Letting It All Hang Out

A couple weeks ago Wendy McElroy wrote an article about an extremely odd series of events involving the Boulder Public Library in Boulder, Colorado.

The controversy started when library refused to fly a large flag outside its entrance. The library claimed it was for safety reasons, but an official with the library also made comments that the flag might be offensive to some patrons. Eventually the library flew a smaller flag.

And then Colorado resident Robert Rowan became so incensed at the library for an art installation at the exhibit, that he swiped the exhibit, and then called a local radio station to confess and explain why he stole the art.

The art exhibit in question was put up by artist Susanne Walker and was titled “Hanging ‘Em Out to Dry.” It consisted of 21 ceramic penises on a clothesline which was meant to make some statement or another about domestic violence (the installation was part of an exhibit for the Boulder County Safehouse, a domestic violence center).

The display was accompanied by signs which repeated myths about domestic violence such as, “Abuse by husbands and partners was . . . the leading cause of injuries to women” (despite being repeatedly debunked, that myth always seems to turn up on domestic violence literature).

McElroy does an excellent job of summing up the argument that this sort of artwork is simply the latest in a long line of anti-male messages. She recounts a recent incident in Tennessee where the YWCA took out ads featuring a blurred photo of a young boy with the caption, “One day he’ll own his own house . . . drive his own car . . . beat his own wife.” McElroy writes of the ad and the exhibit,

The “Hanging ‘Em Out to Dry” exhibit provides the same sort of “awareness” as done an a priori indictment of all boys as wife beaters. It is hate speech directed at a category of human beings. If you doubt this, imagine a display of black penises strung up. It would be condemned as racist in an instant. Why is it less hate speech to expand the category from “black men” to “all men”?

Which is not to say that Walker shouldn’t have right to make such a piece of art, but that people should not be forced to subsidy such bigoted messages. McElroy notes that Rowan said he wouldn’t have had a problem if this art had been displayed at a private gallery, but didn’t think his tax dollars should go toward supporting its message.


Hang male-bashing out to dry. Wendy McElroy, Fox News, November 27, 2001.

Man faces charges for phallic art theft. The Associated Press, November 13, 2001.

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