Penises. Half the population has them, the other half likes them. So why is the general public so afraid of seeing them in mainstream cinema?
Seriously, if there was ever any proof that this is a man’s world, it would be the lack of display of full frontal male nudity we see in movies. Women have been appearing without their clothes in film practically since film was invented. In fact, these days it’s easier to keep track of the actresses that don’t get butt-naked than the ones who do. Whether female characters are running away from monsters in the woods, jet-setting around the world as tough, A$$-kicking spies, or canoodling with a leading man, there is always a reason – even if it is illogical – for a woman to bare it all in modern cinema. But with exception of a few films – mostly on the foreign front, the male version of T&A rarely makes it into movies. Be it another indication of our sexually repressed culture or a reflection on the fact that most directors in Hollywood are men, when it comes to full frontal nudity in movies, we have no love for the slong.
And I am not the only one who has taken notice of this gender-specific phenomenon. Recently Shadow and Act reviewed Steve McQueen’s’ sex-laden drama Shame, which received a NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. They offered their own theory about why the film received such a harsh rating: “…But after watching Shame earlier today, fully expecting to be thrown into some kind of a tizzy over the shock and awe perversity on display, I walked out wondering what the hell the hullabaloo was all about. And then it hit me; of course… we see penis; that pleasure/pain external male organ sometimes used in copulation, to transfer semen to the female; and other times use to expel urine from the body.”
I haven’t seen the film yet so I can’t say for sure if this is the reason however it wouldn’t surprise me. According to IMDB, the list of Best Female Frontal Nudity in Film and Television completely dwarfs the numbers of the Best Male Frontal Nudity in Film and Television. And not surprisingly, most of those films featuring full frontal male nudity are from foreign directors, where full frontal nudity is rather mundane and natural (i.e. people changing clothes, getting out of the shower, or both men and women not covering their bodies after sex.). In French cinema, the human form in all its bare glory is so common that it has becomes nothing special, which is basically the whole point.
However American cinema is a different, more abnormal beast all together. In fact, it wasn’t until a naked Jan-Michael Vincent bared it all in the 1974 film “Buster and Billie” that Americans got a glimpse of a phallic in a mainstream movie. But in the three decades since then, scenes with full-frontal male nudity in American mainstream films usually appear in brief glimpses including the scene of Richard Gere in American Gigolo (1980), Bruce Willis in “Color of Night,(1984)” Kevin Bacon in 1998’s “Wild Things” and Geoffrey Rush in 2000’s “Quills.” In short, if you blink, you might miss it. The only other time a penis has gotten significant amounts of air time is when the penis is part of a gag in films like Bruno, the Hangover and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
The easy answer is that this is still a male-dominated business, and men, who consider themselves heterosexual or at least appealing to an assumed largely male heterosexual audience, are more likely to show female nudity. Likewise, because we live in a homophobic and sexist society, no man wants to be accused of being gay for looking at another man’s penis. However there may be some less obvious explanations for why a penis in films is such a cultural taboo.
In general, men have a hard time accepting their penises, as demonstrated in the intriguing 2007 televised UK documentary, My Penis and Everyone Else’s. Despite the outward boasting and joking nature that many men engage in when discussing the male phallic, secretly there are millions, if not billions of men, all across this globe, who are right now worrying about what they have dangling between their legs. Is it long enough? Is it wide enough? Does it hang too far to the left? In short, many fear they don’t measure up. How else would you explain the rather fruitful penis enlargement industry and the success of Magnum condoms, when many men should trade down? Their secret insecurity is often fueled by the obsession we women have with large penises. Hello, we even have songs, which ridicule men, who can’t quite measure up to our anaconda expectations.
The prevalence of Adult Videos, which is usually targeted to men, too has also played a part in the creation of this anxiety as many men, who may compare their own members through a completely distorted lens. Of course, the average penis size in the U.S. falls anywhere between 5 to is 5.9 inches. However America is a melting pot. And in our global places of origins, the penis size falls in various ranges from 3.8 inches in South Korea to all the way up to an enormous 7.1 inches in the Congo. Lord. Have. Mercy. But because of this anxiety, they feel the need to hide the viewing of penises so that women – and of course other men for whom they feel competitiveness with – wouldn’t have anything to compare and contrast.
The thing about sexism is that its victims are not necessarily gender specific. In a male dominated culture in which the value of a man is reduced to two things: his wallet and his member, you could sort of understand how if penises just started appearing just as regularly female body parts and vagina on screen, men may develop a level of body image neurosis women have experienced. However, it might not be such a bad thing to lower the flag pole, pun intended, and have man be reduced to the position that women have always been reduced to. How else can we expect to bring about equality if we still shun and cover our eyes from the last remaining symbol of patriarchy? Plus, I just want to see Idris Elba naked.