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Feminist perspectives hero ;

Penis size shaming is still too normalised. It's time to talk about it.

More conversations against body shaming are needed in all directions. But smaller penises are among the least discussed bits and bobs.

"I've got a small dick," said one of your friends, never. Even the topic of average sized cocks is fairly taboo among the penised-community. So it's a breath of fresh air that I actually have one (legendary) friend who gives precisely zero sh*ts about his small dick, bringing it up (not out) in the most unlikely dinner table conversations, willy nilly.

As someone with a penis, I know these phallic fears and pressures, which is why I initially hesitated to write this piece. Could it be seen as an elaborate and embarrassing self-defense? Why become a neatly packaged snack for some Twitter trolls? But also: why not? In fact, assuming anyone gets past this second paragraph, I'm counting on some online abuse to showcase the shame culture at (and in) hand – so thanks in advance and bon appetit. Penis-size shaming remains far too normalised, both online and off. Whether in casual conversation, porn, popular culture, etc, etc, etc, body negativity of this kind is subtly or overtly ubiquitous, especially within cis male circles, but also beyond.

Greta Thunberg's high profile Twitter spat with Andrew Tate is a recent example of the latter. For those who missed it, it began with the right-wing, former kickboxer, gratuitously jabbing Greta about the CO2 emissions of his 33 cars. Greta took the bait, but hit Tate where it hurts:

yes, please do enlighten me. email me at– Greta Thunberg, tweet in response to Andrew Tate
Greta Thunberg, responding to a tweet by Andrew Tate

And the crowd went wild. At time of writing, her tweet has 3.9 million likes, alone.

Personally, I found Greta's knockout retort absolutely hilarious. She fought fire with fire and cut Tate down to size, quite literally. Whether her rebuttal was an ethical and productive reuse of toxic masculinity is not the focus of my piece. That said, the tweet is a very public reminder of just how normalised language around penis-size shaming still is globally. The what-is-he-compensating-for blag is a classic, and there are countless others. Who can claim they've never made a small-dick joke or slur, or at least, never overheard one, even just in recent weeks or months? Meanwhile, how many people (with a penis) can pretend they've never worried about their endowment at some point? Death by a thousand little cuts.

As the ultimate expression of patriarchy, the phallus underpins traditional understandings of 'masculinity' and 'virility', making it the target and source of tremendous glorification and (therefore) shame. The very word 'emasculate' is synonymous with castration and impotence, which also belies a heteronormative focus on penetrative sex and procreation, as well as (what could easily be described) as an obsession with the erect penis. This false value-system and phallic fixation is nothing new. Caves around the world are adorned with prehistoric art (the first ever dick pics) that would leave Rasputin belittled. Today, the English language is littered with words and sayings, such as “big dick energy” (BDE), that inadvertently make size matter, so to speak. It's worth noting here that BDE (like “small dick energy”) has been used to describe all genders, and that it refers to someone's personality or 'vibe', not necessarily the actual size of their penis. Nonetheless, the expression still perpetuates a hierarchy that ties value (and masculinity) to penis size, something that discriminates on many levels, including towards men that don't have a penis, and women that do.

Although body positivity has come leaps and bounds in recent decades, its awareness has grown unevenly. Cis women and trans communities, in particular, have led the conversations against the shaming of their bodies, not least, since they are the primary victims of patriarchy – but not the only victims. American psychologist, Carol Gilligan, neatly defined patriarchy as a harm-inducing hierarchy that elevates all men over women, and some men over other men (noting that it is oppressive to people of all gender identities). Men, therefore, are not spared from the impact of patriarchy-induced body anxieties, which is why, in a study of British males, 45% thought they had a small penis, when, in reality, most do not, according to research from the British Journal of Urology.

In fact, only 2.28% of the male population are 'abnormally small', and about 2% 'abnormally big', according to an international study (of 15,000 penises) that has subsequently helped address 'small penis anxiety', an affliction that, in some cases, leads to a body dysmorphic disorder that can cause anti-social behaviour, depression and even suicide. Other ills include the fact that men who are less satisfied with their penis size report more sexual health problems, according to a report from UCLA that also highlighted why size does not matter, generally speaking. The demonstrable mental (and public) health fallout from penis size insecurities – and patriarchal body shaming more widely – poisons huge areas of human activity since, in the spirit of RuPaul:

If you can't love yourself, how are you gonna love somebody else?– RuPaul, American drag queen

Be it in our relationships, workplaces or politics, this has an impact, which is why violent extremists and terrorist groups (across the ideological spectrum) "exploit male sentiments of emasculation and loss of power and appeal to ideas of manhood in their recruitment efforts," according to a report from the International Peace Institute. Fragile male egos have contributed to, what is arguably, the world's longest-list of atrocities, from some of the darkest aspects of European colonialism to (past and present) racism in the US (and beyond), all of which can be linked (in part) to white male fears and perceptions of non-white bodies and penises, especially Black men. Gender-based violence (including domestic abuse or during times of armed conflict) also has strong links with penis-related emasculation, though not in every case, of course.

Given the very real and long-standing impact of phallocentric masculinity, as well as men's privilege within patriarchy, it's no surprise that a public conversation around penis size shaming has not yet had its moment (the curse of the self-oppressed perpetrator?). And yes, the onus is on men to start, and have, this chat, though others can help to promote it. Of course, this will not be easy given that there is little to no safe space for it. Most men are still too afraid to chat penis insecurities without feeling humiliated. They need to get over it. But how? I'm not pretending to have the answers, but if we believe that body shaming, whatever its form, is not okay, then more reflection and care is needed in how we talk about penises.

About the author

Sebastian Shehadi is a journalist with the New Statesman and Investment Monitor. He covers a variety of subjects across politics, business and culture.

Twitter: @seblebanon

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