the small penis rule

I don’t know how many of you are following the story of the feud between author Michael Crichton and Washington political columnist Michael Crowley.  Back in March, Crowley wrote a piece that was highly critical of Crichton and his politics. 

Now Crichton has a new thriller out called NEXT, and as the New York Times notes, there are some rather obvious similarities between Crichton’s real-life arch-nemesis Crowely and an unsavory fictional character in his book:

“On Page 227 Mr. Crichton writes: “Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers.”

Mick Crowley is described as a “wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate” with a small penis that nonetheless “caused significant tears to the toddler’s rectum.”

Mr. Crowley writes that Mr. Crichton’s Mick Crowley not only has a similar name but is also a graduate of Yale and a Washington political journalist.”

The reason I found this whole episode so amusing is that not only did Mr. Crichton portray Crowley as a child-rapist, he also lobbed the worst insult a guy can hurl  at another man. 

He gave him a small penis.

As the NY Times article points out, this particular insult  actually has a bit of history in the literary world.  Call it the “small penis rule.”  According to libel lawyer Leon Friedman, it’s a way to avoid defamation lawsuits. As he explains:  “No male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis — that’s me!’ ” 

Still, it’s clear to Mr. Crowley (and to anyone else who reads that passage in the book) that Crichton was, indeed, talking about him.   

I completely understand Crichton’s impulse to attack a critic by making him a nasty fictional character.  I’ve even done it myself.  One reviewer wrote such a breath-takingly awful review of HARVEST that in a later book, I created a psychopathic teenage character with his name.  There were absolutely no similarities between the reviewer and the character, and I changed the spelling, but it still gave me a little thrill to do it.

But give a character a small penis?   Now, that’s just silly. That’s stooping to the level of little boys in a schoolyard.  And as a woman, I don’t get the obsession men have with their penises.  Or with other men’s penises.  I think I share the same philosophy that other women have on this issue: it’s not the size that matters but what a man does with it.

What this episode tells me is that even a writer as incredibly successful as Michael Crichton feels the sting of criticism, and can’t resist the urge to lash back.  Maybe he came off looking terribly thin-skinned in the process.  But he’s human, and so is every other writer, no matter how successful they are.  

23 replies
  1. Marcus Sakey
    Marcus Sakey says:

    “That’s stooping to the level of little boys in a schoolyard.”

    Ahh, Tess, I wish I could say we made great leaps as we got older, but it doesn’t take more than a step or two to trace an awful lot of the conventions of male relationships back to the schoolyard.

    Not proud of it, but there it is.

    No penis pun intended on that last line. 😉

  2. wordworker
    wordworker says:

    Ahh, Tess! OMG. I’ll be back to comment as soon as I stop laughing. I can’t think right now. Beside, the tears are blurring my vision! Too much!!!!!

  3. Steve Clackson
    Steve Clackson says:

    “That’s stooping to the level of little boys in a schoolyard.”

    Is not
    Is too
    Is not
    Is not
    Everyone says you have a small penis!
    They do not
    Do too!

    see it never leaves you:)

  4. Steve Clackson
    Steve Clackson says:

    “That’s stooping to the level of little boys in a schoolyard.”

    Is not
    Is too
    Is not
    Is too
    Everyone says you have a small penis!
    They do not
    Do too!

    see it never leaves you:)

  5. struggler
    struggler says:

    I think Crichton has made a big mistake here. It sends out the message that his nemesis has got under his skin, and if I was Michael Crowley I’d be smugly satisfied that I had managed to do that.

    Let me give you an example of how grown men try to out-bitch each other. This happened TODAY, to me personally, as a result of the tiniest of issues regarding an item for sale on eBay. I reported the seller for applying a fee for the PayPal facility, and eBay pulled the listing. This was the seller’s prompt and unedited response to me in an email:-


    Once again ************ you amaze me. Not only did you originally report my original listing to ebay because I decided to ask for re-imbursement of the PayPal fee (which in this case, would have added £2 to the final price) causing ebay to pull the ad, you also emailed me to let me know that this was against ebay rules, you then email me when I do re-list offering a ridiculous amount and telling me what I should do if I want to accept your offer!!
    Jesus Wept ************ do you have no life whatsoever? Do you have nothing better to do in your sad and lonely existence than to trawl ebay looking for the smallest misdemeanour, so that you can correct it? Do you get a reward from ebay as their Internet Monitor? Were you picked on at School? Were you always passed by when it came to making Prefects? Were you the boy who had to always eat the Digestive?
    If you have a job, are you a Traffic Warden? Seriously ************ (Is your surname really *****?) please, go get a life. Quickly. By the eay, do you still wet the bed?


