On Tuesday, The Guardian published excerpts from an obtained copy of Stormy Daniels’ not-yet-published, tell-all memoir Full Disclosure, in which she describes a number of troubling events: her 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump; her mounting disbelief as she watched him gain traction during the 2016 primaries; her fear that she might be in danger as he got closer and closer to the presidency; and her agreement to sign a $130,000 hush agreement. (Trump has denied the alleged affair, though he has admitted to authorizing his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay Daniels for her silence, and Cohen later pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the payoff.)
Yet one detail of the book the Guardian revealed has had the Internet in a frenzy: Daniels’ description of Trump’s genitals as “like the mushroom character in Mario Kart.” Images of the character, Toad, were instantly memed and “Mario Kart” trended on Twitter. Reactions were a mixture of horror at having to imagine Trump’s junk, and glee to have such a sensitive detail about him to mock. But it brought up a larger question: Is it ok to dick-shame the president?
In January, the results of Trump’s physical exam — which showed him to be just shy of obesity, according to the Body Mass Index — launched a debate over whether or not it was OK to fat-shame him. On the one hand, there was the argument that Trump body-shames everyone, from Miss Universe contestants to Rosie O’Donnell, and that the best way to get under the skin of a petty, vain man is to attack his physical appearance. On the other hand was the more compelling argument that mocking Trump’s weight on Twitter — or in an op-ed he’ll never read — won’t hurt him, but it will hurt fat people who actually see it; that tying your disdain for Trump to his weight only reinforces harmful ideas of fatness as connected to moral failure and fat people as unlovable. To protect and support all of the overweight people out there who aren’t trying to block immigration into this country or undercut the public’s trust in journalism, it’s better to focus anti-Trump sentiments on his personality and his policies, not his body.
But does the same rule apply to making fun of his penis? Surely it’s tempting to mock anything we can about the president, especially something so closely tied with ideas of masculinity and power, when his desperation for those things is so transparent. And this is not the kind of information that was ever going to sail through the Internet quietly.
Yet to determine whether posting Toad memes will do more harm than good, ask if dick-shaming the president would cause the same collateral damage as fat-shaming him: Are men who are seeing the Toad memes going to feel worse about themselves and their bodies? There’s certainly a case to be made that penis insecurity is already common and unfounded enough, and that playing into that insecurity only perpetuates the toxic masculinity that leads to violence. Impossible body standards and gender roles are imposed on men as well as women, and feeding into men’s insecurities and fears that women will mock them for having a small penis only serves to reinforce those standards. That could drive men deeper and deeper into harmful performances of hyper-masculinity to overcompensate, including misogyny and violence against women. So what seems like a harmless joke is actually part of the larger system that keeps everyone trapped by trying to measure up to outdated and useless gender ideals.
The fact that penis size is so tied in with ideas of masculinity almost makes it more tempting to get in on these jokes, knowing that the world thinking he has a tiny pecker might actually send Trump off the deep end. Fatness has its own cultural baggage, but it’s a trait that, even while widely deriding it, society has given rich men a pass on since at least King Henry VIII.
Therefore, if we want to take the high road, we probably shouldn’t laugh about the president’s alleged stumpy mushroom dick. But also, the constant onslaught of horrific news coming out of this administration is mentally and emotionally exhausting — we’re most likely about to see Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court despite accusations that he’s an attempted rapist, which will leave women’s reproductive rights in the balance; children are still in cages at the border; and even at least one member of Trump’s cabinet believes he acts “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic” — so if we stray from taking the high road once in a while, reaching for a rare moment of levity, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.