‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.’ - Oscar Wilde
‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.’ - Oscar Wilde
I have critiqued the feminist concept of hegemonic masculinity before. The idea that there is a ‘masculine ideal’ that some men achieve and exploit, and others are oppressed by does not work for me. Also if there is a ‘hegemonic masculinity’ why is there not a ‘hegemonic femininity’. The concept relies on the idea that patriarchy exists, and necessarily is oppressive to women more than men.
I have also critiqued the feminist/academic blog Sociological Images. Its blindness to metrosexual men is particularly galling.
So I was interested when it came up with a cod analysis of some recent Superbowl ads, all featuring men. The description of Beckham’s H and M Bodywear video placed him as a beneficiary of ‘hegemonic masculinity’:
‘Tattooed, rugged, athletic, showcasing a lean musculature and menacing glare, Beckham embodies a hegemonic masculinity that would surely resonate with sporting audiences. And while not presented in this commercial, it is important to also note that Beckham carries other cultural traits that ad to his hegemonic masculine status – he is globally recognized, financially wealthy, and married to a woman who also holds currency in popular culture. This last point is critical. By being married, Beckham confirms his heterosexuality, and her extraordinary beauty and international popularity raise his standing as a “real man”.’
This is a stark contrast to [redacted] s analysis of the same ad a few weeks ago. He wrote:
‘In keeping with the trademark passivity of metrosexuality in general and uber-metro Becks in particular, the ad features much batting of long eyelashes, and arms held defenceless above the head, as the camera licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teasingly never quite reaching the package we’ve already seen a zillion times on the side of buses and in shop windows — but instead delivering us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his million dollar smile.
I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.
All, curiously, to the strains of The Animals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunderstood? Don’t the images tell us everything? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total commodification of masculinity.’
[redacted] does the unheard of as far as feminists are concerned, and points out how Becks is a ‘model’ in much the same way many women are. And if he is being ‘commodified’ in a ‘feminine’ way as women and their bodies are, how does ‘hegemonic masculinity’ even begin to relate to representations of him and other metrosexual men.
I agree with SocImages up to a point about Becks’ role as a married hetero, albeit totally tarty man. But whilst they seem to be saying his marriage to Victoria secures him a place at the top hegemonic masculinity table, I, influenced by Simpson, see it more as a failed attempt on his part to ‘vanquish the fag’ within. In his essays on Sporno [redacted] points out how stars such as Beckham rely on and court gay men fans, and the ‘gayze’. They are negotiating what is becoming a very complex ‘line’ between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘passive’ and ‘active’, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.
Sure, uber-metro uber-famous uber-’virile’ men such as Beckham ‘get away with it’ usually. But look at other heterosexual metro-men who have been ridiculed and ‘queer bashed’ by the press, including sportsmen such as Shane Warne and Ronaldo and politicians like David Miliband. It is not as straightforward as Sociological Images make out.
Or as boring. Feminist discourse on gendered representation of bodies just makes me fall asleep!
They can take their hegemonic masculinity and stick it where the ‘patriarchal’ sun don’t shine!
Coming up in London this week is an exhibition called The Naked Muse. Pictures of naked men are usually of interest to me, so I thought I’d find out a bit more about it.
Full details of the exhibition, featuring black and white photos of men poets in the nuddy, and the calendar to go with it are available here:
As regular QRG -ites will know, I am a bit sceptical about projects that seek to ‘reverse’ the objectification of women and men. Mainly because, influenced by the work of [redacted], I am aware that men, to use the technical term, are just as tarty as women these days, if not more so!
I have argued against the myth of the female gaze and taken the perspective, that really, in metrosexual times, the gaze, (including the ‘gayze’) is polymorphously perverse. It will fix on anything or anyone, so long as they are hot.
HOWEVER! after recently previewing the American Man As Object exhibition, quite critically I may add, I got talking to one of the women who runs it. Conversations with her have persuaded me that in these metrosexy times, whilst men are the objects of many a picture, it is probably worth examining this subject matter closely. Because metrosexual imagery is often very bland and samey. To be considered ‘objects of desire’ men have to have big tits and nice hair and svelt figures – oh, pretty much like women then.
And, even in the 21st century, there are still not enough women working as photographers and film directors, making the images of men and women and people who identify as neither, that saturate our culture.
So back to the Naked Muse project.
The thing I like about it most is how it is questioning the gendered relationship between the ‘poet’ or ‘artist’ and the ‘muse’. Historically, women have been muses, and sometimes quite famously, for artists and poets. Elizabeth Siddal is one of the most famous muses I know of. Here she poses as Ophelia for Millais:
Full disclosure: I am a full-blown, perverse, emotional and sometimes physical masochist.
