Dick Week Controversy

If you look at September 8 – 14 in the pocket Slingshot Organizer this year, you’ll see little drawings of penises shooting cum, bubbles, lightning bolts and what looks like cursive (but we’re not sure). When the collective saw these drawings while we were making the organizer this summer, some members of the collective questioned whether we should publish them because the drawings could be triggering for people who have been hurt by people with penises. Other collective members defended publishing the drawings on various grounds: one member suggested that they could help folks who had suffered from heterosexism, by “challeng[ing] people’s attitudes toward sexuality and nudity.” Another collective member voiced that it’s important to show penises in a non–normative way, while in a similar vein the artist argued that “insofar as we project onto them violence because of our experiences with heteropatriarchy and gender–based oppression and violence, dicks can also be queer and radical.” After a week of discussion, it seemed like most of the collective was for publishing the drawings, so they went in the organizer. Some folks had suggested running a trigger warning, but that idea ultimately died before it went to press.

Soon after we began mailing out organizers, we got a few emails questioning inclusion of the drawings, including an angry email from Grenoble, France: “Are you fucking morons? Don’t you know that dicks are drawn everywhere already as a . . . symbol in the patriarchal society? . . . I can’t believe nobody pointed out to you that there is no week decorated with pussy drawings. You reinforce patriarchy by making dicks funny, visible, legitimate and pussies mysterious and plain invisible . . I accept dicks in my calendar only surrounded by pairs of scissors, with a big SCUM above.”

These emails sparked more discussion on our internal email list. Each individual is going to understand the penis drawings differently and there is no doubt that the social meaning of penis drawings — as well as sexual repression and patriarchy — are complex and warrant a lot more discussion. We invite you to write in with your ideas.

When we decided to publish the images, a number of people believed that it was okay to be controversial and that having an organizer that pushes buttons and makes people argue would be good, even though we knew that some people might be mad at us and refuse to buy the organizer because of the drawings. Many people liked the idea of honoring the artist’s contribution. Others liked the art itself.

The Dick Week artist is a queer cis man who works as a sex educator and counselor. He wrote a long response to the emails in which he stated that he was not trying to reinforce patriarchy with his drawings. He wrote: “Dicks can be oppressive. They can also be fun, silly and even libratory. At a certain level, they’re just awkward lumps of flesh.” Some people in the collective proposed creating alternative art for September 8–14 for folks who didn’t want to see penis art. Some felt that it was important to defend the penis art as penis–demystifying and sex–positive expression, while one member argued that the specific act (ejaculation, whether of lightning bolts or cum) is hard to depict without evoking the misogynistic trope of the cum–shot in mainstream porn. Others voiced that when a marginalized group of people has something to say about their marginal status, the collective should fucking listen.

Slingshot collective tries to involve as many different artists, authors and editors as possible in the process that creates the annual Slingshot organizer. We give 26 four–week sections to 26 different artists for the pocket and spiral organizers. Doing so gives the organizer the chaotic Slingshot look and seeks to include lots of different perspectives, politics, and styles. So one four–week period might be full of pot leaves and butterflies, and the next might be vegan straight edge with skulls and barbed wire. This reflects the diverse reality of the counter–culture.

When we give an artist a section of the organizer, we don’t tell them what to draw. We give them a list of 10–20 historical dates for each day, and ask them to pick 1–4 to include on each day of the organizer. At the end of the messy process, we spread all the pages out on big tables and a group of whoever happens to be around looks at all the pages to make sure they look okay. Sometimes we decide to fix a few things and other times we have long philosophical/political debates about the pages, such as we did about Dick Week.

The fracas over Dick Week has led to some positive discussions within the collective. The current political context makes clear how the sexual repression that goes hand–in–hand with patriarchy seeks to restrict and control images of genitalia and sex. San Francisco just passed a law cracking down on nudity in public, and you tend not to see images of penises or vaginas in media other than porn, where they’re usually objectified. We think normalizing our body parts and sex acts can attack sexual repression and patriarchy.

And yet, we recognize that publishing drawings of penises or any other genitalia is still controversial and, like all cultural production, is subject to interpretation and may not be viewed as the artist intends. If you feel strongly about Dick Week, we’d love to hear from you. And if you have a knack for drawing any kind of genitals, come lend a hand at an organizer meeting.