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Enough with Jon Hamm’s penis already!

The internet loves Jon Hamm’s penis. Women, I am told, heterosexual women, that is, cannot stop gazing Jon Hamm’s penis. Even feminists seem to love Jon Hamm’s penis! The penis is courted by underwear manufacturers to showcase their “product”.  The penis is said to be too big for clothes! So much so that it needs airbrushing! It’s like a penis for every woman’s taste, a penis of mainstream appeal, a penis, if you will, to end all man hating feminist penis envies!

It so happens that said penis is also attached to a human being: a cisgender, white, heterosexual, conventionally handsome, successful man. Namely, the penis belongs to Jon Hamm. And Jon Hamm is not happy with all the attention his genitalia is getting. Anna Klassen, at the Daily Beast, reports:

Jon Hamm would like you to focus on his face please and stop thinking those dirty thoughts. In a Rolling Stone interview posted online Wednesday, the actor asked everyone please to stop talking about his penis. A New York Daily News report claimed that the producers of Mad Men asked Hamm to start wearing underwear because his “impressive anatomy is so distracting” in the season’s tight pants. Hamm acknowledged that “most” of the comments about his package are “tongue-in-cheek,” but called them “a little rude.” “But when people feel the freedom to create Tumblr accounts about my cock, I feel that wasn’t part of the deal … but whatever.”

And on the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, Amberly Mcateer, writes:

But here’s the thing: When asked for comment, Hamm’s rep asked the Post to “take the high road,” adding that the non-story is “ridiculous and not really funny at all.”

And perhaps most disturbing? The ridiculous objectification of a serious actor’s genitalia. Sure, there’s no denying the carnal appeal of a dark, rugged man in a skinny tie – and sure, every single time Hamm is ever on my TV screen, I lose my breath.

and:

Imagine the gender reversal. If some magical mystery source said, “Christina Hendricks was asked to wear a girdle for her overwhelming vagina presence.” Baffling, idiotic, and incredibly misogynistic – right? No newspaper would go near it. […] Have we stepped back in time, reverting to the 1960s era, with a bizarro gender twist? Wherein instead of treating women like meat (a la Mad Men), we’re treating the show’s lead male role as, um, ham?

Sorry but I cannot imagine this utopian “gender reversal” because this request would imply that the gender reversal is not the norm, the accepted convention, the way women’s bodies are treated and have been treated for the entirety of recorded Western history (and no, this is not universal; the objectification of women’s bodies is not the same across the world historically, but more of a legacy of Western civilizations; for other legacies/ narratives/ views of female sexuality, see, for instance, the Andean festivities of Pachamama). So, the cult of Jon Hamm’s penis is not unacceptable because if the roles were reversed gender wise, it’d be unacceptable. It’s unacceptable because it perpetuates the desirability of penis as a white, heterocentric, heteronormative instrument of satisfying women’s sexuality.

The cult of Jon Hamm’s penis does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a historical context where penis jokes are OK while Anne Hathaway’s flashing incident is commented with horror, shocked bloggers pointing fingers at her faux pas, her “decency” called into question. The cult of this specific white, cisgender, heterosexual penis, also happens to exist in the same context where a Black woman resisting penis jokes can not only lose her job but also receive gruesome rape and death threats. The mere resistance to the outspoken presence of penis is met with extreme disciplining and grave danger for one’s life. The cult of Jon Hamm’s penis exists in a context where “corrective rape” is still systematically applied because “penis is supposed to cure women’s rebelliousness”. This cult exists in the same context where comments such as this, are the norm:

I used to think I was a feminist, I was always ranting and raving but it turns out I was just cranky from lack of good dick.

or

all you need is to be spermjacked a few times

The cult of Jon Hamm’s penis also forces us to look at the way that non White penises have been historically depicted, as threats, as the very root of white panic. In Sex, Drugs and race-to-castrate, Marques P. Richeson writes:

As the rightful “owners” of white women, white men ascertained a need to protect white women from savage and rapacious black men who would attempt to “steal” them. Earl Hutchinson, author of The Assassination of the Black Male Image, defined the “Big Black Scare” as the societal perception of a widespread black male conspiracy to acquire land, power, and white women. This fear was, in part, reinforced by the purported sexual prowess of black men – the Mandingo Theory.

In 1944, in Sex and Race, Henry Havelock Ellis, a sexual psychologist, noted:

I am informed that the sexual power of Negroes are the cause of the favor with which they are viewed by some white women of strong sexual passions in America and by many prostitutes. At one time there was a special house in New York City to which white women resorted for these “buck lovers.” The women came heavily veiled and would inspect the penises of the men before making the selection.

