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The Power of the Penis

I’m a red-blooded heterosexual American male. As such, it turns out that I enjoy seeing sexy women in their underwear. I am not ashamed to admit this. Women in their underwear kick ass. I am decidedly pro-lingerie! Yeah, I know… not exactly a controversial statement to make. But really my point is, for all of my feminist leanings… as progressive as I may think of myself… I still like looking at sexy women.

That said… this may be my favorite news story of the year. Basically, there’s a lingerie store in Russia. Store decides “hey, you know what would be some good advertising? We’ll have a contest to win a professional lingerie photoshoot for the hottest lingerie submissions. This will make lots of women send us pictures in their underwear.” It’s a good idea. And it worked. They get a bunch of submissions and they end up picking the ones by a contestant who calls herself “Ms. Avocado.” They award her the win and then find out that she’s really a he. Ms. Avocado is the alias of one Anthony Nagorny, a 20-year-old male college student. Lingerie store freaks out… strips Nagorny of the prize and then awards it jointly to the three female runners-up. Internet then freaks out because it’s the internet… and the internet kind of does that. It’s just a thing.

As far as I can tell, Nagorny doesn’t consider himself transgender… and from stories that I can find it doesn’t even look like he’s regularly a drag queen or anything like that. Basically, he saw the contest and said to himself “I’m pretty. I bet I can win that” and then borrowed his girlfriend’s underwear and had her do his hair and make-up and took some pics.

And you know what…. he was right. He’s hot as FUCK!!!

So I’m trying to figure out the rationalization of the store for disqualifying him. What’s the logic? Hell, to me I would have run with it. “Buy our lingerie, we can even make HIM look this good!” I mean, to be fair, if you look at the pictures of Nagorny in his regular dude clothes…. well, he’s a pretty man. So probably not just ANYONE could look that good.

But that’s not the point. Lingerie is a fantasy. This is why modeling is a job. For most women, if you go to Victoria’s Secret and buy the most expensive nightie in their catalog… you are NOT going to look as hot as the lady in the picture. Yes, you may look hot. But the girl in the photo is a fantasy. The photo says “this lady is fuckable. Don’t you you want to be fuckable like her? Well, if you dress like her, people will want to fuck you.” That’s the point. They’re not selling reality. And that’s ok.

And the fantasy here isn’t fucking Anthony Nargony. It never was. The fantasy is fucking “Ms. Avocado.” And if you really thought that “Ms. Avocado” was the name of a real person then… well… I just want you to know that I’m an exiled Nigerian prince and I’ve been having trouble getting my billion dollars in gold bullion out of my home country. If you help me out by paypalling me $10,000, I’ll totally give you a million dollars once I’ve secured my billion.

There’s this crazy thing that Maxim magazine does. Everytime some famous sex symbol starlet gets divorced, they “celebrate” her now being single with a headline like “REJOICE, SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS OFFICIALLY SINGLE” and they post a bunch of sexy pictures of her. The idea behind this is “hey guys, you want to fuck Scarlett Johansson don’t you? Well, now’s your chance! Get to it!” And see… this kind of sings to me… because as it turns out, I TOTALLY DO WANT TO FUCK SCARLETT JOHANSSON!!! I totally do! I have for years. But I’m also smart. And so I realize that my chances of fucking Scarlett Johansson today are EXACTLY the same today as they were when she was married. Like they haven’t changed at all. If she makes the offer, I’m totally going to take her up on it… but lets just say I’m not holding my breath.

And part of me wants to think that there’s a patriarchal bullshit justification of bro-codeness behind this. Part of me wants to think that what the magazine is actually trying to say “you know what, now that Scarlett is no longer owned by another man, it’s ok to masturbate to her again!” But they’re not. Because I just checked and Maxim’s website posts on average 1-3 articles a month that are of the format “here are some sexy pics of Scarlett Johansson, fap away!” Maybe it’s because she made a new movie. Maybe it’s because she said something in the press. Maybe the wind is just blowing. So really, the point of the article isn’t so much “it’s now ok to masturbate to Scarlett because she’s single” so much as “Scarlett Johansson is sexy and in case you haven’t masturbated to her in a while, here’s a reminder that you’re past due.”

