Listen up, guys. This is important: The more sex you have, the smaller your dick gets.
Just kidding, that’s not how it works. At all. But the twinge of anxiety, bewilderment and anger you might feel at reading such a baldly ignorant, baseless claim about your dick is something the women of the internet know too well. That’s because a murky alliance of misogynists has long circulated memes declaring that women who dare to have straight sex are stretching out or loosening their vaginas with each new partner. I wrote on this toxic genre of shitpost back in February, appalled by its view of the female anatomy as “dead passive flesh disembodied from a thinking human, there to taste, probe or discard as you wish, and somehow irrevocably tainted or deformed by any man who got to it first.”
But since then, the sexually enlightened have retaliated in a big way — with jokes that flip the script. Now, instead of an increasingly cavernous vag, we have a shriveling dong.
This response appears to be part of an emergent pattern in meme discourse, especially where the touchy topics of sex and gender split the commentariat into politicized factions. On the one side you have the reactionary freaks who hate the thought of a woman’s sexual agency or trans people using a public restroom; on the other, you have sane individuals ridiculing their pseudoscience, hysteria and fragile absolutism.
Horrified by gender fluidity, for example, the internet’s diaper-clad conservatives post that “there are only two genders,” or sometimes, that if they had “a dollar for every gender,” they’d have $2. But as they were beating these catchphrases into the dirt, the left flooded social media with goofy memes identifying three, five or a dozen genders, usually in a mock-professorial tone, subverting the essentialist attitude.
Like the “17 genders” gag, memes promoting the myth that dongs are compressed by pussies over time push back against a backward and destructive ideology with matching nonsense. They tackle absurdity with more of the same, and in so doing, they remind us that any asshole with Wi-Fi and an opinion can pose as an informed expert.
I emailed Alison Stevenson — the comedian, writer and MEL contributor whose tweet above went viral this week — to get her thoughts on what humor can do to change or invert these frustrating conversations. “A large part of why I got into stand-up was because I wanted to call men out on their bullshit in a way that’s definitely angry, but in a more playful way,” she writes. “My end goal is to get straight men to think about why they do and say some of the shit they do and say. I like that they’re forced to listen to me, whether they enjoy my material or not. They have to sit and bear it for however long I’m up there, and aren’t allowed to talk back. For women like myself, who often find it hard to be taken seriously by certain kinds of men (men who ignore me because they don’t want to fuck me), creating a setting where they have to reframe how they view me is extremely powerful.”
A tweet that does numbers, of course, may reach an exponentially larger audience, including dudes who will come so close to getting it.
Could putting the shoe on the other foot prime these men for a breakthrough? Which doors open up when they’re made to hear how stupid their own reasoning sounds? “I think humor is the best way to approach the hypocrisy and idiocy of the double standards that exist between men and women, but sadly, there are a lot of people who need it to be spelled out for them more bluntly,” like the guys replying to the crumpled-cock jokes in earnest, Stevenson says.
Still, the parody becomes a necessity: “Basically, this whole stretched-out vagina thing has been around forever, and my tweet was part of this newer effort being made by women to point that stupid sort of logic back at men. Why is it that vaginas are ruined by excessive sex, but not dicks?”
These tweets have taken off, Stevenson thinks, because they embed a serious argument in nonconfrontational comedy that lets a problematic inequality speak for itself. They target an issue “while not directly attacking anyone,” she says. And that tactic carries less risk: “Getting men to see our side of things without them being angry at us is ultimately for [women’s] benefit. Take it from someone who is regularly harassed by alt-right trolls, and was even sent death threats at one point. The anger of men is terrifying, and humor can help prevent that.” Ideally, this kind of blow lands lightly.
And with a little luck, some otherwise clueless bros will come to see “how they might be projecting their own insecurities when they criticize women for sleeping with them,” Stevenson says, before adding, “Women should definitely keep it up with the reverse slut-shaming, because it’s doing a lot to open men’s eyes about what women experience — but at the end of the day, nothing is more powerful than making a man go to fucking therapy.”
Got that, dudes? You can stop indulging your sexist rage on Reddit or 4chan and start seeing a professional anytime. Then you’d probably have a better handle on gender politics overall. Hell, you might even develop a sense of humor.