and we judge women this way, we are frauds... and we deserve to have no one listen to us, ever.

(5) Stop thinking it is okay to attack the "enemy's women" based on their gender. When you make a sexual remark to put down Anne Coulter or Condi Rice, or crack on them about their appearance, you are attacking them based on their status as women... which implicitly attacks all women. That shit is not cool. It doesn't make you a more effective progressive (or whatever). It makes you an oh-too-typical male misogynist. You are still engaging in sexualized revenge.

This just scratches the surface, but I don't want to overwhelm anyone. If you want to add one more step, start calling others out when they do this stuff, too.

Time to de-weaponize the phallus; let it revert to the humble pollination device it was designed to be. You'd be surprised at the implications.