Why Presidential Penises Are So Important

By the second week of March, the discourse (using that word very loosely) of the Republican presidential candidates had sunk so low that to call it “juvenile” would be an insult to our children. Just when we thought that the personal attacks had lowered to a senior high level, they descended further to something like the tauntings of junior high kids.
    Whether it was about one candidate or another being accused of peeing in his pants, eating boogers, over-sweating, or having to run to the bathroom for one reason or another, it was actually the fully-on-display latest in the circus that GOP bosses are racking their brains to ring-master. Those Party leaders who created each of the caricatures on the Republican platform and encouraged their rabid fans, now seemed flailing about to know what to do with the performers except either just to embrace them as if any of the candidates were presidential material or to enlist a previous presidential loser to attack the biggest ego they most feared would win the nomination.
    What’s truly extraordinary about it all is that the lower the discourse sunk, the more that the diehard melded with their candidates. And those other Republican politicians who’ve given up trying to break up this schoolyard fighting, began scrambling to make sure that when the sawdust settles they’ll be on the side of the one they think will end up with the most power so that they could maintain their own power, positions, funders, and status.
    With the only female Republican contender out, the boys settled for criticizing each other’s manhood. The taunts were focused around all the conventional expectations of conditioned patriarchal manhood with who’s the scaredy-cat, who can’t take the taunting, who’s going to be unable to fight like a man, who’s unable to control themselves, or, behind it all, who is the most “like a girl.”
    But that wasn’t clear enough - it then it sunk to discussion of the ultimate symbol of manhood, who does or does not have a big penis. There it was: conditioned masculinity’s symbol of power, virility and the ability to control women was out on the table.
    No one who has studied gender was surprised that all the debates centered around one’s manhood. Even the women on both sides of the aisle, after all, were analyzed with whether or not they had the biggest “balls” in the race.
    The only surprise here was that there it was: in the open discussion in a presidential race. And those who stereotype gay men as only caring about penises found presidential candidates who self-identify as heterosexual revealing their hidden obsession with the male organ.
    It was as if a dam broke. The Internet was flooded with stories about penis sizes, micro-penises, and what insinuations such as “have you seen how small his hands are” really mean according to science.
    It was a discussion waiting below the surface ready to burst out,  And thanks to the descent of the Republican contenders into bathroom references, there it was.
    What those who study gender also knew was that this was not actually about the realities of a physical genital organ. It was instead another sign of otherwise familiar phallic worship.
    They knew that the phallus stands for more than anatomical data. It’s the word for the male organ as a symbol of power – power over other people, other nations, nature, and the whole planet. Historical references have shown it so.
    It has stood for patriarchy and its subjugation of women, who at times were even accused of penis-envy. It has inspired colonialism with its victim peoples called “effeminate races.”
    It has justified the rape of both women and men without a second-thought being given to what this meant about one’s sexual orientation. Instead it actually represented the reality of a man’s or an army’s power to express their dominance over the other.
    And in a culture like the one we’ve developed, it symbolizes the ultimate manly man: the warrior. In American warrior-culture, therefore, our boys must be conditioned to become warriors; and our girls, in turn, to become warrior support personnel.
    Gentle, thoughtful, even intelligent non-kneejerk solutions are criticized through the lens of this manly, manly warrior. He is supposed to act decisively, quickly, and immediately to protect the manhood of the nation and its people, who should be seen as his wards.
    Hence, the criticism of our current president who doesn’t bomb enough (no matter how many drones he’s launched), is that he isn’t considered a real manly leader because he consults with other nations, believes in talking to other leaders, even our enemies, and spends time considering options and consequences. By American warrior standards all of that sounds quite womanly.
    Europe, or sometimes just certain nations that don’t kowtow to American manhood, is seen as effeminate. Europe has all those “nanny-states” after all – like women they nurture their people rather than just punish them.
    Sometimes, Europe even acts like disobedient children who don’t obey Uncle Sam’s orders just because they should know that we are their father to be obeyed, we’re the daddy. Because of Europe’s impotence, we must keep U.S. military bases there so that American macho can protect them.
    When Berkeley linguist, George Lakoff talks about the conservative way of seeing the nation as a family controlled by a strict father who “knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right,” he’s talking about the family patriarch. Applied to the national presidential debate, that model expects one patriarch to duke it out with the other to prove who the best – that is the most manly - man is.
    In spite of how much gender and gender roles have been highlighted by researchers and educators, in spite of how much both women’s and men’s movements have worked to change our views, when it comes down to today’s politics, it’s still about who can wield the biggest sword, who can convince us that he is well-endowed with warrior manhood. l


Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.

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