This post was originally at Sociology in Focus.
The “perfect penis” recipe = 1 cup of history, 2 tablespoons of stereotype, a dash of Asian male emasculation, add a liberal helping of the fear of Black males. In this post, Bridget Welch sees how men in different racial groups measure up. WARNING: Untrue, offensive, and just plain wrong racial stereotypes ahead.
This is a question my husband regularly asks when I tell him what we talked about in class that day. The question was asked yet again today.
“It was relevant. It was!” is my usual standby (but no less earnest) reply.
“Penis size is NEVER a relevant class topic,” he retorts.
But it is. Oh, how it is.
Flash back to class today. I just finished talking about how sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glennargues that racial and sex identities are social constructions that are relational. In other words, the meanings attached to each normative social position is constructed in opposition to a social position that is demeaned. In this way, white womanhood is constructed as virtuous and normalized through its inherent rejection of black womanhood. Heterosexual is constructed in opposition to the aberrant homosexual. And, as we will discuss in this post, white masculinity is positioned as the optimal manhood in its placement between two extremes — Asian and black masculinity. Prior to explaining how this operates we will first explore how masculinity itself is constructed as the opposite, the repudiation, the rejection, of the feminine.
Men constantly police themselves and each other to make sure that they are acting masculine – in ways that are not “sissy” or “feminine” in anyway. As Michael Kimmelargues, “Our efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. How we walk. What we eat. Every mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender language.” The reason for constant policing, for avoiding any type of behavior that is “feminine” is simply that to be “sissy” is to chance being labeled gay (see C.J. Pascoe’s discussion of the “fag discourse”) and consequently emasculated.
Of course, we all know the obsession with masculinity and penis size. It almost goes without saying or linking to this comedy clip, or the iconic shrinkage episode from Seinfeld, reminding you of Howard Stern’s obsession with his lack of endowment, the new app so you can accurately measure, or Chubby Checker suing over the Chubby Checker, or linking to this article about penis size around the world (most clicked link on this blog ever? Can we do it?!?). The wide scale (badump ba!) assumption is that the more gifted a man is in his pantaloon-region the more manly he is.
Which is interesting when you consider what types of men are stereotyped to have smaller or larger penises. The fact of the matter is that some races are understood to be more masculine – closer to the manly ideal – then are others. To make my point, answer the questions I asked my class today:
“What racial group has the smallest penis?”
I imagine your answer was the same as what my class answered back today (and I mean most of them saying this at the same time): “Asians.”
“What racial group has the largest penis?”
Again, I’m sure you don’t have to search your mind for the answer to this stereotype – “Blacks.”
But here’s the head scratcher… We all “know” this. But how do we “know” this?
In a discussion of Asian male sexuality, Richard Fung [posted here – warning, its an EXCELLENT piece about porn] – points out that historically the Asian male is depicted in the media as someone who “is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism.” We are shown these images repeatedly. From Mr. Miyagi to Long Duk Dong (and everywhere between), the majority of depictions of Asian male sexuality as incompetent, humorous, or lacking all together.
While Fu Manchu batted his eyelashes and appeared the homosexual foil for White men, Black men were portrayed as uncontrollable sex fiends. As Fung quotes Fanon to point out, while the Asian man is gelded, the black man was “turned into a penis.” If men are concerned with being real men, and real men = big penises, isn’t this a positive stereotype?
In this equation, who is left with the Goldilock’s of penises (not too big, not too small, but just right)?
Turns out, not so much. While it’s possible to be too much of a wuss (gay, female, etc.), it is also possible to go too far to the other extreme. The large penises of Black men do not lead to a stereotype of them being manlier, but rather out of control animals. This is nowhere clearer then when watching the white supremacy film Birth of a Nation where Black men were shown as uncontrollable rapists of White women. In fact, Angela Y. Davis points out that it is this view of the black man that is widely utilized post Reconstruction to justify lynching. The logic went that extreme measures were justified as nothing else could control their animalistic hunger.
As we can see, sexual stereotypes are not just about sex. As pointed out by Amy Sueyoshi: “Frequently, when we talk about sex, it’s about moral anxieties about race as well as gender, and it’s all built in.” As penis size relates to our views of masculinity, it should not be surprising that the small penis derives from a history of the feminization of Asian males (making them asexual) and super sausages packed by Black men is a result of hypermasculinization. Both of these stereotypes serve to control the groups they are assigned to and remove or control the threat they present. By categorizing them as not real men, as good companions only, as great at computers but not in bed, Asian males become good friends but “undateable” and thus not a challenge to White male sexuality. Meanwhile, the black male rapist is still part of the rape myth that pervades society today. If black men cannot control their sexuality, they are little better than animals and arejustifiably watched, policed, and incarcerated.
In this equation, who is left with the Goldilock’s of penises (not too big, not too small, but just right)? The white male – Available to date at a mall near you.