Mamie Stevenson

Don’t Point That Thing at Me


The fall of 2017 was a fraught time for the phallus. In October, the wrinkled, smug, and rotund face of the nation’s most famous film executive became an effigy whose embers cast a spotlight on the hordes of powerful men—actors, CEOs, public servants—who had, for decades, used their sex to abuse and silence others. A veritable nuclear fallout of scandal captured the nation’s attention, making the phallus, for the first time ever, the subject of an emotional collective reckoning. While it seems silly to write about something that just happened with such a degree of retrospection, the accused have become emblems in a succession of events that we already perceive as remarkable in our shared history: first there was Trump, then there was Harvey.

As if we needed more men in whom to be disappointed, a new villain seemed to emerge every day. The New York Times may as well have been covering the sexual politics of Gotham City. It seemed as though we were beginning a long overdue conversation about the phallus and the socially-conditioned person who possesses it. As a result, the phallus, like an object hanging on a string, has become steeped in commentary and critical analysis. Why must the phallus wield its power this way? Why is the phallus so averse to consent? How has the phallus been permitted to commit so many heinous crimes and transgressions? What makes the phallus ruthlessly capable of coercion and manipulation and blatant disregard for the well-being of others? How does the phallus sleep at night, and what, exactly, makes it so inhuman?

Our feelings towards the phallus have become complicated as we begin the process of parsing its evil from its influence. The problem remains, however, that the phallus is a looming presence, its empire granular and systematic. The world exists in relation to the phallus, a planet made up of tributaries of cultures that all stem back to the same source. The movements that have arisen out of the highly triggering and weirdly digestible moment of mass feminism developing post-Harvey are really just about throwing rocks and sticks at a flabby monster with a known tendency to get aggravated and a knack for lashing out at the institutional level. I am not entirely confident that this current moment won’t result in repercussions that bend the way of misogyny.

Thomas Hardy said, “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” The phallus casts a flaccid shape over every aspect of our living in both our practical daily tasks and the metrics with which we evaluate our accomplishments, our failures, and our existence. The phallus does not like it when we use the terms feminism or consent or rape culture, and we must never forget how deeply manipulated the fundamental units of human life are and have been in supporting its architecture. The phallus writes our tax codes and grants access to clean water; it decides who gets to go to college, who gets to have a baby, and who is fit to be a doctor. It dresses us, it grooms us, it controls the internet. The invisible hand is not actually a hand; it’s a phallus, and the technological platforms that gave visibility to the #MeToo movement are also the ones used to regularly relay rape threats, to justify male fragility, and to manipulate the outcome of a presidential election in favor of an inept sexual predator over the most qualified person to ever run for executive office, whose biggest mistake existed between her legs.

Since beginning to write this, I have tried to come to a conclusion about what exactly the opposite of a phallus is. Anatomically speaking, the yoni is its Sanskrit counterpart, though the term “yonic” is not sufficient in describing something completely bereft of male influence, existing only in and of its feminine (or at least non-male) self. When I asked other people what they thought the opposite of a phallus was, a friend of mine laughed and said, “Void.” And though she was joking, I found a sad and amusing truth in the statement. But void has no origins, no influence. I wonder, then, if the opposite of the phallus is empathy, as the power of the phallus is so stringent, absolute, and unyielding, its only antidote is the small hope of ever recognizing how much havoc it has wreaked, how much abuse it has permitted.

It strikes me, too, that with all of the attacks on the phallus, foolishly protected and upheld by an army of the fragile white people who possess it, we have not taken a moment to consider the strength and durability of a feminine sexuality. In studying the arts and humanities, I have been required to develop a curriculum of empathy in examining the boundlessness of human suffering. I have been taught to interpret the myriad ways in which the phallus violates the system, the mind, the body, but always with the caveat of how acutely forceful a tool the female sex is. In a society saturated by male power and influence, feminine eros is valued currency, domestic labor a cunning economy; there are countless ways of protesting violations to both. For the many millennia that the phallus has enshrouded the world in war and wage gaps and meaningless social hierarchies, a counterinsurgency has been slowly building, female sex at the core of its arsenal.

