Man As Object – ORLY?

Posted: November 1, 2011 in bisexuality, Feminism, gaze theory
Tags: , ,

I have written before about my frustration with The Myth of the Female Gaze.  And it seems to be rearing its ugly head again. According to the organisers of this forthcoming exhibition – Man As OBject, the female gaze is alive and well and – shock! – turning the tables on men and looking at them. They say:

‘I’ts man as object – reversing the gaze. So the male gaze is about active men looking at objectified women. We’re reversing that gaze, it’s women artists portraying men in exactly the same way as has been done throughout history.’

We all know of course that Mark Simpson has been demonstrating for years, how men have become ubiquitously objectified in our culture, for the pleasure of men, women and everyone in between. So, I am wary of the premise of this exhibition for a number of reasons.

1) It reinforces the idea that it is women, not men, who are mainly ‘objectified’ in culture. I note how the blurb on the exhibition states that the ‘male gaze’ is about ‘active’ men looking at ‘objectified’ women. It does not use the word ‘passive’ because to draw attention to the dynamic between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ aspects of gender/looking/sex, we might end up, as Freud did, and as Simpson has done, considering how men too can be ‘passive’. What about homos? What about gay porn? What about metrosexuality? etc etc.

2) It reinforces the gender binary, the idea that the complex act of looking and taking pleasure in looking can be reduced to two poles – man/woman, male gaze/female gaze. As I said to the lovely Matt Lodder, art historian and self-objecitifier extraordinaire who sent me the link, ‘the gaze is not a truck that goes into reverse, it is panoptic’. So the exhibition does not consider groups looking at groups, or men looking at themselves or each other. I doubt it would include images such as this 1966 Japanese photo, of men voyeurs ‘gazing’ at couples making out in a Tokyo park for example, because it is too ‘complicated’:

3) It ignores bisexuality and how bisexuality proves the ‘panoptic’ nature of looking. As I said in a previous post about the myths of the male v female gaze:

‘Simpson’s writing also brings into focus how we forget, when talking about looking, and desire, the existence of ‘bisexuality’. If some people are attracted to both men and women, surely ‘all’ porn is for them? And if some people are able to watch all kinds of porn, surely … er… anyone can?’

I have had this argument too many times now. I have had it with the editors of a magazine including ‘porn for women’, I have had it with the kinkster and feminist Kitty Stryker. I am a bit bored of it to be honest.

I am sure there will be some nice pictures in the exhibition but my response to ‘Man As Object’ is a shrug, and a slightly dismissive ‘ORLY’?

Thanks to @mattlodder for the tip.

  1. Alex says:

    Oh, this is one of these amusing role-reversals, isn’t it? A man’s role is to look, a woman’s role is to be looked at, so let’s pop down to the gallery, turn it on its head for the afternoon, and then go back to the way things were. One sex has to look at the other, even if the woman is being the man here and visa versa. Reversed, it’s still the same roles.

    All this is, is the fool being king for a day. We upset the natural order under controlled conditions, have a good old laugh, maybe a quick wank, and then put them back.

    • typhonblue says:

      Considering that the majority of the sexual objectification of women comes from other women(Women are unbelievably catty about the ‘conformation standard’ they hold other women to), how does that fit into the male gaze/female object dichotomy?

      • Alex says:

        It’s a point. I suppose what I meant was sexual gaze. But having said that, a lot of “male gaze” is gay men onto other men, for explicit boner purposes.

        • the whole point of metrosexuality is that men enjoy looking at themselves and each other, for ‘sexual’ or at least metrosexual (including narcissistic) reasons. it’s not about gay/straight man/woman.

          • Alex says:

            Well exactly. Like I said, just doing a novelty reversal keeps the same categories, and the fact that it’s styled as an inversion just entrenches how important the right way up is.

    • Della Calfee says:

      Are you a man? Do you need things to ‘be the way they are’? We ‘fools’ (women) may be reversing the roles for this exhibit, but it’s there for you to understand what it’s like to be on the other side, what it’s like to be told it’s the ‘natural order’ and that what you think isn’t important. You should go check out the show before you judge it. Don’t worry that you missed it; we’re actually ‘king’ for a month.

  2. QRG, when you refer to men as being objectified, do you mean sexually or otherwise?

    I am asking because a few weeks ago, while researching something completely unrelated to gender*, I came across a photo that shockingly and unexpectedly struck me as “objectification of men.”

