Respect the plumed serpent
What is it about the penis that strikes fear into the hearts of men? What is it about the dick, prick, cock, shlong, dong, snake, willy, knob, trouser snake, winky, wiener, pecker or one-eyed monster that makes presidents weep and a nation scream? Every man has one, flaccid or not, and yet the mere mention of the proverbial python sends a grown man’s blood racing to his head. It was either Robin Williams or Mae West who said that there is only enough blood in a man’s body to be in either his brain or his erection, but not both.
Ever since Eve, our curse has been to clothe our beautiful naked bodies in shame, to hide from our desires. Our God-given bodies, no longer sacred, are hidden as we forget our place in the divine and true order of natural pleasure.
The shame that recently brought this country to its knees was not that a man in the highest seat of power should have been depicted with a penis, but that the representation of his penis should be so soft!
Our ancient African ancestors are rolling in their sarcophagi in protest against such sacrilege. Gods such as Osiris were depicted with an erect penis, standing as a proud symbol of divinity – of the divine seed that brings forth life, of the symbolic return and resurrection of spring after the long cold winter. Once a year, in full view of his people, the Pharaoh Akhenaten would masturbate into the Nile to symbolically deposit his seed so that the coming inundation might bring fecundity in the year to follow.
Could it be a coincidence that, in a country with one of the highest rape statistics in the world, the president and ruling party should attempt to prevent a free and honourable artist from depicting the president with a penis? Are we to believe our head of state may be an eunuch?
Growing up in this country, in the working class suburbs of Boksburg and Germiston, my misogynistic father attempted to hijack and derail my imagination and my respect for my own body by instilling the fear of eternal damnation should I consider myself a sexual being. “Trek jy draad?” he would interrogate me, warning that I would surely go to hell if I gave myself any pleasure or affection.
As “real men” we are not permitted to speak about our sex or address our desires with sensitivity and respect. We learn about sex through pornography and bathroom banter.
In the 1960s the feminists started a revolution with small hand-held mirrors, learning to rediscover their sexuality and to take the time to find pleasure outside the limits imposed on them by a macho culture. Perhaps if men did not consider their erections as tools but took the time to love their bodies, to be proud of their full natural being, they would be less likely to be rapists or misogynists.
It has been argued that depicting the president’s penis was an insult to traditional African culture. But it is well documented that, before the colonialists and missionaries came, proud Zulu man wore nothing but a penis sheath (when not stark naked). There are many blushing Eurocentric accounts of Victorian ladies being carried ashore by naked Zulu gentlemen in the 1830s.
Xhosa leader Chief Sandile told Lord Charles Somerset to take himself, his soldiers, his people and, most importantly, his trousers back to England. For Sandile and many other South African people at the time, being forced to wear pants was the ultimate symbol of colonialism. It is ironic that 200 years ago South African men were humiliated by colonialists by being told to wear pants and yet today powerful South Africans like Jacob Zuma consider it humiliating to be represented as having a penis.
Two thousand years of Christian dogma, a century of colonial subjugation with its missionary guilt, and decades of apartheid humiliation have left scars deep in the soul of every African man. But this should not be reason enough to further disrespect ourselves. Rather than remembering the pain of past generations in order to further subjugate our nature, perhaps it’s time to now re-member our bodies.
If you love and respect your own body, then being naked is a celebratory act of defiance. If not abused, the penis is a symbol of life and love. Perhaps the president may wish to reconsider his relationship with his penis – to give it time, love and attention, to grant it the right to affection and allow it the space of love?
I ask all South African men: When was the last time you loved yourself – not jerking off in the corner, not choking the monkey watching porn or chopping wood under the sheets, but proudly loving your body as your own, a body worthy of respect, affection, time and tenderness?
Kendell Geers’s new exhibition, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, runs at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg until August 18