If we ever needed proof that men are obsessed with their dicks, we got it this week as small-penis jokes took center stage. At the Academy Awards, actor Sacha Baron Cohen, as his character Ali G, indulged in a racist joke, ostensibly about Minions but clearly also targeting Asian men, about “yellow people with tiny dongs.” On the political stage, as Marco Rubio said of GOP primary opponent Donald Trump at a rally on Sunday, “He’s always calling me ‘little Marco.’ I’ll admit he’s taller than me. He’s like 6’2’’, which is why I don’t understand why his hands are the size of someone who’s 5’2’’. Have you seen his hands? And you know what they say about men with small hands? You can’t trust ’em!”
Yes, it’s 2016, and we are still making penis jokes. I’ve always thought that these types of jokes have to be some sort of attempt to assuage the feelings of the person telling them about their own penis size or other body issues they possess, a way of skirting substantive topics to mock an imagined weakness. After all, when you break them down, what are they really saying? That the person uttering these jokes is willing to make fun of a body part a person can’t control as a way to make themself look better/stronger/more powerful? That’s cowardly, and, especially in Rubio’s case, a pathetic dodge from the actual issues at stake in this election. Rubio sounds like a schoolboy on the playground.
Is there truly anything more childish than falling into the trap of equating penis size—real or imagined—with anything other than the randomness of biology? The moment we assume that bigger really is better, we are doomed to reducing ourselves to the lowest common denominator.
The one thing penis jokes do very accurately showcase is that they’re never about actual penis size, but what men think penis size represents. As Scott Poulson-Bryant writes in his excellent book “Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America:”
“The penis-size game is a man’s game. Measuring, giving something importance by the very weight of its existence, gauging something’s relevance by the dimensions of its measurements: that’s a man’s game, played on the fields where monuments mark time and create empires and symbolize power.
It is the metaphorical power of a penis’s size that gives it the psychological weight men lug into relationships with women and with each other. Essentially, it is a signifier—of power, of prominence, of strength. So many men like to think that our primary attention to dick size is about impressing women (or not), about filling up that space women have (or not), about succeeding as a man in the reflective mirror of a woman’s or partner’s eyes. But it isn’t. It’s a measuring stick of self-worth, of capabilities and fallibilities, of winning and losing.”
That’s not to say that penis size isn’t an actual concern for many men, but ultimately, it’s not a gauge of anything except a particular organ. How penis size is perceived is all in the eye of the beholder, which is why these jokes are so telling—and sad. It’s our culture that’s drummed it into men’s heads (yes, double entendre intended) that they should be measuring themselves, and others, by the size of what’s between their legs rather than their actions. Hence, the ridiculous scrutiny over whether Hitler had a micropenis or not. Really? As if that will help us learn anything about the mass extermination of millions of people?
Sure, we could dismiss these as harmless jokes, but the underlying sentiment reduces men to their penis size. It sends the message that penis size is more important in the bedroom than it actually is and that all a man truly needs to succeed in the world is a big package. Is that kind of reductionist thinking really indicative of the kind of world men like Cohen and Rubio want to live in? I certainly hope not. It’s a cheap way of one-upping yourself at the expense of someone else.
Penis jokes fail because there’s really nothing to them. They’ve got no substance because they rely on the listener believing specious stereotypes and propping up a disturbing culture of masculinity that tells men their only worth is based on their genitals. We’re meant to simply absorb the idea that someone with a smaller penis is less powerful, less worthy, lesser in every way. They default to the idea that only men who by whatever stroke of fate measure up (or are perceived to measure up) can be winners at life.
Surely some of the men on the receiving end of these jokes are ones who worry about their penis size. What are we saying to them—that they’re not valuable people? That they should feel badly about something they have no control over? That they should accept that they will never be as important as men who are more well endowed? There’s no positive outcome to that scenario. Both these recent jokes are examples of arrogant posturing fails in an attempt to use humor to put other people down. Yes, in this lone instance, I am defending Trump. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to mock him and assail his political plans for our country, but the imagined size of his penis just isn’t one of them, and I can only imagine that if Rubio felt the need to go there, he’s nervous about his prospects.
Penis jokes ultimately say infinitely more about the teller than their target. They let us know that the person cares less about a person’s character than about their perceived shortcomings. They out the teller as someone who would rather prop up the very tired, dated notion that dick size determines your worth than find a more innovative statement to make. The only person who winds up looking small is the one who telling those jokes in the first place.