It’s all about selling a fantasy. That’s sort of the power of lingerie. It’s 2017, it really isn’t hard to see boobs. Hell, you can find pics of Scarlett Johansson’s boobs if you google. More than that, even… She did a movie with full frontal nudity. It’s called Under the Skin. It’s an existential science-fiction think piece. It lost money. It’s not super sexy. It’s critically acclaimed, but no one saw it. You’d think that people would have flocked to it just to see Scarlett naked. But no. Because it’s not just seeing her boobs that is the draw. That would be easy. It’s the masturbatory fantasy. And it’s hard to masturbate to the idea of a gorgeous woman who kills people for objectifying her. And that’s sort of the point. That’s what the pictures are for. It’s not real. Scarlett Johansson does not want to fuck you (or me). We don’t have a shot.

You know who else doesn’t want to fuck you? Victoria’s Secret models. Nor does the stripper you are giving a dollar to dance for you for 60 seconds. Not even porn stars want to fuck you. It’s not because they’re not single. In the masturbatory fantasy, you don’t think about their personal lives or reality at all. They exist only as objects of the male gaze (ooh, I got all technical there).

Again. That’s actually OK. There’s a weird thing when people talk about the male gaze… both in academia and in popular media. People use it as sort of a short hand for “this is bad!” It’s wrong to objectify an image. That’s not really what it means. It’s actually way more complicated than that. The term is sort of agnostic to purpose. The term was coined by Laura Mulvey, in one of my favorite academic articles ever, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” It really just describes the phenomenon of how erotic objectification works in media. Basically, it explains WHY you want to fuck the girls in the picture. How they are positioned to manipulate your brain into finding them appealing. The reason we call it objectification is that the gaze dictates that you are supposed to view the subject of the photo as an object. She isn’t supposed to be real. She is pure fantasy.

And that returns us back to Ms. Avocado. And specifically why this may be my favorite news story of the year. The pictures are great. Ms. Avocado won the contest for a reason. Objectively, she looks hot. She’s looks sexy. These photos totally say “come fuck me. You know you wanna!” and that’s sort of the point. She won the contest fair and square because, objectively, knowing nothing else about the identity of Ms. Avocado other than the fact that she looks good in lingerie… she’s just hella fuckable.

But she was disqualified because Anthony Nargorny has a penis.

And that fascinates me. Since I have seen Under the Skin, I am aware that Scarlett Johansson has no penis. I have not seen most Victoria’s Secret models naked however. I don’t know what’s under those bras and panties. They are purely selling the fantasy of something sexy. And I imagine most people reading this haven’t actually seen Scarlett Johansson naked (because again, no one watched that movie). She’s sexy purely in fantasy.

And so is Ms. Avocado.

But that fantasy is broken purely because of the knowledge of Nagorny’s penis. The pictures are the pictures. They are either sexy or they aren’t and independently of the any other knowledge, apparently they are. But one of most important sections of Mulvey’s original article is III.B, where she states:

“According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man’s role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extradiegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle.”

Basically, the problem is that men can’t forget that there is a penis there, even if they can’t see it. The simple knowledge of its presence ruins the masturbatory potential of its assumed absence. Avocado can’t be allowed to win simply because it would apparently be tragic if anyone accidentally jacked off to Anthony Nagorny. This means that  the store running the contest is now in the unlikely predicament of having to argue that they are disqualifying Nagorny because it isn’t fair to objectify men.

But I think maybe my most favorite thing about this whole thing is something that I haven’t seen anyone mention in any article. The contest was meant to have one winner. Ms. Avocado was chosen. But once the ruse was discovered and Nagorny was disqualified, they replaced him with THREE female winners splitting his prize. In other words, men are worth more than women even when it comes to just being T&A.

41 comments for “The Power of the Penis

  1. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 11:39 am

    I appreciate this write up!

  2. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 11:40 am

    I’m calling shenanigans on this because you didn’t post any of the pictures you’ve taken of models in lingerie.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 11:42 am

      I havne’t been doing shoots lately. But like… I can certainly find a trans model to shoot if you really think it would add something.

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      Why must the model be trans? Just a male model in lingerie not unlike this one.

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      certainly doesn’t have to be. I expect it’s easier to find a transwoman model than a random cisman looking to do sexy drag just one time…. But I don’t actually know.

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      I guess I’m used to many of my friends who would think nothing of doing this though some tend to identify more as gender queer rather than cis/trans. Hell, I’ve done some level of this myself (many of my friends will confirm I look _very_ good in heels). But the upper half of me would take serious work for a photo like this 🙂

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Oh sure. But there are definitely trans models who are readily available if one needed.

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      (And have experience)

    • avatar
      April 27, 2017 at 5:01 am

      If you really insist, i’ll take one for the team…

    • avatar
      April 27, 2017 at 5:02 am

      btw… you’ll be needing this now.

  3. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Very interesting. I would guess that they withdrew the prize because the existence of his penis is either implicitly emasculating the men who would purchase the store’s lingerie for wives and lovers, or they were just plain embarrassed by not realizing (the horror) beauty is beauty.

    In both of these scenarios you have a climate in Russia that is not LBGQT friendly and is at times vehemently homophobic. Which is sad.

    And this “But really my point is, for all of my feminist leanings… as progressive as I may think of myself… I still like looking at sexy women.” completely resonates with me.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      So Mulvey’s actual male gaze theory (the essay I linked to in the blog) goes into a lot of complex Freudian psychoanalysis as to how men view the existence or lack of a penis as indicative of symbol of power and or a wound that shows that masculine power has been removed on the female body.

      This would speak to an assumption that by reading a penis to the otherwise female form an implicit re-empowering would occur that could be seen as emasculating the viewer (or at the very least confusing as to whether the object of the gaze is empowered or emasculated).

      But that felt like it was getting too technical and theoretical for the article I was writing in this context.

  4. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    So my thing about the shots? Yeah, they were gorgeous, but some of the details were SUPER overprocessed to add things like cleavage and the like. Not saying photoshop doesn’t happen, but I wonder if that was at least part of the issue…maybe they thought there would be too much post-processing?

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      I doubt it. I mean, the prize was “a professional lingerie shoot” and (as Brian Herman above will agree) there are no professional lingerie shoots that DON’T have that level of post-processing. It’s sort of something people don’t understand about photography. Right now it’s sort of en vogue to complain about Photoshop. But Photoshop is just the current tool. Photography has always had post processing. Not even just airbrushing. But even the specific ways you develop things in the darkroom… which chemical baths you use… how long you expose the prints… dodging and burning…

      pre-processing as well. Good glamour photography is all about getting the makeup and the hair and the lighting right in setup before you even turn the camera on… What camera settings you use. Angles you shoot at. Poses of the models. And then constantly tweaking along the way and after the fact in post. I tweak breast size, smooth away wrinkles, correct skin tone, remove flyaway hair… I even dilate pupils sometimes. Photography is all about the post-work… even on the most beautiful female models.

      Really, pressing the button on the camera is the easiest part.

      So they were going to have to do all of that no matter what.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      Chris is pretty spot on with what he says here.

      The retouching they did was a bit ham-fisted, but not out of the realm. “Amount” isn’t the issue you have, just the lack of proficiency, I think.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      I agree 100% they’d have to do it anyway, but maybe they thought since he was a male that some of the features werent…properly represented? Playing devil’s advocate here;) That said, yeah, I think its fucking dumb and they made a fucking dumb decision…he worked that camera like a boss and his professional shoot would have been amazing. They screwed up here big time.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 1:05 pm

      While there was definitely -some- cleavage added with Photoshop (in the pink lingerie shot), in most of the other pics that I saw, very similar effects could be accomplished with just some talented makeup contouring. Google “contouring cleavage.”

