“Manhood: The Bare Reality” by Laura Dodsworth— Manhood and “Manhood”

Dodsworth, Laura. “Manhood: The Bare Reality”, Pinter & Martin Ltd, , 2017.

Manhood and “Manhood”

Amos Lassen

In the world of today, we are all less bound by gender and traditional roles than ever before in history but there is still confusion about what being a man means. In “Manhood: The Bare Reality”, Laura interviews one hundred men and shows photographs of their manhood. The men come from all walks of life and they all share honest reflections about their bodies, sexuality, relationships, fatherhood, work and health. We see the spectrum of ‘normal’, in which men reveal their penises and bodies in all their diversity thus dispelling body image anxiety and myths. With concentration on the penis, the words power, penetration and strength, weakness, misery and shame come to mind and we are amazed that a single organ embodies all of emotions. The text focuses on the unique attributes of each penis, making it possible to see the organ in a new way. What each man has to say about his penis is what is important here. that counts.

Dodsworth brings us the full gamut of manhood including cis-gendered and trans men. The photos are un-retouched and the penis owners are anonymous. We don’t see their faces but we do get a few biographical details on each. Our world is still one in which the male has the upper hand on almost everything but you may be surprised to learn that not all men feel that way.

“There are surprises, things we should talk about more often but rarely do. Such as a black man who found himself sexually fetishised by white women in his youth. Or the 92-year-old who speaks of himself as an intersectional feminist. The testicular cancer survivor who tries to live in the moment. The spina bifida patient whose colostomy bag is apparent, almost more prominent than his penis, in the photo.  Or the man who found himself hiding a personality he wasn’t sure others would like behind a body he was confident they would. Age and race, disability and illness. These issues affect us all, but like the penis, are just as often hidden away.”

The text here is funny and shocking, filled with vulnerable moments we might otherwise never see. It often takes baring one’s body in order to bare the soul and that is what we read here. Every penis here has a story—- the trans man who invested in the biggest and best; the underpowered poet hung up on his for years, until he decided to celebrate it with The Big Small Penis Party; the man who as a teenager thought he had genital warts and considered killing himself, until he found out they were normal spots; the business leader whose small penis taught him humility; the sex addict whose wife tried to cut it off; and the vicar who enjoyed his first threesome while training for the priesthood.”

In each photo, we see penis and testicles, belly, hands and thighs. The humanity lies in the relationship between these body parts.

“A lot more men feel a sense of shame or anxiety about their size, or an aspect of their performance”; shame and inadequacy is found in different parts of their lives. “For Dodsworth, Manhood has not been an aesthetic revelation: some penises are nice to look at, some less so. But having seen the number of men who struggle with their manhood, literally and metaphorically, she has become a champion of the penis. “It is so often subject to ridicule. It’s like baseline standard male banter. Half the people in the world have got penises. It’s unfair to be cruel about them.” This is an absolutely fascinating read.


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