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Penises Aren’t The Problem, The Patriarchy Is

Flickr / Drew Staffen

Disclaimer: not all men have penises, and not all women have vaginas. This piece makes specific reference to penetrative, cisheterosexual sex.

The vagina! If it’s dank and dark; if it’s a gap, a space, a vent, a chink in my armor, a damp rupture, a drip drip dripping leak, a pink rupture, a perforation; if it’s a joyful gash, a ruffled crevice, an angry bellowing fissure . . .

Then what is a penis?

A long bump? A preposterous outcrop, a slender jutting ledge? A cylindrical shelf perhaps. A beige ridge, a swelling protuberance, a warm-blooded obtrusion.

Is it always a weapon?

When talking about sex, it is nearly impossible not to talk about power. And when you are talking about heterosexual penetrative sex, it’s impossible not to talk about the penis. And when you talk about the penis, it’s impossible not to wonder if it’s our enemy, the very nexus of The Patriarchy at which we all rage.

And while this algebra — the phallus serving as a symbol of women’s oppression, predicated on the axiom that women are “the lesser sex” — feels like a logical way to add things up, I want no part of these calculations.

Such equations are reductive at best, dangerous at worse. Making a particular genital synonymous with a particular gender—which in turn places said human at the center at The Problem—doesn’t add up, as it were. The simple fact that some people in possession of a penis don’t benefit from the patriarchy at all—or suffer even more horribly than your average cishet white gal like me—undermines the central premise of this math.

Moreover, I don’t want my power predicated on someone else’s subjugation or humiliation. I don’t want the re-appropriation of power — don’t misunderstand me, I am coming for my rightful share — to come at the cost of degrading others. Or their genitals.

I get the impetus. I have violent urges to exact revenge — sexual and otherwise — a lot. I want to patronize, demean, infantilize, hyper-sexualize, and underpay the cis men I meet all the goddamn time. I want to make them feel small. Scared. I want them to shirk and try to cover themselves.

But amid that reptilian muck, I am wrestling with a belief that rings truer and better (in line with who I am and strive to be) and that’s the notion that violence — metaphysical or otherwise — begets more violence.

If I am deriving — in part — my feminine power from my (utter) delight in sex and said delight comes from the penis, I am forced to acknowledge that I adore the penis, as I adore the person to whom it’s attached.

I cannot hold all penises accountable for the wretched men that have used them to intimidate and violate, those who’ve gleaned delusional — and literal — power from a world that worships the phallus.

Can one worship the icon and loathe its creators?

The penis’ softness, its pliability — like warm clay or dough — when flaccid, is so, so lovely.

I love its roundness, its plumpness. I love stroking it until it’s throbbing against my palm. I love its purple-pink-brown veins, I love the blood coursing through them; I can almost hear my heartbeat in time with the rush of their crimson thrummings.

I love the coupling of power and subjugation when I take him in my mouth. I’m kneeling and his hand presses my head forward — not hard, but not without force — and I can’t quite breath enough, but just for a moment.

We’re eliciting small, joyish sounds from one another — mine are muffled with his flesh; his are breathy, growling. He’s poised between my teeth and I am keenly aware of the tiny beast inside of me who won’t bite — but could — and the tiny brute inside him who won’t use my vulnerability against me — but could.

We’re suspended, mutually sacrificing and taking power.

bell hooks has a really wonderful essay called “Penis Passion” in which she briefly traces the evolution of feminism in relation to the penis and how her own power is no longer predicated on denigrating the phallus — or fearing it.

She says that throughout the ’60s and ‘70s:

“in feminist consciousness-raising groups, we…talked about how women had to become more comfortable with words like pussy and cunt. So that men could not terrify or shame us by wielding these words as weapons, we also had to be able to talk about cock and dick with the same ease. Sexual liberation had already told us that if we wanted to please a man we had to become comfortable with blow jobs, with going down, with the dick in our throat so far down it hurt. Surrendering our sexual agency, we had to swallow the pain and pretend it was really pleasure.”

There is a use of violence against the violator in an attempt to negate the original violence. But again, this algebra feels wrong to me, if natural. hooks too explains her own movement away from this urge to sacrifice oneself on the altar of patriarchal sex to prove we’re just as powerful — that the altar is now ours too — when perhaps, we should be dismantling that altar entirely.

“Naming how we sexually engage male bodies, and most particularly the penis, in ways that affirm gender equality and further feminist liberation of males and females is the essential act of sexual freedom. When women and men can celebrate the beauty and power of the phallus in ways that do not uphold male domination, our erotic lives are enhanced.”

I want to name it. I want to sing a slippery ode to the sliding sensation of the penis, gliding between my legs slick as an otter; its damp fur makes a scratching sound against mine. I like it when his penis is the first thing inside me. I can feel my body give way around him — I wince with pleasure. It feels like stretching after a long run.

I like the way it moves and rises to meet me. I like the way it flexes and reacts to my breath, my glance, my tongue running its length. I like its proudness, its boat-like prow-ness; it’s leading its tired captain to the sandy shores of my sheets.

I like its strength; I like the way it can slap my mound like a slender branch against a rain-streaked window.

In short? I refuse to let my pleasure be synonymous with subjugation; in my adoration of the penis I do not make myself smaller or forgo my agency.

“To identify the penis always and only with force, with being a tool of power, a weapon first and foremost, is to participate in the worship and perpetuation of patriarchy,” hook says. “It is a celebration of male domination.”

And so I will worship at an altar of my own making, devoted to neither pussy nor penis, but mutual pleasure. We’ve fashioned it from plywood and together we’re tracing the splinters in our fingers and spine as we writhe on the shrine we’ve built for one another.