Archive for the ‘gaze theory’ Category

MetroAuntie is knee deep in mince pie mix at the moment, so this will be a short post. But recently I have been doing some important research to find the most metrotastic video of 2012. After a lot of deliberating I have decided that Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe deserves the gong.

Why? Because it kicked off a whole reem of metrosexy men (and women) dancing and singing into their hairbrushes for the delectation of youtube viewers.

The military and sports teams came up with some sterling performances, but my favourite homage to the pop sensation is by the (topless) guys at Abercrombie and Fitch. However the original version is actually pretty great too. The stud who is the object of Carly’s ‘gaze’ reminds me of the model in that classic Levis ad from way back. And the twist to the tale at the end of the video reminds us that one reason metrosexuality is here to stay, is that it is perfectly able to send itself up. It doesn’t really need people like me to point out how homoerotic and sexually ‘confused’ (or sophisticated) it is.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Often overshadowed by its big-pecced pert-assed cousin, Abercrombie and Fitch, the all-American ‘Preppy’ brand Tommy Hilfiger has come back fighting with this metrotastic advert.

And MetroAuntie can’t help but feel warmed in the cockles of her voyeuristic heart.  Partly because the slightly hipsteresque twee yet easy on the eye ad from Hilfiger is a great example of the self-admiring, omnisexual,  metrosexy ‘gaze’. This is what has been blatantly ignored by a recent ‘eye tracking study’ that I linked to on twitter on December 2nd, 2012, saying:

‘ … The study this piece is based on on men, women, the ‘gaze’ … only had 52 participants! #BadScience

Forget the uptight, homoanxious science academics, we know men love to look at each other and themselves, and so does Tommy Hilfiger!

Oscar Pistorious is a paraolympian runner. I am not an athletics expert, but I have heard of him, because he is also a metrotastic model.

Currently Oscar is the face and body of Thierry Mugler A*Men Perfume‘s  Pure Shot range. Pure Shot is known in the trade as a ‘sports fragrance’ which, if I have picked up the ‘notes’ correctly, is supposedly more manly and butch than regular perfumes.

According to this reviewer:

‘Pistorius is the 25-year-old South African 400-metre runner who has been called “the fastest man on no legs.”* Pistorius was born without a fibula in either leg; his lower legs were amputated when he was a baby and he’s been using prostheses since he was 13 months old. Pistorius’ J-shaped carbon-fiber prostheses look “dramatic” and futuristic, and they play a big part in the A*Men advertising campaign (especially the video).’

There are a number of things worth noting about Oscar’s advertising campaigns, which also include ads for BT, one of the Olympics sponsors.

One is obvious: that Pistorius is a man with disabilities, but is being ‘objectified’ and treated as a ‘sex object’ just like fit, able-bodied metrosexy sportsmen are. In a culture where physical perfection is fetishised, it seems anomalous that someone with NO LEGS of his own is a model.

But another aspect of the ads featuring the athlete gives us a clue as to the reasons for this unusual occurrence. That is, they seem to be playing on the ‘futuristic’ aspect of prostheses, and the technology that enables Oscar’s incredible achievements. As The Sun newspaper, who named Oscar amongst their Top Ten Hot Shots of metrosexy men olympic athletes, say:

‘The South African double amputee has earned the name ‘Blade Runner’ for his incredible pace on prosthetic legs.

After winning gold in the last two Paralympics, the 25-year-old qualified to run for his country in the able-bodied races, becoming the first double amputee to run at the Olympic Games.

And the hunky runner will compete in the 400 m and the 400m relay’.

So the aesthetic that seems to be enabling Pistorius to be a model alongside Beckham, Ronaldo and Nadal is a posthuman  one. I am reminded of Donna Haraway’s Cyborgs, and the discussions of apocalyptic landscapes and cyberpunk style adverts at Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey ‘s Cyborgology project.

However I think it is worth noting that inspite of or rather because of his lack of leg muscles, Oscar has a very well developed upper body. This makes him quite ‘conventionally attractive’ in metrosexual terms. The torso is (almost) everything for metrosexy modelling. Also, his torso shows how the lines between an ideal ‘human’ and ‘posthuman’ body are blurred. In Transexy times, ‘pneumatic’ tits and abs show how even without prosthetics, the metrosexual body is ‘hyperreal’ and augmented.

