Many years ago, I read that the children of the Roman aristocracy used to wear a small penis-shaped charm called a fascinum. The charm signalled that they were members of the nobility and if anyone messed with them, they would be messed with—seriously. (The word ‘fascist’ derives from fascinum.) It intrigued me that the symbol used to protect these children was a penis.
I’ve been equally fascinated by the absence of images of the penis in film. Cinema is littered with female nudity, including genital nudity, yet the penis very rarely creeps into the frame other than in porn. I read an IMDb review of a film once (I forget the film, I think it had Dennis Hopper in it) where the female reviewer was scathing of a shot of full-on male nudity. The reviewer was clearly emotionally triggered by the image of the penis.
And during a recent life modelling session, it puzzled me that after posing naked for a dozen women for two hours, none of them had drawn my penis in anything other than the most cursory form. My head, torso, arms and back received detailed attention from these talented artists. My penis? Nope.
These three jigsaw pieces jostled in my head until the light went on.
In a blog titled The Alien inside us, I recently wrote about what I term the ‘lower masculine victimizer’, a piece of psychological programming we all carry which is the unavoidable outcome of a patriarchal social structure:
“Generally thought of as the dominion of men over women, patriarchy is more accurately the dominion of the (masculine) victimizer over the (feminine) victim… the history of civilization is actually the history of victimization—right up to today. Regardless of gender, whenever we try to enforce or coerce to achieve our wants, our victimizer energy is in play.
This impulse to victimization might be termed the ‘lower masculine victimizer’. I use the word ‘lower’ because the masculine qualities of strength, intelligence and anger can all be expressed in a ‘higher’, protective manner. Here they are used to mitigate lack at the expense of others—and to express primal pain.”
The lower masculine victimizer gains pleasure from pain. The penis is its physical embodiment. Weapons—swords, spears, guns; all with a shaft-like shape and a pronounced tip—also embody the victimizer.
But the penis, the aroused extension of its wielder that gives sexual pleasure from penetration (physical or sexual conquest of the other), is the archetype.
If you saw a penis, historically that meant you were about to be fucked over. If you were a man, a sword or spear was about to run you through. If you were a woman, you were about to be raped.
Over thousands of years this symbolism became embedded in the collective unconscious. The Roman fascinum warned: touch this child and we’ll fuck you over. The woman on IMDb recoiled from Dennis Hopper’s nudity from age-old survival instincts. Life drawing artists unconsciously shied away from it.
Because of its unconscious association with the lower masculine victimizer, the penis remains our most forbidden image.