Penis-Talk Redux

So I just had a forehead-slapping moment with regards to the whole male-body-bonding thing, and it was precipitated by Maya’s comment chez Hugo:

Even in American society, I think women have a very different relationship to their bodies than men do. Our bodies are admired, but not respected. Our insistence of power over our own bodies, especially when it comes to sex and birth control, seems to scare the living daylights out of a good portion of the population. The greatest fear I have of an unwanted pregnancy (and the reason I would have an abortion) is not the effect it would have on my education and career, not the pain of pregnancy and childbirth, not the unwanted responsibilities of parenthood. The thing that inspires absolute terror in my very gut is the prospect of losing control over my body, of being told that my bodily integrity is not important. If abortion is outlawed, I must give up control of what happens to my body to something I did not choose, and do not want.

I’m not sure that (American) men have this same constant low-level fear that their right to their own body may be taken away at any moment, whether through rape, “decency” laws like those in Iran, unwanted pregnancy, or harassment. Perhaps they do; but I think the way our society fears and admires female bodies without respecting them colors the way we all relate to our own bodies.

Not being fascinated by one’s experience of one’s own body is an artifact of privilege. And it took me, a Feminist Conspirator in good standing, how long to reach this conclusion? Someone send a note to the Brainwashing Subcommittee, it’s time to revise the curricular materials; blaming the patriarchy should be a considerably faster response.

The usual cavills and anti-generalizations apply, of course. Society’s expectations of bodies aren’t the only things that can remind us about how weird it is to be made of meat (and let’s face it, that’s a pretty fucking weird experience at times, for everyone). But society’s expectations of my uterus and my breasts and my fatty tissue provide plenty frequent reminders that hey! I’m not a brain in a jar! There’s this whole rest of me that matters!

I don’t know that this is such a bad thing. It’s good to pay attention to problems with culture and embodiedness and blah blah blah, so I still insist that men are missing out when they find themselves uninterested in how wearing male meat shapes their lives. After all, your testicles make you human.

I cannot believe I just almost used the words “man meat” in a sentence.


  1. Rana wrote:

    Whoa. I never thought about it in those terms, either, and it just makes so much sense!

  2. Feministe » Thursday Reads wrote:

    […] an anti-feminist movement to erode their own rights as wives and mothers. Green Gabbro: Penis Talk A discussion on the differences in how men’s bodies are (not) regarded on a […]

  3. PZ Myers wrote:

    Hmmm. I don’t know. We guys get expectations derived from our maleness pounded into our heads all the time: Play with trucks. Mow the lawn. Turn out for team sports. Drink beer. Society has some stiff expectations of what young men should do. I experienced quite a bit of that, since I was a book-readin’ spectacled geek born to a football-playin’ man’s man. In high school, I’d have to go to gym everyday where I would dork out, and on the way, I’d pass the school’s trophy display case…and there was my dad, and the whole 1957 Washington State Champion Football Team looking out at me.
    I think there are two differences:
    1. The biology is all different. I never had to worry about some parasite taking root in me, after all, nor did I have to worry that if I were infested, there would be some authority figure insisting that I had to nourish the little maggot for 20 years. That’s a far more traumatically invasive societal expectation than the idea that I was supposed to go out on a field on Friday nights and bash my head against somebody twice my size.
    2. That female meat inspires much more complex concerns. Yeah, it makes women a target and motivates people to try to control it, but it’s also a source of pride and power. Women have these warring ideals of femininity and autonomy that make their bodies more of a focus — I’ve seen that in women who simultaneously work hard to make themselves pretty while deservedly resenting every bit of condescension from men.
    But I don’t think it’s true that men lack those frequent reminders about the existence and expectations of their bodies. Maybe it’s that when our bodies fail to meet those social expectations, there is no one to turn to who will go ga-ga over us — no consolation prizes at all.

  4. yami wrote:

    Crikey, PZ, you’re going to make me write a whole new post here! Scattered points, though, for now:
    I think your first (numbered) point may have put it better than I did in the post. It’s not that society doesn’t have expectations of men and male bodies, of course it does. It’s that those expectations are less invasive, so less scary-compelling. “Mow the lawn” isn’t the same sort of thing as “bear a child” or “be 5kg underweight” – “play football” is kind of in the same class, given that one needs to be mesomorphic to do so.
    As for the second point, there’s no war between masculinity and autonomy! I’d chuck this one right into the “privilege” bin. But perhaps the mechanism for moving from the existence of male privilege to me chatting about my nipples needs rethinking. Hm.
    And I’m totally confused by the bit about consolation prizes. Who is going ga-ga over what here?

  5. PZ Myers wrote:

    I agree that there is no masculinity/autonomy conflict: that was my point, that women seem to face much more complicated choices, with conflicts and compromises all over the place. But just because being male doesn’t make it difficult to be treated respectfully doesn’t mean that a lot of men aren’t, well, losers. At the same that the culture is telling all men that they are the top dogs, individual men are low-ranking nobodies. That creates a different kind of conflict, I suspect.

  6. yami wrote:

    Sure, I’m not trying to claim sole victimhood. Despite coming from different angles to a subject I haven’t defined all that well, we seem to basically agree.
    But has it been your experience that male loserhood/winnerhood has altered how you think about your body?

  7. PZ Myers wrote:

    I don’t know. I’d have to experience a change in status to find out.

  8. kyah wrote:

    men and all males derserve their penisis chopped off

  9. yami wrote:

    Start with your male pets – neutering saves lives!

  10. shyena wrote:

    The fact that women are objectified in this culture and many others is not new it’s not shocking it’s not hairraising. In fact so many women have made millions off of this condition and that is the American way. I am, however, conserned with dissassociation that many men have with their member. What’s that all about?

  11. yami wrote:

    Indeed, the problem of men not bonding with their penises is far more important than the problem of women being relentlessly objectified. I’m glad we’ve all got our priorities straight!

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