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The phallus

The penis is an anatomical term referring to the male genital organ. It is an organ that serves biological functions, simply a tool of procreation. In patriarchal culture, however, men are preoccupied about the size, shape and erectile potential of their genitalia. Using the penis sexually marks the transition into manhood, an object used to judge the manliness of a man. Men with small penises become subject to mockery, while men with large penises are considered virile and powerful. Freud’s mastery through the penis emphasizes the male’s lack of commonality with the female, with the inadvertent result that he is given the right to violate femininity as a means of establishing his separateness. The core of narcissism for Freud, in fact, is that women do not have a penis.

The phallus, on the other hand, is an anthropological and theoretical term referring to an erect penis. The erect penis is venerated in various religions as a symbol of male fertility. Phallus is a key concept in psychoanalysis, and has had a tremendous effect on what we think about gender and sexuality. The phallus has been named by Lacan as the “signifier of signifiers,” a symbol of power and privilege associated with patriarchal authority, control and dominance. In Lacanian terms, neither man nor woman ever fully embodies the power of the phallus. This means that no gender can claim supremacy over the other in relation to this image; phallus simply means power. In this exploration of masculine shame, I will be using the term phallus, which subsumes the penis in its meaning. Both body and metaphor, physical and psychological, the erect penis or ritual phallus, all are one and the same.

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