Gcobani Qambela
Gcobani Qambela

The politics of the white male penis

I recently watched Lawrence Barraclough’s two interesting documentaries on white men and penis size. The first one “My Penis and I” chronicles Barraclough and his personal struggle with a tiny three inch (erect) penis and follows his journey as he considers having penis enlargement surgery. The second documentary, “My Penis and Everyone Else’s”, follows up on the first documentary but also includes other white men and their relationship with their penis. Although not the intention of the documentaries, the most fascinating thing for me in watching these documentaries is the extent to which the documentaries clearly demonstrate the harmful nature of certain hegemonic white masculinities. Like racism, the type of hegemonic white masculinity presented in these documentaries clearly shows the ways in which certain harmful practices of white masculinities not only demean the people on the receiving end, but also rob the perpetrator of their humanity.

In My Penis and I, Barraclough, who narrates the documentary, tells us the documentary is about him having “a small dick”. He says the size of his penis has been an issue for him from when he was young, into his teenage years, and up to now in his adulthood. He says that he thus wants to find out why it is a problem for him, and whether other men also experience his penis size anxiety.

The narrator claims that the first time that anyone saw his penis beyond his parents was in high school, which was humiliating for him for he was teased heavily because of it. As a result of his school mates torments he states that most of what they said to him back then, still affects him today, especially his relationship with his girlfriend. The girlfriend who has been with him for eight years also wishes that he had a bigger penis but not for her pleasure, for him. When he asks her she says “you would feel much better about yourself, you’d be more content”. Even though she has been with him eight years and has never gone off with another man, he is still insecure about the size of his penis and is considering enlargement surgery (which he eventually decides against).

The second documentary, My Penis and Everyone Else’s, follows on My Penis and I, but includes the stories of more than just the narrator. The narrator says after the first documentary he received hundreds of emails from other men sharing their stories about their struggles with penis size. The documentary follows him going to various places trying to get men to talk about their penises.

I finished watching both documentaries with the thought that the narrator who is also the dominant subject in both documentaries is not really cognisant of the role of a certain type of hegemonic white male masculinity that allows him to be so insecure about his penis. At the end of both documentaries, while he does lean more towards self-acceptance of the type of penis he has, he still does not answer his primary questions; which is why do (white) men (often) have such trouble accepting the size of their penis?

To understand why he cannot accept his penis as sufficient, one cannot separate the larger systems of cultural production that have led him to have such a negative self-image. Patricia Allen, a urologist interviewed for the documentary says something really profound, she says: “I haven’t really met a man ever that has been happy with his penis size … it’s not a problem that the women have got, it’s the men, and it’s not so much what his wife thinks, or what his partner thinks, it’s what he thinks, or what the [other] men are thinking.”

All of the white men interviewed in both documentaries, stated that the first time they saw someone else’s penis beyond theirs was mainly through pornography. This is an important entry point because as the former editor of The Erotic Review Rowan Pelling notes, pornography has played an important role in culture — its saturated nature has led to many men seeing sex and constructing a body image on what is largely a distorted lens. This is further supported by Phillip Hodson, a sex therapist, who says pornography has had a wholly negative effect on men’s perception of their penises because the producers of porn for the most part look for male participants who are “abnormally large, genetically speaking”.

Consumption of such pornographic material leads to men like Barraclough feeling completely inadequate and unable to measure up to this idealised manhood presented to them in porn, and reinforced in changing rooms by peers who are happy to point out those who do not “measure up”. This has led to a multibillion-dollar industry that capitalises on men’s insecurities by making promises of products that will enlarge these men’s penises. These men are willing to go to extremely dangerous strides to achieve this idealised penis. They are injecting oils, Vaseline and silicon into their penis risking mutilation and deformation.

In “White Men: An Exploration of Intersections of Masculinity, Whiteness and Colonialism and the Engagement of Counter-Hegemonic Projects” Claire Kelly reminds us that there are “multiple masculinities and whitenesses”. This means there is more than one way to be white, and a white man. Such an understanding allows us to see that even though we can have a hegemonic type of white male masculinity, there are also other “multiple identities” and masculinities white men can take up outside the hegemony.

To me, the documentaries show not only the construction of a certain type of white male masculinity, but also the way in which some white men have surrendered completely to the dominant master script of perceived white male manhood. In the documentary, there is no discussion of white men who are not consumed by small penis size insecurity and go against this idealised white male manhood. The real concern is that none of the men presented in the documentaries seem to understand the ways in which they have surrendered not only to the master script, but also the ways in which their surrender is harmful to them and their relationships. While most are in long-term relationships, with partners who say they are happy with their penises, they are still profoundly unhappy.

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