To be honest, I – and Freud - think masochism is actually an aspect of all of our psyches and sexualities. Maybe to a greater or lesser degree depending on the person, but on some level or another we can all relate to the lyric ‘it hurts so good’.
Despite (or because of?) its ubiquity, ‘masochism’ is often presented in our culture in the negative; it is pathologised. The recent reactions to some tweets from young women Chris Brown fans that had been collected together and circulated round the net are a good example of this pathologisation of masochism.
Responses ranged from the succinct:
to the ideological:
But the one I found the most insulting was from a journalist writing in Slate Magazine . He wrote:
“Dude, Chris Brown can punch me in the face as much as he wants to, just as long as he kisses it. (:”
‘The line above is just one of many similarly disturbing tweets that female fans of Chris Brown posted in response to his controversial inclusion in Sunday night’s Grammy Awards performance lineup. Apparently, the fact that Brown violently attacked his then-girlfriend Rihanna on the eve of the Grammy’s just three years ago does not give these women pause—the singer’s attractiveness overrides all that.
‘… others have alreadyastutely pointed out how it exposes our society’s willingness to downplay domestic violence in favor of our fetish for a good redemption narrative…as we puzzle over the psychological misfiring necessary to produce these statements…consider…this kind of dangerous masochism….’
‘Dangerous masochism’ is a telling phrase. It suggests that masochistic urges and fantasies, as expressed by those young women, is a Bad Thing. The article, along with countless other commentators, not only condemn Chris Brown, but also people who show a desire to be dominated and hurt – masochists.
I do not defend the actions of Mr Brown. I do not think he should be committed to a life of isolation as a result of his crime though. And I have no interest in his ‘redemption’ or otherwise. But I do defend the right of people to express their sexual desires without judgement. And, I thought gay men (the journalist is I think gay and he likens women’s masochism to that of gay men) of all people would too.
A gay man who I have a lot of respect for, who runs a cracking tumblr blog, How Upsetting, had this to say about Chris Brown back in Spring 2011:
‘The willingness of people to ignore Chris Brown’s violence is a sad indictment of our society’s attitude towards domestic violence. I wrote on Twitter previously – society will have reached a good place when domestic violence is viewed in the same light as paedophilia. Completely beyond the pale.’
Whilst I agree that domestic violence should not be hidden and treated as a trivial issue, I do not think it should be viewed in the same light as paedophilia. In fact, I do not even think paedophilia should even be seen in quite such a dim light as it is.
This demonising of people’s sexual urges as well as their acts, and making monsters out of men, is precisely the process whereby homosexuality has been presented as a disease and a ‘sin’. Of course, I differentiate between consensual sexual activity and non-consent, but I do not think turning people who are involved in sexual and domestic ‘abuse’ should be turned into a ‘type’. A type that is worthy of judgement and damnation.
And, again, Freud (and Foucault) agrees with me. His work on infantile sexuality has shown that whilst the power dynamics between adults and children are obvious, children do have their own autonomous sexual urges and desires. And, the fact the age of consent is different in different countries and different time periods shows that the very concept of ‘childhood’ is not fixed but changeable.
But I am not here to defend paedophiles or people who beat up their partners non-consensually. I am here to defend masochism.
Somebody else who defended masochism was Anita Phillips. In a review of her book, In Defence Of Masochism, Mark Simpson wrote that masochism has been elevated
‘to a kind of super-heroism; how long before we hear little boys whining: ‘Mum, can I have a leather harness and cling-film cape for Xmas, please?’.
Which almost begs the point of a book with the name In Defence of Masochism. However, a recent European Court ruling asserted that assault cannot be consented to (which means, of course, an end to boxing, surgery and supporting Arsenal) suggests that there is still an argument to be made. And, even if most people who don’t wear wigs and suspenders for a living are more laid back about the issue, there are still a number of common misconceptions and prejudices about masochism — most of which Anita Phillips dispatches here with aplomb. Most notably, the idea that masochism is always someone else’s perversion. Phillips investigates, via Freud and American academic Leo Bersani the universality of masochistic impulses, the thin line between pleasure and pain, and shows how the curdling of these impulses into a condition and a type changed what it means to be human.’