I haven’t seen any disability activists celebrating Pistorius’ modelling career. I wonder if like feminists are, they are conflicted about metrosexuality. Because metrosexuality puts into question some of the assumptions around  objectification and victimhood  that disability and feminist campaigns rely on. I mean if Oscar Pistorius enjoys being objectified, and profits from it, maybe objectification is a bit more complex than we have been led to believe?

MetroAuntie is not conflicted. I think Pistorius’ status as ‘sex object’ is great. But I am intrigued, and maybe a tiny bit disturbed by the shift in visual culture to cyborg and posthuman imagery. I doubt it is going away though. So we may as well explore this brave new metrosexual world.

British hope Tom Daley, the metrotastic diver, is splashed across billboards in next to nothing- again, in the run-up to the Olympics. In a rather apt choice of slogan Adidas are commanding young Tom to ‘take the respect’. Of course MetroAuntie can’t let these ads pass us all by without remarking on just how ‘submissive’ and ‘sexual’ the connotations are: is Tom being told to ‘take it’ like a good ‘bottom’ should?

Apart from the suggestive tone of the text, the main thing to notice about the posters what a ‘passive’ pose the medal-winning diver is in. He is not seen here demonstrating his athletic skill, but rather standing still, looking down, holding one wrist with his other hand. His torso is the main ‘object of desire’.

And a man’s torso also features heavily in this short film by the Guardian celebrating the olympic body through history. Again, rather than showing sporting motion, this film just displays the man’s upper body as if it were a mannequin turning slowly in a shop window. It oozes metrosexuality and  sporno aesthetics.

These two examples of metrosexy bodies put paid to the feminist belief that in visual culture men are presented as active subjects, women as passive objectsEven Lego has been accused by feminist critics of promoting this oppressive, binary opposition, which contributes to a situation whereby the objectification of women is more widespread and more damaging than that of men.

Writing in the Guardian recently, Sarah Ditum (the original ‘mumsy cupcake feminist) did at least admit that sportsmen have been ‘pin ups for decades’. But she still suggested that women’s bodies are scrutinised and policed more than men’s.

But really it is just that men’s objectification is policed in different ways from women’s. The underplaying not just by feminists but by most people, of the  sheer tartiness of contemporary men, is one way of denying the homoerotics and deep self-love involved in metrosexual masculinity. A self-love that can never be entirely ‘straight’.

So,  in 2012, whilst feminists are STILL campaigning against the ‘objectified’ images of women on Page Three, the Sun publishes its list of  Top Ten Hot Shots (sexy Olympian sportsmen who are sex objects in their own right), without so much as a murmur to be heard from the feminists. Here’s David Boudia one of the top ten hotties, looking ready for… uh, anything.

There is no hiding fit young men’s  rampant narcissism, it takes the gaze wherever it can find it. And Tom Daley is a champion in his field…

h/t @zefrog for the Top Ten Hot Shots!

I am a fan of director Steven Soderbergh. His 1989 debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape which enabled him to go on to work in Hollywood is among my favourite films. Its tale of middle class suburban sexual repression, and the complex dynamic between masculine and feminine, ‘active’ and ‘passive’, voyeurism and exhibitionism, struck a chord with 18 year old, terrified of my own sexual potency, me.

So I was intrigued to see ‘blockbuster film of the summer’ Magic Mike, about a troupe of men strippers. Would Soderbergh bring some of the subtlety and ‘queerness’ of Sex, Lies and Videotape to a romcom where Channing Tatum’s tits are the stars? On having seen the film, I say yes. And here is why.

