It was recently reported that Adolf Hitler may have had a micropenis.
When I saw the story show up on my Facebook newsfeed, I knew I was going to see a lot of jokes where the punchline – based on the idea of inferiority complexes and “compensating” – was basically that having a small penis is inherently disgraceful and something to ridicule.
But what I found that was especially disheartening was how many jokes I saw from outspoken feminists and progressives. Unfortunately, I see ridicule about penis sizes in feminist circles far too frequently – so many this shouldn’t have been a surprise either.
And even though Adolf Hitler deserves all of the hatred in the world, that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to ridicule anyone for something they can’t control – something I feel like feminists, of all people, should understand.
And I know, from experience, the deep shame that comes from having a small penis.
For most of my life, since I didn’t want anyone to know about me, I would join in on all the jokes that were made about “guys with small dicks.” But between my feelings of shame and my discovery of feminism, I’ve since found these types of jokes to be mean-spirited and in poor taste.
And I’m especially disappointed when I hear them in feminist circles amongst people whose beliefs generally align with mine.
It’s more demoralizing hearing these mockeries from people who usually take a stance against patriarchal ridicule.
And while I think that it’s high time for all people to drop the insensitive “small penis” jokes, I especially think that feminists should be standing against them.
Now, this article isn’t meant to be an attack on people who make these jokes. I don’t believe you’re being malicious. In fact, I believe that if most of these folks knew how harmful these jokes were – especially insofar as how they actually reinforce ideas of toxic masculinity and rigid gender roles – that they would stop.
So here are some reasons why penis size shaming is anti-feminist.
1. It Uses the Idea That Someone Isn’t ‘Manly Enough’ As an Insult
Now, penises and male identity shouldn’t be closely tied at all – since anyone, of any gender, can have a penis.
But because penises and manhood are so closely tied due to systemic sexism, no matter how wrongly so, I will frequently discuss these issues as they relate to cis men, since they are often who these jokes are meant to hurt.
Because the primary function of making jokes about someone’s penis size is to attack their manhood.
The implications of these jokes are that the bigger someone’s penis is, the more aggressive and powerful – and thus, manlier – he is; the smaller someone’s penis is, the more impotent, weak, and powerless he is.
But since one aspect of feminism is taking a strong stance against toxic masculinity, ridiculing someone’s small penis size goes against our values – because it only reinforces the harmful idea that aggression and power are the only acceptable expressions of masculinity.
When we categorize people this way, we hold aggression in higher regard and associate manliness with physical power. And then we taunt those who don’t live up to this toxic standard of masculinity.
There are so many implications with this mentality.
First, it ignores trans women and assumes that only men can have penises. It reduces the concept of what a “man” is to their genitalia. In reality, genitalia have nothing to do with someone’s gender identity.
Second, it stigmatizes the bodies of intersex people.
Third, it presumes that traditional gender roles are ideal and that men are only “real men” so long as they’re aggressive.
And last of all, there’s a subtle implication that anyone who doesn’t possess masculine qualities, especially a man, should be ridiculed because lacking masculinity – and therefore, being feminized – means that you’re weak.
The jokes are insulting to people who don’t hold masculine tendencies, as the jokes imply that people with less masculinity are less valuable.
If someone has a small penis, so what? Even if it did mean that they’re not as aggressive (which isn’t true), why would it matter?
Is it acceptable to mock men who cry? Men who are vulnerable? Men who enjoy traditionally feminine activities?
There is absolutely no reason to attack men this way, pushing them into rigid gender roles.
Feminism definitely isn’t about holding toxic masculinity in high regard and looking down on those who don’t adhere to these outdated sexist standards.
2. It Implies That Sexually Pleasing a Woman Is the Most Important Quality in Being a Man
Usually, when a straight, cisgender man is ridiculed for the size of his penis, the insinuation is that he “can’t please a woman” – which is intended to be a grave insult.
This is yet another reinforcement of toxic masculinity.
I don’t believe that some feminists are consciously aware that when they mock men in this manner, they only reaffirm that “manhood” primarily means how well men can use their penises.
Not only does this center heterosexual relationships as the default, but it also centers sexuality as a man’s entire identity. It reinforces society’s encouraging of him to prove his prowess as to avoid further humiliation.
Men are more complex than what their penis sizes are, and “being a man” entails more than simply who you sleep with and how well you perform.
Ideally, this would be public perception. But oftentimes, if a man is revealed to have a smaller penis, it feels like there’s nothing he can do to reclaim his integrity.
If society changed the definition of “being a man” to mean other things – such as being sensitive, empathetic, and compassionate – perhaps there wouldn’t be as much of an urgency for some straight, cisgender men to constantly hunt for sex with other women.
There’s nothing wrong with having consensual sex with as many people as you’d like, but when sex becomes an elusive obsession, toxic entitlement is sure to follow.
At its core, ridiculing someone’s sexual prowess is highly judgmental and serves no other purpose than to shame them sexually.
Sex-shaming is anti-feminist, but it shouldn’t apply only to women in terms of how many sexual partners they’ve had – it should also apply to men.