    Here it is:

    These men/soldiers are being literally stripped of their “humanity” and seen as only being useful when carrying a gun and wearing a uniform.

    This type of “objectification” has been going on for millenia – and the lack of many feminists to recognize it is a point that I thought you would agree on – but I’ve never heard you mention male objectification outside of the sexual sort.

    Wanna weigh in?

    *Is anything ‘completely unrelated to gender’ when talking about society?

    • Hi EE
      good questions!

      I think when it comes to visual imagery there is always some element of ‘sex’ or ‘sexualisation’ of objectified bodies. Those men in the foreground for example are all presented as young, handsome, in their prime. it is presenting being a soldier as ‘attractive’.

      But I know what you mean about people being stripped of their humanity. I think the same was the case in the photos of the murdered Gadaffi spread around the media. I also think sex workers are treated as (sub-Human) objects.

      I have made some comments about soldiers being objectified and got some good insight into it from Mark Simpson on his blog but it was in the comments I can’t remember which post I will see if I can find it!

  3. elissa says:

    You must have patience to loan!

    Below is a nice Youtube video link of some of my favorite men in the world – Boston Iron workers. They are a lively bunch to be sure, and about as close to being a true object of city scape construction than any runway model could ever wish to be.

    EE beat me to it just upstairs….

    • oh dear elissa I have vertigo I don’t know if I can watch that but it’s a great video what I have seen!

    • typhonblue says:

      Interesting how the Iron workers mention how when women walk past they(the iron workers) put on a sexual display to try and pique their interest. 🙂

      Aren’t they supposed to be harassing them according to the feminist narrative?

      ‘I fear being a failure to my family and friends more then I fear falling.’ And here we see the essence of objectification of men. Men are reduced down to what they *do*. And if they’re not *doing* then they have no value.

      • “Men are reduced down to what they *do*. And if they’re not *doing* then they have no value.”

        Interestingly enough, I find images of men interesting/erotic almost exclusively if the (attractive according to my own aesthetics) men are actually doing something. The idea that passivity and (sexual) objectification are always linked doesn’t really hold up. When images of men involve them in poses exactly like those of (usually passive) women in images meant to arouse men, I generally find them silly/annoying rather than erotic.

        I don’t think my “gaze” is harmful to anyone in this case, but, it certainly COULD be, if it translated into me thinking that men weren’t “good for” anything but getting me excited. And, really, in my opinion, that’s the only hazard in any sort of objectification–a person with little or no empathy doesn’t know the difference between the human “object’s” affect on one’s own mind and the “object’s” many possible ways of relating to others.

        • Hi Susan thanks for reading and commenting!

          I like men in ‘passive’ poses myself. Whether or not ‘passivity’ and ‘sexual objectification’ are linked is complex but I think they must be in some way, since the (still) image renders everyone passive in some way. You can’t walk out of the frame!

          • Yes, in one sense, to appear in an image is to be (already) objectified. As you say “you can’t walk out of the frame.” And it’s certainly true that some women (you, for instance) like men in “passive” poses (and, come to think of it, so do I, in that there are photos of men sleeping that I find very sexy…And most would not consider sleeping to be other than a passive activity!) But, the idea that “the way to objectify men is to put them in (passive?) poses/situations just like those in which women have traditionally been shown/photographic,” leaves out people who generally prefer/view as more erotic, images of men doing things. And, it also leaves out the possibility EasilyEnthused mentions–that “bad” (ie, ultimately dehumanizing) depictions can involve the objectification of “active” people. Men can be depicted as “only good for” physical labor, for instance. And, I think the central “place” where any act of objectification becomes malign is where “I like to look at men/women like this” becomes “Men/women are only good for this.” That isn’t a question of “passive” versus “active” but of whether one chooses to grant the “object” humanity independent of one’s own kinks/needs/desires.

        • Ginkgo says:

          It may help to distinguish between moving and being actually active in a situation. Or perhaps you cna be active and still acted upon. You can be putting on a show (active) so that someone will see you (passive).

