Holly Wilson is a sculptor living in Mustang, Okla., who’s tired of dealing with gallery dudes who attempt to dismiss her expertise and undervalue her work just because she’s a woman. So Wilson crafted a secret weapon that she could keep in her pocket to give her strength when negotiating with sexist men: a 1½-inch-long cast bronze penis. Now, Wilson has launched a Kickstarter campaign to put her prototype penis into production and help other women “bring your dick to the table,” too. Her slogan: “If all that separates us is a dick, then here is mine. Now let’s get down to business.” I talked to Wilson about how a tiny penis sculpture can help women lean in, and what you find when you Google “dick” for professional purposes. Our interview has been condensed and edited.
Slate: What is the Bring Your Dick to the Table origin story?
Holly Wilson: About a year ago, I was at a gallery where I had made a contract to show my work. We’d worked out an agreement where I’d get two-thirds of the commission when I sold a piece, and the gallery would get the rest. The opening went really well. I sold a beautiful bronze piece. But when I came back to the gallery the next day, they wanted to revise the arrangement. All of a sudden, they wanted to split the commission 50/50. I had this sinking feeling. I’ve been casting bronze for 20 years, but it was clear that the gallery didn’t value what I was doing and that it treated me like I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t breathe. My knees were shaking. I was just insanely mad. I called my husband and said, “What would you do in this situation?” and he said, “I would hold my own.” I realized that if I only had a dick, the gallery wouldn’t be doing this to me. The only thing coming between me and the man across the table was the fact that I didn’t have a dick.
Slate: Now, you can whip it out of your pocket and say, “Here it is.”
Wilson: To be clear, I’m not slapping it on the table or threatening people with my tiny dick. It’s more about reminding ourselves that the only reason we’re being devalued is because of this ridiculous appendage we don’t have. That day, the only thing in my pocket was a stick of ChapStick, and I put my hand in my pocket and held on to that ChapStick while I stuck up for myself through the negotiation. I made a joke about it to my husband: I told him I should have a little bronze dick that I could put in my pocket, so I could hold on to the little dick whenever I had trouble. Though there’s humor there, there’s also real statement—wow, here’s what’s been keeping me from this job, this thing right here in my hand. Bringing your dick to the table has more to do with yourself. It’s not going to change a gallery owner’s opinion of me, but it could remind me that I am good enough and deserve to be sitting at that table.
Slate: What was the design process like?
Wilson: Well, first I would recommend never Googling the word dick, because it will scare you! It’s really frightening. I Googled, and I found myself seeing things that were like, “Wow, that’s not really a normal thing, someone needs to help that guy.” Luckily I’ve had a lot of figure-drawing classes, so I could use some of my sketches for it. I got a couple of photos on the sly. Then I started experimenting with a wax mold—the first one was too big, the second was too small, but this one fits perfectly in your hand. You can get a dick that bends to the left or right depending on your politics. If you’re feeling shy that day, you can get a grape leaf for it. If you feel your dick is really that important, you can put it on a pedestal. You can get it in bronze if you want to be brassy, or sterling silver if you want to be precious.
Slate: Have you had the opportunity to try it out on the job?
Wilson: I carry mine all the time. Mine’s a lefty, go figure. I remember one day when I was picking my kids up from school, I reached in to get my keys out, and I realized, I just touched my dick. When I talk to people about what I’m doing, some people say, “This shouldn’t be the image of women’s liberation.” I want to clarify that this isn’t my symbol of womanhood. It’s just a humorous talisman to remind us that this is what our detractors are basing their judgments on, and that’s ridiculous. When I start to explain what it is, people laugh. But by the time I get to the end, more often than not, they say: “I get it.”