But Before I start…                                                                                                                 There was one thing I hated about this film. It is something I have not seen mentioned in many other reviews. And that is its NAFF, MORALISTIC, INSULTING portrayal of the ‘adult industry’ and the people who work in it (and the people who love them). I suspect Laura Agustin, who conceptualised the ‘rescue industry’ in relation to people being ‘saved’ from a hellish lifetime of taking their clothes off and fucking for money, would have something to say about this too. Mike, played by Channing Tatum, is only allowed to ‘get the girl’ and achieve narrative closure, when he forsakes the stripping world and gives up his chance of going to work with the crew in Miami. Adam, who Mike introduced into that world, is stuck in a spiral of drugs (it would be more believable if the character was on  steroids by the way) and sex and immorality. This  reminds me of Pretty Woman but with the gender identities reversed. As if everyone who works in porn, stripping, lap dancing and sex work is just waiting till Richard Gere comes along and showers them with money and patronising one-liners.

Metrosexual Active and Passive Role Reversals

However, even in my hatred of this prejudiced moralism of the film’s plot, I do acknowledge that the ‘reversal’ of the gender identities involved is interesting, and important. Channing Tatum is not the active hero that is supposed to be an archetype of Hollywood masculinity. No, like Julia Roberts before him, he has to sit and look pretty until his ‘knight in shining armour’ in the form of Cody Horn, comes to rescue him from the dragon’s den.

This role reversal fits in with the culture in which metrosexuality has developed.  One reason men are able to indulge their ‘passive’, ‘object’ status is that women are becoming more active, assertive sexual beings. They do not expect men to be ‘men’ in the traditional, macho sense. Both literally and symbolically in the modern world, it is often women who ‘wear the trousers’. Both Cody Horn who makes it her ‘quest’ to bag Channing Tatum (and ‘reform’ him), and Olivia Munn who instigates threesomes with him and other women, before getting bored and finding a man to marry, are active, decision-making, assertive characters. In a scene at Tatum’s flat where he has made a booty call to Munn, she is shown to be straddling him whilst he lies back. And when he phones her another night, only to be blown off, he looks puppy-like, vulnerable.

I found my interpretation of these strong women characters in Magic Mike to completely contrast with a critical review of the film by a gay man. Ignoring the women leads,  blogger James Croft (aka @FutureTemple ) focuses on the women in the audience at the strip joint and writes:

‘A movie about male strippers – men who are paid, mainly by women, to take their clothes off, and are therefore not fully in control of their own sexual display – could have explored such tensions, showing women in a position of sexual power which is rarely portrayed with much insight or sensitivity, and investigating male sexual vulnerability.

Despite the claim by Matthew McConaughey’s character that he sees “a lot of lawbreakers up in this house”, the women are deeply passive throughout, nary a grab, a grope, or stage invasion in sight. The men may be the objects of sexual desire, but they remain the subject of sexual activity: they initiate all sexual encounters, and are ultimately in the driving seat.’

Straights Go Gay?
It is as if we watched a different film! But maybe that is because for a gay man, keen to see portrayals of gay men’s sexual and romantic relationships on the screen, the heterosexual relationships in the film were of little interest.
‘Magic Mike is really, really straight. I don’t mean “straight” simply as in “not queer”, but also “straight” as in safe, unadventurous, routine. ‘

It is a shame this gay critic switched off at the sight of women and men getting it on, because when they did in Magic Mike it was actually pretty queer. The film opens with Channing Tatum and Olivia Munn waking up after a night of sex. The camera pans round and reveals another naked woman on the bed! And the pair joke about how neither of them can remember her name.  Later in the film Pettyfer (‘the kid’) is encouraged to join in a foursome with two women and a man, in which they all find themselves saying ‘I love you’ in a slightly pathetic manner. These are examples of ‘straight’ people doing ‘queer’ acts which are becoming more acceptable in metrosexual culture. Arguably leaving gay men feeling a bit redundant.

But I suppose these ‘queer’ and ‘bisexual’ scenes were overshadowed for gay men viewers by the ‘climax’ of the movie, which happens very early on, when Tatum walks butt naked into the bathroom, displaying ‘dat ass’ proudly and invitingly.

