The Phallic City

It is my informal observation that the majority of our existence revolves around male genitalia, or the lack there of. I am not inserting any personal sentiment here…just telling it like it is. My pondering on the topic was prompted by the comment made by “David Dwight,” the antagonist, if you will, in Faith Baldwin’s 1931 novel Skyscraper:

‘A skyscraper is a little city, it is a little world, it is a strange planet,’ he went on smoothly. ‘A phallic symbol. Yet it is also a new pattern against the sky; it is all of ordered beauty and upward growth that many of the workers within shall never know. And it must influence them, whether they are aware of it or not.” (70)

Not only does this quote serve a the inspiration for this post with its “phallic” symbolism, but it also reflects the degree in which this analogy applies to various other cultural aspects–not just the skyscraper. Actually, for me, it was harder find things that didn’t relate somehow to this notion of phallocentrism.

Over the past few weeks we have debated, analyzed, contemplated, and criticized various aspects of city life and culture. With that being said, it with confidence that I make this claim: This is a penes’ world–vaginas just live in.


I should probably clarify that, by “penes’ world,” I’m speaking primarily in a figurative sense: It’s not the penis, per se, that penetrates (pun intended…I couldn’t resist) society, but rather the implications and/or influences associated with it.

Both Judith Walkowitz and Laura Mulvey claim that women are subjects of cultural perceptions, not generators of it–they can’t change how they are viewed by society, because they’re constantly being measured against pre-existing standards. Why? I’m going to side with Freud and say it all boils down to one thing–the phallus, either in presence, absence, or in the fear of absence (castration anxiety) (Freud).

In 1931, the year Skyscraper was published, women in literature were often vessels for vicarious indulgences, examples of how/how not to behave, and/ or phallic targets of carnal desire…Has this changed? My immediate response is: Maybe, in some aspects.

In the media they were, for the most part, either fetishized or punished…

Women in reality were essentially glorified nannies or selfish social deviants who chose a career over domestic servitude.

Today, while women are still preferred to be aesthetically pleasing, their virtue is more of a bonus than a requirement, and pursuing a career is now a natural progression, not a social taboo. However! while the standards may have changed, the phallus remains.

Here’s a small bit evidence:

This is (still) not ok…



Filed under City Cultures

14 responses to “The Phallic City

  1. jordanorr

    I laughed outloud at that last picture. Touche…very funny. However, on a more formal note, I completely agree with the things you say here regarding the phallic symbol in society. It’s interesting to think about it in regards to food…because of the really awkward sexual nature it brings up…weird. I also find it interesting how you say that women will never “measure up” against the phallic symbol. It’s strange because it works literally and figuratively. If the penis is a symbol of power, then women are just out of luck on that one. However, when relating the phallic symbol back to Skyscraper, I think theres something to be said about David Dwight and his phallic symbol comment. He’s clearly a man who knows what he wants when it comes to women and sex, and he usually gets it too. But in this case with Lynn, he loses. His “phallic symbolism” and power wasn’t strong enough in this case. Possibly, Baldwin was suggesting the decline of power of the phallic symbol. Not necessarily the decline of the use of a phallic symbol (as we see with the food), rather the less powerful the phallic symbol will become as time progresses.

    • marximusvance

      This always brings me back to that scene in Superbad, where Jonah Hill’s character couldn’t stop drawing penises. So his mom said he couldn’t eat any food that looked like a penis and Hill says, ‘You know what type of food is shaped like d*$%ks?! The best kind!” (Or something along those lines)

      It is actually a telling scene where the filmmakers definitely show how many objects have a phallic shape and how they are the most common and the most enjoyable to use.

      Though I will counter argue and say that, other than a flower, the phallic shape is a much more naturally occurring shape than of the female genitalia. But other than that a good post.

  2. krm0013

    Until reading your post I never really thought about how much of our world could be seen as representing the male genitalia. What I think is even more odd is how the men seems to be attracted to these items, just as much as women are. I can understand the undertones of women “wanting” with a phallic shape, but I think its funny that most men seem to love their member so much they want items that remind them of it.

  3. This is an odd post, but certainly an interesting one. I’m glad the castration anxiety made such an impact on my theory class! And I think that a final paper comparing the phallic skyscraper and the vaginal spaces (apartment and nightclub) could make some really interesting points. (I don’t really get how the Goobers fit, though; am I missing something?)

