Critique My Dick Pic has convinced its proprietor that the female gaze is not homogeneous. Traditionally functioning as little more than late-night infomercials, often with hilariously utilitarian demonstrations of size, dick pics have been shared en masse on dating sites and social apps for years. The dick-pic economy is thriving, replicating a whole host of our cultural malaises in miniature: Aggressively insecure men harass women whose disinterest is irrelevant to them, blithely sailing past boundaries to demand that their manhood be looked at and validated; scornful women pass them on to girlfriends with less-than-smiling emoji. Dick pics are routinely shared the first time without consent on the part of the recipient and are widely loathed for this reason. Yet they’re also intimate, amateur portraits of the genitals of men, sometimes very lonely men, which gives rise to a kind of dual nature: The dick pic is hostile yet pitiable, aggressive but also acutely pathetic. They’re also almost invariably ugly. Dick pics are, on the whole, dull and artless, inexpertly captured and painfully unerotic.
A year ago I started Critique My Dick Pic, a blog that is not safe for work unless your workplace is chill. The premise is simple: Men and other people with dicks send me photos thereof, and I critique the photos with love. I have a general policy of being gentle about people’s bodies, including their genitals (the blog’s motto is “100% ANON, NO SIZE SHAMING”), but I was also feeling particularly magnanimous toward dick pics the day that the blog was born. I’m often asked why I started CMDP, and the truth is that I woke up one morning to a dick pic so good that I felt inspired to change the others. That’s all it was—one excellent, well-planned pic from a person whose dick I explicitly wanted to see. I was jarred by how unnecessarily rare that move was and struck by the conviction that people with dicks could do better.
Determining a dick pic’s worth is partly intuitive, and the criteria can be hard to articulate. Still, I find myself repeating certain directives. Put some thought into the lighting, pose, and tone of your shot. Remove that pile of dirty laundry or half cup of moldy tea visible in the background, which usually constitutes a bulk of your photo and should therefore look nice and not distracting. Finally, divorce your preoccupation with the size of your member from its pictorial representation. An obsession with size is the key cause of mediocrity in dick pics. I get plenty of submissions from men who are painfully insecure about their size, but there’s also a subculture of submitters who are staunchly proud of their penises, no matter how small or large. That’s commendable, except that pride doesn’t always translate into virtue, and great dick pics tend to happen when you forget about length and focus on quality. The most important tip, though, is this: Spare some thought for the desires of the person at the receiving end of your dick pic, especially if that person is a woman, because historically she’s been excluded as a consideration in the exchange altogether.
The core reason I started Critique My Dick Pic, however, wasn’t to chide men who send unsolicited dick pics but to elide cisgendered and, from my perspective, heterosexual men from the explanation for why dick pics exist. I wanted to prioritize dick-pic recipients and in turn make dick pics more thoughtful. I want to depart from the idea that penises are little more than punchlines by framing men and other people with dicks as sexy, as objects of desire: looked-at and not just lookers. I saw a cultural space in which to seize the dick pics and say, “Mate, this is not good enough. You can package your dick more attractively than this and you should, for all our sakes. Get that bottle-as-measuring-stick out of there; your picture reeks of desperation and no one cares how big your dick is. Take off your awful socks, and spare me your filthy fingernails. This is about me for a change. I want to see something erotic, and I want to be titillated. You don’t have a reliable cultural script for titillating me, but you can damn well try.”
In other words, I wanted the site to promote the female gaze. That goal is still laudable and, one year on, I still think it matters: We live in a world that overwhelmingly values and prioritizes male pleasure, and our mainstream pornography treats male viewers as default, whether or not they’re straight, while glossy magazine articles ostensibly for women are all about how to please men (10 Tricks to Make Him Go Wild! Your Own Pleasure?! Who Cares!). Dated ideas about female sexuality linger in our cultural psyche, whispering to us that we simply aren’t visual creatures, that we prefer literary erotica and gently whispered romanticisms, and that most of us are the good type of woman who would fall apart at the sight of a gang bang. We need more sexual material that assumes a female audience, and we need more honest representations of female desire. But the longer I stuck with running Critique My Dick Pic, the less convinced I was that the female gaze is an adequate term.
When you take an interest in porn produced for women, you start to notice a pattern. A couple of years ago, I watched keenly as a woman launched a porn magazine for a female audience. She argued that most women aren’t turned on by what little porn is available for us and that few people were designing porn with us specifically in mind. (A lot of porn “for women” is actually repurposed gay porn for men.) I was in such strong agreement with the magazine’s ethos that I subscribed from the very first issue. Despite my best efforts to love it, though, my enthusiasm waned: I noticed that the magazine was gradually replacing old stereotypes of what women like (beefcake, white Fabio types with raging horse dicks) with a slightly fresher set of fixed ideas about what women like (slim, white Jared Leto types with star tattoos and ponytails). Neither of those things were my thing, and that’s a problem that’s bound to crop up with any material that purports to cater to the female gaze. There is no one thing that “a female audience” likes looking at, and any attempt to cover a category as impossibly broad, multifaceted and diverse in desires as “women” will always fall short.
It’s transgressive to be aiming to please women in the first place, and women who like ponytailed Jared Letos are still woefully sidelined by mainstream porn companies. But even more woefully sidelined—so far sidelined they’re off the court—are women who are into other women, or men who aren’t white, or fat people, or women with dicks, or men without dicks. And even the smorgasbord of porn available for men who are turned on by black and fat and trans people is usually gross and fetishistic, treating an attraction to people in these groups as a guilty and deviant desire. So magazines for women who like ponytailed Jared Letos are great, but they’re not enough. If the female gaze ends up boiling down to a collection of stereotypes about what heterosexual cis white women like looking at, then it isn’t radical; it’s a hollow rhetorical device that promotes the desires of a narrow group of privileged women while purporting to include us all. So while we shouldn’t stop putting women in the position of gazers, what we really need to cultivate is a plurality of gazes.
We need different types of women, marginalized men, and nonbinary people to vocalize their desires until we destabilize the demand that insists on a single perfect consumer, a uniform gaze designed to tell us what we want instead of answer to it.