To this end, it’s unfortunate how much women continue to be reduced to their victimhood. The conversation being had around the country is still entirely focused on the spectrum of power that relatively few men have lost in an immediate and temporal sense: their incomes, their wives, their reputations. The narrative of it plays into a dangerous dichotomy we have created when we measure the confines of female (or non-male) sexuality up against the boundless influence of the phallus. In essence, we continue to view female sex as a direct object to the disposal of the phallus, and this will get us nowhere.

In a 1999 issue of Bitch, Vanessa Veselka poignantly argues, “As long as we cling to the concept of rape and abuse as theft, we are ultimately led back to the belief that a woman’s worth and sense of self lie in her sexual purity, and we can speak of her condition only in terms of ownership and loss. To imply that deep within every woman is something essential that can be seen or touched, a vessel containing the real her that can be stolen by someone else, is an absolute objectification of women.” When we imagine our sex this way, it’s not only under constant threat of the phallus, but it also exists only in relation to it—excluding any form of queer identity and encasing anything not directly associated with our conception of manhood in an untouchable and fragile glass box.

I was reminded of this narrative recently while watching, with immense sadness and revulsion, the testimonies of the many women who endured grotesque sexual abuse at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar. These young women, trained from childhood to believe that their virginity is the ultimate symbol of their self-worth, suffered through years of silent shame and have since been forced to compute the immense violence with which their young bodies were handled. In the media, their trauma is often reduced to a matter of parts, maintaining the burden on the female sex for possessing something so susceptible to theft. But their statements in full are far-reaching, dynamic, and nuanced, pointing to a new trajectory of feminism wherein empowerment coexists with trauma.

As disgusted as I am by Larry Nassar, his likeness now joining the ranks of the abounding sexual abusers who preceded him (and the many more to be named), I am far more disturbed by those institutions which enabled him. The phallus is protected by countless administrations, bureaucracies, and executors who would rather turn a blind eye than shield small children from flagrant abuse of their bodies and their minds. The phallus is protected by the pompous wisdom that its detrimental actions are likely to go unpunished.

It is dangerous to name things as exceptions to the rule, as we tend to when those with the power of the phallus are caught in wrongdoing. Larry Nassar’s sex abuse is not isolated; it stems from a long history of conditioning the phallus to being entitled to its desires at any cost and from a cultural mechanism that simultaneously infantilizes and sexualizes young girls, making it impossible for them to ever transcend a mode of doing or thinking that is not directly related to the phallus and its pleasure. The overarching problem here, a term that sees little visibility in the media, is toxic masculinity, and the phallus is its vehicle. If we genuinely care to hold liable predators and to dismantle the institutions that have enabled them, we have to strip the phallus of every form of ammunition, and not just within the confines of sexual behavior. We must stop consuming things made by the phallus and the platforms that flout its opinions; we must stop coddling the phallus and conditioning our children to worship it; we must stop selling the phallus guns; we must challenge the legal system that was set up by the phallus; we must stigmatize the phallus and stop electing officials who govern with it; we must stop rewarding the phallus by funneling money into the putrid and sweaty crevices of its many pockets; we must cut off circulation to the phallus, rendering it limp, blue, and lifeless.

While we work in small ways to dismantle the phallus, we must assemble something better in its place. This begins at the individual level as we reimagine female sexuality less as a target and more as a fluid, mobile force. The history of oppression is long and sordid, and it begins with the phallus. But it does not need to end with it; the mythos of woman, humanity’s underdog, is a story that has been long developing in conjunction with the phallus’s ascent. For some time now, this narrative has been written in a language created by men, recited in a voice with a brusque and low tenor. But a page has turned, the story now read in a smaller voice, in a tone often described as shrill. The volume of it has just hit a fever pitch, and for the first time ever it seems, a weapon created by a specter is now being used to initiate its demise.

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