"I Didn't Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics" features about 200 framed photos of dicks, arranged in a replica of the artist's living room to show how pervasive unsolicited dick pics have become.
Whitney Bell, next to her wall of dick pics. Photo by Ben Karris
Ah, the unsolicited dick pic. Technology has made it all too tempting for men's penises to pop up on a woman's phone while she's reading on the train or walking home from work. This is a fairly recent invention, because who would've taken their rolls of film to the local drug store to get their dick pics developed? But now that everyone has a camera phone, dick pics are ubiquitous, despite the fact that most women really, really don't want them.
Whitney Bell is one of these women. Last weekend, she premiered her Los Angeles–based art show "I Didn't Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics," which showcased the magnitude of the unsolicited dick pics she's received.
Upon entering through the exhibit's front doors, I noticed white walls adorned with framed art, like a traditional art gallery, where work from 30 contributing artists was displayed. Behind another door, Bell had recreated her home, where framed dick pics hung around her stuff. About 200 dicks, to be exact. Bell said she wanted the unsolicited dick pics presented this way to show exactly how pervasive they are. Even when she's alone, in the privacy of her own home, she's not safe.
We sat down on her couch, pretending it was her actual living room, and got to talking about everything dick—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
VICE: So tell me how this all started.
Whitney Bell: It all sort of began with a really beautiful dick shadow picture I was sent by a guy I was seeing. I sent it to one of my friends who said, "That picture is so beautiful it should be in a museum." That's when I thought of having a gallery of dick pics.
Wait, the inspiration for this came from a dick pic that you actually thought was beautiful?
Yes! The thing is, this isn't dick-hating or man-hating. I love a good dick. I just don't love harassment. That's what this needs to start being seen as. All of these dicks are unsolicited. They didn't come from requests. I've asked for dick pics personally. But I don't want to see a dick from some guy I've never met, or someone I went on one date with when it's not condoned.
How did you get all these pictures?
Most of the photos were sent to me and other women unsolicited. I reached out to women I know, feminist organizations, and spent a little bit of time on Chatroulette and Reddit, talking to these guys who send them. I was on Reddit mainly to talk to these guys—to gather some knowledge about why they do it, trying to learn the psychology behind the dick pics—but once the doors to that conversation were open, a lot of men just sent the pictures, without any provocation. And on Chatroulette, the dicks were just there, sort of shoved in your face. All the photos on display here were sent unsolicited.
Why do they do it? Did you find anything startling?
It's really what I thought it would be. All harassment. It's not about sex. It's about power. It's about these guys wanting to exert that control. These guys, they get off knowing that they forced some girl to see it. They know that girl is not going to turn around and say, "Let's go on a date."
It's not a pick up. It's like screaming at a woman from a car. You're just doing this because you can, and because the world has taught you that that's OK.
To be expected, even.
Yes, and that's something I would like feminism to change. I think a lot of people view feminism as this aggressive thing when in reality, all it is is equality. That women are equal to men, and in the same right, men are equal to women. This patriarchy that says men can't control themselves and all they can do are these lewd advances, that they can't help but harass women, is wrong. It's feminism that holds that men are more than that. They're better than that. That's what I want to show.
Do men try to defend these dick pics by talking about times they've received unsolicited, I don't know, tit pics? Does that even happen?
Here's the thing about that, because I've thought about this too: When I get a dick pic from a guy I'm dating, generally it's like some body. It's not just a close up of his taint. When women send sexy photos, I'm not spreading my labia. No one wants that. I feel like that's the difference. These are just focused on the penis, and that's the aggressive part. I do think there is a difference between a woman sending a scantily clad picture versus a guy sending one. It's systematic. It's not that women can't sexually harass men—
It's just different.
Yes, it's different. When it's unwanted, and when it's to exert your control, that's when it's bad. It's harassment.
How many unsolicited dick pics do you think you've gotten?
About four years ago, I had a ridiculous prank pulled on me, and for months, I was getting unsolicited dick pics from private emails. I thought I had some weird porn virus or something. Finally, after four months of this, I was visiting my friend in San Francisco, and she asked if I had been getting any weird emails and I was like, "Funnily enough, yes I have." Turns out any time a man had asked her for a sexy picture on OkCupid she said, "pic for pic," and sent them my email address. That's definitely what sort of spurned my hatred for the dick pics. But I don't have any of those photos anymore; I deleted those emails immediately.
"I love a good dick. I just don't love harassment." — Whitney Bell
There are some interesting dicks on display here. Do you think these men actually think their dick pics look good? Like, what's going on in this one?
That's his thumb, I think. Strangling his dick. My friend said that one looked like a ball of dough with a toupee on it. [Whitney pointed at another picture, of a middle-aged man whose head was partially blocked by an iPad.] This one was DM'd to me on Instagram, which meant I could click on his profile and see his whole life. His wife and his children. His face is in the actual picture, but I had to remove it for this.
Wow. So obviously the internet has made dick pics easier to send, but do you think there's anything more to account for the rise of this?
Yeah, it's definitely the anonymity guys feel behind technology now. Even if that's not true, it feels more anonymous than flashing on the subway. Guys who would probably never do that have the balls to do it now behind the guise of their phone or computer.
It's just because they can. I think that's it. These guys have never had anyone call them out on their abusive, harassing behavior before. They feel like there are no consequences. Now I'm trying to show maybe there are.
Do you think there should be a punishment for this sort of thing?
Yes. It is indecent exposure, and I understand it will likely never happen that it's put into law, but I do think these men need to be held accountable.
Right. That's what I'm trying to do—shame them. The internet gives people the ability to be their worst selves if they want to be. A lot of dudes just don't think it through, because they don't need to. No one ever told them that they can't act like this. That applies to more than just dick pics. We're taught as women to protect ourselves and to avoid things, but men aren't taught about consent.
What would you tell a woman to do in this situation, when she receives an unwanted dick pic?
Send back a picture of a better looking dick.
I Didn't Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics will be on view at Rhabbitat in Los Angeles through April 17.
Follow Alison on Twitter.