Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Against Penis-Size Shaming

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on March 4, 2015

I’ve seen a lot of links going round over the last day or two to this study, or to newspaper reports of it. It’s a meta-analysis of various studies of the size of the human penis, and utterly unsurprisingly it comes to the same conclusions as every study on the subject ever. My knowledge of the subject comes mostly from Richard Herring’s book Talking Cock from around 12 years ago, but the numbers he cites in there seem to match those (9cm flaccid, 13cm erect) in the study to as close as makes no difference.
The reason for doing this study was, apparently, because many penis-owning people(*) worry about the size of their penis to the point of developing body dysmorphic disorder about it — where they’re convinced to the point of obsession that they have a tiny penis even when it’s normal sized. The study’s authors hope that by putting accurate information out, they will help prevent this worry in some cases.
I suspect this is a futile hope. The information has been out there for years, and I suspect it’s made little or no difference to those people.
In part, this is understandable simply as a function of the existence of clothing. Most body-image worries have to correlate somewhat with reality — if I think I am fat, I can look at all the people around me, see that maybe one in fifty has the same kind of huge, pendulous, belly that I do, and think “OK, I’m probably in the fattest two percent or so of the population”. That might not be a pleasant thought (while I’m a proponent of body positivity, I’m not so good at not internalising the fat-hatred so prevalent in our society), but it’s not a *worrying* thought, it’s not a thought that causes anxiety, because it’s a known factor.
And what seems to cause anxiety in most people is not knowing important things — “does he really like me?” “is my boss looking for reasons to sack me?” “is there a terrorist on the plane?” “is my husband having an affair?” — it’s the element of unsureness that does it, or at least contributes a lot to it.
And in the case of penis size, unlike other body image problems, most people who are worried have no way of knowing for sure where they are on the scale, because very few people see enough penises in the course of their lives that they have the same kind of statistical sampling that you can get on fatness by just looking around the office.
So it’s possible that the study will reassure those people a little (although the two percent who really do have significantly smaller penises might be feeling mortified), though having anxiety myself (though not on this particular subject) I can imagine the thought processes that will immediately dismiss the data that conflicts with the fixed ideation.
But you know what would make much more of a contribution to curing those people’s anxiety? Not teaching people that having a small penis is something shameful.
This isn’t an issue I was really aware of until I read Talking Cock, the book I mentioned above, but it’s quite shocking reading the anecdotes Herring collected about people feeling suicidal over what is, or should be, a complete irrelevance. Reading his book, it’s clear that there are a LOT of people suffering in silence, ashamed of a body part they can’t change.
Although why this should be a surprise to me when roughly 80% of the spam that gets sent out is offers to increase penis size I don’t know. (Wait… everyone else does get that too, right? It’s not just me? Oh God…)
But I think the single biggest contributor to this anxiety and stress is the fact that we tell people, all the time, that having a small penis is a shameful thing. There’s a horrible pop-Freudian idea that awful men are awful because they’re “compensating” for having a small penis. So we get people saying of Jeremy Clarkson “he must have a tiny cock”, or calling Richard Littlejohn “Richard Littlecock”, or sharing images saying that fat-shaming men “are too tiny to satisfy a big woman anyway”, or whatever. (NB I’m not singling out any one individual for saying this stuff, because it’s absolutely endemic in our culture).
Now, firstly, I think these things are probably wrong — I don’t think Richard Littlejohn or Jeremy Clarkson’s problem is *insecurity*, I think their problem is that they have never in their life felt insecure about anything. I think a little insecurity might give those men enough empathy that the opinions they are paid to have might be less harmful…
But either that pop-Freudianism is right (though why it would be when Freudianism has roughly the evidence base of homeopathy, I don’t know), in which case by encouraging the idea that having a small penis is shameful you’re making people more likely to turn into Clarkson or Littlejohn, which seems counterproductive, or it’s a load of crap, in which case you’re saying that Clarkson and Littlejohn are like that because of a physical attribute shared by millions of completely harmless people *who already feel bad about that attribute and are completely unable to do anything to change it*.
When people say Eric Pickles or John Prescott are horrible because they’re fat, they rightly get jumped on because there are millions of non-horrible fat people, and we at least have actual evidence that those men are indeed fat. I have no knowledge whatsoever of Richard Littlejohn’s penis (and I am eternally grateful for the fact), but it’s considered OK even among feminist, liberal, anti-body-shaming people to claim that his horrible behaviour is the result of an unrelated physical attribute.
And this shamefulness is so deep-rooted in our attitudes that even in writing this I’ve thought, dozens of times, “Oh God, what if what I’m writing makes me sound like I’m someone with a tiny penis? People will think that’s the only reason anyone could care about it! Everyone will make fun of me for saying this!”
Which is ludicrous. I’ve written enough about not shaming people for their bodies, and enough about issues that don’t affect me on a personal level like trans rights, that anyone reading this blog for any length of time will know that I try to defend anyone being bullied, and yet I still have this very real fear that I am making myself a target with this post. I literally can’t imagine how terrifying it would be for someone who was single (and so worried that their penis size would affect them finding a partner) or who cared even slightly about their appearance (as anyone who’s met me knows I don’t).

I don’t really have a conclusion here, except “if people being ashamed about their penises is bad enough to become a genuine medical problem that needs research, maybe stop making them feel worse about them?”

Oh, and one final thing I shouldn’t have to say, but given the response to some of my anti-TERF posts recently I probably do — this post should NOT be taken as IN ANY WAY endorsing “men’s rights” arseholes. It is possible to care about an issue that primarily affects men while still thinking that overall women have things worse, and that the problem is in fact a symptom of horrible patriarchal thinking. Comments from MRArseholes will not be allowed through, and their IP addresses will be added to the spam filter.

(*) There is no good way to talk about this subject without either referring throughout to “men” (and thus excluding those people who have penises but don’t identify as men) or to “people” (and thus *including* a rather larger group of people who have no penises and shouldn’t be included) — phrases like “penis-owners” just make the sentences they’re in come off as ridiculous. I’ve chosen to use “people” throughout but to acknowledge this here, as the least worst of a bunch of bad options).

Linkblogging For 02/03/15

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on March 3, 2015

OK, no, I’m not really going to keep the clickbait headlines up.
No proper post tonight, because I’ve spent my writing time working on a thing Simon Bucher-Jones asked me to do. That will hopefully be up in a little while, once I’ve finished it (if he likes it. It’s… grown a bit from the original brief. If he doesn’t, I’ll post it here).

So today, you get links.

The Locksley Exploit, by Philip Purser-Hallard (the second volume of the Devices trilogy) is out today as an ebook, though so far only on Google Play. Buy it.

Abigail Nussbaum links to her Hugo ballot choices for short fiction. I’m going to read all these, especially the novelettes and novellas, to see if there’s anything that can go in my own nominations.

Martin Wisse on the way female authors are written out of histories of SF

If you put a gorilla in CT scan photographs, radiologists won’t notice it

Feminist Aspie on the Disability Day of Mourning

No, gerbils didn’t cause the plague

Your HR Department Hates You

What it means that James Bond is now public domain in Canada

Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People

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Why Batman Links Will Change Your Life

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on March 2, 2015

I can already see this clickbait-headings thing was a terrible, terrible idea. Still, I said I’d give it a week…
This week’s Batposts are on two fairly awful stories. Over on Patreon, for those lovely lovely people who like giving me money, my look at False-Face’s only appearance, while on Mindless Ones, for the poor, the stingy, and the not-interested-enough-to pay-for-my-ramblings alike, there’s my look at the second Riddler story.

