Mar 30 2008

Bouteilian theory: a primer

Quoth blamer Cortney, in response to yesterday’s post on Russia’s new “women’s” vodka: “Bottles are totally phallic!!!!”

One exclamation point per customer, please.

But I’m glad you brought this up. As luck would have it, I am the world’s foremost bottle historian.

Let’s suppose that when you say “bottles are totally phallic!!!!”, you mean what most people mean these days when they say “bottles are totally phallic!!!!”, which is that bottles appear to share the relative exterior dimensions of (those of you who identify as wymyn, look away, quick) throbbing weeners.

I propose that this interpretation of bottle symbology is a product of misogynist dudelio-normative culture. I futher propose that weener supremacy in the collective unconscious invisibly and insidiously aligns women’s responses to phallic mythology with those of the dominant paradigm, thus producing both inaccurate bottle metaphors and an oppressed sex class.

Consider the typical bottle. Its cylindrical shape is the exemplar of form following function. Such bottles as might be described as “phallic” are of a circumference complementary to the radius of a human grip; once this dimension has been established by trained bottle engineers, the height of the Y-axis is merely a function of the volume of liquid to be contained. The overwhelming majority of bottles are not designed specifically to recall the phallus, and it is hard to imagine, say, a Heinz ketchup bottle as imbued with the massive force of male generative might.

If we must go around assessing the similarity of common objects to human genitalia — which practice I would discourage if only for the subversive gratification that inheres in trend-bucking — I, viewing the object in terms, not of the default male human, but of the default spinster aunt, would argue that bottles are much more accurately interpreted as vaginal symbols. Particularly in the ideal sense, since some bottles — for example, the Crown Royal whiskey bottle, or those amber bottles that druggists, giving uniform satisfaction, used to fill with a little cotton and a lot of opiates — cannot properly be regarded as phallic at all. However, all bottles, in order to be bottles, must surround cavities.

Yet this vaginal interpretation, though more deft, svelte, and apt, is disallowed in the popular imagination. That’s because the popular imagination is grievously constrained by the brute force of one of patriarchy’s most ignominious minions. That’s right. I allude to psychoanalytic theory.

‘Phallic symbols’ — that is, objects onto which the terrible awesome power of the conceptual phallus is projected by bastard Freudian/Lacanian dilettantes as justification for dudely supremacy — are on my last nerve. Whenever some dude gazes benevolently upon the Hancock building and sees this “master signifier” — as he was encouraged to do by his stoned freshman psych T.A. — not merely as gendered, but as a mirror image of himself, my obstreperal lobe sprouts a new blister. Likewise, when some bedheaded rocker straps on a Les Paul, leaps onto a stage, and treats the guitar as a musical sperm donor: same thing, but in this case my butt cheeks clench up, too.

In other words, until somebody comes up with a way to prove the efficacy of Freudian theory, which is contingency is remote, since Freud famously and completely ignores female sexuality except when he contrives to “explain” it in terms of such bogus shit as “castrated identity” and “penis envy,” I’m gonna call it antifeminist booger chips. If a vegan may invoke boogers.

Phallic symbols, except when identified within excruciating scholarly 20th century texts, no longer have anything but B-list cocktail-party-calibre meaning; they’re just excuses for dudes with arrested development to see sex — either their own hetero dude sex or their own homo dude sex — everywhere they look, and to point it out, and to crack jokes about it, and to remind you and themselves that the collective phallus owns your ass.

Because let’s face it, when it comes to genital mythology, all you got is vagina dentata, and no government ever built a monument to glorify that, so it kind of pales in comparison to the prick-power of Washington Monument or that stupid German smokestack with the word “DICK” painted on it that boys think is so hilarious.

Of course, you are a product of our vulgar dudelio-centric culture, and I will not blame you (although I will die a little inside) if, whenever you see a bottle of grapefruit juice, you instantly fixate on dongs.

Not only won’t I blame you, but I’ll throw in a bonus: as a newly born-again evangelical pro-life activist, I absolutely won’t pray for you, either. No need to thank me, for, as you may have heard, the new evangelical pro-life position is that we don’t worship non-existent ghosts anymore. We also accept that the universe is constantly expanding, that humans evolved from sponges, and that compulsory pregnancy strips away women’s personal autonomy, a condition we consider unjust and inhumane. Vive la revolution!


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  1. Birdy

    Now that we have taken yet another phallic symbol away from men, they are feeling the pinch and feel that they live in a female dominated world.

    Of course this comes to us via Fox News.


    My eyes and ears are bleeding.

  2. thebewilderness

    Thank you for the image of the bottle with the vagina dentata opening.