Another way in which the ‘straight’ characters in the film are kind of ‘queer’ is through the homosociality displayed by the men in the movie. Strippers work closely together, in various forms of undress, and so the relationships between the men in the film were tinged with sexual tension. The ‘gay critic’ I quoted above was dissatisfied with this portrayal of homosocial men. He thought the ‘no homo’ attitude where they repudiated their homo desire was disappointing. I think it is realistic. As men become more open about showing off their bodies to each other, it does not necessarily follow that they will be open about the sexual undertones of this situation. Theories of declining homophobia are relevant to metrosexual masculinity where men’s behaviours are becoming less policed. UP TO A POINT. But homophobia amongst ‘straight’ men has not disappeared altogether and I think Magic Mike is a valid portrayal of some of the homo anxiety still felt by young, fit, metrosexual men. There are still no out gay or bisexual pro footballers in the UK or US for example. So the proverbial fear of ‘sharing a shower with a homo’ is still with us.

In some ways Magic Mike is a ‘failed’ buddy movie. I like this aspect of the film, as I think it adds some realism to an otherwise overly romantic genre. In films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Die Hard men who are friends stick with each  other through thick and thin. But in Magic Mike the friendship between Adam and Mike doesn’t survive. Many friendships don’t! And men are not necessarily any closer to each other or any more loyal than women are. I am reminded here of My Own Private Idaho where Scott chooses a romantic relationship with a woman over his friendship with Mike the hustler. Just as Mike chooses a romantic relationship with a woman over the more ‘degenerate’ Adam. The homosocial ‘phantasy’ of men following each other to the ends of the earth is not indulged here.

Explaining The ‘Lack Of Bollocks’
The main criticism from gay men who have seen Magic Mike seems to be its lack of explicitly homoerotic/sexual scenes. As the gay reviewer I’ve mentioned here puts it, ‘the complete lack of bollocks’. I find this complaint unconvincing but also quite revealing about gay men in metrosexual culture.

It seems to me as if some gay men are judging Magic Mike as they may judge a gay porn film, and so of course they find it severely lacking in the ass, cock and balls department.  This film has a 15 certificate and is aimed at teenagers and young people. I expect the nudity and sex was not included in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
And  censorship of men’s genitalia and particularly the erect penis is nothing new or unusual. To blame Soderbergh for the lack of hard cocks in a mainstream Hollywood film seems a bit off. Things are changing, but very slowly. The British Board of Film Classification has passed some films containing erect members in recent years.  Earlier this year a man who sold s and m gay porn was found not guilty of crimes under the Obscene Publications Act. And ‘speedophobia‘ whereby men, even men who work as strippers, are encouraged to keep covered up on beaches and in public (as illustrated quite accurately by Channing Tatum in the film), is reportedly on the decline in America. But Magic Mike is not going against the grain in its ‘false modesty’.  In fact I’d go as far as to say that Soderbergh, who has explored carefully some of the complexities of our feelings around our bodies, knew exactly what he was doing when he presented the apparent contradiction of men who get their kit off for a living, not quite getting their kit off!

One reason I find gay men being so upset about the lack of cock in Magic Mike, is that it only serves to emphasise their sense of ‘lack’ in the phallus department. As Lacan has put it :

The phallic signifier is, so to speak, an index of its own impossibility… the phallus is not simply lost but is an object which gives body to a certain fundamental loss in its very presence’.

So this ‘lack’ that gay viewers of the film feel, probably would not be corrected by the sight of Channing Tatum’s pole. Though that may comfort them momentarily! In metrosexual culture, men’s passivity and role as objects of the gaze, DOES involve some reduction of their ‘phallic’ power. That is one reason why pictures of men flashing their tits, anuses and abs so prettily, and so submissively, often include ‘phallic substitutes’ such as rugby balls, truncheons, rockets. If gay men want the myth of the ‘Great Dark Man’ and his great dark cock, they can always watch Jeff Stryker movies.

The Pathetic Femininity of Gay Daddies
I thought the most interesting character in Magic Mike, and by far the best performance, was Matthew Mcconaughey’s ‘Dallas’, the leader of the strip troupe. He was the most ‘macho’ of the men, and his stripper dance routines were full  of macho archetypes such as policemen, cowboys and tarzan. But Mcconaughey sent up this machismo, and played it for the camp performance that it is. Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s action movie displays were before him, his budgie smuggling, groin rubbing routines are funny, narcissistic, and in some ways ‘feminine’.

