On Pricks and Politics: How to Measure Up This Election Season

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On Pricks and Politics: How to Measure Up This Election Season

'Because no matter what is in your pants, you can still be a big prick.' (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)

A few weeks ago, several statues of a naked Donald Trump turned up in cities across the United States. Fat, orange, waxy, and a bit cartoonish looking, like the Republican nominee himself, the statues were part of a political art installation entitled “The Emperor Has No Balls.” The statue, suitably, depicted a naked Trump without testicles and with a tiny, shriveled penis. The group responsible for the installation, INDECLINE,  told the Huffington Post: “We decided to depict Trump without his balls because we refuse to acknowledge that he is a man… He is a small arrogant child and thus, has nothing in the way of testicles.” Back in February, Ilma Gore posted a painting of a naked Trump with a small penis to her Facebook page with the caption “My latest painting ‘Make America Great Again.’ Because no matter what is in your pants, you can still be a big prick.” Gore’s act resulted in some severe (cock-related) harassment, including rape and death threats, physical assault, litigation threats, and a lot of public reassurance by Trump that not only is he a big prick, which we didn’t really need confirmed, but he also has one in his pants.

Emasculation is a common rhetorical strategy during election seasons. The recent primary season was no exception, with Republican candidates trading emasculating insults for months. Recall Trump’s references to Jeb Bush’s “low energy” and his consistent references to Senator Rubio as “Little Marco,” making fun of the latter’s high-heeled boots in an attempt to feminize him and undermine his masculinity. “Little Marco” did not hold back either, calling attention to the diminutive size of the Donald’s hands and inferring that his penis must also be smaller than average, to which Trump retorted, “I guarantee you there is no problem.” In an article for the New Republic, Jeet Heer speculated that the Republican cock-measuring sprang from the fact that Hillary Clinton was running for president: “With the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the first penis-free president, it’s not surprising that her Republican rivals want to remind the world that their genital anatomy is the traditional norm,” and that was true during primary contests. Presidential cock-measuring contests, however, are not new to American election seasons.

"Presidential cock-measuring contests are not new to American election seasons."

Political rivals have forever challenged the size of each other’s members in order to cultivate a sense of flaccid masculinity in their opponent, indicating the other’s inability to lead. Thomas Jefferson invoked the national phallus twice by the year 1800. First, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, he countered a claim made by a French nature writer that the American climate caused transplanted European plants to shrink and wither and that the reproductive organs of native American men basically resembled the state of the plants. The implication, of course, was that European men in America must suffer some genital withering of their own. Jefferson took issue with this statement, arguing that the native man was “neither more defective in ardor, nor impotent with his female.” Rachel Hope Cleves says that Jefferson’s defense of the national phallus was politically strategic, sending the message that the infant nation was “far from impotent, [and] the national body had a well-endowed member.” In the year 1800, Thomas Jefferson ran against John Adams, resulting in Adams winning the presidency and Jefferson serving as vice president. A writer hired by Jefferson named James Callendar issued an attack on Adam’s virility, accusing his character as being “hermaphroditical,” having none of the positive virtues associated with the sexes, such as male bravery and ability or female tenderness and introspection. The term “hermaphrodite” has historically been used to negatively refer to intersex persons who do not fit nicely into the gender binary. In Callendar’s case it was issued to emasculate the Federalist nominee. However, Jefferson was not immune to base political attacks either. Rumors of his “relationship” with Sally Hemmings, the half-sister and slave of his dead wife, began to circulate, and soon newspapers depicted Jefferson as a literal “cock,” with his “hen” Hemmings.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, both parties issued slurs meant to challenge the masculinity of the rival candidate. Andrew Jackson dubbed President James Buchanan “Aunt Nancy,” a nickname that stuck. House Speaker Henry Clay also frequently bullied President Buchanan for his supposedly feminine way of expressing himself. Teddy Roosevelt argued that President Woodrow Wilson would be ineffective as president, saying, “You can’t cast a man as Romeo who looks and acts so much like an apothecary clerk.”

President Lyndon Johnson, well-known for his exhibitionists tendencies, took the symbolism of pricks in politics to a new level. Johnson was notorious for wagging his member, nicknamed “Jumbo,”  in front of colleagues and asking, “Have you ever seen anything as big as this?” A famous story recalls a meeting between Johnson and several reporters. When one of the reporters asked why the U.S. was still involved in the Vietnam War, Johnson literally flopped his penis on the table and exclaimed, “This is why!” Other stories recall Johnson bullying visiting leaders and diplomats into skinny-dipping with him in the White House pool and comparing penis sizes. He required his cabinet members to take notes while he thought out loud on the toilet in full view of everyone and requested the installation of a showerhead that would spray water straight on his cock. And, of course, he notoriously promoted many regular secretaries to “private secretaries” when they went to bed with him.

Johnson of course is not a minority member among presidents when it comes to sex scandals. The whereabouts of U.S. leaders penises has always attracted the public’s attention. A married Alexander Hamilton was blackmailed by the husband of his lover Maria Reynolds, then later exposed by James Callendar, the same reporter who wrote of Adams’ “hermaphroditical” qualities. A previous lover of Warren Harding reported that the President had fathered her daughter in a bestselling 1927 book, The President’s Daughter. Her claim was confirmed in 2015 through genetic testing. John F. Kennedy said in the fall of 1960, “I suppose if I win—my poon days are over.” Though he did indeed win, his poon days were not over and he continued his affairs with other women, most famously the actress Marilyn Monroe, and was well-known for hosting skinny dipping sessions on his lunch hour. Perhaps publicly punished the most severely, President Bill Clinton was brought to an impeachment trial for lying about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. And though he has not ever been a presidential candidate, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, can’t stop sending pictures of his prick to women that aren’t Huma Abedin, his soon to be ex-spouse. Abedin, a twenty year veteran of the Clinton entourage,  is currently serving as vice-chairperson to the Hillary Clinton 2016 Presidential Campaign.