  3. Chai Latte

    You are a brilliant, brilliant woman, Twisty. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting into such eloquent words what has bugged me for years about Freud. Can we dig up his corpse to give him a good old-fashioned kick to the dong he held in such reverence?

  4. Uccellina

    This is my new favorite post.

  5. Sophia

    I will still always see swords as the ultimate in phallic symbols, not just for their shape (thin and pointy) and usage (sticking into people), but because stories like Beowulf, King Arthur, and many, many others revolve completely around men fighting over, prizing, and naming these fancy magical swords and ascribing all their power to them (it’s not their mighty swordsmanship which won the day; it’s their mighty SWORDS), much as most modern men are far more concerned with the size of their member than their skill in handling it.

    But come on, skyscrapers? They’re PRACTICAl. As you say, form follows function in most cases.

  6. goblinbee

    I shrugged the idea of phallic symbol off my shoulder the first time I heard it. “What? Anything longer than it is wide? Preposterous! Well, you could call it a digit symbol too, if you really wanted to.” (as in fingers or toes)

  7. Lara

    Chai Latte said: “…Freud. Can we dig up his corpse to give him a good old-fashioned kick to the dong he held in such reverence?”

    Unfortunately he is much too decomposed to have an ass anymore. But we can scatter cowrie shells and bottles all over his grave and write with spray paint on his tombstone “VAGINA DENTATA WAS HERE”. What do you say?

  8. goblinbee

    Lara: But we can scatter cowrie shells and bottles all over his grave and write with spray paint on his tombstone “VAGINA DENTATA WAS HERE”.

    Sounds like my kind o’ field trip!

  9. Lost Clown

    That’s funny, since I agree with Sophia and this post, that form follows function.

    (says the blamer with a set of cards all about Chicago architecture)

  10. mearl

    Dammit, Twisty, I am now covered in bruises from falling out of my computer chair because I laughed so hard at this post.

  11. Feminist Avatar

    This is my favourite post ever.

    In the aim of reclaiming architecture for feminism, I give you examples of ‘vaginal’ symobols:

    The Colosseum.
    Pretty much every baseball stadium.
    The Pentagon.
    Main Chamber of the New Scottish Parliament.
    European Parliament, both building and main chamber.
    Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

    The link between these buildings is that they are all places men like to visit.

  12. Twisty

    Also the “Jefferson Western Expansion Memorial,” aka the St. Louis Arch. When I lived there people used to joke about it getting together with the giant prong Washington Monument. Because monuments aren’t gay.

  13. fishboots

    Weener Supremacy. Heh, heh, heh.

    In other news, this new evangelical pro-life web-site is a real eye-opener. It explains things so clearly, with a hip young, sassy attitude that is sure to entertain the worshipping youth of today!

  14. crowlie

    What a superlatively funny post! This will stick in my mind for some time to come. The image of sporting fields, bottles, cups and every other thing as legitimately female in nature. And with teeth!

    But if all those supposedly bloke like buildings aren’t gay, how come so many of them congregate in the centres of the world’s cities? Are they all, in fact, giant wombs holding the lives of millions of people?

    On a tangent, while attempting to follow Birdy’s link regarding the new female world supremacy I clicked instead an article about a foetus being found in the toilet of a plane. Police are trying to determine whether a crime was committed….

  15. Christian

    Well, this chimney with the word ‘dick’ on it – it’s just that there is a company beneath which has the name ‘Dick’. I cannot see why this makes the chimney stupid.

    But that just as a side note – anyway, nice to read your blog again after such a lengthy pause, and best greetings from germany.

  16. Jokerine

    Ooh! I live really close to that smokestack with the “Dick” inscribed. Fortunately the asociation in german is different,though now I will never bee able to pass the smokestack without thinking of this article.

  17. phio gistic

    Some chaps couldn’t plug in a lamp without it being a tingly little sexual experience. We of the First Church of Phallocynicism on the other hand, revel in the vaginal symbols everywhere around us, the bowls, hats, cups, vases, flowerpots, lampshades, groundhog burrows, coffee pots, caves, nests, shells, dust masks, flowers, shoes, socks and gloves, life preservers, bathtubs, motor boats, onion rings, doors, windows and rooms. Why, you’re in a giant womb symbol right now!

  18. dr_igloo

    Loved the post, except for this part:

    However, all bottles, in order to be bottles, must surround cavities.

    It’s a common misconception that the vagina is in fact a cavity. It’s not. Nor is the uterus, for that matter. The structure of the tissue is fairly elastic, so that when nothing is inserted, the walls of the vagina are collapsed against one another — no space. It’s more like a sock than a bottle, really.