          • But, putting on a show (active) presumes that an audience exists–so, if being seen is always to some extent “passive,” so is displaying the self always passive, to an extent, even when physical activity is involved. Exhibitionism (in its consensual varieties) presumes a willing voyeur/fan/audience member, and voyeurism (again, in the consensual sense) presumes a willing exhibitionist. On the other hand, where someone “exhibits” without a consenting audience (of at least one), exhibitionism is an aggressive violation, and so is non-consensual voyeurism also an aggressive violation. I suppose, where there is mutuality, both showing and watching have active and passive aspects, but without consent, active and passive become more mutually exclusive…

            Back to the fluid nature of showing and watching, in cases where all parties involved are willing parties: when a person puts on a show, it could be argued that they are both more physically active than those who watch/listen AND more active in the sense that they *act upon* the audience, whose members “passively” (again, to an extent…) receive the sounds and vision. Yet, the voyeur/fan/audience has more power in the sense that they have “information” (of a sort) about the performer, while the performer likely has little or none about each member of the audience. The performer is “naked” in a sense (even if no nudity is involved) while those who watch remain anonymous, and in some sense protected by their anonymity.

          • Ginkgo says:

            Susan, it really is a dance between the perfomer and the audience, isn’t it? You forst paragraph really lays out what you just cannot put facile labels on particiapnts in socila situations.

            Fir what it’s worth linguists have put in about 40 years of work on this question as part of the investigation into case systems and verb semantics. Some languages specifically mark the degree of activeness or passivity on either verbs or by the choice of pronoun. It’s not straightforward and languages analyze this quite differently, to the point of contradiction – as is the case with basically everything in language. The discussion is interesting even if it does not lay a clean and simple conclusion on your plate.

  4. tu quoque says:

    I think men need to protest against this. It really is getting malevolent, at this point.

    The feminists are doubling down on their efforts to maintain the sexual hierarchy, and it’s this hierarchy that helps dehumanize men so that they can manipulated into serving the state.

  5. Angelika says:

    may i also agree with you on 2) ?!
    for me, this is far too binary-cis-hetero-normative-whatever-cliched.
    or just a way to make money with soc. mainstream ?
    (sigh, i am far too individualistic/fluid/queer for this kind-o-stuff 😉

  6. marc2020 says:

    “I think men need to protest against this. It really is getting malevolent, at this point.”

    Jeez dude seriously?

    Misguided maybe but malevolent surly not, the problem I have with this is that its set up as a reaction to the male gaze not as just women/men gaining erotic pleasure from images men’s body’s its kind of disheartening really. That certain women still feel the need to hide their erotic preferences behind a Vail of rebellion.

    • I see what you are saying Marc. but for me the ‘malevolence’ of feminism is in how feminists blatantly lie about men’s objectification. e.g the article I posted above says that men are ‘rarely’ objectified which is just untrue.

    • tu quoque says:

      Yes, dood, seriously.

      Feminists promote this insane mindset that always mega-amplifies female objectification while diminishing even the most egregious instances of male objectification in order to justify any treatment of maleness for an audience’s benefit.

      In a response on a GMP thread, I recalled a high school assembly where a group of sophomore boys actually did a striptease in front of the whole school. If the genders were reverse, half the school staff would have been fired, and there probably would have been arrests. This double standard is only possible in a world where male objectification is considered a moral non-issue due to a faith in the existence of institutional patriarchy.

      Feminists want men to undergo every type of explicit, Grand Guignol exhibition possible, while women are wrapped in soft-focused modesty, and still claim that women are objectified more because in a patriarchal society, only female objectification has any meaning or significance.

    • Ginkgo says:

      “Misguided maybe but malevolent surly not, ”

      I think the big wide streak of malevolent hatred of men in feminism, from the early 70s on, is pretty much undeniable. Feminist who love mane and don’t hate us are legion, but their silence on the subject and failure to condemn misandry in their movement speaks volumes and damns them too. No one can be expected to police every little statement from every little corner, but as the years roll on and the trickle here and the trickle there combine to become a mainstream current, silence becomes consent.

  7. Alex: ‘Well exactly. Like I said, just doing a novelty reversal keeps the same categories, and the fact that it’s styled as an inversion just entrenches how important the right way up is’

    – well yes in the eyes of the organisers and feminists. But there is no ‘right way up’ really.

  8. Angelika says:


    may i, on a sidenote, suggest to plu-ease not use “feminist/s” as a generic term ?
    analog to NAWALT (“not all women are like this”) or NAMALT …
    at least where i live, what i experience and observe, a person who labels zir-self as “feminist” is quite “diverse” and can have multiple/etc. motivations to be courageous enough to “out zir-self” as such (despite ongoing “feminist-bashing”).

    like in “lets BE the change we want to see”

    thank you

    • you can suggest it Angelika but I might not take you up on your suggestion. I generalise about feminists and feminism in all knowledge of what I am doing and why. But thanks for your comment!

