Something weird must be wafting through the HVAC system over at Newsweek, where the storied weekly has chosen to illustrate a story about sexual harassment and assault with a larger-than-life set of male genitalia, rendered as a bright orange balloon animal, being popped by a needle in a white lady’s hand.
In no imaginable universe is “woman poking a fake penis with a sharp object” the appropriate visual shorthand for “women bravely sharing their experiences with sexual harassment.” The #MeToo movement at the center of Newsweek’s cover story is not a group of women trying to emasculate men or punish them for having sexual desires. It’s about illustrating the magnitude, pervasiveness, and diversity of violations that women endure at the hands of powerful people. Some of these men have suffered well-deserved harm to their careers. Their penises, though, as far as I am aware, are still very much intact.
Making a penis (or its inflatable equivalent) the central image for a story about women seizing power over their assailants is actually a pretty good example of how rape culture distorts discussions of sexual violence. The problem with sexual harassers isn’t their boners! Boners in a vacuum are neither good nor evil! If the teenage boy–cum–carnival worker in charge of Newsweek covers these days really wanted to go with the woman stabbing body parts idea, it would have made more sense for her to be slicing up a male brain, where decisions to abuse and exploit women are made.
Not to belabor the point here, but there are even more things wrong with this cover, like the fact that making a penis out of a balloon is not an original magazine concept. Also, the story is about Trump and the penis is orange, which—is that supposed to be Donald Trump’s penis?! Why did you make all of your readers and angry Twitter followers think about Donald Trump’s penis, Newsweek? Why did you make it so big, so that the only thing the president will take away from it is “Newsweek made a model of my dick and now everyone thinks my dick is big”? Why are you forcing women passing by newsstands to think about penises at all, when your cover line says the story is about women “taking down powerful men in all fields”? Could a white lady’s hand not have been toppling tiny statues of bad men, or squashing cockroaches in suits, instead of deflating a penis? I don’t know, I’m not an art director (and neither, from the looks of it, are you), but I have enough sense to know that depicting the courageous women who have been sharing #MeToo stories as no-fun boner killers is irresponsible, insulting, and very, very sexist. It’s also inaccurate, because you do not torpedo the career of a serial abuser by poking his dick with a needle. If it were as easy as that, Jo-Ann Fabrics would be trading at the top of the New York Stock Exchange.
While we’re on the topic, it’s pretty gross that an entire group of despicable men is reduced to a penis, something they would probably take as a compliment. An impeccably manicured hand (for some reason, the accepted magazine symbol for womanhood) is the stand-in for all women, who hold their weapons not with anything approaching ferocity, but with the delicate grip of a thumb and forefinger that looks almost flirtatious. The only way this Dylan Maxwell–designed cover could have worked would have been if the balloon animal were twisted in the shape of American masculinity, which is so fragile that it interprets a movement against sexual abuse as an attack on men and their genitals.