Friday, March 1, 2013

A Tale of Two Snow Penises

A Rhode Island snow penis recently made the news, but the reaction to this latest Frosty the Snow Dick was markedly different than the reaction to the most famous snow phallus of them all, the one constructed by the Harvard crew team ten years ago. A comparison of the two reactions is fascinating.

First, flashback to Harvard, February 11, 2003. A few male members of the Harvard crew team decided to have some fun in the snow, but they didn't want to just build a snowman. For Ivy League over-achievers, what could be more enjoyable than spending an hour with your buddies constructing a 9-foot-6-inch tall snow phallus? A crew member came up with the idea as a way for a few guys on the team to “hang out together” outside of practice. The young men did it for fun, with no motive more profound than to perform "a junior high prank."

But within hours after its erection (well, you think of a better word!), two women tore it down, and "women’s groups . . . led a chorus of complaints against the snow penis, arguing that such a display is demeaning to women."

Women’s Studies Lecturer Diane L. Rosenfeld, who taught Women, Violence and the Law, wrote that the public space where the ice sculpture was erected "should be free from menacing reminders of women’s sexual vulnerability.” (Yes, she wrote that. Wait, it gets worse.) She explained that the snow penis follows a long line of public phallic symbols, including the Washington Monument and missiles. “Women do not need to be reminded of the power of the symbol of the male genitalia,” Rosenfeld declared. (Salon later quipped: "The Crimson makes [Rosenfeld] sound like a Lampoon parody of a feminist scholar.")

Amy E. Keel, who identified herself as a feminist, was one of the students who tore down the snow penis and proudly defended her right to do so. She analogized it to rape: "No one should have to be subjected to an erect penis without his or her express permission or consent," she declared. "The unwanted image of an erect penis is an implied threat." The snow sculpture's "only purpose [was] to assert male dominance," and it "propagated the notion that women don’t really belong here. It . . . put us in our place.”

Based on Ms. Keel's comments, you might think the snow penis slid across Harvard Yard in icy pursuit as she fled in terror to avoid an unspeakable wintry encounter. Talk about frigidity.

If the boys had sculpted an image mocking Christianity, any attempt to destroy it would have been widely criticized on First Amendment grounds. But, alas, apparently, the First Amendment does not protect snow penises, so down it came.

Fast forward to Rhode Island two weeks ago. Ryan Worthington, 16, and his teenage buddies, did what young men seem compelled to do after a big snowfall: they sculpted a twelve foot tall snow penis. The structure was met with a mixture of chuckles and prudish outrage. The police let it stand out of respect for free speech. "Everybody has a right to do whatever they want in their property," said one neighbor. "There's worse things going on in the world."

Compare the reaction of Ryan's mother, Raylene Worthington, to that of Amy E. Keel and Diane L. Rosenfeld at Harvard ten years ago. "[Ryan] put it there as a joke so I'd see it when I went to work," said the 41-year-old mom. "I laughed my ass off."

Wait, wait, wait. You mean this wasn't a "menacing reminder of women’s sexual vulnerability," Ms. Worthington? It wasn't an "implied threat"? You laughed your ass off?  Seriously?

Raylene Worthington accurately summed up the motivation for the sculpture in three words: "They're teenage boys." She added: "There's worse things they could be doing. It was innocent. And to be honest, knowing that it pissed people off gave us a little charge."

But then, finally, the story got too big, and she had to take it down. The behemoth dick was causing too much traffic, and too much outrage. "It's just a big pair of balls now," she said. "Someone called me and said there were police in my yard today because there was traffic ... The story got too big. It was funny, but I'd had enough."

Imagine that. A mom with a sense of humor, and common sense. It never occurred to Raylene Worthington that her son and his friends were "asserting male dominance" by building a snow penis, because they weren't. "They're teenage boys."  Raylene "got it," and she doesn't even go to Harvard.

The contrast between the reactions to the two snow dicks is striking. While sanity and rationality are still evident in the suburbs of Rhode Island, things are quite different on the campuses of our vaunted institutions of higher learning. There, prominent voices can find gender oppression in crystalline ice floating from the clouds, and they've convinced themselves that college boys' bathroom humor is a "menacing reminder of women’s sexual vulnerability."

Now that's more chilling than a snowstorm at Harvard Yard.