When I saw Holly Wilsons ‘Bring Your Dick To The Table’ Kickstarter I was really weirded out. Wilson is a sculpture artist who believes in "storytelling." After experiencing discrimination while negotiating contracts with a male gallery owner, she decided to suck it up and "act like a man" to achieve what she wanted. In her Kickstarter, she hopes to distribute penis shaped pocket-sized sculptures for women to carry around in hopes that when they feel the tiny trooper in their pocket, they can feel empowered enough to achieve greatness.
Oh, wait. She's serious.
She throws around lots of positive goals, and speaks of her personal experience that she assumes most cis-women have also shared…but then she associates masculinity and penises with power, which is so reinforcing to patriarchy it's a little embarrassing for her.
Wilson’s slogan is, “If all that separates us is a dick, then here is mine. Now lets get down to business.” This effectively pokes fun at male dominance, but makes assumptions about power and genitals. Wilson is a cis-woman, which gives her a certain kind of privilege. When she insists that acquiring this faux dick gives people a sense of power, she is effectively dismissing the intense discrimination and oppression experienced by trans women which is particularly insulting considering the intense violence trans communities face on a daily basis, both interpersonal and systematic.
Genitals do not equal gender any more than genitals equal power. Just saying.
I know that this began as a comment on gender inequality within the workplace, but it goes deeper than that. There are simply too many assumptions being made: women will only advance in the workplace if they act like men; all women don’t have penises; all men have penises; genitals are attached to strength and power; we should settle for injustice systems and individually work our way through it, rather then working to dismantle a broken and patriarchal system (which is actually being reinforced when handing out dicks and telling people it will give them empowerment!).
Now we are treading into dark and tumultuous waters that involve gender, sexuality, identity and how THEY ARE ALL VERY DIFFERENT. Look at this nice chart to see why we're in a huff.
I know the artists’ motives were well intentioned, and it’s her way of coping with an inequitable dynamic she personally experienced, but she is also reinforcing a lot of really problematic ideas, and it scares me. If there are people of power enforcing these ideas, and a woman who has experienced inequality turns around and thinks that acquiring a sculpture of a penis is the only way that she can feel empowered, I don’t want to participate or acknowledge this as progress.
In an interview with Slate Wilson responded to criticism that this shouldn’t be a symbol of women’s liberation: “I want to clarify that this isn’t my symbol of womanhood. It’s just a humorous talisman to remind us that this is what our detractors are basing their judgments on, and that’s ridiculous.” She has a point, but it infringes upon other people and makes assumptions about identity that I just can't get behind.
Gender and equality are not about body parts, and this project comes off as kind of cis-sexist. We will only achieve progress as individuals when we encourage the wellbeing and success of everyone, and not remain within the problematic and limited binaries and structures we are already given.
Images Courtesy of Holly Wilson and www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com