This is a post I shared on my Facebook page a few days back. I thought it was quite funny! The question seemed part innocent, part dazed&confused-delirious-lover-ish, part sexual harassment-ish. Overall, I thought that it would take a reasonably maladjusted human being to ask such a question. Even if this photo is made up, I am sure such questions have been asked before on public forums and such thoughts have been thought around the world.

Soon after I posted this, a friend from my undergrad-debating days messaged me on Facebook. I use to once upon a time have a mild, half-part time, ever-so-slight, scene with him…..but I haven’t met him in four years now and we got in touch only over Facebook last September, since we were both studying in the UK. So in this message, my friend (who has an awkward sense of humor) asked me if a lot of men send me pictures of their penises. I laughed and said, ‘haha, why not? I look like the ‘type’, no?’ Then the conversation moved on to other things.  

An hour back from now, I was waiting at Falmer station, wanting to take the train to Brighton. I got another Facebook message from this friend. I opened the message, as one does….and there it was, presented to me with remarkable confidence….a picture of a throbbing pink erect penis….. clearly taken from a phone camera, with the person (not seen in the picture) sitting on a toilet seat! The lady sitting next to me saw the picture (he he)….. grunted, got up and left me alone with an erect penis! It was a moment of absurdity……to be sitting at Falmer station, with a throbbing penis in between my hands, wondering why and where it appeared from!

It has been an hour since the picture was shared with me. I continue to try to understand this encounter. I messaged this generous penis-picture-sharing friend of mine on Facebook and asked him where he got the picture from and why he sent it to me? I pointed out to him (what I thought was obvious) that my Facebook post (the one above) was not an invitation for men to inbox me penis pictures! 🙂 I reminded him that in most human societies this would be considered sexual harassment. This is what he had to say – ‘I know you, I know you would like it…….or at least find it funny. And who said I found this picture somewhere ;)?’

I drew two conclusions from his response – a) he sent me a picture of HIS erect penis. This was not meant as a prank, or an ironical response to my post. This was an unexpected sexual encounter, which I did not have a choice to reject, and b) my friend seemed quite sure that I would enjoy looking at his penis, because I am that ‘type’ of a girl.

What is this ‘type’? The type who enjoys uninvited profanity thrown at her face, targeted at her? I mean, I don’t have a problem with profanity. I certainly don’t feel any moral outrage against penis pictures…and this blogpost is certainly not a diatribe against novel ways of sexual harassment using multimedia! But there was a transgression here…I did feel violated in some way, though I couldn’t put my finger on it immediately. I am not displeased if people make a move on other people….I understand, we all need to try our luck. It’s totaly legit. I am also happy for people to express their sexuality (I think), whether its done subtly, aggressively, creatively, terribly, manically…its all fine by me…as long as it doesn’t inflict harm on other uninterested parties. So what was bothering me then? After a bit of investigation, I came closer to an explanation. The picture unsettled me because it infiltrated my private space…it occupied the space with an image I was not in the mood for, and did all of this without giving me the right to refusal. My Facebook wall is a semi personal space, my Facebook inbox more so since I use it for private conversations. I do not think it ungodly for a friend to inbox me a picture of his penis, but I do think it is very rude to do so without asking me!

But now I wonder if my insistence on control over my private-personal space is incongruent with the logic of the age we live in. Is it foolish, fanciful, a thing of the past to believe that we are meant to and do in fact have the ability to accept or reject sensory experiences that occupy our personal spaces? With all of these new ways in which I am plugged into the world, as are most other people, has my personal space withered away when I wasn’t looking? Being subjected to unwanted images and sounds is not new. While growing up and walking around in the narrow lanes of Calcutta, I have crossed paths on many instances with men who have felt the need to display their penises to me, and to other girls. But that happened on roads, which is a public space. Fracturing my experience of this public space with an act and visual I found displeasing gave those encounters a different quality to it. I cannot demand protection (beyond the harm threshold) from an assault of unwanted images and sounds in the public space. But surely, I can ask for this priveledge in my private domain? one aspect of being human is to be able to control the aesthetics of your personal space to some significant degree. Is it not part of the grand human evolution project – to make our private spaces more habitable, pleasant, creative, functional, or whatever one fancies? Perhaps what is new then with Facebook and other ways of immense online connectivity, is the loss of control over the aesthetics of our private spaces, orchestracted via the ease with which these spaces can be punctured without our consent. If this is true, then what does this mean for our cherished age-old principle of the public-private domain distinction? Were we not meant to be kings and queens of the personal, and dictate its terms and mould our experience of these spaces to our taste? Must we loosen our grip on this if we want to remain connected online?

Hmmm….I dont know. Maybe none of this matters and I just suffer from bad attitude and lack of imagination. To think of it, would it be so terrible to live in a world where good friends show good friends some penis.

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