If people are forced to go to a polling booth, then they’re forced to put in at least three or four seconds into the process. It’s why I favour compulsory voting.
And even if only three or four seconds are put in every three or four years, then that vote – in all its complexity or complete lack thereof – becomes a statement of intent. And that ballot paper becomes just as worthy a contribution to democracy as the one filled in by the voter who spent a career studying politics.
So what happens when those three or four seconds are used to draw a penis?
The penis scrawl – carved into desks, painted on fences, scribbled onto newspaper photos – is an instantly recognisable image that, no matter how crudely drawn, cuts through language and cultural barriers to say, simply, “cock”.
As a social researcher, I’m interested in the why. What’s the motivation in turning your infrequent opportunity to have a say in governance into a penis portrait? Is this really the very best use of that polling booth pencil?
An obvious point, sure, but the gendered nature of all this needs spotlighting. There’s no easy (or legal) way to ascertain the sex of those who submitted a dick-adorned ballot. Nonetheless, a few cultural hints point to a correlation between having a dick and drawing one.
The use of the penis to convey territorialism is a distinctly male preoccupation: it’s males who are spritzing their urine onto surfaces to mark out terrain. It’s men who in porn externally ejaculate in a “ta-daa!” money shot to convey I was here. It’s men who use rape in conflict to showcase all the many ways “conquer” can be achieved. And it’s men who use the internet to send dick pics to unsuspecting women for fun or reprimand.
No, I don’t have the data to support that it’s only men scrawling dicks on ballots, but the difficulty in imagining vulva drawings on a textbook or a clit pic sent to torment indicates that this is likely uniquely male behaviour.
Outside of the apparently gendered imperative for lads with dicks to draw them, there are some other explanations worth proposing.
Year 8 in high school. A kid named Mark was thrown out of class repeatedly for loudly asking to borrow a “dick-tionary”. Apparently there’s a period in life when all things genital are hilarious. While some people grow out of this, others retain a fervent appreciation for all things Adam Sandler and will find it funny – without any depth of thought – to just draw a dick on a ballot.
There’ll be a genuine belief that such a sketch is the height of hilarity and a happily naughty and subversive contribution. For others, hilarity will be a driver, sure, but it’ll be done with a tongue planted firmly in their cheek. Funniness will come from artistic petulance directed towards the process, to politics, rather than simply schoolboy scrawl.
There is, of course, a more aggressive reading. In my book American Taboo I have a chapter on the politics of “flipping the bird”.
While, akin to any gesture, “the finger” is open to interpretation, one reading is its representation of a penis: the middle finger as the erection, the curled fingers as the testicles. The gesture thus, is deployed as an aggressive “fuck you!”
A dick on a ballot can function similarly. Be it a fuck you to compulsory voting, to the politicians, to the person counting your vote, it’s all rather unclear – I’m still, for example, unsure who the finger is directed at in all those adolescent, hoodie-clad mirror-selfies – but the gesture can be read as one of defiance, of protest, of contempt.
Many times I’ve consciously deposited a blank ballot into a box. Ultimately, my deeply contemplated opt-out is just as powerful (read: every bit as squandered) as the dick ballot.
Thinking of a dicked-up ballot as just one of waste is too easy. Taking the time to craft a cock requires more seconds time and thought than a donkey vote. It’s a statement – ill-thought or strategically crafted – about politics today. Juvenile in execution or not.
Authors: Lauren Rosewarne, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne