This year, the media has exploded with troubling stories about systemic sexual harassment, assault, and misogyny — including reports about our very own president. We have cultivated a society that tolerates the mistreatment of women. This ongoing epidemic of violence and hostile/ambivalent sexism demands a dramatic shift in attitude.
Artist, activist, and writer Whitney Bell is tackling these issues with a new installation of a traveling anti-harassment exhibition, I Didn’t Ask for This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics. On October 6 and 7, Think Tank Art Gallery in Los Angeles will host a weekend of art and sex-positive, educational workshops and panels, with guests including Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, Ms. Magazine’s Carmen Rios, and body-positive blogger and Premme co-founder Gabi Fresh. While the dildo photo booth, vibrator vending machine, and sex-toy DJ booth promise to entertain, the centerpiece of the event is an exhibition of more than 150 unsolicited dick pics (and the nasty text conversations that accompany them), inside a 3,500 square-foot recreation of a woman’s home. Bell and her collaborators aim to bring attention to sexual harassment in the digital space and beyond, revealing how the violation of women has become commonplace. The show will also raise money for the anti-harassment group HollaBack, which works to “ensure equal access to public spaces.”
Flavorwire recently spoke with Bell about the exhibition, how men are responding to it, and what people should do if they receive an unwanted dick pic.
Flavorwire: Where do all the dick pics in the exhibit come from?
Whitney Bell: The river of dicks that line the gallery walls were sent by just that: Total fucking dicks. Unsolicited, unwanted dicks.
Even before the show, I was receiving far more dick pics than the average woman, because I’m fairly public on the internet and use sexuality to challenge the typical myth of what feminism should look like. So to many creeps, that means sending me a picture of their asshole is totally fair game.
Once I came up with the idea, I hit up every woman and feminist organization I had ties to, asking for their unsolicited pics. For many, it didn’t take more than just opening up their old Tinder accounts. For this second installation, though, we have almost 100% all new dick pics (save for a few ridiculous gems I just couldn’t let go of). I’ve partnered with a few other “dick pic artists” (who knew there were so many of us), and have taken submissions from their collections of unsolicited Ds as well. This has resulted in the crème de la crème of dick pics — the most hilarious, cringe-worthy, and irksome photos all pooled together.
These photos were not sent not to flirt or to entice, but to control. As every woman knows, harassment isn’t about sex — it is about power. No guy thinks that using a picture of his balls as a ”hey, what’s up, hello” on Tinder is going to get him a date. Much like a subway flasher, they get off forcing someone else to see their cock. Making someone else uncomfortable turns them on, the violation is the goal. If they want an audience, then I’ll give them an audience.
The message of the show is serious, but the presentation is fun. Have you found this makes men less defensive and see the overall anti-harassment message versus viewing the show as a male-bashing sesh? And what have responses from men been like?
It’s definitely important to bring some levity to this topic, because if what we really want to do is create change, then we need to meet the audience where they are at, reach across the proverbial party line, and encourage discourse and discussion in an approachable way. Additionally, I believe that the fun environment allows for women to let their guard down a bit, which will hopefully allow them to share their own experiences and open up a conversation with people they might not otherwise be talking to. While I wish all feminist events didn’t need to branded as “non-man hating” since that actually has nothing to do with feminism, it is an unfortunate reality. I want to make it very clear that this is not dick-hating or man-hating. I love a good dick, I love sex, I just don’t love harassment, and it’s time we start distinguishing the two.
What I think is exceptionally worthwhile about this exhibit is the reaction it’s met with from men. “Are people really sending you pictures like this?” they ask, horrified. Obviously, #NotAllMen are chauvinistic pigs, harassing women with unsolicited photos of their cocks, but enough men are. Enough men that almost every single woman I know has received one. Enough men that every woman has been made to feel unsafe, like her body is not her own. I encouraged these shocked men to talk to the women in their lives and ask them not just about the dick pics that they receive, but the sexual harassment that they face every day. Maybe it’s getting hollered at on the street, maybe it’s some dude at work, maybe it’s you, and you don’t know.
The online abuse of women journalists, particularly in our Trump media environment, is troubling. How can companies become better advocates for the safety and security of professional women like us in a virtual space?
We have a known sexual offender in the highest office, and while he isn’t the first, our outrage is much louder than ever before. Women are becoming more and more empowered and because of that our outrage is growing much louder. Sexual harassment is a tool used to silence someone, especially women. By stripping ourselves of our shame and calling out our harassers more publicly than ever before, we are finding our power. This was my small contribution to that movement.
Will you be expanding the exhibition to include other forms of everyday sexual harassment and normalized misogyny in the future?
We actually already do! Contrary to what you may think, this show is not about dick pics at all; it is about the constant harassment that women and femmes are expected to silently endure every single day. Interspersed among the dick pics are stats on sexual harassment, quotes from men who send them, and quotes from women about their own experiences with sexual harassment. Bye Felipe — the stupidly popular Instagram account that calls out men who turn hostile when rejected/ignored — has generously donated dozens of submissions of the horrifying text/dating app messages that women receive. We selected text convos spanning everything from dudes calling someone a “fat whore” for simply turning down a date, to men texting “rape is frat.” Or my personal favorite — “choke on my cock you dumn bitch #makeamericagreatagain” — which is jarring, but not surprising at all. It’s important to give context, so it’s not just a bunch of penises on a wall. I want to show that we are not trying to shame men, or shame the penis, but rather the act of sexual harassment as a whole. I want to show intent and explain that sending an unsolicited photo of your dick isn’t the only way you can harass someone on the internet.
Additionally, this time we have introduced a full day of workshops and panels to show the full scope of issues we feel need to be discussed. Intersectional Feminism 101 For Men, Harassment In The Digital Era & The Intersection of Feminism and Pornography. We also have multiple authors, journalists, sex educators, victim’s rights advocates, feminist pornographers, editors . . . I feel incredibly lucky to have this powerhouse of bad ass women, femmes, and allies involved.
What should people do if they receive an unwanted dick pic?
Aside from creating a popular traveling gallery to use them as a tool to empower women rather than to silence them, I have tried a variety of strategies. Sending the unwanted pics to their wives, mothers, girlfriends is effective, but also hurts the woman in question which is not my intention. I have done as the brilliant Simone Fiasco suggests and “sent back a picture of a better-looking dick,” but I believe my personal favorite response is a severed dick. I have a folder of dozens of severed, bleeding, engorged or otherwise sickly looking dicks. They do not like that, within seconds you’ll have them begging you to stop. The irony of that seems to be lost on most of these dudes. Most of the time they will angrily exclaim “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT” as if I was the inappropriate one.