Dicks, dicks and more dicks. These days it seems no matter where you turn, dicks of all sorts—whether in the flesh or artistically rendered—are popping up everywhere, from primetime TV to popular music to the U.S. presidential election. Thanks to the internet, the ubiquity of dicks has only increased, with penises proliferating on pornographic websites and social media platforms. And while some internet users are certainly seeking out these photos, the abundance of unsolicited dick pics being share on dating apps is troubling. For most women, these unsolicited photos represent more than just a childish prank or a laughably misguided romantic gesture. Rather, they are a tool of intimidation intended to keep women “in their place.”
Enter Whitney Kidd Bell—a Los Angeles-based feminist artist. Her most recent installation, “I Didn’t Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics,” invites patrons go down the deep, dark hole of patriarchal domination in a room filled with more than 150 phallic photographs, hung inside a detailed recreation of the artist’s home.
The inspiration for the installation came to Bell after several dick pics showed up unsolicited in her email inbox from mystery email addresses. Bell discovered later that her best friend was pranking her with penises. “Anytime a guy asked her for a naked pic on OKCupid, she’d say pic for pic and give them my email address,” says Bell. “That’s where my hatred for [dick pics] came from.”
Her hatred smoldering, Bell took to Instagram with her idea for the piece: she described a space not unlike any young woman’s home, complete with a double bed covered in denim, a small, sink-side make-up vanity and an outrageous magnet-covered fridge—but in this space, the walls would be decorated with anonymous penises of all shapes and sizes. The idea was to juxtapose the comfort and safety of home with the aggressive and unwelcome intrusion of toxic masculinity.
The concept resonated with other like-minded women and feminist artists online, who soon volunteered to help Bell realize her vision, lending hands to hang the wall-to-wall dicks (often photographed next to common household items, such as bare toilet paper rolls and remote controls, for scale).
“I want to show how invasive and dominating it is all the time to be a woman and how it’s everywhere you go,” says Bell. “It’s in your house, it’s in every magazine, it’s on the internet and you can’t escape it. It [is] not so much about the dick pics as it [is] about just the overriding patriarchy in our lives.”
But even in a room full of faceless dicks, there’s still space for a little fun, an element Bell says is essential to drawing attention to online harassment and packaging feminism for a new generation. With a sprinkling of sex-positive knick-knacks touting the virtues of oral sex and female sexual agency, a soundtrack that is equal parts sexy and sugary pop pulsing from the DJ booth (I squealed when Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody began to play) and the most drool-worthy selection of handmade feminist merch provided by over 40 local vendors, Bell hopes the “friendly, fun, party environment” will help patrons to drop their guards and allow the the true message of feminism—equality for all—to penetrate.
“A spoonful of sugar helps sometimes, you know?” she says. “A lot of people said that they didn’t really understand what feminism was and they wouldn’t have [had] a line to that mentality, [but] then they came [to the show] and it changed their minds. This isn’t an anti-male thing or an anti-dick thing. It’s an anti-harassment event. And that’s pretty incredible.”