But also it was possible that Mcconaughey (directed by Soderbergh) was playing his character as gay. Hollywood has a long tradition of men characters who are not overtly gay but who are coded as queer. In metrosexual culture, where masculinity itself is pretty damned queer, this becomes harder to define. But Mcconaughey’s tight lycra vest-tops, his ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ attempts to stay sexy,  the scene where he sits in a dressing gown looking a bit down (which reminds me of a gay character in the film, La Cage Aux Folles), and his love of his young stripper boys, without a woman in his life to divert the homo-anxiety, all point to a ‘gay daddy’ in my view. And with him not being shown to get any sex with those boys, like some ‘gay daddies’ do, or even with the women who watch his shows, he is presented as a slightly impotent character. That’s how I saw him anyway.

And that might be what Magic Mike is exploring, just as Sex Lies and Videotape did:  sexual impotence in the (post) modern world.  I am delighted we live in more omnisexual times than we did in the past. That ‘men’ and ‘women’, ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ ‘active’ and ‘passive’ are not so easily delineated and separated. But in blurring the lines, in giving men’s tits as much screen time as women’s, in creating lead men characters who are not in control of their destiny, are we missing something?

Is narrative cinema a bit lost without traditional gender roles and tropes?

Has film gone flaccid?

I don’t know. But I am going to keep watching as, whoever wears the trousers or has the (strap on) dick, I still find the representation of gender and sexuality at the movies pretty fascinating.

If, as I do, you live in London, you will be forgiven for wondering if the Olympics haven’t already been and gone. They have certainly been flogged to death in the capital city over the last few months, even though they are still yet to start.

Londoners will also be aware that here, it is not necessarily Jessica Ennis’ fitness or Andy Murray’s groundstrokes that are on our mind. No, the big question on our lips is – ‘will the tubes be working?’

And, in its pseudo-helpful tannoy announcement kind of way, Transport for London is reassuring us that of course, the tubes will probably be f*cked during The Games, but don’t worry, here are some jaunty cartoons of muscly athletes to distract you. Look! A birdie! (oh no that is just the tfl twitter feed).

BUT, however grumpy I may be about the travel chaos that is about to descend on my city of residence, I actually quite like the TfL olympics ‘public service ads’. Why? Because they are metrotastic of course!

This one of the two hulking weight lifters trying to get off the tube is my favourite. Look at all that naked flesh! Those cute trendy trainers! The coordinated colourful outfits! Who cares if we are stuck for an hour on Finsbury Park station, if we get some international top class eye candy to keep us occupied?

Of course, athletic, muscle-bound men’s bodies on display for the viewer’s pleasure are not a new phenomenon. Back in the 70s and 80s Arnold Schwarzenneger was parading round in next to nothing, showing off his tits and pecs and abs for our delectation. Even The Guardian, in an otherwise body-phobic, misandrous, metro-bashing article about Magic Mike and men strippers, admitted that Arnie was a pin up:

‘It wasn’t until the 1980s that male stripping became a “thing”. Arnold Schwarzenegger had spent most of the 70s walking around in budgie smugglers, and Michael Ontkean went full chilly burlesque on the ice in Slap Shot, but it was only in the 80s that others caught up: a male performer serving up his penis on a tray to Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party, and Michael Keaton getting an eyeful in Mr Mom. ‘

And Transport for London also have a history of metrosexual display. They were one of the first metro companies to put adverts on the walls next to the escalators, and on tube trains,  so commuters can look at sexy stars instead of each other’s ugly mugs on the way home. I like this TfL Olympics poster that nods to that tradition:

However it IS a 21st century phenomenon that sports men now cash in on their desirability as a matter of course. The ubiquity of sporno means that sports stars are not just keen to win on the pitch, but also in the box office, on the billboards, on the telly.

And, my guess is that whilst Delicious David Beckham and Nubile Nadal would probably grab our attention much more effectively than these sketchy cartoons, Transport For London couldn’t afford their supermodelling rates.

Just as they can’t afford to improve their services to cope with the demands of the Olympics.

Nobody said the metrosexual era would be efficient though. So long as it looks good we’re all happy.