Jeet Heer’s speculation on the role of Hillary in Republican masculinity contests may have missed the long-standing tradition of proving one has the largest prick in politics, but his question about the significance of Hillary is, indeed, an interesting one. The appearance of naked statues of Trump, for example, during the general election season is strikingly odd given that Trump’s only opponent has neither a penis nor testicles to measure against his. And, yet, it does raise some interesting questions about the phallic rhetoric accompanying political campaigns in light of Hillary’s candidacy.

The term “castrating” for example is a term that is not traditionally used to describe the emasculating rhetoric among presidential male candidates. Men discursively shrink other men’s pensises, challenge their sexuality, insinuate that the other candidate’s penis is smaller than their own, and may even rhetorically remove their symbolic “balls,” but men don’t castrate, so to speak. The term ‘castrate’ is reserved especially for Hillary—on both sides of the aisle. In 2007, Tucker Carlson, for example, claimed “there's just something about [Hillary] that feels castrating, overbearing, and scary." Rush Limbaugh refers to the men who support Hillary as “castrati.” And, more recently, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager described Hillary’s campaign against Donald Trump to the New York Times as less “Hope and Change” and “more like Hate and Castrate.”

"Whatever your interpretive schtick, the penis and its fate in U.S.-American politics this season is captivating, to say the least."

Psychoanalysts surely have some interesting things to say about phallic mothers and the blatant castration anxiety concealed in all of this castration talk. Historians and anthropologists would probably remind us of the sacred symbolism of the phallus across times and cultures, and there are no doubt a few humanities majors currently analyzing electoral rhetoric this season in terms of postmodern feminist theory. Whatever your interpretive schtick, the penis and its fate in U.S.-American politics this season is captivating, to say the least.

Hillary Clinton herself has not shrunk from the U.S.-American tradition of proving one’s presidential potency through the size of her prick, metaphorically speaking of course. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by Gawker revealed Clinton’s spokesperson trading favors with reporters when she was Secretary of State and not just for positive news coverage, but in one instance for the plant of a very specific word. That word was ‘MUSCULAR’. Mark Ambinder of The Atlantic was given an early transcript of Hillary’s speech in exchange for describing it as muscular and for not saying that he was “blackmailed” to do it. Mike Allen of Politico also used the term, and while the FOIA did not reveal the same exchange between Allen and the Clinton camp, it did reveal Allen’s promise of positive coverage of Chelsea and, in another exchange, allowed the camp to ghost write something about the State Department. Hillary’s muscularity isn’t just rhetoric. In response to the Left’s harsh critiques and strong demands of her following the Sanders campaign, Clinton paid some lip service to issues surrounding foreign policy, the environment, and big money in politics, but she was simultaneously reassuring the conservative, military, and corporate constituents she was more intent on courting that her presidency would be business as usual, effectively castrating (for the sake of metaphor) the Left.

If Sarah Palin, who Julia Kristeva referred to at the time as “the Phallic Matron,” failed to prove in 2008 that she could measure up, despite her thirst for U.S.-American power, Hillary is gaining support among neoconservatives because she has the track record to prove that she has and can continue to champion effectively the end goals of large presidential penises, despite not having one in her pants. Interestingly, this is what is so disturbing to men like Tucker Carlson, who has admitted to “crossing his legs” when he sees her. And, yet, it’s the very same values and effectiveness that have won over neoconservative war hawks, multinationals, and Wall Street. It’s also winning over women over 35 and a lot of mainstream establishment feminists, who are proud to see a woman measuring up so successfully, even if that means cock-fighting her way to the presidency. 

And that brings us to the big pink elephant in the feminist room. The laissez-faire feminism of Hillary Clinton affirms a system that is inherently neutral and in which equality means fairness. But, who, we might ask, does Hillary (and other mainstream feminists) wish to be equal to? The women and men suffering human rights violations her policies have strengthened in oil rich countries? The indigenous leader Berta Cáceres of Honduras who was murdered in the wake of the military coup that Hillary sanctioned, deposing a democratically elected leader whose policies conflicted with U.S.-American capitalist interests? The Haitians whose country she effectively destroyed? The mothers and children from whom she eliminated aid in the 1990s? The families denied public housing because of her strict crime bills? Feminists around the world fighting her neoliberal policies to protect families, worker’s rights, the environment? No. Hillary’s equality is equality for the elite, proving, as Ilma Gore said, “no matter what is in your pants, you can still be a big prick.” Did we expect anything else this election cycle?

Stacy Keltner

Stacy Keltner

Stacy Keltner is Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of Gender and Women’s Studies at Kennesaw State University. Along with co-author Ashley McFarland, she is working on a book entitled Nude Awakening, which focuses on the use nakedness as a political form of action.

Ashley McFarland

Ashley McFarland

Ashley McFarland is Program Coordinator of the M.A. in American Studies and Instructor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Kennesaw State University. Along with co-author Stacy Keltner, she is working on a book entitled Nude Awakening, which focuses on the use nakedness as a political form of action.

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