After watching just the few snippets from Lawrence Barraclough’s documentary in class on Monday, I was determined to view the rest of it via the link on Blackboard. There was something so jovial about the film that I had to know what else there was to the content. Although he certainly seemed serious about wanting to open a dialogue about penises, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else would bite. From what I’ve gathered talking to male friends, I can safely say that most of them are a bit touchy about talking about their members. Even the nickname “member” makes me think of a country-club patron, sitting around in a smoking jacket reading Sports Illustrated in front of a fireplace. As Barraclough suggests, the penis is completely shrouded in mystery. We can’t see one on public TV, artistic representations of male anatomy are almost always archaic or overblown, and the only examples shown in porn films provide us with unrealistically large expectations. Although I can certainly see Bordo’s argument that penis size is the male worry equivalent to a woman’s weight, their insecurity is hidden away from the public eye at all costs. Whereas weight (something that was pointed out in class) is highly visible to anyone with a pair of eyes and a reasonable set of quantifying skills, the size of a man’s penis is sometimes only known to him and a select few.
In making the documentary, Barraclough set out to make men open up about the embodied experience of having a penis; any penis. His hypothesis, much like those found in the body-acceptance movement that is primarily female, states that all male genitalia is good and useful no matter what it’s size. The dominant culture, I would argue in America as well as England, makes it difficult for men to avoid comparing their sexual potential in relation to size. Adds bombard e-mail in-boxes claiming to increase length and stamina, drugs like Viagra have become more readily unavailing even for those not afflicted with erectile dysfunction, and in a homo-phobic culture (which prohibits men from talking about their penises with each other) the impossible physique of male porn stars becomes the only acceptable reference point to one’s own anatomy. Although some pressure comes from women, men already have more than enough to deal with on a larger scale. Society condemns all penises by attempting to limit the discourse of their owners while simultaneously championing the phrase that “bigger is better”. With this mandate in mind it’s no wonder men are so confused!
In the first half of the movie Barraclough walked around London and asked various groups of men whether or not they would be willing to join a group to talk about their penises. With the exception of one man in Speaker’s Corner who proudly proclaimed that himself in possession of “a little one!”, he was met with a slew of overwhelmingly negative and discouraging responses. Even those that he was able to talk to, like Jarred from California who we saw in the clip, were those who felt the most disparaging about their manhood. It was only with the promise of anominity that he was able to get men to show off their goods. Instead of talking to men one-on-one he decided that an art gallery exhibit, smartly titled Snap Your Chap, of different penises would be a good point to get the dialogue rolling.
This had much better results. As soon as the installation was up and ready for viewing, loads of men poured in and actually began to look at other penises for the first time. After the inititial shock they even seemed to really enjoy the experience! Many began to scan the wall searching for a picture that closely matched their own. Some even decided to contribute by snapping their own pictures (in a booth set off to the side) and posting them along the wall!
I wonder why no one before Barraclough thought of this. It’s genius, really. For the past decade or so, women have been shown images of females with a wide range of bodies: The Dove commercials come to mind. Although we’re still a far cry from total body acceptance, I think that wide-access to non-normalized images is a step in the right direction. Finally, although on Barraclough’s small scale, men have been given the opportunity for similar advancement along the road to self-love!