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:

Victoria Bennett, whose brainchild The Naked Muse is, commented on this complex dynamic. She said:
‘As a female poet, I have noticed over the years that male poets are often described in terms of being the romantic hero, dark, handsome, wild, notoriously philandering and accompanied by beautiful (young) female muses to “inspire” his creativity; the same “rule” does not apply to women. So, what if one is a female creator? If desire, and the object of desire and beauty are creative catalysts, then why do we not see that same poetic stereotype?
Instead, the woman poet tends to just have the “mad” bit stuck to her rather than bad or dangerous to know! What is the relationship between creator and muse? And what is the relationship between the observer and the object?’
This reminded me of a post by Elise Moore where she explored the construction of the woman artist figure as ‘witch’. It also made me think of the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, especially her series ‘The World’s Wife’. These poems take the artist/muse dynamic one step further and conjur up the inner lives of women who might, with a bit of imagination, have been connected to (in)famous men in history and mythology.
The Naked Muse then, is not just an exhibition and a calendar; it is also some real relationships between men and women which focus on art, creation, and objectification. As Victoria puts it:
‘I wanted to explore it I guess through a collaborative process, subvert that idea of the male poet, or artist and female muse. So, I approached women poets and photographers whom I respected and admired in terms of their creative work, with the loose theme of the male muse, to which they responded (some with poems already published, some with specially written ones for the calendar), and I approached women photographers whose work I felt explored the territory of the portrait, in all guises, and I approached male poets that I regarded as being quality poets, engaged in inspiring creative work and possessing “beauty”, and I partnered up these collaborations.
1 photographer, 1 poem, 1 male poet and let them have free expression within that response. I wanted to make sure that the male poets showed as deep and wide a range of beauty and the male body as the poems themselves, which is why they range in ages from 21 to 67. I also wanted to include a range of poets and photographers in terms of the writing and approaches, background and experience.’

I had the beginnings of a twitter argument last night, on a subject that is dear to my heart: Objectification.

@BigdaddyKeltik who is a trans man and a feminist said:


‘Objectifying women = rape culture’.



I find this view offensive, as a WOMAN! And Keltik is big on ‘calling out’ when someone says something offensive. Here I am. Calling him out.

First – if objectifying women is equal to and part of ‘rape culture’ how does objectifying men fit in?

Keltik has a lot of objectified images on his blogs. So his opposition to ‘objectification’ seems weak. Here are two, one of a woman one of a man:

Mark Simpson has written recently in The Guardian, in defence of men’s objectification, and throughout his metrosexual theorist career.

So men’s objectification is as important as women’s but feminists never mention it!


Second: Imposing the concept of ‘rape culture’ on me and all other people serves to ‘objectify’ us in a very bad way. Women are reduced to poor, helpless victims and men become nasty predators. I have written against the idea of rape culture at the good men project and other places.

Third: How does objectification prove ‘rape culture’ exists? As another person from twitter commented by email:

‘He [Keltik] is confusing causal links. In so-called rape culture, women would be objects, but if women are objects it doesn’t mean that we have/it leads to so-called rape culture. If it has been raining, the floor will be wet but if the floor is wet it doesn’t mean it has been raining – someone could’ve thrown a bucket of water out’.


Maybe as a trans man Keltik feels able to disassociate himself from those nasty predatory ‘men’. And also from those poor helpless victims ‘women’. But I can’t. And I feel upset and judged by his words.


If Keltik respects Mark Simpson then I hope he at least reads Simpson’s Guardian article before he rushes to accuse men of ‘objectifying’ women alone. Some men are homos for a start! And, as Simpson writes, metrosexuality is all about men objectifying themselves and each other


I sent the above comments in an email to Simpson, Keltik and others. Following my email Mark responded to a comment on his blog, from regular QRG reader, Tim, about David Beckham’s now infamous superbowl ad. Mark said:

‘Amer­i­can fem­i­nists have sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that male objec­ti­fi­ca­tion doesn’t exist. Or if it does it is in no way com­pa­ra­ble to female objec­ti­fi­ca­tion because, er, it’s not about women. Even if it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how a human being could be more (will­ingly) objec­ti­fied and com­mod­i­fied than David Beckham.’


Here are some posts by  me on men, women and objectification:


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.