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Our posts on social media are censored to conform to the rules set by Instagram. Back in the very early days of our project, you only ever got to see bottoms and a little bit of bush, which was enough to get us into trouble on Instagram, but that’s another story.
When we started making documentary films of our shoots, we quickly realised it was impossible to hide everything, and gradually we stopped trying. Since then we have featured the penis increasingly prominently in our content. It has become one of the cornerstones of our commitment to authenticity, vulnerability and changing how we look at men. It has undoubtedly been challenging for a lot of guys in the project, but it has also become one of our most important learning experiences.
The penis has been symbolically connected to notions of masculinity, dominance, and aggression throughout history. At Barefoot Man, we want to challenge those associations by inviting men to present their bodies in a way that is respectful, authentic and with the consent of everyone involved. That has meant that while we do show penises we do not show erections.
As soon as a man is erect, it can appear as an assertion of power or a threat of violence to come. Images can be just as aggressive, unwelcome or manipulative as reality. Unsolicited dick pics are generally unwelcome, and most of the erections we see online probably belong to people we will never meet, and who may not find us sexually exciting in real life.
We want to show men’s bodies in a way that they are rarely seen: on the terms of the viewer, not the subject, and without creating an illusion of sexual availability that may only exacerbate a misplaced sense of sexual entitlement.
History in a Flash
The idea of the penis as a symbol of aggression is definitely not new. In various cultures throughout history, phallic symbols have been used to represent power. For instance, in ancient Egypt, obelisks were erected as monuments to the god Atum, symbolizing the penis and its creative force. Similarly, in ancient Greece, the phallus was a symbol of fertility and strength, often used in religious and cultural rituals.
In some cultures, the act of exposing one’s penis was seen as an act of dominance and aggression. In ancient Rome, the practice of “infamia” involved the public exposure of one’s genitals as a form of humiliation and aggression against slaves and prisoners. In Native American cultures, the “scalping” of enemies was sometimes associated with genital mutilation as a display of dominance.
Since the invention of photography and the growth of popular entertainment, we have got very used to looking at women’s bodies whenever we want – on a stage, on a page, on a screen. Men’s bodies, and particularly their penises, were for a long time less easy to see as a matter of choice, at least outside the ghetto of gay erotica.
The Dick Today
In the digital age, it is definitely easier to see a lot of penises, but it makes it more important than ever that we create rules around how men show them and how everyone sees them. There are plenty of men out there arguing that masculinity and male aggression are tied to sexual virility.
These connections are being used to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. The term “toxic masculinity” is shorthand for a whole range of cultural behaviours and the harm caused by rigid gender roles and expectations placed on men. It is not our favourite term as it conflates men with masculinity and life is not that simple. Not all men are Andrew Tate, but too many men buy into being dominant, aggressive, and sexually assertive. Barefoot Man is about creating alternative masculinities so that men can dissociate themselves from this toxicity.
Consent and respect are paramount when it comes to sexual interactions. The idea of using one’s penis as a weapon of aggression is not only morally wrong but also illegal. Consent and communication are essential for healthy sexual relationships.
Rather than seeing the penis as a weapon of aggression, we need to address the underlying power dynamics and social issues that contribute to aggressive behaviours. These issues can include gender inequality, misogyny, and societal pressures. At a time when we seem to be polarised in many ways, it has never been more important to emphasise the importance of consent, respect, and education in fostering healthy sexual relationships and challenging harmful stereotypes.
Let’s rehabilitate the penis. Let’s put it at the heart of promoting healthier masculinities for young and old alike. By considering and offering the penis as a peace symbol, men can move away from simplistic notions of masculinity that perpetuate aggression. We believe it will help everyone to embrace a more nuanced understanding of human sexuality and gender dynamics.
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