So, two days ago whilst walking downtown in a major US city, a man flashed his naked penis at me. This isn't the first time a man unknown to me has felt the need to show me his cock and balls and, if you're a woman reading this, I'd be willing to bet that a man has done the same to you.
The first time a stranger exposed himself to me, I was about 14. In the small town where I grew up, I was walking home from the store at night with a female friend and a man from behind us started shouting to get our attention. We turned around and we saw that this man was shining a flashlight on his naked genitals and running towards us. We ran screaming all the way home, visions of him doing terrible things to us dancing in our heads. The second time a man flashed me, I was 16 and driving on the highway with two female friends. A man drove up next to my car in the adjacent lane and began staring at us. He also happened to be wearing no pants and was masturbating.
This latest time, a man pulled up to the curb close to wear I was locking my bicycle and called me over to his car. Believing that he was yet another tourist seeking directions from a local, I walked over to his car, happy to help. When I was about three feet from the passenger door, he looked at me expectantly and, right then, a creepy feeling ran through me. I quickly noticed that this man was not wearing pants and, almost proudly, he was gesturing toward his (unimpressive) penis. Because the common wisdom is that flashers like to get a reaction out of women, my face remained blank and I matter-of-factly began recording his license plate number on my legal pad. Because of the look of panic on his face, I am convinced that he left skid marks not only on the pavement as he peeled away but also in the front seat of his car. You know, since he wasn't wearing pants and all.
It is commonly thought that flashers expose themselves for their own sexual gratification. Sure, I can see that. People have all sorts of paraphilias (not to be confused with sexual orientations, right anti-gays?). Yet, I honestly don't know what sort of reaction men who expose themselves to strangers are seeking for their own gratification. Are they trying to evoke fear? Desire? Anger? Any sort of strong emotional response?
Some psychologists say that exhibitionists are insecure and have a "deep sense of inadequacy" which produces a desire to prove themselves by frightening others. I can buy that. In our culture, it is an unfortunate reality and survival response for women to associate a stranger's penis that they have neither asked nor wanted to see with Very Bad Things.
Yet, sometimes, there's that moment right after they drop trou. They have that proud look in their eyes that says "Look what I have" as they expectantly wait for your reaction. It is then that I believe some of these men are so invested in the myth of the all-mighty phallus that what they really want in their heart of hearts is for women to stop what they are doing, congratulate them, and just behold the awe-inspiring sight of their male penis as though it's the Washington Monument. Because, you know, they may not have much in life, but they do have a dick and that counts for something Very Important, doesn't it?
Anyway, I did report this latest flasher's license plate to the police. I felt a bit silly doing so given that we are socialized to think that flashing is No Big Deal And In Fact Quite Funny. But, I also had a hunch that this dude was just driving around downtown flashing random women all afternoon, what with him driving around sans pants and all. He could be a registered sex offender or well on his way to being one. Who knows. My doubts about reporting the incident went away when I remembered the fear I felt during the teenage flashing incidents I experienced and what an unsolicited penis at that point in my life could have meant. My frightened reaction probably gave those two guys jerk-off material for weeks, and that disgusts me.
Flashers are an annoyance, and sometimes worse, that most women deal with or have dealt with in their lives. Unwanted male exhibitionism is part of a culture in which some men believe that they are sexually entitled to women, whether they're making unsolicited comments about our looks, tricking women into looking at their dicks, or otherwise entitling themselves to us for their own sexual gratification. It is self-penis worship at its most pathetic state.