Male genitalia and ideas of power

One outcome of the imbalance in social, political and cultural power between the genders is that our cultural landscape is tainted with false myths around sexuality.

When it comes to sexual anatomy, some of these myths have to do with seeing a vagina as something more sacred, erotic and gentle than a penis. A penis on the other hand is seen as a symbol of enabling dominant power. At best. At worst, it is seen as a violent weapon with larger-than-life powers. (This is despite that male genitals are perhaps the most sensitive of all human body parts.)

Furthermore, or perhaps therefore, disturbing amounts of women don’t find the male sex visually attractive. Depending on their sexual preferences they may like how it feels but not how it looks. This problematic reality is due to the penis being symbolically linked to gendered power by men over women, aided in modern society through sexist phallocentric mass media images etc. It is difficult for many women to be attracted to something that they are constantly being told, however subtly, represents dominance over them.

This is not to say that power, submission and sexuality never go hand in hand – for many, these combinations are perfectly natural pleasures. Nor is it to say that sex is the only way that dominant masculinity is constructed. It is certainly not to suggest that there isn’t a real link between male sexuality and violence. Especially women and men who have experienced rape and sexual violence know this fact all too well.

Rather, it is to say that to continue to link male genitalia with patriarchal power is psychosexually destructive, and to change that we need to resist the idea that the male sex does not embody sensuality, beauty and love, whether in hard or soft form. Furthermore, as African masculinity is especially constructed as hypersexualized, lewd and extraordinarily potent we must realize that these often-colonial racist assumptions and myths cause a real communication breakdown in our communities.

To not link masculine power to big dicks and virility is to revolutionize sexual relations in society.  To not revolve manhood around sex is to open the rigid boxes that define our gendered identities. To find a relaxed penis erotic can be a sexual awakening for heterosexual women. To not internalize patriarchal ideas of male sexual aggression to the point where a penis is no longer a neutral, albeit sexual human organ but a symbol of domination is a humanist feminist act.



  • Robbie

    Fantastic forward thinking ms Afropolitan – revolutionary!!!! :)
    In a course on race and colonialism. i’d do a race,gender, sexuality lecture close to the beginning of the term. I used to put up 2 pictures on the lecture screen:


    and i’d ask (a majority white student audience) who was blacker.
    one time, a white older woman said enthusiastically “That one!!!” (guess which she pointed I asked why, and she got shy and said she didn’t want to say.
    Now, instead, I’ll give them this blog entry!!!!
    although this term, i’m going to give them this too:,9171,1000625,00.html
    interestingly, although its a good article, white men are not really added to the equation. what a tangled web the patriarchal-colonial psyche weaves.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Robbie! What an honour it will be to have your students read my piece.

      The lecture sounds fantastic, I love to hear of this kind of engaging and conscientious teaching. Must be quite telling with the responses… Does anyone say Biko?? Not that either is blacker, eh… What is black? Can it be measured? And by what? (thinking out loud)

      Thanks for the article link, will read it as soon as I get a minute.

  • Olivier Ongotha

     ” It is difficult for many women to be attracted to something that they are constantly being told however subtly represents dominance over them” 
    I knew that for some women our sex looks weird, but that link it’s new for me. I assume that it’s make sense on woman life experience. As a man I don’t see how we can define our identity without the competition “I’m bigger than x”; even if I do not agree with the eternal competition between us. our education is about strength,competition and no place for weakness. A man who are not able to compete is not a “real guy” for the others  being “shy” is the latest level before being “gay” and gay are not “real men”. That’s the message sent to us by our education and the world we live in. And it’s not only about the bigger dick, it’s about all : the coolest work, the faster car, the bigger house, etc … being able to define ourselves without that is a really challenging work (…)

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for sharing thoughts Olivier. We need to radically transform educational systems don’t we? Which refers back to Robbie’s comment as that’s what’s happening in his lectures.
      Ideally we would discuss masculinity, femininity, power and such things already at a young age with boys and girls.

