You see them everywhere: graffiti on metal store shutters, carved into desks in boys’ schools, burned into the rugby field as an end-of-the-year prank. The drawings are often inaccurate, yet unmistakably phallic, with two spheres below to make sure the audience really gets it. But why? What’s the point of defacing property with drawings of a penis?
The opportunity to interview presented itself during a teenage party. The participants were all fifteen, a more or less even mix of males and females, with several representatives of the LGBT community.
What made it even more perfect was a drawing of a short, stout penis, sprouting – as I watched – in black indelible ink, on a boy’s leg. I don’t know what surprised me more: that someone would draw such a picture on someone else, or that the culprit was female. All right, I know that’s not politically correct, but I kind of blamed boys for all the improper drawings I’d ever seem.
“That’s an usual tatt,” I said. “But that’s not really what a penis looks like.”
Offended by the critique, as any artist would be, the girl drew another one, this time attached to a silhouette of a person. Oh, and on her own thigh.
“Honey, if you think these things reach past the knees, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” I observed as I removed the marker from her hand. “And what will your parents say when they see all this artwork?”
“My parents won’t care.”
Hmmm. Perhaps that was my first clue. Attention seeking. A quick careful look confirmed it: this was her way of flirting, her way of seeking attention, from her parents and peers alike.
The girl moved off to the chocolate fountain (turns out, people who draw penis pictures are not too old for marshmallows dipped in Whittaker’s Creamy Milk), so I turned my questions to the crowd. Why is the penis such a popular subject of graffiti, I asked, what’s so fascinating about it, especially if you’re male and have one already?
“It’s easy to draw,” suggested one of the teens.
“And funny. You have to admit that it’s a silly shape. It just looks bizarre. You draw a penis, your mates laugh.”
I guess they had a point. In the TV series “Red Dwarf”, one of the artificial intelligence robots wanted to be human, and when his wish was granted, he got a penis. His reaction nailed it: “That’s the best design they can come up with? Are you seriously telling me there were choices and someone said, “Ah, there. That’s it. That’s the one we’re looking for – the last chicken in the shop look‘. Shakespeare had one? Einstein? Perry Como sang “Memories Are Made of This” with one of those stashed in his slacks?”
“It always gets a reaction.”
“To gross people out.”
“But only if you’re childish. Happened a lot in late primary or intermediate. Not so much now.”
A few days later, I confirmed their theories talking to a psychologist who works with youth health. In addition to attention-seeking behaviour and lack of emotional maturity, children are still learning about sexuality and how to normalise it. When combined with the typical teenage inability to foresee consequences of their behaviour, and the less-known but equally typical compulsiveness of teens, it makes sense that some individuals may turn to penis drawings (or swear words) as an outlet. Apart from the issue of vandalising, the act itself is harmless, unless the drawings are used to bully or embarrass. Most people grow out of it.
It’s also important to remember that it’s not every teenager. It only takes one to plaster the inside of a toilet cubicle with pictures of a banana nestled between two oranges. The original artist may inspire two or three copy-cats, and just like that, you have a big paint job on your hands.
I decided to test the theory of emotional immaturity on my thirteen-year old. “Have you ever seen someone draw a picture of a penis? In their notebook or on a wall perhaps?”
“Huh? Wait, what? Neh. And, mum, we don’t call it that.”
“What do you call it, then?”
“It’s your dick.”
Months of agonising what to call “those” body parts when they were babies, years of using the textbook terms, and now it’s a dick. The joys of parenting.
“What do you call the girl parts?”
He buries himself in his phone. “It’s a rude word.”
Oh dear. “With a C?”
“Mum! No! With a P. Like a kitty cat.”
Phew. Perhaps there’s hope for the new generation yet. Especially seeing that the teen party was a success: nobody brought alcohol or drugs, nobody paired up to disappear into a dark corner, there were only two penis drawings. And three of the fifteen-year old boys came back the next morning to tidy up.
By Yvonne Walus