When I have written about the penis centric nature of so much of our media (even porn and erotica), I’ve been told to shut up with statements such as “BUT I LIKE PENIS!”. I won’t argue with that. However, it should be noted that such statements and preferences, the worship like elevation of penis (attached to a cisgender, white man, that is) as the only way to achieve sexual satisfaction for women has been peddled, for centuries, as the only way to exercise one’s sexuality. These ideas being at the very root of compulsory heterosexuality, with severe punishments for those that deviated. Just like nothing in our lives is devoid of context, neither is desire. So while it is true, some heterosexual women might like cisgender, heterosexual penis, I have to wonder how we would feel about food if the only thing on our plates, for the entirety of our lives and for the entirety of recorded history, had been spam with potatoes. The problem is not that we like penis, the problem is that in women’s metaphorical food plate of sexuality, penis has been the only available dish, the only dish it has been historically acceptable to eat at all.

When less than 100 years ago, women could be committed to psychiatric institutions and subjected to cruel medical practices for merely rejecting penis, for being “hysterical”, we are not exactly being revolutionary when we gaze at Jon Hamm’s penis. We are simply acknowledging the extent of patriarchy approved desire and, unintendedly , perpetuating said patriarchy by “choosing” to love penis rather than understanding how yes, we might love penis, but perhaps, we also love penis because it’s been sold to us as the only acceptable way to achieve orgasm.

EDIT: As it’s been noted, the two comments above come from ShitRedditSays. Sorry for the confusion, it wasn’t meant to imply that the editors condoned or supported the comments in question which were included for illustration purposes only.

11 Comments

  1. Diana wrote:

    Brilliant!!

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  2. Trudy wrote:

    BOOM! Brilliant essay.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Plop wrote:

    The couple comments you quoted from reddit are satiric, and their home sub is not best known for its subtlety. (The spermjacking is a pun referring to redditors accusing women of stealing their sperm to become pregnant and force them to pay child support…)

    But yeah, it’s gross humor.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  4. Curious wrote:

    I’m not sure if y’all realize it but the “all you need is to be spermjacked a few times” part is actually a joke by the feminists there at the expense of Men’s Rights Advocates.

    “Spermjacking” is the imaginary evil practice of women stealing men’s precious bodily fluids to inseminate themselves and extract child support from some poor man.

    So they’re not making the “just needs some dick” joke, they’re turning it on its head and throwing it back.

    It seemed from this post as if the author assumed “spermjacked” was some kind of synonym for “fucked.”

    Apologies for the ‘splaining if this is all already obvious and I’m just misunderstanding.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  5. Romie wrote:

    I can’t imagine how a reporter could miss the fact that we talk about Christina Hendricks’ breasts this way ALL THE TIME and she is in fact asked to wear restrictive garments to move them to the correct and accepted shape and placement. But then, I read an article this very day that insisted that nude scenes put male actors under greater scrutiny than female actors, and later ran into a white adult man in a crowded coffee shot with people waiting for seats, who thought it was perfectly natural that his empty laptop bag should occupy its own table. The patriarchy, it blinds.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Brigid Keely wrote:

    There exists at least one device meant to be worn by women under their pants to prevent “camel toe.” It’s so horrific for others eyes to fall upon an outlined labia, that rigid plastic “shields” exist to be worn to protect others from seeing such a sight.

    There also exists a huge amount of websites devoted to mocking women who appear in public with “camel toe,” or who have visible underpants or panty lines, or visible nipples, etc etc etc.

    But it’s just SO SO SAD when the same thing happens to a dude I guess.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  7. topaz_grrl wrote:

    “Imagine the gender reversal…”

    Yeah, just IMAGINE! IMAGINE what it would be like in a world where women’s bodies, or you know, just parts of them, are held up to extreme scrutiny and/or extremely sexually objectified, to the point where society feels free to judge the desirability or appropriate display of said body part/body/HUMAN BEING.

    What would such a world POSSIBLY look like? My lady brain cannot conceive of such a place.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  8. Jenny wrote:

    In some ways, I also saw this as a sort of race to the bottom. I have heard the argument from some straight men when we talk about objectifying women’s bodies saying, “Well I would LOVE it if some women was catcalling me.” I think this sort of behavior is problematic regardless of gender. Not to say that we should focus on that or that the arguements you made in your essay aren’t reasonable.

    Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  9. Kiri wrote:

    It’s kind of odd, reading this as a trans woman. Because yeah, I definitely feel the pressure to like cishetdude penis (it’s still seen by a lot of people a requirement to be a “real woman” or whatever), and yet, if I ever _do_ like cishetdude (or, for that matter, _any_) penis, this “proves” that I am “really” a “gay man” and therefore not a “real woman”.

    Seems that it’s always penises, whether our own or someone else’s, that are used to invalidate trans women’s identities. That’s interesting, in a “bawl my eyes out” sort of way.

    Anyway, yeah, great post. Though I don’t think that liking my trans girlfriend’s penis is exactly in line with patriarchy :)

    Friday, March 29, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  10. YES to everything you said, Kiri. I’m sometimes amazed that phallocentrism (in the Derrida sense of the term) is not used to unpack patriarchy more often. It’s not just about penis, of course. It’s specifically about white, heteronormative, cis penis and that deserves more feminist critique I believe…

    Friday, March 29, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  11. Genderqueer trans man here, and everything that you said, Kiri. If I like penis, this proves I am *really* a woman. If I don’t like penis, this proves I am *really* a lesbian. It’s very odd.

    Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink