Thursday, September 24, 2009

Private Parts on the Silver Screen

In the Private Parts section of Men's Bodies, the author chronicles the gradual exposure of the repressed penis. In describing the "coming out" of the penis through the 1990s, the author cites The Crying Game as one of the first films in which a penis is seen close up on the silver screen. But wait- it's on a woman's body! This was no doubt shocking to viewers who were not used to seeing the male reproductive organ at the theaters, and on a woman's body nonetheless!

According to the author, "it was as though the repressed had decided to erupt with a vengeance, straight from the collective unconscious, in all its most disturbing, marginal, anxiety-laden forms."

Indeed, this image must have disturbed millions by shaking their previously conceived notions of gender.

Shortly after this movie was released, the infamous case of John Bobbit, whose wife decided to cut off his penis, came to media attention.

Indeed, the penis finally came out and about after years of repression, albeit in a disturbing, shocking manner.

Now, over 10 years later, the penis seems to be all over the silver screen. Whether it is displayed dismembered and brutalized such as in the film Teeth, or in a comical or obnoxious manner such as Scary Movie or Bruno, movie makers are having less and less qualms about showing penises in their films; in turn, us viewers are being desensitized to what was once a forbidden and mysterious object (at least to us girls). However, the manner in which penises are portrayed is, of course, problematic (in the previous examples, brutalized or obnoxious isn't exactly an accurate depiction of the male sex organ). Further, the fact that in Teeth it is seen as a symbol of sexual violence that can only be stopped by cutting off the penis (rather than, say, educating the man on why sexual assault is bad) perpetuates the stereotype that the penis has a mind of its own, and that, indeed, "men think with their penises."

However problematic these depictions may be, at least the penis has "come out of its closet" as a body part in which its existence is no longer repressed. On the other hand, the vagina is an organ that is still very much repressed. Even in the movie Teeth in which the protagonist is empowered by her toothed vagina which she uses to castrate the men who rape her (I know, this is problematic), we never actually get to see her vagina. But we do see a hell of a lot of penis. Currently, I do not know of any movies that show the nude vagina. Do any of you?

In conclusion, while the penis has seemed to come out of its shell as a reproductive organ that is no longer repressed as "dirty" or "gross," the vagina is still very much repressed, at least in the evidence of the absence of its image from movies. Maybe it will just take a bit more time for the vagina to come out of its shell as another body part that no longer needs to be repressed?

(I could talk more about The Vagina Monologues and personal vagina-related anecdotes here, but this is a masculinities class, after all).

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