Posts Tagged ‘masculinities’

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!

This photo has gone viral recently. It was first posted on a ‘Gay Marines’ FB page and has since been sent round the internet, with the tagline ‘Gay Marine Comes Home’.

You know me. I am an out and proud ‘homophile’. I am bordering on being a homo myself.  My blog archives are full of pictures of men in clinches, from the sacred to the profane. But when I saw this image I was caught short. I will admit it to you, Roland. I felt a bit queasy. And I think you will understand why.

The photograph is a graphic illustration of the end of DADT, the edict that kept gay, lesbian AND BISEXUAL army personnel from being open about their sexuality. In some ways, the military was, until very recently, the last bastion of ‘pre-gay’ times. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been the unspoken motto of men who have sex with men for eons. And now it is over.

But it is not just the repression of homosexuality that is over here. I fear some other things may be on their way out too. What about all those soldiers ‘acting gay’ on video? Will they be doing that so much, when their gay colleagues are on site? Or, a story you know intimately, those plucky GIS who went gay for pay a few years back. Would that happen when being gay in the army is normalised?

I know that you and your ‘accomplice’ in homo-anthropology Steven Zeeland, have had a range of feelings about the ‘coming home’ of gayness in the military. In Male Impersonators and Barrack Buddies, you both seemed to be opposed to DADT, even though you were nostalgic for a time when homosexuality was even more hidden than it was in the army in the 1990s. You of all people are aware of the complexities and contradictions here. And you, of all people, would be unlikely to begrudge a passionate embrace between a marine and his lover, especially if it is caught on camera.

But something is well and truly lost isn’t it?

Perhaps our only consolation is that in coming home, the gay identity is also quickening its own demise. You have predicted we are nearing the end of gay. Judging by the defensive reactions mainly gay men give to me when I even dare to critique their precious identity position, I am inclined to think you are right.

A Gay Marine Comes Home. We know it’s over, Roland.

It’s over.

P.s. I am going to be honest with you, one of the things that made me feel a bit ‘queasy’ was the gender dynamics of the photo. The marine, supposedly one of those macho masculine types, has a garland round his neck and is being lifted off the floor by his big strong civilian boyfriend (who he termes ‘the giant’ on his facebook page). But I am an old-fashioned girl.

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.’

On seeing this promo poster for a rape survivors campaign, my initial reaction was: [redacted].

But that seems to be my reaction to everything to do with masculinity these days. So I thought I’d put this one to you, dear QRG readers, and ask you what you think of the ‘real men get raped’ campaign?

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.

Queerty an American (supergay) website, has reported on a new phenomenon – naked gyms. In Australia, London and NYC it is apparently planned for some gyms to offer  ‘clothing optional’ sessions and/or spaces for men.

As Queerty point out, the idea itself is not new at all. Ever since Greek and Roman times men have been going to gymnasia in their altogether. In fact, the word ‘gym’ itself comes from the Greek ‘gymnos’ which actually means ‘naked’.

More recently, as queerty say, this has been the preserve of men looking for homosex. But even gay bath houses have been less popular in recent years as sex has become more privatised, and homosexuals have become more ‘straight’.

So far people have ‘expressed concern about hygiene’ but the man promoting the idea says  ‘it should be no different to a regular gym. You have to work out with a towel on the equipment already so it will be no less safe.’

Queerty’s response is a mixture of gay giggling – what, straight men naked and buff all in one room, oo er – and puritanism:  ‘we’re not sure we’d find the aesthetics all that pleasing. You really want to be standing behind someone doing squat thrusts with no pants on?’.

I of course think this is all about metrosexuality. Men are becoming so used to showing off their bodies to each other, why not make it that little bit easier? There is a homo-sex undertone, as there was with the Bromance app, but I think that is a side-effect, not the main issue.

The main issue being rampant, shameless, naked self-love.

I hope these gyms have plenty of mirrors.



thanks to @mattlodder for the info on ‘gymnos’ :


Mark Simpson has just released his 1994 classic, Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity, on Amazon Kindle.

Apart from it being a great book, and a major contribution to the literature of gender and masculinities, Male Impersonators is important because it includes the beginnings of Simpson’s theorising of metrosexuality. It represents his ‘original contribution to knowledge’ as academics like to call it.

But Simpson’s ‘original contribution to knowledge’ has not been acknowledged by the academy, or the wider world.  Metrosexuality, though in common parlance, and a major phenomenon, is not considered an aspect of masculinity worth studying, examining or identifying as a ‘discovery’ by a theorist. Possibly because Simpson is not himself an academic, and also because his concept of metrosexuality pretty well blows existing (feminist)  academic gender theory apart.

So over the years, academics have basically ignored Mark Simpson and his big bulging theory of masculinity, with one or two also stealing and appropriating his ideas.

And they have been able to, because nobody has taken up his cause. Nobody, apart from maybe Science of the Time a European trendwatchers organisation, and one or two individuals and friends, has treated Simpson as a ‘theorist’ .

