Manhood: The Project; The Author; The Men – A Review
Manhood: The Bare Reality is less a revelation of masculinity today and more a positive beacon of what it can mean to be a man. There is no doubt that this self-selecting sample fails to be truly representative of The Male; and herein lays the true strength of this work. Yes, the sample is skewed in terms of age (average age 47, versus 40 for the UK population); Yes, there is an over-riding sense of self-acceptance; and Yes, there is an inherent vulnerability of the male exposed that is simply not apparent in archetypical male domains. The stories are at odds with everything we know of the male psyche – and this is why the collection is so important, so powerful. Manhood shows us not as we are, but as - at our best - we can be.
UK versus Manhood Age Distribution
Manhood provides us a positive grounding for exploring the question "what IS masculinity", and this is the work's true brilliance. It is all too easy to question The Male as aggressor, to explore strength and power through the lens of masculinity, to view The Penis as weapon. Laura Dodsworth though, by stripping us bare, knocks all of that askance and starts from what makes us vulnerable. And this is no accident. Laura thought hard about how to approach the project and made a conscious decision to take the photograph before interviewing the participant, which has a clear impact on the nature of the interview. As a photographer myself it would be easy to question the photographic merit of the project (100 identical shots, identical equipment, lighting, backgrounds, poses… where's the creativity?) As a writer it would be easy to be dismissive of the words (after all, they came from the participants not the author). But when you look at the execution of the project, it becomes obvious that we are in the hands of a highly creative and experienced social documentarian – a person who successfully subjugates their own ego to a greater good; a person who puts content ahead of form. It's highly impressive to see how photography, equipment, learnedness, artistry, ego and self can be orchestrated to facilitate the liberation of the content; for it is the men and their stories that shine out here: All very much to the credit of Laura.
Ant Smith (contributor) performs at the book launch
A number of the men mention size anxiety, but this is rarely the main thrust of any of the pieces. Most of the men with some anxiety say they're quite happy with their erect size but it is clear that shame and anxiety exists nonetheless. But it isn't pervasive, and certainly size anxiety isn't the most common theme that emerges from the collection, rather a strong sense of acceptance comes through. There is a clear certainty that size anxiety can be overcome, and that in the real world size-based judgements are thin on the ground. I believe that all penises are inherently funny, the shock or embarrassment of them provokes humour. But in an abstract sense. When considering a penis in the context of the man, several participants refute size-based judgements. Anyone suffering such anxiety would do well to read through Manhood to see that mostly, others are too aware of their own vulnerabilities to really mock yours.
What is more striking than the exploration of penis size anxiety is the sense of acceptance that comes through from this selection of men, and how they have attained that. There's a lot of desire for connection, an overriding realisation that sex in and of itself, sexual prowess, the one-night stand are ultimately unfulfilling. Several of the men describe sexual fulfilment as arising vicariously through the fulfilment of their partner. It becomes apparent that the famed 'strength of the male' actually derives from a place of protection and provisioning for 'the other' much more than from any innate self-preservation or aggression. And this I find is the greatest story to take away from Manhood; that the very best of masculinity lies in having the strength to love, the strength to put others before self.
I took part in Manhood without great thought. It was a bit of a no-brainer given the path I had been on. It was clearly going to be an important project, but I really didn't expect it would tell quite such a compelling story for our times. I thought if this was going to happen it was crucial that the work included a representation of smaller penises; it would have been a wasted opportunity if the work was littered with porn-scale penises; I wanted to present myself to ensure a balance was possible. It's impossible to know the actual range of penis sizes in the collection as they are all at rest (only two men mention actual numbers, myself at 4 inch and one other at 8 inch) – but I am proud to have played my part because the end result is a milestone on our journey towards civilisation.
Ant Smith, one of the one hundred
Manhood: The Bare Reality is available on Amazon