    • lbbk91311

      I found some really good material on sexual symbolism in modernist literature…So, as of now, I plan on broadening my topic to talk about why it was used and what it meant, not just how it was used in “Skyscraper.” Good idea? Or foolishly bold?

      I kept thinking about how, even though the character was a male speaker, it was actually Baldwin talking through him. Also, my American Lit II class is reading “The Day of the Locust,” by Nathanael West–a work considered as high art that also uses a lot of sexual symbolism and deals with same issues as “Skyscraper.” Right now my thoughts are tangled and chaotic, but I know that sexual symbols were important devices in modernist literature, and they were used frequently by both high- and low-artists…I’m still trying to make sense of the rest. Any advice, criticisms, discouragement?
      Also, in reference to you “Goobers” question: It’s a popular nickname for penis–mostly used by kids. I may just have a perverse mind, but when I see the candy, this is the association I make. Hope I’m not alone here…embarrassing…

  4. I would love to see Faith Baldwin put into dialogue with Nathanael West! You definitely have interesting career girls in both, and they’re both from the 1930s. I don’t think it’s too foolishly bold, but we can talk about ways to make it a bit easier. Looking forward to it!

  5. tinyopinions

    This is a very interesting post. It reminds me of a video I watched in one of my other classes about the subliminal sexual messages in advertising and brand logos… the number of phallic references that go unnoticed until they are pointed out is ridiculous. I wonder if Lynn had ever thought about the skyscraper as a phallic symbol until David Dwight pointed it out to her? I’m guessing not, unless it was an unconscious association.
    Also, marximusvance, I thought of Superbad while reading this post too.

  6. I’m glad you brought this whole idea up because I’ve had similar thoughts recently. This weekend, for example, I drove a few friends up to North Alabama for a wedding, and one of my friends is particularly loud and blunt. Throughout the weekend, I heard comments like, “Call me a woman, but I like dressing up,” or, “What are you–a woman?” The implication was that being a woman was less than a being man in some way. Your argument draws attention to the phallic outlook version of that. To many (or most) men, femininity is not a separate concept from masculinity because they are measured on the same scale–a scale that measures by what you have or don’t have. It seems that men are typically more concerned with being as masculine as possible while women are more concerned with just not being masculine. It’s as if masculinity defines femininity. So in other words, men’s perceptions of how things should be for themselves also define how things should be for women, and this sets the expectations for society somehow. It’s quite a general concept, but it’s exactly what I was thinking when I read your post.

  7. bkl0002

    I find it really interesting that you say that virtue is now more of a bonus in women rather than a requirement, because I’m not entirely sure that I agree with that. In many cases, yes – men don’t seem to care if women have “loose” morals, so to speak, as long as they are attractive and otherwise alluring. That being said, I feel as though a fair number of men want the best of both worlds. They want a woman who is both wholesome and fetishized/feminized for their viewing pleasure. I keep reverting back to Ludacris’s line, “we want a lady in the street, but a freak in the bed.” (Note: Although rap clearly exploits women fairly frequently, I feel that this applies to more than just this genre of music.) It’s as though women have to put on a certain air of virtue and respect, yet be willing to give that up behind closed doors. Women must essentially be respectable sluts in order to gain the attention of men. So virtue, I think, is still a pretty common requirement. It just must be malleable.

  8. righteousmyer

    Are you saying Goobers are phallic?

    • lbbk91311

      Assuming you’re referring to the candy, not the body part (capitalization noted): Phonetically speaking, yes, I am saying that “Goobers” are phallic. However, I admit the association is superficial…but, can’t you agree that you might get a weird reaction if you asked someone, “Would you like a ‘Goober”?
      Am I the only one who has ever heard the phallus referenced as a “goober”? Can someone back me up here?

  9. saltysnail27

    Goober…lmbo!! This was a great post. In regards to the whole phallic symbol idea, the LADC library here on campus has a huge selection of books based on this very idea. I went through the book just yesterday and was amazed to find out that a lot of our architecture is designed to resemble the penis. Buildings have only just started to resemble the female sex organ. For instance, the Ming Stadium in China is a prime example. It’s designed to resemble the vag complete with a hood and everything. Here’s a link to the Phallic School of Architecture on the wiki site. You should check it out.

  10. nam88

    Wow! This post is great! And the pictures definitely made me laugh out loud. I never really thought about how much of our culture was based off of this idea. Architecture, food, etc.. Something else I found interesting is how you said that virtue is now more of a bonus and not as expected as much. Do you think that is because of popular culture? And do you think that is a global concept or more localized?

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