On Phallic Masculinity and the Trouble with Being Hard All the Time

An erection that lasts longer than four hours is a medical problem and yet some men act hard their entire lives.

I would like to believe that there is more to being a man than acting like a dick but I am unfortunately unable to reach this conclusion.

If sex is the same as gender (i.e., if penis = male = man and vagina = female = woman), then being a man or a woman is based in acting like genitals. This notion is of course perverse and absurd but so is the fact that you can see someone get killed on American television but you cannot see nudity.

We are a sick society that considers bodies to be more dangerous and less appropriate than violence. How is it that our nakedness is more threatening than our destruction? (Hint: the answer begins with a P and rhymes with -uritanism.)

Glans refers to both the head of the penis and a Latin word for bullet. Guns stay hard and shoot loads but our guts churn softly.

Bones and weapons are the only things that persist in the fossil record and from this we assume violence of our ancestors when in reality their soft guts and nervous systems contained the meaning of their existence before being (re)absorbed by Mother Earth.

We live in a phallic culture where softness is negated in deference to a perverse notion of perpetual hardness that has no basis in lived experience. We are not flesh-infested skeletons; we are mostly soft creatures whose existence is perpetually distorted through the ritualized conflation of sex and gender.

Sex and gender are neither completely separate nor the same. Commands like “Man up!” and “Be ladylike!” make sense but “Male up!” and “Be female!” do not because we implicitly understand that gender is a behavioral accomplishment that is distinct from sex as a biological assignment. We also nevertheless expect different sets of behaviors to correspond to particular sex assignments (e.g., males are expected to man up and females are expected to be ladylike). We must therefore accept that genitals play a fundamental and unnecessary role in shaping sex assignments and maintaining gender expectations.

A penis is assumed whenever I am called “boss,” “sir,” or “bro” by strangers in public; however, it is not my literal penis but rather the symbolic significance of my assumed penis that guides how I am treated in social spaces. The assumed penis cannot be reduced to its physicality because its symbolic significance overrides the physical reality of all penises regardless of their shape, size, or capacity to harden.

Gender performs sexual difference through the repeated imitation of genital functions. Masculinity involves externalizations of power that signify the process of the penis becoming erect whereas femininity involves internalizations of power that signify the reproductive functions of the uterus. Taking space is to masculine as holding space is to feminine.

The physical characteristics and sexual functions of the penis thus appear to structure how masculinity is conceptualized and performed.

Man is a carefully regulated and ritualistically performed metaphor for the penis. The sexual utility of the penis depends upon its capacity to harden but is otherwise usually flaccid. Softness thus comprises the penis as much as hardness could and yet softness is continually negated in deference to hardness. The phallus in its permanent hardness is worshipped to generate masculine dominance in a patriarchy. There would be no patriarchy without the phallus.

Men in a patriarchy are expected to act like fucking dicks in imitation of the phallus whose perpetual hardness is a compulsory and unachievable aspiration. Acting like a fucking dick imitates a phallic manhood of perpetual hardness. Phallic masculinity describes those who continually act hard as a fucking dick to demonstrate manhood. Acting hard all the time is a masculine commandment that men are expected to follow, and those who don’t are punished by being called pussies and told to man up.

If masculine hardness is a symbolic imitation of erection, then those who perpetually act hard are continually threatened by the naturally soft flaccidity of the penis. The fleetingness of erection in relation to its symbolic relationship to masculinity places many men in precarious gender positions that are always subject to castration. Phallic masculinity is as fragile as erections are fleeting.

Men would benefit from realizing that softness does not negate manhood because it is a natural aspect of not just the penis but humanity in general.

Softness is ritualistically negated in the act of worshiping the phallus, the imaginary and symbolic ever-erection that eludes realization. The phallus is a departure from the penis into a figurative realm of transcendental hardness and pure masculine sexual utility. The phallus is a solution to the problem of softness, but softness is only a problem because of attachment to the phallus. This circlejerkularity makes the boys’ club exclusive to fucking dicks who act hard in order to deny softness and who deny softness in order to act hard.

The phallic man treats his women like he treats his emotions, and that is to say that he refuses them at every turn until they serve his purposes. By equating softness with weakness and hardness with strength he justifies his dominating behaviors as demonstrations of his virile gender/sexual identity. With repeated narrative thrusts into the soft openings in other people’s conversations he feels himself releasing seeds of influence.