  9. Maybe I’m feeling bitter today, but it reminds me of the Onion article where white people invented jazz. Thank goodness these women were here to invent gay porn.

  10. tu quoque says:

    I now see that it is impossible for a person to be an artist and a feminist at the same time. Every single piece of art I’ve seen with an explicit feminist motivation has alway been a blatant rip off of some great, male-produced piece of art but with a snarky, jejune gender “twist.” Basically, a man does 99% of the work, and a feminist with rudimentary Photoshop skill comes in, slaps a dick on some old cheesecake posters, and calls it a “bold statement.”

    Their goal is to assuage their feelings of inadequacy in the face of the male canon by trivializing and mocking great artists.

      • elissa says:

        haha – great hairdo to boot!

        And why is she naked behind the poster?

        A comment from Berger’s book (Ways of Seeing), cited as one of the key influences behind the male gaze crap theory:

        “She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as success in her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another…”

        Yep – men don’t have to worry about any of that…..not at all!

    • Della Calfee says:

      The viewer most certainly does have a specific gender, and that is self-identified female. The title of the show is “Reverse the Gaze” and this directly in response to the notion of The Male Gaze, a historically used term explaining how the subject of most art is chosen by a male artist, and reads from the male’s perspective. That many art appreciators also are male makes little difference when they have the same perspective.

      The purpose of the show is to show a woman artist’s perspective. This was clearly explained in all the show literature. I think perhaps you have not read any of it?

  11. Pero Djetlic says:

    I’m new at this whole debate and was wondering what is the definition of sexual objectification.
    What conditions must be met for it to be sexual objectification and not just humans being attracted to other humans?

  12. tu quoque says:

    “Like this you mean ajay?”

    I don’t know who that heap of pointlessness is; I’m more referring to hacks like Annie Liebovitz.

    Here’s a photo she took of Martina Navratilova:

    It’s a rip-off of this classic photo by Lewis Hine:

    Hine’s photo is a perfectly composed representation of male strength. Annie’s photo is clumsily composed and makes no sense.

    • typhonblue says:

      I don’t agree with your criticisms of the composition. Liebovitz’s piece has a less formal composition, less obviously inspired by modernism, but it still has structure. The concept, however, is definitely ripped off.

      • tu quoque says:

        Hines uses composition with simplicity and deliberation. It takes gritty reality and hones it down until it becomes iconic. Photography, more than any other art form, is about subtracting rather than adding. You always start with too much and only have the four sides of your frame as your editing tool.

        Liebovitz doesn’t know what’s important or focal in her portrait. There’s too much shit going on visually. Seriously, what’s supposed to be the point here?

  13. elissa says:

    Quiet Girl: Hugo on GMP has posted on the same topic. Hope you don’t mind that I linked back to your analysis…

    @typhonblue – loved your insight on “do do” objectification

    • Thanks elissa I have left a comment too. Hugo might not like it he gets annoyed with me going on about Mark Simpson’s work. I think he is jealous that he doesn’t have such an enthusiastic advocate..

  14. Hi QRG — I’ve been speed reading this string but I have been completely buried this past week with the “erection” of the show with the 124 pieces of art work (logistics etc….) Then the fabulous opening and a two days in SF with friends and family just to kick back and enjoy what we created after 18 months of work to pull this exhibition together.

    I’m afraid you are jumping to conclusions having perhaps just read the press release and making suppositions about what you think this exhibition may be about. It’s somewhat disheartening to get immediately written off for shortcomings when you haven’t seen the show or read the essays, although I do think good points were raised.

    Read the essay by Tanya Augsburg, (about 30 pages) that describes the variety of gazes and so much more.

    And I believe I heard you were going to visit the show next week, or so I heard. We do have a screening of “Fuses” by Carolee Schneemann and a discussion panel on Wednesday, November 30th (6-9 p.m.) that will be filmed. Please let me know if I can send the essays to you, I would be happy to do so. (karengutfreund at And the catalog (196 pages) is available by contacting me or soon on

    We’re already starting on V.2 for the catalog and I plan on taking some of your points to heart in expanding on the show for when it travels to the Kinsey Institute and then onwards.

    I’d love to talk to you more about more about the “myth of the female gaze”. I don’t understand why it needs to be “ugly”.

    Karen Gutfreund
    Exhibition Director

    And to tu quoque — you make ridiculous wide sweeping stereotypes about feminists and/or art by women that is simply not worth commenting upon.

    • Hi Karen
      Thanks very much for commenting.

