read > college papers > english > skyscrapers and their mythological relation to penises
Skyscrapers and their mythological relation to penises
- This text is copyrighted to Chirag Mehta, 2000.
- For reproduction / copyright information contact me.
- I've tried my best to make sure that all the information herein is 100% accurate.
- But you can't sue me if there are some discrepancies.
- And remember... Plagiarism is uncool.
- Chirag Mehta
- English: 101
- Ms. Lisa Sisler
- 7 Dec. 2000
- Grade: A
Skyscrapers and their mythological relation to penises
Once upon a time, the human space was gendered; a time when men ruled the outside and women governed the inside. The times have changed now; finally, men and women are treated equally almost everywhere. However, author Aaron Betsky in the essay "The Man-Made World" from his book Building Sex: Men, Women, Architecture and the Construction of Sexuality says that the space is still divided and the fact is nowhere more evident, than in the modern urban architecture. He explains that the tall skyscrapers are phallic symbols, which have been made by men, to assert their supremacy over women. On the other hand, parks, gardens, and shopping malls are feminine realms, where even men find solace. But the simple truth is, modern architecture has nothing to do with penises, wombs, or human excreta.
Undeniably, men have been trying to dominate women ever since the apes came down from trees. Moreover, men have always ‘built’ while the women ‘decorated.’ Nevertheless, what is built has nothing to do with who builds it. What is built depends solely on who will eventually use it. And this is the primary intention of good architecture.
"The Champs Élysées was designed by men. It represents their power" (765).
The Champs Élysées (Fig. 2) is one of the world’s most famous avenues, starting from the Louvre and ending at the Arc de Triomphe. The author explains that the men who designed it gave it an intimidating masculine look just to prove the dominance of men. He continues that it is like the body of a man with legs, breasts, and surprisingly, more than one penis.
Personally, I do not find any semblance between the first man, Adam (Fig.1) and the Champs Élysées. Neither do I see legs, breasts, or any other genitals in the Champs Élysées or the Louvre. Furthermore, if it were really masculine, why would it have breasts?
The gender issues set aside, the monuments around the Champs Élysées were not made for beautification. They were facilities, which were designed for function, rather than fashion. E.g. the Arc De Triomphe, the distant arch visible in Fig. 2, was made in the honor of war heroes, and not to show that men were better than women. Consequently, the whole argument seems void.
"Men rule, and their power is made real through architecture" (765).
I beg to differ once more. Men rule? Maybe, maybe not. Their power is made real through architecture? Definitely not. Architecture relies on science and not on the sweet will of the designer. If the building has to stand undamaged for a thousand years, it has to be made strong. If there is a dearth of affordable ground space, vertical expansion is the only solution. No architect would make towering skyscrapers just because he wants a larger penis or to prove that he has one. This association is sickening. Buildings are made high, only to support the ever-increasing number of people who are constantly moving into the urban world. Large corporations operate from one large tower, to enable the smooth flow of communication and to exercise effective control over their various departments without time lapses. The author has ignored the practical reasons behind the current state of urban architecture and relied solely on its coincidental visual similarity with the male organ.
"Nobody really cares about architecture" (765).
For once, I agree. However, that is exactly the point behind the urban architecture. The buildings are made for people to work in, and not to showcase the skills and virtuosity of the architect. You really do not want your employees to walk in late everyday, because they were ‘just admiring the exquisite beauty of the intricately carved marble arch above the building’s entrance.’ You simply want them to come in and do what they are paid to do.
Moreover, the author has linked every functional building to men and every structure of elegant form to women. Is this not outright gender discrimination? Both, men and women, work together in these so-called ‘phallic’ towers, without any intrinsic superiority. The determinant of a person’s status is their efficiency in their respective jobs, not their genders. The skyscrapers are the true the symbols of equality, for nothing propagates the spirit of equal employment opportunity like these buildings which house some of the world’s largest corporations. Betsky calls them ‘cold, oppressive, and inhuman.’ (766)
"Women have wombs and men have penises; ergo women protect and men project" (767).