  5. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    ” In other words, men are worth more than women even when it comes to just being T&A.” ? 😀 ?

  6. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I saw Under the Skin. Definitely not sexy. Actually highly disturbing. But … pretty good? At least pretty interesting. Don’t watch it right before going to bed unless you have very strong control over your subconscious. Also, pretty much trigger warning for any possible trigger.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      yeah… So like I get why that’s not the movie that people want to point to for “oh my god, she’s so hot!!!!” But like, she’s totally naked in it. And not just incidentally so. She’s naked in a sexual context.

      Hence my argument that it’s not just the nakedness that leads to the attraction. It’s being able to cast the nakedness into a favorable sexual context for the viewer.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      Chris Maverick what’s interesting to me about that argument is that it is similar to my mental distinction between Madonna and Lady Gaga’s nakedness. Madonna, nude, is almost always sexy (she intends to be looked at sexually, she intends sexuality in the performance, she intends those attracted to women to be attracted to her). Lady Gaga, nude, is *sometimes* sexy, but a lot of the time she’s not, because that’s not what she intends. Sometimes she’s intending to be ugly or inhuman or unpleasant or (even, and memorably, *sexed female* without being sexual).

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 3:17 pm

      I get what you’re saying. But to be clear in Under The Skin (which again I’m sure only Michael Higgins and I have seen) the contest is TOTALLY sexual. It’s just off putting because of what happens.

      Basically the whole point of the film is sort of “let’s make sexy be uncomfortable”

  7. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    I’m thinking of using “the burden of sexual objectification” as a title for a series of paintings. I used to think I was a solid writer, but there’s a reason I work with images instead of words on the things that actually mean something to me.

    • avatar
      April 25, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      The Mulvey article is linked to the blog version of he post. There’s probably all kinds of Freudian psychoanalytic language in there that would make good painting titles.

  8. avatar
    April 25, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    I think you should’ve been a Marketing Major. “Buy our lingerie, we can even make HIM look this good!” Brilliant!

  9. avatar
    April 26, 2017 at 11:42 am

    So, basically, this is a case of Schrodinger’s penis?

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      Ooooh! I like that. That should totally be an article title. The penis is both there and not there until we know better.

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      I mixed my psych here for a sec and was thinking something about Pavlov’s penis, which is an entirely different discussion

    • avatar
      April 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      So when Cori hears a bell ring…

  10. avatar
    April 26, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    I wonder if the law against LGBT propaganda played a role in their decision. I can see a business not wanting to take on the liability of being accused of violating that given the overall anti-LGBT climate prevalent in Russia today.

  11. avatar
    Wayne Wise
    May 3, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    So, an anecdote rather than commentary. Years ago, while working in a comics shop, we had a copy of The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, on display. It’s the one featuring this beautiful Brian Bolland cover.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4f/Lordfanny.jpg

    A male customer was really struck by it. Started talking about how sexy it was. He was a little creepy in how much he liked this image of a sexy woman on a comic book cover.

    Then I told him that the character, Lord Fanny, was transgender.

    He was completely weirded out by the fact that he had been attracted to a character with a penis. A 2-dimensional image of a fictional character that we never actually see the penis of. But, the whole idea of said fictional penis completely changed his reaction to the cover to such a degree that he told me how disgusting it was mere moments after telling me how sexy it was.

    • avatar
      May 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      I think that speaks EXACTLY to the phenomenon. Fanny’s exists purely as a concept. Drawing her is no different than drawing any other female character. It’s not like Bolland drew genitalia and then drew clothing over it. He just drew a woman and then Morrison (and I guess the letterer) wrote “and she has a penis.”

      But the anonymity of the image is destroyed by the knowledge that conceptually there is a penis that cannot be seen.

    • avatar
      May 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Also, remind me to “interview you” so i can use that anecdote in my dissertation at some point.

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