Let's hear it for the willy

Share
Related Topics
ONE OF the best things to have arrived in popular culture over the past decade or so is the ubiquitous use of the word 'willy'. It is second only to the entry into general consciousness of the vulva and the comedian Lea de Laria's concept of the 'wide-on', a revolutionary contribution to the language of desire.

A willy used to be an item owned only by little brothers. Now, for the first time in modern history, the very sound of men's sexuality connotes something cuddly. That, more than all the iconography of aggressive anatomy, has allowed the item to infuse the popular imagination, to become universal: it's the sweet thing you play periscopes with, wee with, wank with, have babies with, let other people play with, drive cars with, go to war with. It is not that the word has reinterpreted the uses of the willy, rather the word is an index of how popular culture has got the measure of it, in all its diversity.

There is a lesson in this: the willy word has become sayable. It can be said as easily and as wittily by girls as by boys. The willy word has been appropriated by girls. That is what has transformed its value in popular culture. The old vernacular was too angry and aggressive, too penetrating and even painful to become part of our everyday imagination. The item was fetishised not by women but by men. Now little girls can recognise willy cars when they're counting licence plates with their dads as comfortably as they can play I-Spy.

The willy word is sayable because it is not dangerous. It connotes an item at play and at rest, it can conjure its pleasures as well as its absurdities and its atrocities.

Two versions of the willy are circulating: the traditional and the revisionist. Among the traditionalist advocates are Health Minister, Brian Mawhinney, and angry American eccentric, Camille Paglia, scourge of feminists and saint of the Sunday Times. Neither is known for making friends and influencing people: Mawhinney made a name for himself this year by banning a book and Paglia made a name for herself by accusing women of not loving the willy enough.

Revisionism is having a good year. Its hero is Nick Fisher who, you will remember, is Just 17's agony uncle whose book for the Health Education Authority, Your Pocket Guide to Sex, was pulped on the instructions of Mawhinney. Penguin thought better of it and salvaged it word for word. Now Pan has published Living With a Willy: The Inside Story. 'There's no doubt about it, the willy is a fabulous organ,' he tells his young readers. In 117 rude and raunchy pages he offers not myths about the mighty willy but reassuring irreverance.

Where traditionalists' celebrate men's organs and orifices as blunt instruments, the revisionist offers relief about size - it is irrelevant; only other boys care how big it is, girls don't care. He is wonderful about wanking - it is educational, enlightening, good fun, great relief when the going gets tough, and helpful when you are trying to help someone else get to know you. He is reassuring about virginity, loss of. 'It's daft,' he says, that suddenly you are something else when a penis has entered a vagina, and boys would become better lovers 'if they forgot about their dicks for a while'. He is brave about premature ejaculation - a myth created by men who assume that women's desire is an effect of their own and that heroic penetration is what produces women's pleasure.

When I canvassed my 20-year- old nephew, who loves falling in love, he reckoned that 'every little lad should read it because they are told so much by older lads that you take as writ when its just utter bollocks'. This beautiful boy, who has always enjoyed his precious bits, liked it because it said 'loads of good things about wanking and premature ejaculation. And he emphasises the loving, sensual side of sex.'

Fisher is the most entertaining challenge we've had all year to the antique fetishisms promoted by Camille Paglia in her book Sexual Personae and on television. Paglia says: men have got it, it's hot, but women can't deal with the penis. Wrong, says Fisher, men can't deal with the penis. A penis is an extension, an arm, says Paglia. Wrong, says Fisher, it's lovely and it's little. When they wee they make 'an arc of transcendance,' she says. Wrong, says Fisher, when they wee they wee.

Behind Fisher's fond mockery and modesty lies a passion for pleasure and an endorsement of women's critique of what Germaine Greer has designated the 'frightful British fuck'. But the traditionalists can't take the challenge to grandiosity and omnipotence - the quarrel with the willy as a magic wand, a conceit that has doomed women to the missionary position as the modus operandi of real men's sex. Add to this a moral injunction that Mary Whitehouse would support, and you have the Government's encyclical on sex education: unhappy and unsafe. Traditionalists represent women's sexual anatomy as lacking, as contingent and dependent, as if it were merely an answer to men's action rather than having its own fabulous faculties. But Fisher likes women and willies. His counsel is that if boys took their willies less seriously, then men might take sex more seriously.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us