Posts Tagged ‘sociological images’

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!

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.

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/01/11/subliminal-sex-in-the-media/

 

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/12/20/reasserting-the-priesthood-as-masculine/

The frankly annoyingly feminist Sociological Images referred to a recruitment video for the priesthood featured at NYPriest website.

The gender studies academics at S.I. said:

‘Usually, a male-dominated occupation wouldn’t be in need of having its masculinized character stressed so openly. However, the child sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the U.S. and elsewhere have damaged the image of the priesthood. Not only did many priests sexually abuse children, but many of the abused children where boys. Had the abuse involved primarily girls girls in late childhood or their teens, the public may very well have expressed revulsion and disgust, but we also have cultural narratives available, such as the idea of the sexually precocious Lolita who entices men against their better judgement, that are often used to at least partially justify or explain adult men’s sexual attraction to or abuse of even young girls’

This really got my goat for two key reasons:

1) They are using hypothetical examples of girls being abused saying if it was girls being ‘sexually abused’ by men priests, people would come up with spurious justifications for it. And yet, the main reason this sexual abuse ‘scandal’ in the priesthood has been newsworthy is that the men doing the ‘abuse’ got away with it for years and years. It’s classic oppression olympics with girls and women always winning the gold victim status medal, even when they are made up examples!

2) The feminist analysis of ‘real men’ being used to ‘sell’ the priesthood is reductive and wrong. It ignores how men don’t just compare themselves to women but also to each other, and how the manly ‘real men’ discourse is fraught with tensions around homosexuality (which is a big part of sex in the priesthood) and how machismo is actually very camp.

 

Oh, and 3) ‘Fishers of Men’? is that what they call it now 😀

I am grateful to Sociological Images for linking to a lovely collection of old army and navy recruitment posters, full to bursting with phallic weapons and pretty sailor boys.  I am less enamoured with their analysis of these ‘homoerotic’ images from the past:

‘While men have always had sex with men and women have always had sex with women, the idea that a person could be of a particular homosexual type (as opposed to someone who did homosexual acts) only emerged in the late 1800s (in Western culture anyway).  Even then, it took a very long time for the idea that gay people might be among us to filter through popular culture.  Only after an active gay liberation movement made homosexuality more visible did people actually start to look for it in people they knew’

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/10/04/homosexuality-and-our-collective-consciousness/sociological images

I disagree with this conclusion because a) I am certain that even in the 1940s, or 1960s, when homosexuality was illegal, people ‘actually start(ed) to look for it in people they knew’. Literature, film, cartoons and other forms of  popular culture, have had references to the ‘homosexual menace’ ever since the ‘homosexual’ became identified and pathologised in the 19th century. And I disagree with it because b) even now, in Gay Friendly 2011, we constantly and deliberately refuse to see the ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ or even ‘homoerotic’ charge of many images of men. I have not seen one article in Sociological Images examining the way men are presented in our culture, as desirable to themselves and each other. Take this photo of Beckham for example. It is as homoerotic as any of those Navy posters, if not more so. As Mark Simpson might say, Becks and his oiled up body are screaming: WANT ME!

And as Simpson actually has said:

“In a spornographic age it’s no longer enough for the male body to be presented to us by consumerism as merely attractive, or desiring to be desired, as it was in the early days of nakedly narcissistic male metrosexuality. This masculine coquettish-ness, pleasing as it is, no longer offers an intense enough image. Or provokes enough lust. It’s just not very shocking or arousing any more. In fact, it’s just too… normal. To get our attention these days the sporting male body has to promise us nothing less than an immaculately groomed, waxed and pumped gang-bang in the showers.”

Talking of Showers, Sociological Images turns its ‘right on’ attention to this ad from the 1940s for lifebuoy soap and decides the homosexual subtext would not have been identified by its readers back then:

‘From a contemporary U.S. perspective, where most of us have heard homophobic jokes about not dropping the soap in the shower, two men showering together (even or especially in a military context) and using language like “hard” and ”get yourself in a lather” is undeniably a humorous reference to gay men.’I think, however, that this was not at all the intention in 1942, where the possibility of men’s sexual attraction to other men wasn’t so prominent of a cultural trope.  It simply wasn’t on people’s minds as it is today.’

Apart from the fact that ‘drop the soap’ jokes are hardly ‘homophobic’ but rather an expression of people’s awareness of the homoerotics of men when they get naked together, I think Soc Images is underestimating both people’s awareness of homosexuality in the past, and their continued repression in the present. Does this image scream ‘Homo gang bang’ to you? It does to me but I don’t see anyone commenting on the blatant homoerotics  of Sporno, except for, yes, Mark Simpson.

And I have to agree with Simpson’s conclusions too, about why we avoid the homo-subtexts in contemporary culture, but insist in identifying them in cultural products from the past, such as in this case  the film Top Gun:

‘I suspect it’s more a case of the past being a foreign country — so ‘gayness’ can be safely projected onto something in the past, even if it was once what hundreds of millions of straight young men saw as the very epitome of aspirational heterosexuality.’

I think this is an example of how the term and identity ‘gay’ is a way of sidelining homosexual interest between men into a specific separate identity, and avoiding the homosexuality apparent  in masculinity as a whole. But nothing gets past me, Sociological Images. I’m on masculinity’s case!