I think those young women saying they wanted to be beaten by Chris Brown were simply being ‘human’ and the reactions to their comments were presenting them as ‘inhuman’. I have had a similar experience of being ‘dehumanised’ as a result of being the ‘victim’ of domestic violence. Once I was stood in the magistrates court, trying to secure an injunction against my ex who had previously stalked me and broken into my house to beat me up, I could not explain that actually, at one point in our relationship, it ‘hurt so good’. That would have lost me my case. So I had to deny an aspect of myself in order to ensure my own safety.
Now I am no longer in the courtroom I still feel judged about my sexuality. When I tried to explain this to people on twitter who were condemning Chris Brown, and the women who tweeted in support of him, I was told my personal experience is ‘irrelevant’. Well, it is relevant to me. And it is relevant in forming my views on those young women, on Rihanna’s relationship with Chris Brown, and on feminism in general.
As Simpson wrote in response to Philips’ book:
‘Masochism’ is one of the inventions of late nineteenth century sexology in the Gothic shape of Baron Dr Richard Von Kraft-Ebing. It was only ever intended to apply to men; women were ‘naturally’ masochistic, so pleasure in pain on their part was not ‘perverse’ and therefore not a problem to be explained or pathologised. This was part of a shift in gender roles in the West in the Nineteenth Century which was concerned with, we are told, institutionalising women’s subjugation. As Phillips points out, ‘Dante’s ordeal in the Inferno to be reunited with Beatrice, to John Donne’s love poetry, sacrificial masculine love has been a crucial theme, only in this [20th] century has what for many centuries seemed the natural, desirable form of male love been redefined as effeminate perversity, masochism.’
Phillips believes that this reformulation of male identity that excluded masochism made masculinity ‘blatantly misogynisitc, emotionally inept and homophobic’. She also believes that it was this new masculinity which led in part to the ‘corrective’ of feminism. Ironically, the exclusion of masochism from the male psyche has produced a public scenario of their punishment and chastisement by women which continues today. The feminist is Ms Whiplash.’
So I think presenting ‘dangerous masochism’ as a problem confined to ‘oppressed’ women reinforces the gender binary, and the culture in which men are presented as sadists to victimised women.
Whilst I am sure people reading this might say, ‘yes, but this was a crime, not the consensual actions of a couple engaging in S and M’ I don’t remember seeing those people celebrating consensual S and M relationships. The only time this topic gets raised in most circles seems to be when someone gets badly hurt against their will (usually a woman), or when it results in a court case.
The people who have rushed to pass judgement on those young women, I do not think are helping those or other young people be open about their sexual feelings, which, if Freud, Simpson and I are to be believed, inevitably will include masochism.
And in their crusade against Brown, which, incidentally does not seem to take into account the feelings or voice of Rihanna, they are, in my view, on a hiding to nothing.
I found this funny because Suzanne Moore is bemoaning how Stewart Lee is not ‘progressive’ in his views on Scottish independence.
But he might as well be describing feminism and their belief in the ‘phallic’ power of patriarchy. Suzanne Moore is the ‘nostalgic’ one. And her old school feminist version of men as walking, predatory ‘penises’ fits Simpson’s description well.
Back in 1994, in his classic book Male Impersonators, Mark Simpson wrote about how ‘right-wing’ men’s movement types denigrate gay men and feminists’ alliances as a machiavellian ‘pact’. He wrote:
‘The men’s movement also began to make the connection between homosexuality and feminism in the cultural war. Its main advocate in Britain, Neil Lyndon, in his comically mis-titled book ‘No More Sex War’, railing against the evil ‘incubus’ of feminism and the lack of ‘paternity rights’, imagined an alliance between the ‘gay movement’ (meaning gay men) and the ‘sisterhood’. [He described it as] a ‘Treaty of Brest -Litovsk’ (the first world war peace treaty between Germany and newborn Soviet Russia that allowed the Germans to devote their attention to the Western Front). ‘
Well, Simpson in 2012 is an ardent anti-feminist. He made his opposition to feminism clear here, when he described misandry as the acceptable prejudice. And here Simpson’s damning critique of feminist columnists has impacted on me so well that I have used it on a number of occasions: to criticise Suzanne Moore’s ‘columns’!
I actually agree with Neil Lyndon. I think gay men and feminists DO form a ridiculous ‘pact’ against their so-called common-oppressor, the big bad wolf of heterosexual men’s ‘patriarchy’. And Mark Simspon, by emphasising his common ground with an arch feminist Suzanne Moore, is just reinforcing that alliance.
But it is dishonest. If those two were to actually speak openly about their views, not on Scottish independence but on gender, the subject they have dedicated their respective careers to, they would be on separate ‘sides’.
I know which side I am on.
