Penises, penises everywhere
I was in a taxi driving by Osu cemetery in Accra when I saw three men fumble with the front of their trousers. They ambled to the cemetery wall and soon, various shades of yellow springs arched from their organs. They did this while chatting and laughing, the dearly departed be damned. That was ten years ago.
Today, while Ghanaians have internet in their homes and houses worthy of HGTV are springing up at the speed of binary fission, men still pull out their penises to urinate anywhere they please. They let go freely by the roadside, whether said road leads to the airport or runs by the president’s residence.
They do this comfortably, head turned to the side, observing the goings-on around them. They might pee with glazed eyes or check out their wet maps on the wall. Then they shake, tuck in and go on their merry way, no toilet paper required. They love walls in particular. There is something primal, dog-like the way they stand and aim, leaving a darkened image of a mountain. When you first arrive in Ghana, it’s shocking. It is off-putting. Why demystify the sexual organ?
A man once chose to urinate while leaning on my friend’s car. As I approached to get in, I had to tell him to move before he did. He didn’t pause the flow; he just shifted three feet from me and continued to pee, his head cocked to one side, pure bliss of release on his face. When I asked a male friend why men did this, he said, “It is painful to control. When you have to go, you have to go.” He was very surprised when I pointed out that women suffered the same pain but had to hold it until we could find a bathroom.
I have witnessed men yell at a desperate woman for peeing on the side of the road and exposing her bottom. Whereas the buttocks cover a large surface area and are not as easily hidden by the hand the way a man holds his penis, which of the two scenarios represent greater nakedness? The bottom or the penis? What will men say if everywhere you passed, a woman squatted, letting down a steam of urine?
Of course, women have the peculiar challenge of having to spread their legs open. On long-distance trips far from public restrooms they have no choice but to wander deeper into the woods to wee-wee so as not to expose their derriere. They have to spread wide apart to prevent sputtering their legs. Then, in the absence of toilet paper, they have to resort to bouncing up and down. For these reasons and the sheer awkwardness of the situation, women have nothing to prove by partaking in this behavior, unless they are about to burst a bladder.
This freedom to hoist out one’s penis and handle it isn’t limited to urination. I attended a play and watched two men, playing the roles of camera crew, fiddling with the frontal part of their trousers. Named Scratch One and Two, one obsessively scratched the designated penis area or where the testicles would be. Each time, the audience giggled. Scratch Two tucked his hand into his pants and let it remain there while the other hand fumbled for equipment. All this was perfectly fine, even amusing, even to be celebrated, though I did hear a couple of “this is too much” muttering. Even so, no one would reproach a man for a little public fondling.
The Ghanaian man is totally comfortable with his penis. If he sees a beautiful girl who arouses him, he finds no problem “weighing” his penis, which consists of quick “cuppings.” He can be talking to you and suddenly feel an urge to scratch or weigh. This freedom originates in childhood. A male child may touch himself anytime he pleases. When he starts to experience erections, there’s pride that everything is functioning well.
A female child, on the other hand, is considered the repository of virtue and may not be curious. Let a girl’s hand stray near her genitals out of curiosity and her hand is swatted away by parents, or someone puts pepper in her vagina. In villages and even in towns, the practice of smearing pepper or ginger in a girl’s vagina continues. Girls raised this way get the message that sexual pleasure or rights are reserved for men.
This leads to future frigidity in marriage, which might promote infidelity. Shouldn’t girls be afforded the same right to get to know their bodies? This attitude translates into unreasonable expectations in adulthood.
When a man’s woman is away on a trip, or the man goes on an extended business trip, he may sleep with another woman. “It’s a physiological need” is a phrase oft repeated. Does the woman not have a physiological need for sex? In fact, a woman peaks sexually around age forty, which is when her husband is likely to be waning. She could cheat too, but isn’t supposed to, though as I write this, I am aware that some women now cheat rampantly.
If she is caught, she has to endure public shaming and condemnation, unlike a man. One thing does occur to me though: in a society where a man’s sexual organ and sexuality is glorified, rape is more likely to occur and excused. A girl is likely to allow things done to her that she shouldn’t, because she has learned she doesn’t matter.
If a man becomes aroused, I’m told, it’s very difficult for him to control himself; in fact, it hurts. Well, let it be known that sexual women experience the same “pain.” So why are women in general burdened with moral responsibility and, at the same time, expected to satisfy their men at every turn? I know, I know; someone has to hold society together. So, why shouldn’t both sexes bear the moral responsibility of holding society together? I’ve intentionally not mentioned religion. I welcome your thoughts.