Myth-busting Monday: Representing male sexual anatomy in film and media is pornographic. (I have a client to thank for this one!)
Before I go further, I want to acknowledge that how we understand sex and gender is problematic and that both are social constructs. I am using men and male below to mean individuals that have a penis and identify as male (cis-gender). This is problematic, but my intent is not to harm, rather it is to simplify for the purpose of a shorter piece of writing. Not everyone that has a penis is a man. Not all men have penises.
I’ll give this myth a maybe, as it depends on who is doing the defining and how porn is defined, which is political and cultural.
What I think is underlying this topic about male sexual anatomy in general is why we don’t see penises more regularly in media and film. Despite being a sex-obsessed culture, we keep male frontal nudity hidden. One reason: The “male gaze”. That is – who is the perceived and intended viewer? Further, “veiling the penis from ‘the gaze’ is directly connected to power relations in contemporary American culture” (https://davidtitterington.medium.com/why-patriarchal-culture-generally-wants-the-penis-out-of-sight-ef37263f5750 **Please check out this link, love it). In other words, the censoring of full frontal male nudity is about power. The viewer (“male gaze”) is empowered and privileged by not being objectified.
I think the lack of male nudity also speaks to who is writing, producing, and financing movies and televised media content: mostly men. Men, like all of us, will write, produce, and finance from their own socialized biases and lived experiences. With men being in positions of power here and being the producers and financers of media content, phalli won’t make the cut. This bias may be related to our culture’s homophobia and heterosexism (yes, these are different concepts, see link below).
Examining this issue more broadly, we have to consider media literacy, in addition to male gaze and bias. Media impacts and reflects society’s views on everything, including topics related to this piece of writing: sexuality and sex education, the erotic, nudity, body acceptance, gender bias and norms, systems of oppression (racism, ageism, sizeism, ableism, etc)… there are more. Being able to self-reflect, critique, openly communicate about, and contextualize media is critical and, honestly, a lot of work when sometimes we just want passive entertainment. For example: What/how are the gender norms represented? Body types? Relationship styles? What can you tell about who wrote the film or television series based on these representations (ie the biases they brought to their product)? How do these fit into our culture’s traditions or expectations? How are these expectations and/or representations harmful or limiting? Do you engage in these communications with your loved ones or community when consuming media? (most of us don’t unfortunately)
Forget the privileged “male gaze” which lacks imagination and social justice. Here’s hoping we can all begin examining media using a more critical eye, communicate about the problematic media representations that we have (of….well….everything), and even demand more ethical, equitable (in many ways, including visualization of male nudity), and diverse media for everyone. Happy myth-busting, community!
Additional links for the reader to consider:
More information on the bias in movies and the movie rating system:
Difference between homophobia and heterosexism:
A great book on “male” anatomy:
Phallacy: Life Lessons From The Animal Penis, by Emily Willingham
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), CHEK practitioner, RYT500, sexuality counselor and educator; copyright protected, please cite accordingly.
The image is from Pexels.
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