Recently, acclaimed fashion designer Rick Owens [let’s be honest, I’d never heard of him before either], drew attention, astonishment and some ire from the indignant masses of the internet-bound public for sending out some of his androgynous, handsome and emaciated male models in garments that were cut right up about to the crotch, which meant that some ‘peen’ was slightly visible when said skinny-boy models trounced and hoofed down the runway. Slightly NSFW pics below.
Aforementioned ‘peen’ was briefly visible, sometimes dangling through the finely delicate folds of what is I’m sure very expensive material. I won’t lie, it was an oddly beautiful, unexpected display of male objectivity. A nice change if you will from the constant barrage of female bits on display everywhere one looks. Objectifying women is somehow acceptable as of course media is run by the SWM [Straight White Man], but once a man is sexually objectified, the floodgates are let loose. The blasé and uninterested looks on the chiseled-featured and hungry looking model’s faces as they purposely and confidently strode down the catwalk, combined with the flash of a bouncy dick was in a strange way attractive. Heroin chic mixed with a bit of kielbasa. Also, the scenario of male nudity in such a public space is always something that I find oddly fascinating. But of course, I’m gay so any tidbit of a sausage and two veg will get me excited.
Articles then made the rounds, were shared and discussed [most vehemently] in the most modern agora of discourse: social media. I myself shared an article about this show with a small comment relaying to how I’m looking forward to this ‘peeping penis’ look trickling down to the high street fashion retailers like Top Shop for next season. Much of the feedback of course was negative. Much of this negativity was linked with the penis being an inherently unattractive body part, something that should be tucked away, hidden and harmless, and not out for show.
Why is this? The penis itself is traditionally viewed as an instrument both of masculine virility yet also revilement. A dichotomy of sexual potency as well as potential violence. Going back through the annals of history, the penis has connotations with phallic symbology and discourse such as swords, knives and other instruments of violence. Closer to the present time and we get ‘Penis Envy’, where a man’s junk is an object to be both desired, coveted and yet reviled at the same time. Gay men whose main concerns sexually are the size of one’s business end are commonly referred to as ‘Size Queens’. Even more extreme is anti-nuclear proliferation proselytiser Helen Caldicott’s ‘Missile Envy’, which takes the concept of Penis Envy to an utmost exaggeration where both sides in the Cold War competed to build bigger, taller and more potently destructive missiles, a theory which was associated back to male strength and superiority in the Patriarchal-run world we live in.
So. We’ve all grown up with the penis being something associated with strength, virility as well as violence, and more importantly, underlining disgust.
In this case, it was a case of subtlety in context of fashion. Said penis was, like was stated in a recent Dazed And Confused article which can be read here, quote: ‘Discreet, tucked away, quiet – these aren’t the thrusting phalluses from Tom of Finland. Nor are they the cheery, candy-coloured penis shoes of Walter Van Beirendonck. And they’re most definitely not the questionable bulge of Justin Bieber’s Calvin Klein campaign.’
Enter the many comments, posts and shares with many a pun based on the good old reliable Dick Joke. It’s funny how the penis can be such a punchline for low-brow humour. And also how physically, without the constraints of underwear to hold everything in place, just how hilarious a penis looks bobbing up and down flaccid. As is evinced by all at the Rick Owens show.
Why is this the case? Does the penis have to be forever erect in order to be feared or respected? Visual imagery of the phallus has gone through many changes in history. Rick Owens himself responded to the complete shitfight that erupted about the little dick slips in his show. He puts it best when he stated: “I pass classical marble statues of nude and draped figures in the park every day, and they are a vision of sensuality — yes, but also of grace and freedom. As a participant in one of our most progressive aesthetic arenas, am I not allowed to use this imagery? Is it only appropriate for a Michael Fassbender movie? I thought this might be an interesting question.”
He’s absolutely correct. The penis or even just the hint of one is enough to get us all in a frenzy. Yet despite this it can’t be denied that the nude male form is one of beauty, admiration and sensuality, as Rick Owen stated.
Women have forever taken the brunt of sexually objective imagery and have always been the objects of the male gaze. Titillated over by men, stripped down bare and reduced to little more than sexualised imagery for the gratification of said men. They are forever the receivers of validation in our male-run, sexualised and sex obsessed culture. Why, then, was such a furore caused by just a subtle peek of peen? How many instances of female objectification occur on a day-to-day basis with barely any comment by media, traditional or social or otherwise, in comparison to examples of men being objectified? Let’s not forget the case of Halle Berry displaying her goods for a purported seven-figure sum for a diabolically terrible action film. this was of course a big deal for the time. Yet of course, it was made bigger due to the want and desire of the male gaze to see Halle Berry bare at any price. Or, as I was told by a fellow on Grindr who had a good point, characters getting their bits out on Girls, or the rampant sex and violence we see in shows like Game Of Thrones. Yes, Game Of Thrones differs slightly in terms of male nudity, yet it is always the female naked form which takes centre stage. Examples of male objectification are much more underground and generally not quite as high-profile.
The answer is, the male form and masculinity cannot be an endpoint of desire to be viewed as a proprietary sexualised identity. The man is a predominant figure in our society and must be seen as authoritative and strong. The male is seen forever as the giver, the active side whereas the female is the submissive receiver in this symbiosis. Can this change? Can the male form be seen as a touchstone of tenderness, softness and sensuality, without the need to militarise it in context of strength and dominance?
To me, what this fashion designer did was both not that crazy; not even that controversial, yet also a right step in the correct direction. Is a small amount of male nudity enough to really get people so riled up? Is our society reverting back to an approximation of the Victorian era, wherein social mores, values and ideals were stifling and stuffy? Is sexual and gender identity to be yet again repressed and banished from mainstream discourse? More male objectification needs to occur. The male body is a thing of beauty, grace and a virile raw strength, and yes, the penis is a part of that. Like ’em or not, dicks are here to stay, and to me both sexes should be objectified equally or not at all.
Male objectification seems to be a continually and cyclically touchy and controversial subject, something that I feel will take quite a long time for any change to occur, if it ever does. People’s perceptions to public dick doesn’t look to change any time soon, and will continually be viewed in twin frameworks of humour or revilement; yet as my friend on Grindr said to me, ‘it’s time to #freethepeen!’