From BDE to the aubergine emoji: Penis-size jokes are body shaming

I have a legendary friend who gives precisely zero s**ts about his small penis.

It’s a breath of fresh air.

He’ll bring it up (not out) in the most unlikely dinner table conversations, willy nilly.

Give him the smallest lull, and he will insert some small-penis chat into the proceedings – and in the least creepy and uncomfortable of ways. A true artist. 

Smaller penises are among the least discussed bits and bobs, and I think more conversations against body shaming are needed.

‘I’ve got a small dick,’ said one of your friends, never. Even the topic of average-sized cocks is fairly taboo among men. 

As someone with a penis, I’m no stranger to phallic fears and pressures, which is why I initially hesitated to write this piece.

Could it be seen as an elaborate and embarrassing self-defence? In which case: why become a neatly-packaged snack for some Twitter trolls?

But also: why the hell not? 

In fact, assuming anyone gets past this 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 or popular culture, 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, the exchange 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 by tweeting: ‘yes, please do enlighten me. email me at [email protected]’.

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

Personally, I found Greta’s knockout ‘schoolyard’ retort absolutely hilarious in its unabashed boldness. She publicly fought fire with fire and cut Tate down to size, quite literally.

But funny and effective though it undoubtedly was, Greta’s tweet – and the reaction to it – serves as a very public reminder of just how normalised language around penis-size shaming still is across ‘the West’ (and well beyond, for that matter). 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. 

Who can claim they’ve never made a small-dick joke or slur?

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 underpins a heteronormative focus on penetrative sex and procreation.

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. 

I should add 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 pyramid that ties value (and masculinity) to penis size. This is something that discriminates on many levels, including towards men that don’t have a penis, and women that do.

The fusing of sex and gender (i.e. penis and manhood) poses unique harm to the trans community, something that has been powerfully articulated by trans people for many years.

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 the same percentage are ‘abnormally big’.

This is 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, potential depression and even, in the most severe cases, suicide.

Given the very real and long-standing impact of penis-centric 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 the hell over it. But how? I’m not pretending to have the answers, but if we believe that body shaming, whatever its form, is not OK, then more reflection and care is needed in how we talk about penises.

It’s time to Make Smaller Penises Great Again, or more appropriately: make penis size matter less.

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