Let’s take a moment to consider Small Penis Syndrome.
SPS is a burden that doesn’t just touch the afflicted; it seeps out, it gets all mixed up in other things. It's a public-fucking-nuisance.
Here’s an example: the other day, standing at the corner of St. Aldates and Speedwell Street, I started to grow impatient. I’d been there (it felt) for several hours, and the lights had not turned to favor pedestrians; there had been no break in traffic nor any hint of one in the near future. It was painfully cold and my sockless feet were going numb, and I was wondering if it would be dark before I could finally be allowed to cross the street, when my luck (seemed to) change. The steady stream of vehicles turned to trickle, then to naught, and the cluster of people beside me commenced a hurried jog across the boulevard.
I followed suit, thinking: I wouldn’t be so brave on my own, but look at all these folk who think this is a good idea! Granted, I walked a bit more slowly than they did (my feet, after all, were numbing). Perhaps I even dawdled a bit, if the truth be told. Well, why not? Hadn’t I been standing for so long? Like a caged animal, it felt good to s t r e t c h. Not the best place to do it, the middle of a street, you say? You’re right, absolutely right.
But it still seemed a bit much to be so loudly honked at. The man in the red lorry, who was turning down Speedwell Street at a pace that didn’t at all befit the size of his vehicle, or the circumstances under which he was making the maneuver, absolutely leaned on his horn, and gave me a look through the windscreen that chilled me, withered me, brought girlish tears to my eyes. He hates me, I thought—the anger was that palpable. “Oh!” I cried, and went scurrying to the sidewalk as quickly as I could, while the man, for good measure, continued to jab at his horn with a stumpy thumb.
I recovered as I neared home. Just a man with a temper, probably. Nothing personal. I was soon on my own, dear street, which I consider to be sacred ground. Friendly things happen here: friends on bicycles stop by on their way home, children go streaming after their parents giggling, neighbors say things like, “hello!” and “lovely evening!”. (Whenever I think these things I tend to neglect the not-so-friendly bits, like the enormous police raid that happened across the street in June, SWAT teams banging down doors and all, or the man running away from the police down Leopold Street while a gaggle of seedy-looking fightstarters looked on.)
So there I was, on my street, my territory, and my step may even have been jaunty, I was so pleased to be going home, to be getting closer to somewhere warm and inviting—and I heard another honk. This one sounded more deliberate. Not rushed and angry, like the lorry driver’s, but playful, almost, and cruel. I glanced back. Four boys, huddled in a racy red sportscar, parked on the corner. They honked again. Several times, in rapid succession, followed by one long, heavy call. It may not even have been at me—probably they were waiting for a friend and urging him down more quickly—but it’s such a jarring noise, and leaves such a sour taste in the mouth, and there they were, these boys, looking so overwhelmingly pathetic in their little car, yet emanating such mysterious confidence. I was furious; more than that, I was upset.
“Small penis syndrome,” said the one man who could comfort me after such a stressful walk home.
“You’re sure it’s not because they hate me?” I blithered.
“Small penis syndrome,” he repeated. Men in cars: unnecessarily large cars, or unnecessarily flashy cars, or just plain unnecessary cars. Men in cars showing off, and hoping, presumably, to establish their macho standing outside of the bedroom, in public, for all to see. “Look at me!” is what those angry honks are screaming, not “look at the stupid girl who’s walking too slowly for my liking across the street at a pedestrian crosswalk.”
“Ok,” I acquiesced, feeling infinitely better about myself at their expense, practically gloating from the glorious moral high ground (all that fossil fuel, all that carbon emission!).
“And anyway,” I added, “you don’t even have a license!”
I positively glowed with pride.
But what, I then had to wonder, is the womanly equivalent? Small breast syndrome? Big breast syndrome? And how would it manifest itself? Is that why you find girls in skirts that are too short by a mile, in heels so high they look like small skyscrapers, wearing makeup so thick Picasso could have painted with it?
I’m guilty of it too, I suppose, in my own way—but the problem with being a girl is that it could never be as simple as SPS. There are too many things to be worried about. If it’s not breast size it’s waist size, or leg length; it’s hair color and eyebrow shape and stylishness; it’s cheekbones and asses and hips and lips. Inferior Woman Syndrome, perhaps—and the result is sirens on the streets, who walk in impenetrable clumps, who giggle but always have an eye on every other female, taking in the way she looks, the way she dresses, the way she walks. When I had a wardrobe crisis recently, and stood in the middle of the room, throwing jumpers and dresses this way and that, rejecting everything I touched, I realized that I was not trying to find something that would look good on me; I was trying to find something that I would see on another girl and admire.
Is that what the men in their flashy red cars are thinking—that they want to be driving something they would see another man in and admire? Sometimes, I get it right: I choose something from my wardrobe which is practical, comfortable, fits me; and it isn’t until I’m halfway down the street that it occurs to me, if I saw a girl dressed like this and feeling comfortable in it, I’d be impressed. Sometimes, I get it far from right; it’s a complicated thing, insecurity, a fickle master. I want to say my impression of SPS-sufferers softens when I view them through the lens of human insecurity, because on some bizarre level I think I can commune—but it doesn’t soften, not really. The one thing to be said about the girl version of SPS is this: at least it doesn’t involve honking.