  19. Twisty

    “It’s a common misconception that the vagina is in fact a cavity. ”

    Agreed, dr_igloo. In fact, your point is well-known among spinster aunts, many of whom decline on principle to indulge in imagery that connotes the spurious Great Abscess That Is Woman. However, in the lackadaisical world of jokey blogging, the occasional imperfect analogy is permitted, yes, even to radical feminists, on the grounds that we are generally so humorless that repeated infractions are unlikely to occur.

  20. Kyso K

    This is an excellent post, and of course this can go both ways. The “feminist analysis” of the video game Portal, for example, makes some great points until it started on the nigh-obligatory comparison of a gaping hole with a vagina, and then of course some other symbolic interpretations of the female characters actions as representative of her shedding her need to gain her father’s love or some such drivel, which I’m sure seemed brilliant to the essayist but required completely ignoring the context of the symbols being deconstructed.

  21. Kathleen

    Twisty, I think you’re a genius. But Freud isn’t all stupid penis jokes. The Interpretation of Dreams — like almost everything — is full of patriarchal gloop. But it’s also got some pretty brilliant action going on about how our minds & emotions work that is salvageable. I mean, I think one of the long-term projects of patriarchy-blaming should be salvage work, along with razing a lot of stuff to the ground and building a lot of stuff totally anew.

  22. dr_igloo

    Twisty — Blame Eve Ensler for my overzealous policing of language concerning female genitalia. I think I had a small stroke while reading The Vagina Monologues at the part where it became clear to me that she was using “vagina” when she really meant “vulva”, and something ruptured. It made me touchy.

  23. Level Best

    I don’t know how anyone who sees the world so incredibly accurately as Twisty does can still be one of the funniest humans alive. The internal dissonance must be very hard on the ol’ obstreperal lobe.

    Just barely on topic: Anyone ever see the cheesy horror movie “The Langoliers”? The eponymous and badly computer-animated critters are the most blatant vaginae dentatae a Blamer could hope for; one character breathlessly describes them as all hair and teeth, and they make this great, cartoony Tasmanian devil sound as they literally eat up whole parallel universes. If only we could harness them for our own patriarchy-destroying ends.

  24. Birdy

    Apparently linking to fox video’s ain’t just right clicking.

    Here’s the link to the video of our female dominance and the poor men. Barf. And if I hear “cow-towing” one more time I will vomit.


    It’s a long link–sorry.

  25. the Omphaloskeptic

    “I don’t know how anyone who sees the world so incredibly accurately as Twisty does can still be one of the funniest humans alive. The internal dissonance must be very hard on the ol’ obstreperal lobe.”

    I think it’s an evolutionary advantage. There’s nothing like the sweet balm of snark (despite the occasional muffed – ahem – but still hilarious analogy) for a blistered obstreperal lobe.

  26. Twisty

    “Twisty — Blame Eve Ensler”

    Oh I do, I do! And now, thanks to her, there’s a whole generation of English-speaking humans who make the same error. I had to turn off “The Sarah Silverman Program” when she did it (although, let’s face it; I was looking for an excuse, anyway. That dog won’t hunt.)

  27. Andrew

    There are several excellent examples of phallocentric naming and essentializing in theeighteenth century novel Tristram Shandy. Immediately coming to mind is when one Dude calls a woman a “leaky vessel,” referring at once to both her poor memory as well as menstruation.

    Other images include button-holes, petticoat slits, and one particularly memorable line about a woman’s eye being ready to be “deflowered.”

  28. Lara

    “Just barely on topic: Anyone ever see the cheesy horror movie “The Langoliers”? The eponymous and badly computer-animated critters are the most blatant vaginae dentatae a Blamer could hope for;”

    Ohhh, have you ever seen the movie “Dreamcatchers”??? Those slithery things that came out of people’s asses literally looked like vagina dentatae. They had these vertical slits for mouths, and when they were about to attack they would open up the slits to reveal rows and rows of sharp teeth. All of their victims save for one woman were male too! One of the scenes shows one of the main characters taking a piss in the snow and where his pee lands one of the slithery things emerges from beneath and raises up, opens its mouth/vulva and is ready to attack his penis! Look at this:


    Right at 2:31 and 3:21 and even the aliens’ spaceships have tons of concentric circles designed on them. Yonic yonic yonic.

  29. Anne X

    Lara, I wish you would get a blog. Then I would read it a lot.

  30. Joanna

    I’m not sure which word is better, dudelio-centric or dudelio-normative. Of course, each has its place. But is it duDEElio-centric, or DOODlio-centric?

  31. Hawise

    I haven’t found the magic google string yet but back in the day, a phallic-shaped glass coke bottle was designed and shipped to stores everywhere. This bottle had the unfortunate tendency to spontaneously explode when shaken, or when experiencing a sudden temperature change, throwing glass shards and foaming liquid everywhere. I had the dubious honor of encountering this bottle after it was banned in North America but shipped to unsuspecting 3rd world countries. Some of the drinks got reshipped back with new exploding drinks in them. This taught me that a proper, functional bottle must never be phallic, to avoid bottles that are designed to be something other than a functional container and that mega-corporations are, at heart, evil monstrosities out to kill me by plan or by accident.

  32. Level Best

    Lara, now I simply must see “Dreamcatchers.” In fact, I submit it might soothe all Blamers’ obstreperal lobes for us to stay in continuous scavenger-hunter mode for female symbology. I could use some Yonic Tonic, personally, and ostenatiously pointing out the omnipresence of this stuff would also serve the cause by severely annoying phallocentrists.

  33. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Twisty: Only if they’re your own boogers.

  34. Lara

    Thanks Anne :) I have considered making a blog but I would literally be glued to my computer if I started one, it would be endless, and my mild insomnia might only get worse. But alas, who knows :)
    The thing is, I saw The Dreamcatcher with my dad many years ago and was actually dissappointed by the not-so-great dialogue, the gratuitous gore, and the overall “guy movie” feel to it. I have heard it’s originally based on a book by the same name. Anyway, the thing about sci fi is that while I don’t like the majority of it it’s an awesome genre with tons of potential to make great commentary on culture and society.
    The fact that the movie is centered around male angst of female sexuality (and vagina dentatae) is strangely appealing to many of us radical feminists, perhaps it’s cathartic?? Either way, the combination of the swallowing and transformative power of the vulva and vagina AND the razor sharp teeth looking to castrate any dumb white male that dares to go too close is just….magnetic ;)

  35. Feminist Avatar

    It occurs to me that my search for ‘vaginal’ symbology in architecture should actually be a search for ‘vulvic’ symbology. This being more accurate, but also rolling nicely off the tongue and, because it has two syllabols and ends in -ic, contrasting with the word ‘phallic’.

  36. Lauredhel

    In the aim of reclaiming architecture for feminism, I give you examples of ‘vaginal’ symobols:

    The Wales Millennium Centre.

    The vagina is, perhaps, as much a “cavity” as any other body “cavity” is: the abdominal and pleural, and pericardial cavities aren’t full of air or fluid, either. We need better words.

  37. Feminist Avatar

    Excellent Lauredhel! I especially like the teeth.

  38. Lauredhel

    And underneath, of course, is the huge, mysterious, inexplicable, and dangerous Torchwood. It all works.

  39. Lost Clown

    I was just gonna say that!

    Think Spike and Jack will snog again Thursday?

  40. Feminist Avatar

    I hope so.

  41. Lisa MB

    I have long theorized that men’s neckties are phallic symbols, and now I’m afraid that my musings might be overly inspired by the patriarchy.

    But hear me out. Ties are surely non-functional, so they must exist mostly as symbols. I think businessmen wear them as indicators of their manhood, like a fashion swordfight.

    Tie styles even adapt to reflect and counter developments in society. In the 1970s, when women’s “lib” was taking hold, men’s ties were super wide and the knots mighty thick. In the 80s, as being gay and/or androgynous was starting to seem hip, thin ties took their brief turn in the spotlight. Right now, we’re back to standard-sized ties, but I bet a president Hillary Clinton would cause a return to wide ties.

    I don’t know about bowties, but I’m sure there’s some explanation that would fit in with my theory.

  42. Kay

    Trying not to derail the conversation, but I just got way too excited when I found reference to Torchwood on IBTP. It’s almost as good as when I managed to link together Tegan and Sara with Doctor Who. Slightly more to the point, I can’t think of a better secret organization to be under a very vulva shaped structure – although if they’re going to keep having people get taken hostage, next time can it please be someone besides Gwen?

  43. denelian

    so… just to stake that freudian vampire all the way down…

    i grew up in California. in the Sierra Nevadas. to me, mountains have ALWAYS been breasts. maybe because i was raised pagan, or maybe because we all suffer from BBS (Big Breast Syndrom. yes, i would kill for a reduction. sigh). so while some people looked around and saw penises, i saw breasts, and tits, and boobs…

    very femi-centric of me, i guess. what can i say?

  44. Lara

    You know Denelian I am also of the big-boobed clan of females. I spent many years living among the mountains of Arizona, but then again big boobage runs in my family, so I dunno if the mountains had to do with it :P

  45. Lauredhel

    Could people please be spoiler-aware? We don’t all get the episodes at the same time. Cheers.

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