Saturday, April 30, 2005

Annals of male objectification, April 2005 edition

Yes, gentlemen, it's that time again: your intrepid blogger has surfed upon the mighty Internet and brought home the delectable shark fins of insight into how ladies objectify us. You may recall some of the previous installments. Today the time has come, inevitably, to talk about dicks.

(Minor sociological observation: In my experience, most women consistently say "dick", whereas most men tend to say "cock" when not in mixed company, although this could be a Northeastern regionalism, or my acquaintances could just be crude. In any case, I shall use the female convention here, as I am investigating how women talk about men.)

Novelist Sara Donati points to Smart Bitches' remarks (annoyingly, you will need to have JavaScript enabled and click the "More, More, More!" link to read in full) regarding the treatment of dicks in romance fiction. The SBs' comments also provide an enlightening window into the way women talk when men are not around. Of course, in this case, men are around, but that's the great thing about the Internet.

Now, no woman to whom I've ever taken a fancy reads "genre" romance fiction (or, at least, none have admitted it), and most of you are probably in a similar position. So, why should you care how romance novels talk about men? Well, as far as I can tell from reading about romance novels --- and I am speaking, here, specifically of the trashy ones --- romance novels occupy a position in the feminine mediaverse similar to hardcore porn's position in the masculine mediaverse: not everybody consumes it, but since it is usually a guilty pleasure, its audience indulges in satisfying those basic, but vaguely embarrassing, erotic desires that would be elided or sublimated in more "elevated" entertainments. In other words, if you're eating french fries, you might as well pour cheese and gravy on top. So the product possesses a certain bracing clarity: whereas, in "literary" fiction, you must root around for subtextual hints as to the hero's masculinity, which will probably admit multiple problematic interpretations if the author knows what (s)he's doing, I'm guessing that a romance novel will just say that the hero's a manly man who reeks of manliness, and here's why, and doesn't it just get you all hot and bothered? And the way the novel says such things reveals what qualities its audience believes a "manly man who reeks of manliness" should possess.

And I don't believe that those who consume hardcore porn or romance novels differ much from the population at large --- everyone indulges in some shallow pleasures, and I don't see why people who choose these would be especially unusual --- so those basic desires reflect on everybody. Not all men, or even most of them, prefer bleached blonde women with enormous fake breasts. But the fact that mainstream American porn so frequently features bleached blonde women with enormous fake breasts says something about the collective erotic subconscious of American men.

So, down to brass tacks. Clearly, according to the Smart Bitches who read Trashy Books, the average romance novel hero has a really big dick. Frequently, they're so large that they cause the heroines pain at first:

Most romance novel heroes are huge. I guess the impression is magnified when the heroines (especially in historicals) are often virgins, but even if the heroine has had some experience, the hero almost always turns out to have a much bigger schlong than the ex-husband or boyfriend. And sometimes the size becomes downright ludicrous, like Sinclair in MaryJanice Davidson's Undead series, whose dick is apparently as big around as the bottom of a beerglass. Linda Howard has also written about heroes with massive members. Their dicks are so huge, that even in the relatively rare instances when the heroine isn't a virgin, the colossal cock still causes the heroine pain. (This may not be true of all her books--I've read only ten or so Linda Howard novels and I haven't picked up any new ones in about five years.) Even geek heroes like Simon of The Real Deal has a wang of monstrous proportions--it's so big that it's a source of concern for him, in fact, another aspect of the book that had me rolling my eyes and busily marking the book down yet another point.

The SBs and other self-conscious readers may roll their eyes, but the authors use these details because there's an audience that craves them. And these preferences carry over, to some extent, to the real world, as the SBs also point out:

A large survey conducted by Psychology Today magazine in 1993 found that women seem evenly divided: half want big schlongs, the other half don't care about size or like smaller penises.

It would be interesting to see the breakdown for the latter half, but I suspect there are rather few who prefer smaller penises.

Furthermore, the general drift of the comments is: in real life, the ideal dick shall be large, but not so large that it hurts. Given that women give birth, I suspect the latter criterion leaves quite a bit of headroom (ha, ha). And even when it hurts a little, the salutary psychological effect of size can compensate, at least for some women. (Which makes me curious: is it the visual effect, or the tactile heft, or merely the abstract Platonic concept of Largeness Itself that's the turn-on? Or is it tied in with a more general streak of masochism, wherein the pain itself adds to the pleasure? Of course, it must differ from woman to woman, and there are probably elements of all of the above, but I'm curious about the average case. Inquiring minds want to know.)

Some commenters at SBTB even resent the very suggestion that penis size might not matter; "Monica" writes:

One thing I find interesting is how protective women are of the male ego vis a vis their own bodies.

We are forever trying to stuff ourselves into some body mold to be more appealing. Just read our magazines!

While we stroke their fragile male egos.

We tell them that it's their personality that counts. We reassure them that size doesn't matter. Lord, we freakin' fake orgasms rather than tell him he sucks (or doesn't suck it enough) in bed and he'd best get to figuring it out if he wants to stay there!

One thing about romance is that it is liberating. Men have unabashedly held up a standard where the female body is to measure up.

Check out where they give prominent women numerical ratings of their desirability!

Romance is the one place where we get to do the same across the board, hold men up to unattainable physical standards. The heroes are fine as hell and hung big. They have tight abs, tight asses and heads full of hair. Back hair is non-existent as are love handles.

Read 'em men, and know how it feels when we check out the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and know we'll never measure up either. Read 'em and weep.

Now, having a rather robust ego myself, I find this level of resentment kind of sad --- I can only conjecture that Monica's had some lousy partners in her life --- but I agree completely that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Bring on the objectification, I say, and not just in romance novels. Fair is fair.

Lastly, it's worth noting that among the great apes, humans have exceptionally long and thick penises relative to our body mass. Given that we evolved via sexual reproduction, it would be pretty surprising if women's preferences ran counter to this anatomical freakishness.

Hence: do not deceive yourselves, men; size matters, and bigger is (up to a point) better. I actually find it amazing that men even bother to wonder whether size matters. How could it not matter, at least somewhat?

On the other hand, of course, one has to keep perspective. Partners worth having will, by definition, have a reasonable ordering of priorities, and crude anatomical features must rank relatively low in any reasonable ordering (and I mean this for both men and women). Unless your genetic provenance is incredibly unlucky, it's probably best to worry about your non-anatomical features, which, apart from being more meaningful, are also under your control to a much greater extent.


  1. Let me say first: brave man, taking on this topic. Well done. But you've got it wrong.

    <- and I am speaking, here, specifically of the trashy ones --- romance novels occupy a position in the feminine mediaverse similar to hardcore porn's position in the masculine mediaverse:>

    Romance novels (even the more explicit ones) could never equal hard core porn. Romance novels, poorly written, well written, explicit or subtle, have one thing in common: love/relationship is of primary importance.

    For the romance reader it's: LOVE sex
    For the erotic romance reader it's: LOVE SEX
    For the hard core porn fan its: SEX SEX

  2. Point well taken. But I meant that they were both similar in that they provide a venue for people to seek vicarious satisfaction of erotic desire (which is inclusive of both love and sex) that audiences do not find elsewhere. In the process of satisfying these urges, they do closely analogous things, including objectifying the target of desire with a frankness and simplicity that's difficult to find in more "serious" artistic forms. That frankness and simplicity makes them invaluable when you want to cut through the fog of social convention and politics that prevents people from admitting these desires in other contexts.

    Of course, there are differences between the audiences for any two media, and so the forms and ends of objectification differ too. I don't mean to minimize the distinctions, which you point out, between romance and hardcore pornography.