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The Other Phallus-Breaker

By Mary C. Cardinale

When my roommate and I dismantled the lewd sculpture which appeared in the Yard a couple of weeks ago, our purpose was to get rid of it so no one would have to be subjected to such a crass display. Although I’m reluctant to draw even more attention to such an unfortunate occurrence, the motivation for the other phallus-breaker should be known. Therefore, lest this campus think that two radical feminists tore down the phallus, I want to make it clear that it was, in fact, one radical feminist and one social conservative who, respectively, dismantled a symbol of male dominance and attempted to enforce public decency.

Our contrasting perspectives are evident when you look at how the event unfolded. After we were accosted by a group of men during our first attempt at sculpture-removal, we e-mailed for reinforcements. My message went to the Salient-open list and my roommate, Amy E. Keel ’04, sent a message to the Coalition Against Sexual Violence list. It being nearly 1 a.m., no reinforcements were to be found. On our way back to the Yard, however, we came across a shovel stuck in a snow pile outside Memorial Church—to Amy this was mere coincidence, to me, this was clearly an instance of Divine Providence and confirmation that the lewd sculpture had to go. In considering whether to wait around another hour until the fascination died down, we asked ourselves what someone we respected would do. While I considered what Jesus would think, Amy considered what the reaction of her Women’s Studies professor would be. We stuck around.

My first reaction to the nine-foot tall detailed depiction of male genitalia was that it was grossly inappropriate for Harvard Yard. I didn’t want to imagine children, elderly women and tourists alike being confronted with this fruit of Harvard undergrad labor the next morning. In fact, as I crossed the Yard on my way to class the next morning, I was extremely satisfied that my peers could all pass by without being subjected to such tastelessness. I didn’t want them to have to ignore their consciences and pretend—partly due to peer pressure—that they thought it was funny and cool.

That students would build, and then so many defend, this sculpture only demonstrates the further coarsening of our culture. As Amy and I debated with the sculpture’s would-be defenders we were told that we could go build a snow version of female genitalia next to it. They clearly missed the point that any impromptu snow depiction of genitalia in the Yard is inappropriate. We were further told that the sculpture was “art” and was their exercise of “free speech.” The statue was clearly created for its shock value and not to appeal to our artistic sensibilities. It relied on its prominent location in Tercentenary Theater to achieve this purpose. If the “artists” were so intent simply to practice their craft and exercise free speech, they could have built this sculpture in one of their own backyards where their mothers, grandmothers and sisters could see it. Maybe they could have even charged admission to others who wanted to view the masterpiece. Either way, at least this community would have been spared a public attack on decency.

The creation of this display—and the fact that the “artists” apparently didn’t even think twice about its appropriateness—is evidence of the ungentlemanly behavior common among men today. Consider also, that during our first attempt at phallus-breaking, my roommate was physically crowded around by large men, some of whom attempted to pry the cardboard tube she was using from her hands, and I was struck by a snowball. In more recent days, my roommate has received hate e-mail from strange men, including one with a photo of the sender’s genitalia.

I suspect this behavior is sickening to many people. It is safe to say that this sculpture has not inspired our community to act virtuously—another of my motivations for dismantling the sculpture. As we lurked in the distance waiting for the crowds to dissipate, we witnessed the lewd acts that the presence of the sculpture inspired in our peers. There were the typical photos taken of climbers, huggers and lickers, and one young man went so far as to disrobe and mimic a sexual act against the statue as his friends snapped pictures. There were no two ways about it: the display had to go.

Although our motivations were very different, Amy and I do not regret our becoming “self-appointed phallus-breakers.” If the choice is between letting indecency stand in our collective backyard and being castigated for an unpopular view, I’ll go with the latter every time.

Mary C. Cardinale ’02-’03 is a government concentrator in Eliot House. She is a senior writer for the Harvard Salient and a Crimson editor.

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