Saturday, March 12, 2011

"The Male Body: Repulsive or Beautiful?"

I found this article by Hugo Schwyzer, "The Male Body: Repulsive or Beautiful?" via Critical Masculinities, and it moved me. I especially enjoyed (and was saddened by) the many thoughtful comments left by readers.

I found the comment by switchintoglide particularly interesting and touching in some way: "There is the flip-side to this too; I really try to express to my partner how much I love his body. I love that he is strong and muscular, but also kind of doughy (kind of like Darrel on the Office), but he is extremely uncomfortable with me expressing desire and physical attraction to him—he acts like it is degrading. For me, obviously, I want him to feel wanted, but for him, I think it makes him self-conscious to be admired that way—”like a woman.” I have had both male and female partners, and so far three out of the five men I have dated have felt obviously uncomfortable with this sort of expression."

Anyway, I'm posting it because I think several really important points are raised, and many questions asked that I don't have clear-cut answers to but are important to ask regardless. I often muse over representations of masculinity and the male body in terms of sexuality, and Schwyzer's article (and subsequent conversation between commenters) gave me pause. Enjoy.


golden_muse2003 said...

Great article and observations, GGG! It's absolutely true that women are taught to suppress their desire for the male form; during my early days with Playgirl, I posted on a message board that women love to look at beautiful men, just as much as males admire females. A man posted and told me I was wrong! Imagine that, a man trying to tell me how I as a woman should feel. One thing he was right about though; most male celebrities will not bear it all, for Playgirl or any other mag.

And it's not just men who hold these attitudes; once I was doing public relations for a gift shop and I hosted a bridal shower for one of the gals who worked there. I know I couldn't get too risque with my party plans, but I did bring a deck of Chippendales playing cards; the men were gorgeous and shirtless but not nude. While some of the ladies laughed, drooled, and patted me on the back, others expressed shock that 'sweet little Megan' had possession of such cards (you're probably howling with laughter as you read this, GGG:). It's sad to say, but women are still oppressed when it comes to their blatant admiration of the male form; and men are still reluctant to display their bodies for female perusal.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Wonderful comment, Megan. Thank you! And yes, imagine that, a man telling you how women *really* feel! Ha! I think it's also instructive to see how men and women react to the idea of women watching two (or more) men together sexually. Lots of men, in my experience, are sort of surprised by the idea of "straight" women watching "gay" porn, but then sort of say "Well, I guess it's the same as men watching lesbian porn." Women, however, seem either shocked or disgusted (not all of them, of course, but the reactions are tangibly different). I agree with you -- women are taught that male bodies are not for looking at, unless they're "doing" something. Meanwhile, if male bodies are simply "looked at" then they are seen as feminized or "gay." How many times have films with lots of naked male bodies (Troy? 300?) been read as gay or homoerotic? Where does the female gaze figure into this? And what about the queer gaze? Ah, so many questions!! :)

Aussiescribbler said...

We are not our bodies. We are in our bodies. Our bodies are an important part of us. But when you look at my body you can’t see my feelings. You can’t see the responses I have made - brave or cowardly - to the challenges my life has presented. You cannot see the pain I may be carrying from the things that have been done to me. You may see clues to these things. The lines around my eyes may speak of tears or the erectness of my walk may speak of pride. But when you respond to my body you are not responding to the totality of who I am.

When we long for affirmation, it is an affirmation of our value as a person. The fact that we may or may not be physically attractive doesn’t really come into it. But, if we can’t get what we really need, we may settle for what we can get. To be ignored might be worse than being appreciated for something irrelevant.

But this doesn’t mean that viewing someone as a sex object is a form of oppression. It can be, but it needn’t be. Largely it depends on whether we view them as only a sex object. It is possible to appreciate a woman for her intelligence, her kindness, her sense of humour, and her massive juggs. These things are not mutually exclusive.

My own experience as a heterosexual male is that beautiful male bodies exist and give me pleasure. I remember realising this when I was in high school. One of my Latin text books had a picture on the cover of a famous statue called Laocoon and His Sons. I was enraptured by Laocoon’s beauty. Later I had a similar reaction to the site of Joe Dallesandro’s nude body in the movie Flesh (1968). I have no desire to have sex with those bodies. But to see them, and presumably, to touch them, is something that can give joy. And I know that a man is sexy when I would like to look like him.

As for being viewed as a sex object myself, I’d love it. I even like to delude myself that some women might see me that way. When I was with a woman I loved to be naked in front of her, but I think I probably enjoyed it more than she did. I want to be a sex object, but not enough to lose my flab or my facial hair or even comb the hair on my head most of the time. I want it, but not if I have to work for it.

But one advantage that men have over women is that an ugly man can be viewed by women as sexy. Look at Humphrey Bogart. It seems that character and personality play a bigger role in sexual arousal for women than they do for men.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

All really interesting and important points Aussie -- especially the importance of context. We all objectify in some way, but some forms of objectification need not exclude appreciation of a fully rounded human being. I also really appreciate your reflections on admiring male bodies -- some men simply refuse to acknowledge they can even see anything. Meanwhile, women can casually comment that another woman is good looking without any consideration that they might be considered "gay."


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