      I guess that’s why they say fast fancy cars are sometimes “penis extensions”. And why we encourage women to be more visually attracted to man’s vehicle than his nudity! It’s indeed a competitive and confining box that allows little space for love and progress of the mind and spirit.

      I think you’ll enjoy this TED speech by Tony Porter if you haven’t seen it yet

      • Olivier Ongotha

        you’re welcome and thanks for the Tony Porter speech. it is really great, and Robbie’s comment is ” the story of our life” as black people :-)
        Indeed we need to change/discuss educationnal system to raise more confident people. define ourself by our own beliefs and experience without understimate others -no matter of gender- could lead us to a greater life experience.
        As a black/African man the identity question is also a big issue, we need more social references of what is being black nowadays and i mean positive references. however the identity issue is also an opportunity for each of us to look back our roots and combine them with our contemporary world…

  • Anna Renee

    Wow! Sister you are truly pushing the envelope and treading on new ground. I know MANY black feminists who would not be able to handle what you’re talking about in the least. They are too invested in the “black man as patriarchal control” model.

    But what you’re talking about in this piece, the inherent beauty and sensuality of the penis is where we need to go in order to reclaim our full humanity. Men are taught to disassociate their emotions from their sexuality and from their body. I say men are suffering untold psychic, emotional pain from this.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hey, thank you sis. Indeed, we need to be able to do both..see the patriarchy but also the humanity, and even of those men who practice patriarchy even as we don’t enable them to “do” patriarchy with us.
      We should see and address the sexual misogyny but also the sensuality. We see the phallocentric images we are sold, that sexualize the oppression of women, but we still understand that those projections aren’t *real*.
      The feminist struggle must be located somewhere in the middle, in the balance, with focus equality = love. I find that in that space there is even more determination because there is less risk of disappointment and the motivation to do the work comes from a place where ones own identity is not depending on patriarchy to change, to accept, to undermine etc. as it very well might not.

  • Naomi Mc

    This is a great point. I know plenty of feminists who see women giving men a blowjob “degrading” as they see it as female submission to a man. Clearly, in the vast majority of (non-porn) instances, it is the giver of the blowjob in control of this situation!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the comment Naomi.
      I think the power can be and often still is in the receiver of the blowjob as long as the penis is seen as a power symbol. What do you think?
      The feminist act is when the penis is no longer a power symbol and a heterosexual female can enjoy being the giver because it doesn’t subordinate her.

      • Naomi Mc

        I agree and agree that a lot of this is in our own mindset as well. Addressing power is not just something we do with legislation and voting, its something we do in our lives and relationships.

        It is obvious why some women feel a blowjob is a method of subordination, because we’re told it! “Suck my dick”, “Cocksucker” are about denigrating someone who does that (heterosexual women and gay men). Despite the fact that it is (can be!) an enjoyable experience for all involved, power has to come along and make it something malevolent.

        Another example of how men can and do benefit from feminism.

        • MsAfropolitan

          “Addressing power is not just something we do with legislation and voting, its something we do in our lives and relationships.”


  • MarinaS

    That’s a very interesting thought and I fully agree that it’s something to think about; however I would dispute that the fact of few women finding the penis inherently erotic is a result of subliminal rejection. What is and is not considered erotic is driven almost entirely by the male gaze; and, being intensely homophobic, this view dictates that male bodies in modernity are not legitimate locii of beauty and erotocism, investing instead the sexual power of attraction almost exclusively in the female form. A simple look through a magazine with ads in it will illustrate this point, which I’m sure I do not need to belabour.

    In this context the penis assumed a position not so much of ugliness as irrelevance; it is frankly indifferent to the patriarchal model of sexual relations whether women have any authentic sexuality of their own at all (in fact if anything it tends to dictate that they don’t), let alone whether they find any specific male body part attractive.

