Much maligned is the dick pic, and for good reason.
“It seems like such a dumb thing,” comedian Aziz Ansari commented after his third full-length stand-up special Buried Alive riffed on phallus auto-documentation. At one point in his act, Ansari asked the female members of the audience to cheer. Raucous applause. Then he requested that the female members of the audience who had received a dick pic cheer. The cheers were the same. “I just don’t understand the logic behind it,” he said later. “A dick is a very dumb-looking, boring thing.”
For the record, this author agrees with none of that, but I’ll allow that the dick pic does leave itself open to derision. Many see it as comedy masquerading as erotica, or worse. During the weeks in which I have been journalistically obsessed with dick pics, individuals of all genders and sexual orientations have told me they find them “silly”, “gross”, “uncomfortable” – though most allowed that they had seen “good ones.”
Why so little love for the cock? It is important to remember that many of our experiences with the dick pic are nonconsensual. Women and others are often subjected to the sight of penises under traumatic circumstances – the text that comes from nowhere, a strange hiccup in chat flow with a potential date on an hookup app. In real life, penises can jump out at you from beneath khaki trenches or the fists of inappropriate individuals on public transportation. Dicks can be a bit jarring.
Surely female flashers do exist in the world – a quick Google search reveals isolated incidents, like a Davis, California woman who exposed herself to bike trail passers-by last summer, though even she had a male companion photo-documenting the process. By and large – save for the amazing work being done by feminist pornographers — female nudity is regarded as something that is created for the viewer’s pleasure. Self-determination is assumed only in the context of male nudity. Perhaps dick pics make us feel funny because they are the manifestation of the dick’s needs, not our own.
So thank Gaia for Madeleine Holden, critic of dick pics. Holden is a 26 year old New Zealand lawyer and occasional, hyper-informed feminist hip-hop writer (her essay on Lil Wayne’s contribution to the world of cunnilingus rap gave me chills). She is also the progenitor of Critique My Dick Pic, a Tumblr in which she does just that. The site is so popular that at one point she sought to stem the tide of phallic user submissions by removing her contact email from the site. That email address has since been reinstated, with a note that special consideration is given to the dicks of transpeople and POCs.
Holden gives honest assessments of dick pics based not on girth or width but rather aesthetics, tone, personality. It’s a community service, she explains. “I don’t find dick pics particularly significant,” she wrote when I struck an Internet convo with her, my new Internet heroine. “The reason I started a blog about them is because they are generally so dismal: usually thrust at women unsolicited, and of terrible quality.”
She does think that dick pics are more than the sum of their private parts, however. “I don’t think a website about vag shots would have the same impact or point,” Holden continued. “Vag shots aren’t a cultural phenomenon like dick pics are; they aren’t thrust at men on a mass scale without men’s consent. I think women are critiqued enough, anyway.”
She is staunchly against what is referred to as “log” shots – close-ups of the dick, sans contextualizing body parts like a caressing hand or velvety thigh. Put yourself into your dick pic, Holden counsels. Just don’t go overboard. Take heed of the warning she imparted to the hapless dick picker who sent her a shot of his penis pressed into the juncture of two mirrored walls, creating a visually striking cock flower: “Sender, you’re doing too much here. It’s funny, but you’re definitely doing too much … You’ve got this symmetrical quad-dick thing going on, but I’m failing to see what’s being achieved here. It’s a childlike dick pic, where you make a funny face in a mirror and you want to show it to everyone because it’s so funny, except it’s your dick.”
He receives a C+, a cautionary note to those who would value humor over eroticism in their dick pic. High marks are reserved for those who pay attention to lighting, symmetry and route of encounter with the camera. Shots in which dicks look too aggressive angled at the camera get panned.
The blog is calmly well-written, mature, trans-positive and anti-racist. It provides feminine gaze in a genre dominated by male desire. The senders of dick pics no longer are texting their cocks into the abyss. Here, their output is collected and openly assessed. Submission is voluntary, but even for gents who would never email Holden proof of rod, Critique My Dick Pic serves as reminder that photos of your genitals should be composed with the intended viewer’s needs in mind.
Holden says that there are two things that one needs to take a good dick pic: a dick, and the ability to read her Tumblr. She’s a woman on a mission to better mankind. “I saw potential for them to be much more erotic than they tend to be,” she writes. “And that’s the point of the blog: to encourage better dick pics.”