Men make houses. Women make homes. Most definitely. But is that because the sexual organs of men project out of their bodies while those of women do not? Balderdash! Since ages, women have been associated with homes, not because of their sex organs, but because of the fact that they get pregnant and bear children. For centuries, our society shunned the mothers who left their children to fulfil their own dreams. Men could leave home to fight battles or earn bread while women had to stay behind and take care of the children. This was before day-care centers. As soon as it became possible for mothers to leave their children in the care of babysitters, they barged into the world of men. At first, it was hard for them, but with time, the distinction between male and female employees disappeared. If today, there is any discrimination in the workplace, it is only because women tend to be absent for long periods of time, due to pregnancy, child-care etc. Hence, firms do not give them the higher paying mission critical jobs. Therefore, there arises no question of women having to protect anything or men having to project anything. If there is a distinction between men and women, it is the result of their own decision and not some obligation enforced upon them.
"We assume that a grid we project over a landscape should be like urine" (768).
What? The author says that our brain attempts to make a subconscious connection between a house and our body and also between streets and urine. Honestly, my brain has never done that and I am sure it never will. Not going into the intricacies of how and why our brain ‘thinks’ such things, let us see why the author believes this to be true. He says ‘[these analogies] help us find our way in the world. What is more important, they divide power and resources’ (768). Let us all say it out loud again: What?
Betsky attempts to show two things from the above statement. First of all, such analogies help us find our way in the world. Why not be practical and ask yourself a simple question. Have you ever walked down a road, looked at a tall building and exclaimed, ‘Oh my God! Isn’t that one huge penis?’ Besides, how will asking ourselves such perverted questions help us find our way in the world? Secondly, if they divide power and resources, then are they not doing more harms to us than benefits? Today, when we talk of equal opportunity and zero-discrimination, do we really want these mental segregations? Why should there be any quotas, reservations or divisions in a free world? If such thoughts promote demarcations, then are they not actually taking us back to the primitive world when men ruled the outside and women, the inside?
Bluntly put, there are no devious ploys behind the masculine or feminine appearances of buildings. If the building has to withstand the tests of time, it has to be sturdy. If it has to house a large number of people, it has to be big. If the building has to let a person work or shop around for hours, it has to be comfortable. No architects try to assert their dominance over women through subliminal sexual symbolism in their works. Therefore, any attempt to find a connection between architecture and human sexuality is nothing more than a waste of time, money, and energy.
In the May 1996 issue of the Architronic: The Electronic Journal of Architecture, a member of the editorial board of the journal, Alfred Willis, University of California, Los Angeles, reviewed the book Building Sex: Men, Women, Architecture and the Construction of Sexuality. He wrote "Betsky adopts a highly schematic, dualistic model of gender roles assigned simply on the basis of biology and linked to each other simplistically by relations of domination. For this author, the history of all hitherto existing society appears to be the history not of class struggle but of gender struggle; and the history of all hitherto existing architecture turns out to be neither more nor less than the history of that struggle concretized in built form. Some readers will no doubt find this thesis convincing on its face, while others -- including myself -- would require a demonstration fleshed out with considerably more substantive evidence than Betsky provides."
In nutshell, Betsky attempted to make a connection between architecture and gender, based not on practical real-life examples, but rather on physical appearances. Moreover, the author establishes gender struggle as the primary factor, which shaped our society, completely omitting the class struggle. Betsky relies more heavily on theoretical evidence than on architectural, sociological and anthropological records, and this in fact makes his argument very fragile. Lack of substantial proof and assertion of unbelievable connections, like those linking urine to streets, make it clear that there is truly no backbone to his thesis.
No matter what the true connection behind architecture and sexuality is, or even if it exists or not, the point is, the author was unfortunately unsuccessful in proving what he intended. A few good believable examples, coupled with realistic analyses would have given the concept enough gravity to cultivate some interest in the topic. As of now, his school of thought remains highly criticized, even by fellow architects and authors. Till then it is safe to say that men may be from Mars, women may be from Venus, but this whole concept of architecture and human sexuality being interrelated is most definitely from Uranus.