      It was the video above I saw and that I am mainly commenting on. The main thing that struck me was the concept of ‘reversing the gaze’- as if as I said it is a linear, polarised thing.

      I don’t think the ‘female gaze’ is ugly I just don’t think it exists.

      I can’t go to the exhibition but one of my readers says he hopes to go and will report back!

      I am sure some of the art itself is great – it is the concept I am challenging.

      I will email you to get some of the reading material

      all best wishes


      • Della Calfee says:

        The female gaze doesn’t exist? I gotta say it’s rather maddening to be told I don’t exist. I am a female artist. I have a female view point based on my life’s experiences. I figured out long ago that most of the ‘great’ art I’ve seen was obviously painted by a man. I never for a minute thought women weren’t artists in equal numbers and assumed there must be some explanation. Later I learned there was a name for the problem of the nearly missing female perspective, “the male gaze.”

        So I was quite pleased to see the call for art and have a chance to show art made for a woman to view. Sure, others can view it, too. But it reflects my female perspective as an artist. That may seem ‘linearly opposed’ to the male perspective, but only if we assume a war between the sexes. Really it’s an attempt for women’s views not to be marginalized, not to be discounted or ignored. Analyzing the posts here I’m thinking we need to have a lot more shows.

        And to respond to the male who claims all feminist art is derivitive, I have not ripped off any other artists, male or not. I have some influences, but no specific pieces or personal styles I have directly copied.

        • QRG says:

          yes I read the exhibition literature which the curator of the exhibition sent me and also had some dialogue with her about it on my blog and by email.

          I’m happy you valued the show it looked great. But I personally prefer not to identify myself as a ‘woman writer’ for example, I’m just someone who writes. My gender identity is not that important to me I guess its more important to others.

          • Della Calfee says:

            Thank you for your reply. My art usually has nothing to do with my gender. If you read the literature then you know the show was about the female ARTIST’S gaze, which is a direct response to the traditional notion of the male artist’s gaze. The vast majority of respected art that becomes known in the world and recorded in history books is from male artists. When we see their art we see through their eyes. We see women objectified, among other subjects. This has come to be called ‘the male gaze.’ So the show was put together to examine that idea from other perspectives. It’s about how one sees through the eyes of women for a change.

            The concern in fine art is just as big as with writing. Men writers almost never hide their gender. They never even have to think about whether or not to identify as a male or let others know about it. Women don’t want to identify as a woman writer because that often lowers status or marginalizes you in some way. The lowest status for female writers might be called ‘chick lit’ and women work very hard to avoid that trap because chick lit is dismissed, sidelined, and ignored. It does not benefit women to allow people to know your gender.

            Anne Rice is a hugely famous writer but she chose to hide her identity with her latest novel and took a male nom de plume. Throughout history many female writers have hidden their gender for the same reason.

            Of course there’s a lot more to women than gender, and that is the whole problem. The show traveled to the Kinsey Institute for research in sex, gender, and reproduction precisely because the gender of the most revered artists is practically assumed to show the male gaze. Women artists and women art viewers have a perspective that is just as valid and wide-ranging as men and this show provided wonderful examples.

            To say a woman’s perspective doesn’t or shouldn’t exist can only serve to further marginalize women and close the topic of discussion. I hope that we as a society can continue this analysis and take action to address our concerns.

  15. Hi QRG,

    I’ve been loving reading your blogs and I think I’m in love with Mark Simpson too.

    Getting back to this thread and Reversing the Gaze, that do you think perceptions could be very different on this subject coming from the uptight, puritanical American’s way of looking at things? We’re all for violence but god forbid we talk about or show sex and even think about creating art that shows the male nude.

    I’m in the Bay Area of California, which is about as liberal as it gets, but it was very interesting how people felt so uncomfortable about the exposed male flesh and we were asked why would we even want to do a show like this. So you can only imagine how this would be perceived, somewhere like Alabama. I think the European view is markedly different from the US, and much more advanced.


  16. […] 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. […]

  17. QRG says:

    @Dellacafe I know a few men who hide their gender as writers, especially in genres such as romance and erotica which are dominated by women writers.

    • Della Calfee says:

      Hi QRG. (My last name is Calfee.) Yes, it’s rare but men hide their gender for good reasons, too. When it comes to romance novels this only serves to explain how there IS a gender issue. I do think when it comes to social taboos like erotica that people hide their identity not to avoid relegation but to avoid having anyone know who they are. This is not related to the Men As Object concept.

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