    If anything, the larger reserves of revulsion and vitriol in our culture are reserved for the vuvla, in a series of phenomena from FGM to Brazilian waxing which again I’m sure I don’t need to belabour in this forum.

    Again, I completely agree that it is an act of humanity to accept and celebrate all bodies and parts of bodies; but as with Hugo Schwytzer’s argument that facials are acts of ultimate acceptance of the male by the recipient, I think the mainstream of feminist energy should still be channelled into freeing the bodies of *women* from their purely instrumental gilded cage.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for sharing, that’s a great point you raise. I think that whilst it is unquestionably vital to keep challenging the way patriarchy imprisons and disempowers women’s sexuality and relationships to our bodies, it is just as important to change the way we view the male body.
      Women may go out and challenge the media, politics, sports etc but then come home to a lover whose body represents to her what she is challenging. There’s a disturbing disconnect in that.
      To me it has been absolutely necessary to de-associate patriarchal ideas of male sexuality in my relationships or I could not have them. It is a feminist act and an important one in the stage of becoming unpatriarchal.

  • Shan

    I welcome the pioneering thinking here, and agree with much of it, but seriously disagree with other points. I should make clear I have worked on and off around sexuality/ spirituality for both women and`men in their own right going back to 1980.

    It is indeed important that we go beyond the very limited ideas we have about the penis as dominator and aggressor. I welcome Minna Salami’s wonderful statement “male genitals are perhaps the most sensitive of all human body parts.” Also “we need to resist the idea that the male sex does not embody sensuality, beauty and love, whether in hard or soft form.”

    To encourage a man to unfold his delicacy and sensitivity as a lover is, paradoxically to help him release his full strength and vigour. To suppress one side is to strangle the other because the freer he feels to move around the sexual range the better.

    But I do not support this: “to continue to link male genitalia with patriarchal power is psychosexually destructive.” No, to recognise the link is simple truth. Penises are frequently misused to enforce patriarchal terror. That builds their symbolism in our minds as dominating and aggressive.

    Just as women are not always or even typically nurturing and passive lovers, neither are men one way or the other. Though I’d hazard a `guess that the number of beautiful men who can be both sensitive, vulnerable and delicately skilled as lovers is far less than the number of loutish bullies. I’d think this is so If only because men can usually, frequently get away with being lazy and bullying. Many/ most know no different and it takes a`lot for women to challenge them and train them. That normally requires the woman to be financially independent, developed in her confidence, and to know that it is even possible for men to be otherwise than they generally are. There are lovers and now sons of feminist parents beginning to appear thank heavens.

    By all means yes please let us`celebrate the delicate penis. Smooth, soft, responsive, playful, as well as rampant and lordly. But that should not dodge the dangerous penises out there.

    Oh and I do not agree that it is disturbing that many/ most women do not find a penis pretty to look at. Some may disagree but I don’t find its glory in what it looks like. Cute, yes, fascinating yes, scary yes, irresistible yes, pretty no. But then when I was with women lovers I did not find their, or my, genitals pretty either, though to me both kinds are`sacred and powerful.
    My point is`that whether we find our sex equipment attractive to look at needn’t be a feminist issue.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the comment, appreciate the engaging response.
      Yes, you’re right to say that penises are misused to enforce patriarchal terror, but as you point out this builds a symbolism… symbolism can – and should -be undone if a relationship is to be egalitarian. Strip off the social idea of patriarchy, the penis is erotic, sensual.
      This post was an elaboration of this, seperate but not disconnected from the “dangerous penises out there”. A feminist mind can observe both.
      If it can’t then if heterosexual a serious conundrum arises. If the penis must always be linked to patriarchy then to express desire would be to express desire for patriarchy.

      The last paragraph in your comment is your truth, not mine and there is no universal take on this. However, to find in one way or another one’s lover attractive does not seem too farfetched of an idea to put out there. If that’s the case, then the penis of one’s lover as undesirable aesthetically strikes me as odd. To see the handsomeness of it may require to detach it from power and social conditioning.