This is a guest post by Laurie and Debbie. Debbie Notkin is a body image activist, a feminist science fiction advocate, and a publishing professional. She is chair of the motherboard of the Tiptree Award and was one of the two guests of honor at WisCon in May 2012. Laurie is a photographer whose photos make up the books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (edited and text by Debbie Notkin) and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (edited by Debbie Notkin, text by Debbie Notkin and Richard F. Dutcher). Her photographs have been exhibited in many cities, including New York, Tokyo, Kyoto, Toronto, Boston, London, Shanghai and San Francisco. Her solo exhibition “Meditations on the Body” at the National Museum of Art in Osaka featured 100 photographs. Her most recent project is Women of Japan, clothed portraits of women from many cultures and backgrounds. Laurie and Debbie blog together at Body Impolitic, talking about body image, photography, art and related issues. This post originally appeared on Body Impolitic.
Laurie and Debbie say:
(CONTAINS GRAPHIC AND EXPLICIT IMAGES)
The brilliant Lisa Wade at Sociological Images has a thought-provoking piece about penis/gun imagery in safer sex ads, like this particularly vivid one:
She situates the conversation in an anthropological context which demystifies the penis, which you can read at the link. After sharing images, Wade draws a brief conclusion:
While I am all for encouraging sexual pleasure and safer sex, I would prefer that such efforts not conflate the penis with a weapon. Doing so only contributes to the idea that the penis is inherently useful for enacting violence and women’s bodies naturally vulnerable to violation from men.
We would take it somewhat further.
First of all, sexually transmitted disease is not a weapon men use against women. It transmits from any gender to any gender, depending much more on who does what to whom than how people are shaped. In the 20th and 21st centuries, positioning safer sex as protective of women erases the history of why we talk about safer sex at all. This imagery also conflates AIDS and other STDs with rape and abuse, adding an indefensible layer of confusion to both issues.
Second, the penis, like any part of the human body, is a natural organ. Because of its role in sex and reproduction, and its inherently vulnerable nature (which Wade discusses), all kinds of social, cultural, and commodified images get layered onto it.
It isn’t a weapon. It isn’t ammunition. It isn’t a toy. It isn’t a measuring stick. Putting a condom on it doesn’t disarm it.
It’s a body part of half the human race. It can be used as a weapon. It can be used as a toy. It can be used as a measuring stick.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about these safer sex ads is that they don’t show penises. What “disarms” the penis is making it visible as a part of the relaxed body. As Jonathan D. Katz says in Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes, “To see a penis is to know that it couldn’t possibly be a phallus. If male power is premised on the cloaking of the male body, then it is to its uncloaking that we must turn for our collective liberation.”
(Penis photographs by Laurie Toby Edison, from Familiar Men.)