Before I knew it, I was tweeting with one of the entrants of a ‘smallest penis’ pageant!
It was one of those moments which could only happen on social media. Twitter, to be precise; having shared a friend’s article about his efforts to lose weight (motivated by a desire to see his penis again, rather than just his tummy), the aforementioned chap, one Rip van Dinkle, pinged me a comment designed to elicit a response. It was late. I was tired. My filters were down. I responded.
I read the link he sent me – an article about a tiny penis pageant in Brooklyn – which had my facial expression changing from alarm to amusement to horror to…well, consideringness…as the piece progressed. It was clearly all very tongue-in-cheek, and the photos weren’t *too* explicit, BUT…the comments from journalists who covered the pageant ranged from mirthful encouragement of the ridiculous, to downright cruel.
It was the downright cruel, which got me thinking most.
someone who was bullied a feminist a person with body image issues a human being, it bothers me a lot when I see people being cruel to others, based on their appearance (it bothers me more when I’m the person being cruel – it happens as little as I can mindfully manage it, but I screw up sometimes too). The ‘Walmartians’ pictures make my heart hurt. Sneak photos of strangers buttcracks make me wince. The idea that a woman (even a badly behaved one), could be reduced in social media to, and derided with the hashtag #trigglypuff, makes me wish I could disassociate entirely from the large number of people who think it’s okay to be unkind.
I’m not talking about trolls. Well, a bit, because they’re bad too, but I’m talking about ordinary, everyday people who you know and respect (or at least wouldn’t suspect), and in some cases adore, who nonetheless act in ways which seek to mock the physical appearance of other people.
It’s demeaning. It’s objectifying. It seeks to nullify all the humanity and history and story of a person and reduce them to a laughing stock. It’s disgusting.
Perhaps I’m a snob, or overly sensitive, but yes…when someone gets their kicks and giggles this way, I turn into a Judgysaurus Rex and feel utterly let down by whoever perpetrated the shaming. The thing which *really* upsets me is I’m SUCH a Judgysaurus Rex by this point, that I feel put out that other people aren’t also judging those who proliferate the unkindness. I get snarly when it’s just accepted as a part of life and no-one says anything.
Is it bystander syndrome? Is it tacit agreement? Is it wimping out?
It’s for sure *something*, and something I don’t like. It seems to fly in the face of compassion and humanity and connection (all things I passionately stand for) and allows unkindness and divisiveness to grow.
So when faced with the astonishing realisation that there exists a teenie-weenie-peenie pageant, what could I do? I didn’t want to laugh, because I don’t think a bloke with a small dick is particularly laughable (well, not for that alone – if he’s cartwheeling around in a feather boa whilst playing an aria from La Boheme on a kazoo, he’s probably going to elicit a giggle). I didn’t want to comment on the article, for fear of being subject to retaliation from the people who did think it was laughable. I also didn’t want to ignore it and just let it be an acceptable part of life where I didn’t say anything.
I also didn’t know *quite* what I wanted to say, because I could see paradoxes galore; in terms of body-shaming, gender equality, rebalancing gender inequality, misogyny, and misandry, and purely from a humorous point of view.
In the end I went to the source of my consternation, and asked what he thought. Turned out Rip van Dinkle, or should I say, John Haakenson, is a thoughtful, considered, articulate gentleman, and I really appreciated his responses, so here they are:
What encouraged you to first enter the tiny penis competition?
I read a story about the upcoming pageant in The Huffington Post, and I thought it was hilarious. I rarely laugh out loud, but this story made me laugh out loud. Then, I moved on, but my thoughts kept returning to this ridiculous pageant, and it kept making me smile. I thought: “I’ve never been to Brooklyn and I have some time off. I have a small penis (about 1.75 inches flaccid). Maybe I should enter.” I got encouragement from my friend Misty, so I bought a ticket to Brooklyn.
What have been the best and worst reactions?
In general, the best reactions have been from women, and the worst from men, although there are exceptions. A lot of women see it as an anti-body-shaming event; others see it, I’m afraid, as a kind of payback for the “male gaze” standard so prevalent in society, as an opportunity to judge men strictly by body parts. Men – straight men, I mean – seem to feel threatened by the whole idea of the pageant. If we contestants in the pageant are ridiculed for our little manhoods, then by extension (no pun intended) they feel threatened, as well.
The post-pageant comments in chat rooms are all over the map. People can be anonymous in chat rooms, so of course the nasty comments tend to rule: “baby dick,” “puny pecker,” “baby balls,” etc. The insults come from both men and women.
Does the audience mainly comprise men or women? (I ask because the article you tweeted only featured female writers’ opinions)
I’d say the audience was about 75-80 percent female. Of the men, I have no idea how many might have been gay, although I’m sure a good percentage were. The pageant was created, organized, and presented by women (primarily Aimee Arciuolo and Bobbie Chaset), and they said that their female friends loved it. Their male friends, not so much.
What’s your take on the difference between the public reaction to this competition, and the public’s hypothetical reaction to (for instance) a tiny tits competition for women entrants?
Aimee said in an interview that they actually considered doing something like a “tiny tits” competition, but decided that it might not attract much of an audience. That’s something people can already see at a lot of topless bars, whereas a group of men actually showing the world their tiny cocks and balls – that’s unusual.
What impact would you like the competition to have? Is it just a laugh, or is there deeper meaning for you?
Maybe I’m just old and cynical, but I don’t expect the pageant to “change the world.” For me … I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the attention, even if it was for a bizarre reason. But it also made a lot of people, mostly women, quite happy. It gave them a socially sanctioned opportunity to turn the tables on men, treat us as the sex objects, and to show that they are not intimidated by the almighty male sex organs. Instead, they can have a laugh. And take pictures to share with friends (alas, I will never be able to run for public office.)
Do you plan to continue to enter?
I will if they have more pageants (I’ve been in two of the three so far; I missed the 2014 pageant because my flight was cancelled.) It was a major blast both times I was in it. The only downside is if my young nieces happen to see pictures of me in the pageant on the Internet, because there seem to be hundreds of them. But that’s why I have the beard and wear sunglasses.
What struck me, as I thought more, was that the entrants must be *really* body secure to do something as madcap as this. Also, it’s perhaps not as awful as I first thought, because the entrants all know what they’re in for, and there’s a level of acceptance and encouragement about the ridiculing being par for the course. I also rather admire the bravery of these guys for breaking the taboo around a physical attribute traditionally considered Very Important to Manliness, and celebrating their lack of length.
So I’m left in a muddle, between thinking the pageant is something I wouldn’t want to touch with a ten-foot barge-pole, given the can of worms it opens and scatters, and thinking that actually, those worms being given some sunlight, attention and clarity in terms of their wider implications, might not be such a bad thing.
Is it divisive? Does it promote unkindness and ridicule? Does it offer a chance for a tongue-in-cheek, doesn’t-matter-too-much bit of a giggle? Is it a symptom of the times, an indictment, or a redemption of them?
Does it matter?
What do you think? I want to know your perspective.
Many thanks to John, for answering my questions and supplying me with photos for this piece.
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