Clickbait Experiment Taboos You Should Break

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on March 1, 2015

Inspired by a link Jennie Rigg posted, I’m going to try something for the next week or two. I’m going to see if using clickbait headlines — while changing nothing else about the posts — causes my blog traffic to go up, down, or stay the same.
I suspect that if anything, the traffic will go down — that people who read my blog don’t like clickbaity headlines, and that other people still won’t come to the blog — but it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I have a mental block about doing anything that seems like promoting my writing, because basically it makes me feel low-status and rather soiled — experimenting this way might be a good way to let me find real ways in which I can promote my writing.
What I’m going to do is write each blog post as normal, then enter a one- or two-word summary (in the case of this post it will be “clickbait experiment”) into this clickbait headline generator, and keep generating random headlines til it hits one that will work (so for example in this post I won’t accept anything with “ten best ways to…” in, because it makes no sense for the post). When it’s something like the Cal Dreaming posts, which have a standard naming scheme, I’ll put that in brackets after the main headline.
Do tell me if you find this annoying, or funny, or whatever, but I’ll keep doing it at least a week, and almost certainly no longer than two weeks.

Also, a note to my Patreons — I didn’t make my 20,000 word target in February, because the shortest month of the year coincided with a particularly bad one for my health. I intend to make this up by doing at least 30,000 words this month, and if I don’t hit that target I’ll take no payments for March.

Batpost later tonight.

California Dreaming: Triad

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on February 26, 2015

The Byrds were clearly splitting up.

There was a three-way split in the band, as summer 1967 reached its peak. On one side was David Crosby, who believed himself the real talent in the band. Crosby’s most recent contribution to the band had been the flop single Lady Friend, but he still thought himself the best songwriter of the bunch, and was convinced the other band members were trying to keep his material off the albums because of jealousy. Anyway, he wasn’t entirely sure that there was as much need for people to be in bands as there had been — why couldn’t everyone just hang out, and play on each other’s records, and not let their egos get in the way?

Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and the band’s producer Gary Usher, certainly thought that egos were a problem, but weren’t quite sure that Crosby had seen the beam in his own eye. They were concerned by the lack of success the band had had with their recent singles, and wanted to find some way to have a hit record again, though ideally while expanding the band’s sound. McGuinn and Hillman also thought that Crosby hanging round with Buffalo Springfield and Jefferson Airplane, and giving them ideas, was counterproductive — what did the Byrds get out of it if Crosby sat in with Buffalo Springfield?

The third faction was the most easily disposed-of. Michael Clarke had never been the greatest drummer in the world, having been hired primarily for his Brian Jones-esque looks rather than his drumming ability, but when the band got together in August 1967 to record three new Crosby songs, he was not even playing as well as he was able, at least to Crosby’s ears. In the row that resulted from Crosby patronising Clarke about his abilities, Clarke admitted that he hated the new material, and that he was only in the band for the money. The other members jokingly threatened to replace him with Hal Blaine, and he called their bluff [FOOTNOTE Parts of this argument can be heard as a hidden track on the CD version of The Notorious Byrd Brothers]. While Clarke would remain a band member until after the album was released, most of the drum parts on the record would be played by Blaine or Jim Gordon.

One of the songs they were recording was Crosby’s Triad. Crosby had developed a fascination with the science fiction novel Stranger In A Strange Land, by the right-libertarian author Robert A. Heinlein. After spending most of the 50s writing childrens’ novels and books about how we needed to nuke space-Commies with space-nukes, the late 50s and 60s saw Heinlein instead start to transition into a writer who appealed to the nascent counterculture with its beliefs about free love; themes of his later works (whose heroes were usually either inventors or science fiction writers who agreed with Heinlein about everything) included having sex with gender-swapped clones of oneself, geting one’s *own* gender swapped before going back in time to have sex with oneself (and then going further back to give birth to oneself), going back in time to have sex with one’s mother and become one’s own father, going forward in time to a point where the twelve-year-old girl you fancy is legal…well, you get the idea.