Until I came along. My advocacy of Simpson’s work has caused me, and him, some grief so far. And I am sure will cause some more. I am not going to examine this ‘conflict’ between me and the ‘establishment’ – be it in journalism, academia, feminism or elsewhere – here. But I am acknowledging that it exists, and that the key cause of the tension, is the radical, provocative and incendiary nature of Simpson’s work.

Marx, also radical, provocative and incendiary, famously once said: ‘I am not a Marxist’. He resisted and anticipated the dogmatism which fell under the banner of ‘Marxism’. I have never asked him, but I wonder if Simpson is nodding to that irony – of Marx rejecting ‘Marxism’ – when he calls himself in places (eg twitter), ‘Mark Simpsonist’.  I expect he is also staking his claim to being a theorist, to having an ‘ism’ that could have followers, Simpsonists.

I myself have been called all sorts of names in relation to my support of Simpson’s theories. Ardent Simpsonista is probably the kindest of these monikers. ‘Fanatic’, ‘disciple’, ‘obsessive’, ‘sock puppet’, some less pleasant terms.

The fact is I am a little bit ‘obsessed’ with the concept of metrosexuality, and how important it is, and how unacknowledged and ignored it is. I think Mark Simpson is, or at least was, too. And, as a friend of mine who shall remain anonymous for now pointed out, all I am doing is what people, especially academics have been doing since well before Marx even:

‘[there are many] other people singularly focussed on the work of a particular theorist… It’s basically the stock in trade of most humanities scholars to filter the world through a particular theoretical lens… How else would we have Freudian, Derrideans, Deleuzeans, Marxists, etc.?’

I don’t want to erect a dogma of ‘Simpsonism’ or create an army of little loyal ‘Simpsonists’. But I do want to ‘spread the word’, regardless of any ‘evangelical’ accusations that may bring with it, about metrosexuality and Simpson’s contribution to theory. Perhaps I could be considered a ‘metrosexy messenger’. Look, someone already made me a bag to put my leaflets in: 


Mark Simpson’s (1994) classic, Male Impersonators has  been published on Amazon Kindle.


‘Straight boys love each other. Don’t ever think they don’t.’

According to the supergay website, towleroad, a new app is due to be launched soon, called ‘bromance’ for straight dudes to hook up. Like blendr, the ‘hetero’ equivalent of ‘grindr’ it seems to be taking a while to develop, as I  heard about it a while ago now.

Towleroad quote the bromance website:

‘Meet Bromance. The iPhone App that connects you to other guys nearby with the same likes/interests as you. Find yourself a workout buddy and get in shape. Organize some Ultimate Frisbee action with other guys around you. Want to meet up and play a game of hoops? Bored on a Friday night and want to grab a beer? Perhaps you want to organize a lan party with like-minded gamers?! Bromance. The location-based network for dudes that do. Coming soon to the iPhone.’

And then add a rather snippy line at the end:

‘Is anything in the universe sadder than a lonely bro?’

I can’t help but get the impression that Towleroad, and many gay men, are a bit put out by the way young straight men are increasingly encroaching on their ‘turf’.

There is a contradiction here. On one hand the gay internetz is full of ‘appreciations’ by gay men of young, fit, apparently straight men, like the website featuring the photo above – But when straight men take it upon themselves to ‘appreciate’ each other and themselves, the gays seem a little bit lost and left out.

‘It seems generally younger people are becoming more and more open minded with each generation.’

This is a quote from Eric Anderson of Bath university, in relation to his research showing young men students to be much more affectionate with each other these days.

Eric Anderson is a gay man and I wonder if he is playing down the ‘sexual’ element of men’s metrosmooching because he is not ready for straight men’s identities to blur and merge with those carefully guarded gay ones.

As has been documented:

‘The rise of male behaviors and tastes that has been characterized as metrosexual has been made possible in large part by the decline in the stigma attached to male homosexuality. While this stigma made life rather difficult for homosexual men, it also had an instructive, not to say repressive, effect on all men.

The bromance app looks like another example of the ‘decline of the stigma’ of homosexuality for straight men. But let’s not forget that fast on the heels of that decline in stigma, comes the destruction of sexual identity altogether.

In other words, metrosexuality marks ‘the end of sexuality as we’ve known it.’

Bromance, if, and I grudginly admit it’s a big if, it leads to actual ‘hook-ups’ between ‘straight’ men, could put the old-fashioned ‘straight chasers’ out of business! And, regardless of the fate of, I am sure  websites like ‘’ will soon seem incredibly nostalgic and passe.

Vive la revolution!



Gawker’s take on is particularly anti-metro:

Consider the state of the pitiful American Man: beset on all sides by Spanx and fancy shampoo, tricked into doing crunches andgrooming eyebrows, bereft of any healthy masculine role models. Gone is the American Man; in his place, the American Bro. And he is desperate to commune with his own kind. Meet Bromance.

But at least it recognises metrosexuality when it sees it. Bros.