Male Obsession

The Measure of (a) Man in China

People are just people, bodies are basically the same. And yet, though we may think that technology has given us dominion over nature (except, after the recent Tohoku earthquake, these voices have gotten real quiet), it just turns around and bites us in the ass, all the more so when the issue is one where cultures interact and power relations are seen to interact.

And in the case I’m thinking of, nature makes men feel insecure, if not outright inadequate, worry if they are quite right – and play “who’s got the biggest” in literal and metaphorical ways.

Not enough that there’s quite too much talk about sex in China, including about the lack of frank talk thereabout (Jocelyn and I have been getting into these issues), there’s also that undercurrent of biology determining… whatever. And it is just too good a case of how we are biological beings and maybe more, organisms as well as thinkers. And misleading ourselves.

Why I’m finally writing about this has a peculiar reason, too: I have always laughed off those laowai discussions of just having to have condoms sent from abroad. Dick jokes, too childish…

The thing is, though, that I’ve had one too many of those situations where I go into a public restroom (in railway or bus stations where the truly common people come together), only to be checked out rather too intensely, with apparent interest in how I compare. – I have to admit, it does get one to wonder…

On the one hand, you can’t dispute the facts. You can dispute their veracity, check, question methodology or sources, but ultimately, there is reality.

Penis Sizes in Different Countries; h/t Fons Tuinstra


Perception plays at least as much of a role to us, though, and it is in this area that we are easily misled (or even misleading ourselves). As a friend reported back, in one of those fascinating situations that sometimes just suddenly materialize, there was that (Chinese, male) acquaintance of hers who suddenly contacted her to chat about his watching an “AV” (adult video) and the sad feelings it evoked, because he (or maybe it was even “the Chinese”) were not quite as gifted by nature as “the foreigners.” – Yeah, get your sex education from porn…

Male Obsession
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Well, same in “the West,” though. Haven’t you heard that blacks are better-endowed (which may be true, if the sources of the above map are correct)? And fascinatingly, the attitude manages to be, at the same time, that “they” are somehow closer to nature, more animal-like, and therefore bigger (or maybe, the other way round) – and that many “more civilized” whites would like to be bigger themselves (just check your spam folder if you need proof).

The only good news is that it’s not a strictly superficial issue, it’s under the clothes/covers.

That there should be such a fascination, such concern – to the point that one of the reasons why Chinese women who have been with a foreigner are supposedly suspect not just for being “used goods,” but also for expecting/wanting/… a bigger shlong, being able to compare, and maybe making Chinese men feel inadequate in the process – should be a sign that maybe we worry about the wrong things, though.

I don’t think anyone’s absolutely immune to social comparison. It’s very much a part of our psychology, after all. But that anybody would ever seriously consider penis size a sign of national weakness – or even just personal problems, as long as it’s not totally outside the average – … well, let me just recommend reading Jocelyn’s post on Sex and Chinese Men for an inkling of whether that really plays a role (pretty much the first sentence of her answer should clarify that).

Meanwhile, I’ll be here, still wondering. No, not how I measure up, but about our common oddity as human beings. First, we say that our biology, our looks, are not so important (anymore) – and then we get hung up on issues such as penis size and broad shoulders (or broad belly), boobs and thin waist; wide eyes or almond-shaped ones, darker skin or lighter…

The Chinese situation has an interesting effect, too: Should you choose to avoid the usual knee-jerk reaction – though I’ll have to admit, I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll slap around the next guy who overdoes it or not… – you can actually start wondering if the Chinese are maybe not actually racist, but simply very (straight)forward in accepting that people will be different (and yes, disconcertingly quick in judging those different qualities, even if they are superficial ones, as having different quality, different value).

Different people, different culture – same bodies, same concerns.


  1. Gerald

    One of those articles I’m working on – and can never get finished, it seems – would be on “the culture of the stare” in China… it’s a lot more than just “not the same sort of decorum.”
    Good advice… and the comment about ob/gyn reminds me of a German comedians’ “Knigge” (turning the idea of such a book of advice on proper behavior on its head)…

  2. ellis

    Next time it happens just give him a brazen 看什么?You’ll either get honesty or embarrassment, and then you can report back!

    Looks are important everywhere, sadly, and while usually most of the scrutiny falls (publicly at least) on womens’ bodies, there’s certainly a lot of scrutiny surrounding the phallus. Humans like to look. So I can imagine it’s annoying to be checked out–I’ve experienced this going to a lady doctor at a Chinese hospital–but there’s just not the same sort of decorum surrounding peeping.

  3. Zictor

    Great post!

    Seriously, there are many reasons to like or not like people of a certain ethnicity. This isn’t racism, it’s just preference. I used to be ashamed of liking blonds, because it seemed like such a cliché. But then I thought “Why can other guys be so vocal about their love for Asian/Black women and I am ashamed of liking blonds?”

    Being Brazilian, I actually benefit from cultural stereotypes (and if you check the map, we’re not bad off either). But I know how uncomfortable this whole crap can be and hate it when such conversations get oversimplified into offensive stereotypes. Actually, I hate it when any potentially rich conversation gets over-simplified.

    As I once wrote on Jocelyn’s blog, stereotypes don’t come out of nowhere. Sometimes they have a background of truth, sometimes they don’t. But nothing of that matters when two people find each other in this crazy world of ours and their souls connect.

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