bedknobs & broomsticks & scary vaginas

I’m going to put it out there – vaginas do not look like penises. I really want to refrain from fuelling the male ego, but growing up I think I had penis envy. I was always a pretty curious child, and I grew up with a computer in the house, so I could say I made up for not having any boys in the house.  I remember having this dream, at around six or seven years old, where all my childhood friends grew penises. It was a vivid one. We were comparing shapes and sizes, and mine was red and stocky like a yam. It was easy to hold, great grip, and pretty light – basically what you look for in the perfect hairdryer !(although on reflection hairdryers work to get stuff out of your hair, not the other way around).

I must have woken up feeling pretty disappointed that morning, at six or seven years old, to find out that in place something between my legs I had nothing. And I think that is how a lot of girls and women relate to their genitalia, as a lack of something rather than the presence of something else.

We are living in a totally phallic world. For some reason, even the most convincingly heterosexual and self-referent ‘womanisers’ are obsessed with the phallic silhouette and the many shapes it can take, even when it is not their own. What is even more interesting is that the phallic object is usually always detached from any sort of corporeal existence. I can only sit and count the times that I gazed attentively at the delicate outlines of the many severed dick-doodles which floated vacuously, almost as if presiding in a ‘school-boy’s limbo’, on the desks of my classroom. The penis has always occupied an extremely important place in our visual culture, either by pathological repetition or sombre remission. Even with those sumptuous curls, those narrow, muscular hips – the best-seller at any cheap Florentine souvenir shop is some sort of homage to the David‘s cock… sometimes carefully reproduced in miniature or in other cases tastefully captured on a kitchen apron. It’s no surprise, yet no less intriguing, that that class of souvenirs is almost exclusively sought out by men.

The image of a penis can take on many diverse roles in our society – humorous, offensive, pornographic even – but never a symbol of desire, lust or romance. The most obvious explanation for this is that our visual culture has been dedicated to a male, heterosexual vision of sex & sexuality. The female body is, as all western art history suggests, a vessel subject to the male gaze which is devoid of any personal desire. The male body on the other hand, has agency which extends beyond sex – his genitals merely an extension of this and are therefore not objectified.

It does not surprise me, then, is why there weren’t any reliable images of vaginas for me to look at when I was growing up. Our sexuality is fettered to the act of penetration, which is in all its intents and purposes an exclusively male vision… Infant boys touch their penises almost as soon as they learn how to make a fist, which allows for an instant connection between hand and body, body and mind. However, most girls don’t even know how deep their vagina goes… if I throw a coin in there will it drop out the other side?

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