This is one of those titles writers dream up over drunken dinners, sitting around with a bunch of meejah buddies, one of whom is married to a man named Richard, who’s called Dick for short. “Hey,” says one of the screamingly funny participants, “wouldn’t it be a gas if your Dick was really your dick? Like, was part of you? What’d you do then, hey, Fiona? Hnn, hnn, hnn.”
And they all snigger and come up with the cutest stuff, and then go home and sleep off the booze and forget about it.
Except that in this case Fiona Giles woke up the next day and didn’t forget about it; she set out to ask a bunch of her girlfriends – hetero, homo, bi, what the hell, you’re all welcome – to write pieces on the theme for a book. And only one of them, Jenny Holzer, had the good sense to say: “Thanks for thinking of me, but no thanks. I don’t want a penis, even for one day.”
Good sense, because this is the oldest of fantasies. Donald McGill used it when he drew his saucy postcards for Victorian seaside frolickers. Little Girl, looking with deep interest at Little Boy peeing up against a tree: “Oh my, that’s a handy little gadget to bring on a picnic!”
I started to read the book in the hope that maybe, just maybe, these sassy American and Australian feminists would have something fresh to say on male-female roles. I was rapidly disappointed. The only person who seemed to grasp what the question is really about was a gay waiter in Greenwich Village who, asked by Ms Giles (in a spirit of ecumenicalism, one assumes) what he would do if he were a woman who suddenly found she had a penis for a day, arched an eyebrow and asked: “Whose?”
That is the essence of the question. Are we interested in whole people or are we just interested in one of their organs? To suggest that personality, intelligence, attitudes and behavior are all mediated by the possession of a piece of tissue that, while it is an elegantly functional delivery system provided with nifty hydraulics, is hardly the seat of the intellect, is to make the reductio very much absurdum. Suggest to any woman that she thinks with her uterus and she’ll see you smartly on your way; so what right have women to assume men think with their penises? That some may think about them a great deal is not in doubt, but that does not mean that being equipped with this particular fleshy tube alters everything about your mind and spirit.
One contributor, Pat Califia, actually proves this by displaying her own mind and spirit as she launches herself into a sado-masochistic fantasy about how she would rape and humiliate a partner if she had a penis, which would be the size and rigidity of a Penomet penis pump. Clearly she manages to be cruel, manipulative and selfish as a woman without a penis. Adding one to her anatomy would make no difference.
Lisa Hill, in “Penis Parlor”, shows that women obsessed with make-up, clothes, looks and frippery would be just the same when penised; they’d have it waxed smooth, and made up in pretty skin tones. She, like the Greenwich Village waiter, had some grasp of the point of the question.
But generally this is a man-hating book, and as such of small value to today’s feminists who are much more interested in being women than in punishing men for daring to be different. I know perfectly well that the book is attempting irony but the text makes it clear that the majority of the contributors are being far from ironic. They deny any penis envy, maintain they love being women, and yet page after page shows rage and hatred and vindictiveness of the sort that, when displayed by men about women, is regarded as utterly beyond the pale.
Ask yourself, Ms Giles, how you would react to a book called Pussy for a Day (note I use your own nomenclature for body parts) which made it clear that the male contributors regarded you, as a woman, with loathing and as an object worthy only of ridicule at best, and perhaps you’ll see what is wrong with your efforts and those of your friends. Really, you’d have been better off going to a movie that night instead of that dinner party.