This week so far has been all about the men. For once. So I thought I’d share some links to recent articles that examine men and masculinity, not only through the judgemental lens of feminism.
I was delighted to see my favourite writer on men had an article in this week’s Guardian (UK newspaper). He put forward an admirable defence of metrosexual men . The comments below the line, though often quite critical of his ideas, are a good read. And they show to me how a discussion about masculinity is much better quality when it is inspired by a piece of writing by someone who knows what he is talking about (and doesn’t hate men)!
I was also pleased to see the great blog The Spanish Intermission feature a critique of Mark Simpson’s Graun article. Note how he describes me as a ‘pedantic anti-feminist battleship’! I am glad somebody has acknowledged my role in spreading the word about metrosexuality in general, and Simpson’s theories in particular.
Another story that caught my eye this week related to a TV documentary about homosexual men in football. There are still no ‘out’ gay players in British professional football and the reasons for this are complex. Again this is an example of how a sensitive and knowledgeable piece of writing about men and masculinity leads to some intelligent comments BTL.
Then there was the Uni Lads fiasco. A British ‘student’ website sent ripples through the feminist blogosphere when it published some very horrible articles making jokes about rape, disability and men’s sex lives. Of course, the feminasties only focused on the rape jokes. The site took down all its recent content, including some adverts for t-shirts with ‘pro-rape’ slogans on.
But in amongst all the howling and wailing, I noticed a very well argued piece (not about the Uni Lads thing just coincidentally) that criticised the concept of rape culture. It referenced my piece from the Good Men Project on the subject.
All in all, a pretty good week for teh menz!
Sociological Images, the queens of criticising ‘women’s objectification’ in the media, have surpassed themselves this time. In a piece about ‘subliminal’ sexual messages in advertising they paint a picture of a world in which women are only ever presented as the recipients of men’s penetration and penetrative gaze.
In the above image they describe how the shadow of the perfume bottle is directed between the woman’s breasts. In the one below they ask, ‘where is the rocket going?’ (between the woman’s legs it seems).
And the text accompanying this beer advert reads:
‘This is a picture of an ad at the Burbank airport. Notice the profoundly phallic shape of the foaming surf that happens to be pointing directly at the woman’s crotch. The foam mimicks the crown printed at the top of the Budweiser bottle (in the upper left hand of the image in red).’
Well that really annoyed me, because if we are going to be reading things into the picture, surely it is obvious that the man is the one with his legs open wide, and the phallic-shaped ‘surf’ is pointing towards him just as much as the woman? But no, Sociological Images only have eyes for women in the media, and men’s objectification of them.
My belief is that, in mediated imagery, men are the objects of the gaze just as much as women. There are ‘phallic’ symbols in a lot of sexual adverts, but they don’t necessarily represent men’s penetrative sexuality in relation to women. Using Mark Simpson’s theories, I have come to see these objects as ‘phallic pacifiers’, compensating for the ‘lack’ of virile masculinity that comes with passive poses such as these:
In relation to these sporno shots that Mark Simpson collected together he said:
‘It seems that words, in spite of everything, do still matter. And no one is more surprised than me. When I wrote about sporno for a catalogue accompanying an exhibition about sport and fashion my text was accepted by the editors – but when it came to the proof stage, higher-uppers got to see it and went ballistic.
I pointed out that the pictures I’d chosen as illustrations – which no one objected to – were MUCH more explicit than my textual innuendo, but to no avail.
And yes, the clutched rugby balls in these pictures are phallic pacifiers.’
In fact, in the photo including the rocket, rather than seeing it as going up into the woman, and penetrating her, it too, could be seen as a ‘phallic’ symbol for both the woman and the man, giving them some ‘power’ in a photo where otherwise they would both be passive objects of the gaze. The thing about analysing images is there are lots of different potential interpretations.
The subtitle of Sociological Images website is ‘seeing is believing’. But when it comes to men’s objectification, or ‘tartiness’ as Simpson calls it, these feminist academics are walking round with their eyes closed.
I have shared this before but I am returning to it now. The caption at the top of the photo above reads: ‘The soldiers wrestle together, sing together, dance together. Die for one another. Love one another’. It might have been a line out of ‘Dont’ Die On Me, Buddy’, Simpson’s discussion of homoerotics and masochism in the War Movie. Male Impersonators will be out as an e-book soon so you can read it in full. But here’s the extract one more time:
‘Buddy war films are gospels of masculine love that is ‘betrayed by a kiss’. They are tales set in far-off lands in times past, about a band of boys who leave their families behind and create their own (homosocial) community. They live by love but one of them, the ‘queerest’, must die to save the others and the world from the practice of it, and also to demonstrate the proper way it should be sublimated: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man may lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). Like Moreland in Taps and Chris in Stand By Me, ‘Father’ sacrifices himself trying to save the life of others, selflessly accepting his castration: ‘Promise me you won’t tell him’.