As feminists, we should be more encouraging to men who don’t fit the paradigm of what they’re “supposed to be” sexually.
When we ridicule men for not having larger penises and insultingly imply that they can’t please women sexually, all we’re doing is reinforcing the destructive belief that men should be sexually active studs which, in turn, keeps toxic masculinity alive.
3. It Taunts People For Something They Have No Control Over
What’s rarely ever considered when making these jokes is that people born with smaller penises didn’t choose what they were born with (or born as). In essence, this means that people are flat-out mocked for something they have no control over.
This is straight-up body-shaming.
Society has made so many conscious efforts to body-shame women less frequently (something that’s long overdue), but some feminists, for some reason, don’t consider mocking someone’s penis body-shaming.
Even though it may be different in some ways from making fun of someone’s weight (since someone’s body size is something that we can visibly see in plain sight, and therefore, can consciously and purposely ridicule to uphold oppression), the feelings of internalized shame are similar.
In both cases, it’s implied that you’re less worthwhile because of your body.
Body-shaming in any manner should be perceived as anti-feminist because it’s dehumanizing and reduces people to objects.
The prevailing feeling that I had when I heard so many jokes about penis sizes was an internal helpless plea that this isn’t my fault. The plea, of course, was for nobody in particular because I was so filled with shame that I never told any of my friends.
I’d hide it from women that I was casually seeing, and I’d avoid any type of sexual interaction that involved taking off my clothes. This resulted in many potential relationships ending before they could really begin. The fear in the back of my mind was that I was a defective person, and if anyone saw my genetic defect, nobody would actually love me.
Rather than criticizing me for my negative character traits or undesirable habits, people were (unknowingly) criticizing something I can’t really change, at least not in any significant way.
And it’s unfair to base people’s worth on what you perceive to be a bodily flaw.
If people are born a certain way with a certain look that they have no control over, nobody has the authority to mock them or imply that they are less valuable. They didn’t choose what they were born with, and they certainly didn’t choose to be born in such a judgmental society.
People deserve to be reminded of their self-worth, not be brought down by unnecessary and vicious attacks about their bodies.
Feminism should be uplifting, not destructive.
4. It’s a Reductionist Attack on Bigoted People
A common tactic I see utilized, especially on the Internet, is attacking a bigot by proclaiming to the world, “He probably has a small dick – and that’s why he’s so angry.”
This generally halts the conversation, and it devolves into the bigot defending himself to the point that the conversation goes completely off-the-rails.
These tactics are generally used by well-meaning progressives who are rightfully angered by the bigotry they’re seeing. And I understand being incensed when someone is being prejudiced.
But I believe that criticizing intolerant people in this manner is only causing further unnecessary damage – because the ire is not going to that person’s hateful beliefs, which is where it belongs.
On the off chance that the person being mocked does have a small penis, they’re being mocked for something they have no control over instead of being criticizing their bigoted views.
If the person being mocked doesn’t have a small penis, they’re being attacked for something that’s objectively untrue and it only results in collateral damage where other people are potentially getting their feelings hurt by reading the interaction.
If a man is bullying me, the size of his genitalia is completely irrelevant to me. There are bullies and bigots of all shapes and sizes.
But in addition to being mean-spirited, it’s also a very lazy attack that derails conversations. Racist, sexist, transphobic, and otherwise oppressive statements get pushed aside in order to focus on something that should be totally irrelevant.
Instead of putting in the hard work of correcting someone’s hate-speech, some well-intentioned progressives and feminists unwittingly add to the negative rhetoric that’s already swirling in the air.
Bigots shouldn’t be let off the hook, but we let them slide when, instead of calling in (or out) their oppressive behavior, we chalk up their bigotry to anything other than oppression.
Fighting prejudice should be about educating people about their negative ideas and thought patterns to hopefully change their biased perspectives.
By choosing to insult someone’s penis size instead, all of those good intentions go out the window. When feminists call out bigoted ideas by using discriminatory language, it makes us hypocrites.
Worse, it’s a missed opportunity to have conversations about justice – which is really what this movement should be about.
I don’t feel that the people who use these tactics are doing so maliciously. I don’t feel like they’re bad people. I sincerely feel like many of them don’t mean any harm.
I think they do so because it’s the go-to joke. It’s just habit.
I know that some kindhearted people will get defensive and give reasons as to why it’s okay for them to make these jokes because they feel like they’re being accused of being a bad person, which again, is not something that I am trying to say or imply.
I just believe that the acceptability of mocking someone’s penis size has been so ingrained in all of us that most people don’t even think twice when making these jokes.
But once you put some thought as to where these jokes come from and what they imply, it’s obvious to see that they function primarily to uphold patriarchy, which is why they should have no place in feminism.
Robin Tran is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a standup comedian and blogger, and she holds a BA in English from UC Irvine. In early 2015, Robin came out as transgender woman and has written about her firsthand experiences ever since. She has performed at the Improv, Mad House Comedy Club, and the Comedy Palace, and her articles have been published in xoJane and Time.com.