The tragedy of the phallic man is that he is usually flaccid despite his best attempts to cover it up through repeated imitations of hardness. A baseline level of disavowed shame sustains the phallic man’s personality because he cannot reconcile the reality of his oft-soft penis with the figurative significance of the perpetually hard phallus that he so devoutly worships and imitates.

The phallic man has plenty of feelings and subjective experiences that make him as sensitive as all the other humans, but unfortunately for the phallic man he is unable to express any of them (except anger) because doing so would betray a lack of hardness and jeopardize his masculine subject position.

The trouble with phallic masculinity is that it is not normal, natural, or healthy to be hard all the time.

Phallic masculinity is what normally gets called “toxic masculinity” but I think it is important to illustrate what exactly is toxic about toxic masculinity. There is nothing inherently pathological about men or masculinity — phallic men and masculinity are the problems.

Healthy masculinity involves the situational utilization of hardness (e.g., being assertive and competitive when at work or playing a game) and willingness to engage with softness (e.g., having earnest discussions about feelings and lived experiences). Phallic masculinity involves the perpetual maintenance of hardness (e.g., always being assertive and competitive regardless of the situation) and pervasive disavowal of softness (e.g., ignoring, invalidating, and/or violating emotionality in oneself and others).

Phallic men are castrated by the natural softness of the penis whereas real men accept that softness situates their capacity to harden. Real men comfortably distinguish themselves from the phallus through the recognition that they are still men even while flaccid. Phallic men, by contrast, believe that they are only men when they are hard and therefore negate all instances of softness in themselves and others.

Occasional hardness is a lovely thrill whose meaning and impact is bolstered through its situational usage. My lover is not always hard but when he is I am pleasurably captivated. My father and brother are always hard and I am scared of their inhumane capacities for violence and cruelty. I tried to be always hard for them but was castrated by a queerness culturally equated with a lack of manhood. I am now a comfortably soft and proud sissy whose tears fall shamelessly onto pages of poetry.

My lover is a real man who desires the softness of my feminine body, and I am willingly captivated by his hardness because it is not always present but can be evoked by my desirability. I am thrilled to evoke hardness in my lover by being his object of desire. I am terrified to be soft with my father because his hardness is as perpetual as my brother’s abusiveness. The homoerotics of the hypermasculine relationship between the two hardest men in my family confuses, upsets, and inspires me to examine phallic masculinity as a structuring feature of white supremacy.

There is nothing wrong with softness — for it comprises us — and yet it is feminized and therefore systematically devalued in favor of masculinized notions of hardness. Feelings belong to all humans and it is a tragedy that so many people of all genders reject theirs in deference to phallic manhood.

Soft science must “get hard” in order to be deemed legitimate.
Gut feelings and intuition that emanate from the depths of our softnesses are regarded with suspicion by the rationalizing mind.
Emotionality is presumptively invoked to invalidate the perspective of women who are always-already assumed to be PMSing whenever their passions become evident.
Snowmen are made of snowflakes and white men who rage are not thought to be emotional even though they are just as (if not, more) emotional as every other human.
The macho man is never hard enough he can never be as hard as the phallus.

Humans are soft and subjective creatures that are more like a story or piece of art than a collection of data to analyze with the scientific method. Phallic masculinity performs and justifies the violation of humanity by providing rationales for the ways (white)mankind disavows subjectivity.

Our society would be much healthier if we could consciously acknowledge the role sex plays in structuring how we perceive ourselves and interact with others. Puritanism, however, makes sex taboo and capitalism makes production paramount, and when combined the phallus becomes an unconscious aspiration that signifies the lack of and desire for hardness in the human being. By making conscious the phallic imagery embedded in our psyches and society I hope that we can begin to critically examine how pervasively masculinized notions of hardness harm human beings.

The phallus should be positioned as a mythical suggestion of a capacity, not an unconscious lifestyle or object of worship. How ironic that those who regularly act like fucking dicks are also probably those most averse to homosexuality. Male homosexuality probably exposes the homoerotic undertones of phallic masculinity, for to consciously desire penises is less gay than acting like a fucking dick. Perhaps the phallic man is hardest and most aroused while disparaging homosexuality.

Pay close attention to how closely phallic men resemble that which they consciously disavow and perhaps their antics will appear less upsetting and more absurd.

queer theorist and affect alien

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