The tantalizing target of Donald Trump has dominated the liberal comedic scene ever since he stepped into politics. Comedians and political writers have ridiculed everything from his hair, to his weight, to his voice. Audiences love it, as many news networks have seen ratings bumps with increased coverage of Trump. The jokes sometimes challenge his performance as president, but often simply attack him as a person. These personal jokes can be funny and can serve to rally resistance, but they provide little substance. They fail to expose his flaws to those who do not already despise him. They play into his strategy of turning politics into reality television, as they promote personal insults rather than substantive debate.

Comedians often ridicule Trump for his “tiny hands,” intending to exploit his defensiveness regarding his hand size and the implied size of his penis. The joke has rattled Trump for years. In 1988, Graydon Carter, a recent editor of Vanity Fair, called Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian” in a Spy Magazine piece. Popular liberal comedians like John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert have mocked his hand size on their shows. During the Republican primary, Marco Rubio mocked Trump’s hands at a rally, implying that he had a small penis and that this influenced his fitness for office. Trump responded by overtly defending his penis size at rallies and in a televised presidential debate.

Mocking Trump’s hand size is an example of phallocentrism, the conflation of male genitalia with masculinity, and masculinity with power. The “tiny hands” accusation rattles him because it symbolizes a small penis, calling his masculinity and power into question. Trump defends his hand size so fiercely because it challenges his penis size, and he views challenges to his penis size as challenges to his masculinity, authority and power. 

Hand size and penis size are not the only examples of phallocentrism. In May 2017, Stephen Colbert derided Trump’s mouth as Vladimir Putin’s “cockholster,” implying that Trump submits to the power and authority of Putin. This joke, and colloquial use of “sucking d**k” as a euphemism for submission, ascribe power to the penis and weakness to the performer. Other common phrases, like the conflation of “balls” with toughness, imply that in order to be tough, masculine or powerful, you must have male genitalia.

While jokes about Trump’s hands easily frustrate him and can entertain an audience, their use validates his insecurity and reinforces harmful ideas connecting the penis with masculinity, and masculinity with power. Associating masculinity with male genitalia implies that those with male genitalia must be masculine, and those without male genitalia cannot be. It erases the identity of many transgender men, suggesting that in order to fully be men they must have a certain body. Associating male genitalia with power implies that those without male genitalia do not have power, perpetuating systems of oppression against women and other gender non-conforming people. If having small hands, and supposedly a small penis, challenges one’s authority or presidential candidacy, what does that mean for a candidate that might not have male genitalia?

Instead of insulting Trump’s hands—or his hair and weight, for that matter—we must mock the way he performs the office of the presidency. I’d much prefer a president with small hands who promoted a living wage than an attractive president who promoted mass incarceration. 

We must shift our attention back to substance. After all, Trump’s detrimental policies and inadequacy as a leader should provide more than enough fodder for comedians and political pundits to captivate audiences, providing comic relief while challenging the structures that underlie American politics.

Ethan Ready is a Trinity sophomore and a member of the Duke Men's Project. The column, "biweekly manwich" runs on alternate Wednesdays.