This post is rated for adults only and meant as a humorous
review on the cultural history of the penis from the book by
So, last year I was charged with doing some reviews of books in my field of study which was not the penis but of sexology. This is one book I chose to do a review on as I thought it would be interesting. Once I read it, I had no choice but make this a funny review because the book was sooooo bad and boring. I really hope my readers find it to be amusing and you might even learn something.
David M. Friedman, author of a book on Charles Lindbergh, has taken on the topic of the penis. There may be a connection. The six chapter titles are appropriately named from the era in which each chapter is illustrated.
The author begins with the history of the penis in the era of the witch trials, in which the witches were reported to be bereft from contact with the “demon rod” which reportedly caused them delusions, hallucinations and hysteria. The author posits that the penis was called the demon rod due to its perceived power over women, sometimes to the woman’s detriment. The women were burned at the stake for their supposed contact with the demon rod.
Misogyny, in all of its subtle and beastly expressions, likely provides the overall answer. But a more tightly focused lens
enables us to see in their deaths [of the w the predominance
of one of the driving forces—the ongoing cultural obsession
with the penis, the insecurities it fostered, and the perceived harm
it could do. We can see how it became, through the mix of fevered
fantasy and obsessive insecurity, the very agent of the transfer of
evil. In short, the demon rod. (3).
The author finds that Augustine, a sainted bishop, posited over sixteen centuries ago that man had a lack of control of his penis and therefore was pronounced the owner of the demon rod.
While the penis was venerated in some circles, it was also demonized for the harm it could do to woman, children, and a weak man. “It was a force of nature, revered for its potency, yet just as amoral.”(5)
Circumcision was also a topic in the first chapter of this book on the penis. The long and short of it is that some cultures revered the penis as it was when God made man, uncircumcised. Others, like the Orthodox Jews, felt it was a sign of being unclean and therefore irreverent in God’s eyes. The Jews would therefore serve God by removing their foreskin of the penis, and by doing so, worship God in an act of selflessness.
For me, this was the most difficult chapter to get through, as I felt it was not linear and it could have been better understood and synthesized if it had headings that broke it down into parts or eras. The chapter(s) were too long and did not have enough white space. I understand that because it was the early history of the penis, it had to be placed as it was, first in the book, but if I did not have to read this book, as interesting as the topic may be, I would have put it down.
Chapter two entitled The Gear Shift began with more discussion of penis in reference to Leonardo da Vinci and his many drawings and writings on the penis which helped to draw the penis out of religion and into the world of mechanical science , and therefore from “demon rod” to “gear shift.” (56) .
Still, if I could I would have put my “gear shift” in drive and sped off as this chapter was only slightly more interesting than the first.
This author explains to us that da Vinci was the first to ask the enlightening and hard question, “do I control my penis or does it control me?” (59). Really as I continued reading this chapter I wanted to take somebody’s penis to use as a club to hit myself over the head with it so I would not have to read the rest of this book, but alas I persevered. The reader learned about semen/sperm and blood in it’s role in obtaining and maintaining an erection.
Chapter three sees a bit of improvement but only by subject, covering the age of the black penis. There once was a bible-quoting treasure hunter named Richard Jobson (103). Through his travels he discovered the Mandingo tribesmen and their voluminous and far-reaching phallus. It was thought that “a Negro’s penis proved his intellectual inferiority and innate savagery”.(106). Excuse me white boy, but my penis is bigger than yours, nana nana boo boo! Who would have thought that there is racism of the penis. Kinda like having gonorrhea, it’s never a good thing.
However, a kindly professor, Blumenbach, dispelled this myth of inferiority and left the racist crying in their white sheets, as he was the creator of the science of comparative anatomy(106). I call this street cred. Also, in this chapter, the author introduces us to the mean and drunk Noah. We thought he was a good guy for building the arc and saving the animals. Pish Posh.
Noah supposedly exiled his own grandson Canann to slavery because Canann’s daddy saw Noah naked. This really sucks for Cannan.
More evidence that the punishment does not always fit the crime and this is a case of mistaken identity! And what does this have to do with this chapter anyway?
The Cigar. A chapter one can wrap their hands around. I think this is not only the most interesting chapter but most well-known view of the penis. Albeit psychological in nature. Freud was the most enormously written and outspoken philosopher on the psychological underpinnings of the penis (150).
With the bedrock concepts of penis envy and castration
anxiety, his depiction of the unconscious as a realm made
chaotic by penile lust, and his assertion that all libido,
female as well as male, is phallic, Freud put the penis on
the lips and minds of nearly every educated person in the
Western world (150-151).
Freud enlightened us with the idea that we grow through stages of development which includes the anal phase. He posited that this was part of our body/mental construct and it could not be denied(151). He claimed we were all polymorphously perverse which of course means we can find erotic pleasure from any part of the body. (Insert anus here, or maybe something into the anus).(151).
The author also reminds us of the Oedipal complex in case we have forgotten. He posited that this was part of our body/mental construct and it could not be denied(151).
We are reminded that Freud said the penis was more than a body part but also an idea and a symbol, “a sign so powerful it is itself symbolized by other things”.(156) Even though Freud was quoted as saying, “a cigar is just a cigar”, he still believed that most times it was not.(156)
Is there ever an end to this thing? Yes, it is called the glans penis.
The next chapter is where it gets a bit more interesting in that women get involved in the penis in a big way. The Battering Ram talks about how the feminist movement tool to begin scrutinize men namely what they did with their penis and how it held kept women down (clearing throat). Freud thought the girls had penis envy and Karen Horney (I might have changed my name) said they did not. Who to believe? And then there was the woman named Deutsch who believed women served their highest purpose under a man. I suppose she didn’t get invited to cocktails at Gloria Steinem’s apartment on the west side.
Betty Friedan and her Feminine Mystic was important here.
The Punctureproof Ballon is the last chapter in this hairy tomb about all the things that can cause impotence and what was to be done about. I’d say more but I am feeling flaccid about this whole book.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Since we are not comparing penises here, there is not much to compare as this book is one of its kind in an anthropological, historical, cultural perspective. Not so much of anatomical. There seems to be some work on the penis published. For instance, Jesse Bering writes in the anatomical sphere of the penis in his book, Why is the Penis Shaped Like That? In the book he covers the penis and its buddies, the testicles. He does explain and express the reason for the dangle, the shapes and the hairy nature of such. He does this in such a way that is much funnier than the writer of this academic tomb. But he does not cover in-depth the history of the penis as Mr. Friedman does.
I did come across another book on the penis, namely, “The Book of the Penis”. Now that is a catchy little title. I picked it up to find out if it was at all analogous to Friedmans’ book. In parts, it was, but far more interesting. The chapters were shorter, there were clarification headings which were so necessary in the Friedman book considering it’s length. (smile)
It was more anthropological than historical but history did surface in the form of Grecian formula not to be confused with the Hair Club for Men. It also covered art and literature regarding the subject of the penis. It was far more interesting and a much easier read.
In closing, the author of A Mind of Its Own, had a Mandingo-sized opportunity to cover a subject that has been ignored in historical, and anthropological detail but could have been fascinating. Unfortunately, this author turned a potentially meaty subject into a dry, stiff treaty that was difficult to navigate. In doing so, he did a disservice not only to a hefty and important subject but also to the reader.
Bering, Jesse. Why is the penis shaped like that?…and other reflections on being human.Scientific American/Farrar,Straus and Giroux. 2012.
Friedman, M. David. A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis. The Free Press.2001.
Paley, Maggie. The Book of the Penis. Grove Press. 1999
More on sex is forthcoming (pun intended).