Death in these films is a sacrement: it makes love between men eternal by removing it from the male body; by cancelling forever the threat of its consummation it ensures that boyish love is immortal, and that queer love, transformed into a cadaver, is buried on the battlefield’:
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.’
-Lawrence Binyon, Poems For The Fallen
This comment by arctic jay, under my last post about Strictly Come Dancing, was so good I am reposting it here. Ajay was responding to a feminist blogpost about the X factor, which suggested women are much more ‘objectified’ on TV shows and in culture in general, than men. He said:
‘How can anyone deny at this point that the male chest, especially the pumped up variety, is an eroticized body part?
How can feminist honestly argue that women are more sexualized than men when bare male chests are on display for public consumption approximately 10,000 times more often than bare females chests?
Their only option is try to uphold the canard that male nudity is by default non-sexual, which is the same lie social conservatives promote due to their own homophobia’.
I agree wholeheartedly with Ajay’s comment, and would go further and say that it is not just conservatives and feminists who deny the sexual charge of men’s bodies, and the ubiquity of men’s bodies being shown off these days, but almost everyone. Men’s metrosexual displays have become the great big pink elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Because, as ajay suggested, it would throw the whole applecart over.
I have been talking about it. And recently I have turned my attention to how football in particular, is a flagrant example of both the promotion and selling of metrosexual masculinity, and the denial of what it means, for footballers and fans alike. With footballers as tarty as Ronaldo how can we pretend that part of football’s allure for men, is not its presentation of fit men’s bodies, to use a phrase by Simpson, ‘literally asking to be fucked’?
This is my piece about a new young metrosexual football starlet, Tom Cleverley:
The Times Sports Section one recent Saturday had a very pretty pin up on the cover. Serena Williams? No. Sharapova? No. It was Tom Cleverley, a rising star in football, who plays for Manchester Utd and is on his way to becoming a member of the England team.
Tom’s face fills the front page. His blue eyes look directly at the camera. His full lips are parted slightly, a pose all models know how to pull off, so you can imagine yourself slipping something between them – a tongue, a finger, a ….? His hair is short, fashionably sculpted and highlighted. It is not difficult to see the influence of his ‘idol’, David Beckham.
The headline on the cover reads: HE’s GOT THE LOOK! This is taken from Sheena Easton’s song ‘SHE’s got the look’. And the byline calls Tom a ‘starlet’. It might be the introduction to an article about Keira Knightley. The words and the images are feminine.
The article inside is a two-page spread, but most of the space is taken up with another photo of Tom. This time it is a full-length body shot. He is leaning against a wall, dressed casually in jeans and a leather jacket, but he is still looking straight at the camera coquettishly. You can’t take your eyes off me, he seems to be saying.
There is a cartoon inserted into the piece. It features a tattooist in his tattoo parlour, and he is on the phone. The caption reads:
‘Is that Tom Cleverley? I hear you want to be like David Beckham…’
This innocuous little cartoon sums up what The Times are saying about Cleverley: if this rising ‘starlet’ wants to emulate his ‘idol’ Beckham, he will have to match Becks narcissistic act for narcissistic act. Because Beckham is all about ‘the look’.
So has The Times done the unthinkable and ‘outed’ not only Cleverley but also football itself, as the exhibitionist, commodified, metrosexual, spornotastic display that it is? Hold the front page!
Well no, it hasn’t. Because the text of the article itself is a traditional run of the mill ‘macho’ piece of sports journalism. I couldn’t follow it all due to my lack of interest in actual football (as opposed to the imagery and masculine complexities that surround it). But it was full of phrases such as ‘midfielder…transfer…European Championships….goal scoring…early in the season…money… Alex Ferguson…class of ’92….’
There was no mention of Cleverley’s beautiful blue eyes, or the way he parts his lips, or speculation about who his really big signing will be with: Armani? Gucci? Rolex? Because the passive exhibitionism of sports stars is still closeted, even whilst it is used to sell newspapers, and underpants, and watches. The Times use metrosexual imagery, and they even knowingly wink at it, in the form of a humorous cartoon. But they don’t talk about it. That, like if football fans actually said ‘No Homo’, would give the game away. And we can’t have that.