    I think this was an adult male, I don’t know. But the internet (and I suppose the published novel too) gives people, to my mind, the opportunity to threaten or humiliate another person in public, usually hidden behind the safety-screen of anonymity, people who do not have the spine or the character to speak face-to-face with the objects of their venom like a REAL man would.

    Regardless of his penis size.

  6. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Well, speaking as a guy-
    I can sure confirm that men wrap their whole ego around that little appendage.

    Sometimes it makes a guy put silly little things in print….

    ….and sometimes it can make a man send a whole country to war. (and not just the USA mind you- at any one time theres at least a dozen wars going on all over the world even as I type these words. All because men seem to be more comfortable proving their manhood
    then proving their I.Q.)

    Just one of those worldly questions that may never be answered to anyone’s satisfaction.

    Though your average man-on-the-street will tell ya different.

  7. Echelon Press
    Echelon Press says:

    Coming at this from the female perspective it makes me wonder if perhaps I should take advantage of one of the hundreds of e-mails I get daily encouraging ME to try this pill or that ring to enlarge my penis so I will feel better about myself. Do you think if my penis were larger I would feel better?

    It strikes me as odd, or amusing that Crichton has reached such a level of “fame” that it would not be considered ridiculous that he did stoop this low. Since I don’t read him, I will say it…this is just silly.

  8. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:

    Oh, this reminds me of a really good rejoinder to men when they accuse women of being irrational due to PMS.

    You turn to them and say, “Thank you for diagnosing my problem. What’s yours? TSB?”

    And when they look at you with a blank stare, you hit them with: “Testicular seminal buildup.”

    It shuts them up every time.

    And please feel free to use it in life or fiction. I certainly can’t in my WIP. Cheers!

  9. Craig
    Craig says:

    Tess, Jay Leno addressed this touchy subject just last week in a monologue. The gist of it was that it has been revealed that American male condoms are too large for the Indian [of India]population. You might want to point this out the next time tech support gets snippy with you.

  10. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    crichton is demented if he tried to portray someone he disliked as a baby raper without a basis in fact-this isn’t a topic for satire,or parody or whatever it is called-he should’ve stuck to dinosaurs

  11. wordworker
    wordworker says:

    I read Crichton. I love the guy – I think he’s brilliant. I know I’m going against the majority here, but this little stunt cracks me right up. I can picture Crichton, a big grown-up man, sitting at the computer, typing out his revenge with a gleeful smile. I like it. I’ve done it myself, though I disguise things a little to keep the peace and I am unpublished, so it hurts no one. Still – this is hilarious. Some people are complete and total jerk-offs and if you can shrink their manhood with the flick of a pen – why not? I don’t know about anyone else, but I am highly entertained by this. I take my laughs wherever I can get them. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Tess.

  12. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    This is actually typical of the maturity level of Crichton’s work. Any time he wants to make a political point, he turns anyone on the other side of the issue into a cheap cartoon villain, a straw man without nuance, sympathy or humanity. His antagonists do everything but twirl their mustaches and cackle evilly. This is fine for satire, but Crichton’s never made any claim to being a satirist as far as I know. Face it, the guy’s a hack. Why would this cheap jackassery surprise anyone?

  13. JA Konrath
    JA Konrath says:

    On the subject of insulting your critics, I think it’s pretty funny. If you sling it, you should expect to have it slung back.

    On the subject of penis size, I also don’t understand why men with small penises are sensitive about it, and I often ask them that very question, in public showers, as I snicker and point.

    The women I’ve spoken with about this issue don’t seem to think it matters much, unless the guy is so big it perforates a lung.

    The men I’ve spoken with about this issue don’t think is matters much, and then go buy sports cars and guns. Big guns.

  14. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    That’s it. I’m going to marry a nice Indian woman so I can finally hear the words, “It’s so big!” 😉

  15. mattpowell
    mattpowell says:

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  16. sexmedicin
    sexmedicin says:

    The idea of having anal sex with a toddler shocks me! I don’t think a spoiled Yale graduate with a small penis can justify a thing like this!
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