That last mentioned book, 1957’s The Door Into Summer, was the subject of a song on the album the Monkees were recording at the same time as the Byrds were doing their recording, but the novel Crosby based his song on was rather more respected and influential — indeed at least one religion (the Church of All Worlds) is based on the philosophy outlined in the novel, and it’s arguable that its depiction of group marriages has been a huge influence on the modern movement of polyamory.

And it’s the group marriages that influenced Crosby, too. Two years earlier he had tried to write a song about the book as a whole, but the band had rejected it. This time, his song just used a few phrases from the book (“sister lovers”, “water brothers”) in a lyric directed at two women (supposedly two real lovers of Crosby at the time) asking them if the three of them could be in a group relationship — “why can’t we go on as three?”

Unfortunately, while Heinlein’s sexual politics was progressive for the early 1960s, it was extremely dodgy by modern standards, and so is Crosby’s lyric — the protagonist of the song clearly thinks that the only reason the two women he’s talking to might not want to enter into a three-way relationship is because they are hidebound by convention, they’re afraid of what their mothers would say, or that they just weren’t as much of an enlightened soul as the singer. He thinks he’s on another, higher, plane from them, and is talking down to them in a ridiculously patronising way, while trying to persuade them to live out his “two girls for every boy” fantasy in a rather sleazy, desparate, way. If it was meant as a satire of the way “free love” in a patriarchical society can often shore up male privilege and entitlement, it would have been a viciously pointed, biting one — but Crosby was apparently entirely serious. [FOOTNOTE: None of which should be taken as a criticism of polyamory as a way of living or being, just of sleazy men who think that wanting to go to bed with two women at once makes them a pure enlightened being.]

While Hillman and McGuinn worked on the track, neither wanted the song released. There is still debate as to why — Crosby says that the other two were jealous of his talent and wanted to keep his songs off the album, and that they were scared of releasing something so provocative. McGuinn and Hillman both claim that they just didn’t think the song was very good. Crosby eventually gave the song to the Jefferson Airplane, whose version, with Grace Slick on vocals, gender-swapped the protagonist and thus made it rather more palatable than the Byrds’ version.

The band did record three more of Crosby’s songs (with co-writing credit given to McGuinn and Hillman) for the album, but Crosby became incensed when Gary Usher brought in the Goffin/King song Goin’ Back, a song Usher had suggested to another act he produced, Chad & Jeremy, and had brought to the Byrds when they’d rejected it. While McGuinn and Michael Clarke liked the song, and Hillman could take it or leave it, Crosby loathed it, thinking Brill Building pop the antithesis of everything that the hip, cool, rock scene should be doing. He refused to have anything to do with the song, and McGuinn and Hillman recorded it with Jim Gordon.

By October, McGuinn and Hillman had decided it was simply impossible to work with Crosby any further, and drove to his house to tell him. Crosby, in the end, still wanted to be in the band, telling them “we could make great music together”, to which McGuinn apparently replied “Yeah, and we can make great music without you.”

The album that would be Notorious Byrd Brothers was not even half done at this point, and so McGuinn, Hillman, and Usher put together the rest of the album with the help of Wrecking Crew members, country guitarist Clarence White, Usher’s friend Curt Boettcher covering the harmony parts Crosby would have done, and a briefly-returning Gene Clark (who left again after contributing to a couple of tracks, making this the last album to feature all five original Byrds, though never on the same track), along with Moog overdubs courtesy of Paul Beaver (fresh from providing the same service on the Monkees’ latest album). The album cover showed the three remaining members of the band looking out of stable windows, with a horse’s head where Crosby’s would have been.

By the time the album was released, Michael Clarke, too, was out of the band. The Byrds were down to a duo, and David Crosby was looking for new projects…

David Crosby
Line-up: David Crosby (guitar, vocals), Roger McGuinn (guitar), Chris Hillman (bass), Jim Gordon (drums)
Original release: Never Before, the Byrds, Preflyte LP A21143
Currently available on: Notorious Byrd Brothers Columbia/Legacy CD


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