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The Nude Male Body and Class/TV February 22, 2007

Posted by Rob Anne in general considerations.

Last week we got away from the subject of viewing the male body on screen, and I’d like to add my thoughts on the matter. Personally, I find the nude male body striking and disconcerting to view. Even as a heterosexual, I find something unappealing about seeing the nude male form. I’m very used to seeing the female body, from not only media and being a girl myself, but also because I grew up with a mother who had to qualms about showing off her body, not because she was inappropriate or promiscuous, but because she didn’t see the big deal about nakedness or hiding it from her child. However, seeing the male form in certain contexts is bizarre. I don’t know if this is just me or if other women find a strangeness in the male figure. Perhaps this is why men are so infrequently shown in the nude, or even why it is never shown in even soft-core pornography, which is often geared towards women.

Recently, promotional photos of Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter in the movies) new play Equus surfaced, photos of him nude and cut-off at the lowest point of his pelvis possible without showing his genitalia. Instead of arousing, these images seemed unattractive, even disgusting, like, “I don’t want to see that!” Perhaps even if it weren’t Radcliffe, whom I’m been following since he was ten, I would feel the same way. It would be a different story if I were intimate with him or another guy, but because I’m not, I feel wrong seeing this, as though I want to shield my eyes.

I don’t know whether society has trained me to feel this way – as a woman, okay about seeing naked women, but not okay when seeing naked men, or whether there is something inherent in our species that seeing the female form is more appealing and calming and therefore has become a societal norm. Others might argue that it is kind of sexism – it’s okay for women to bare all, but a man’s body is sacred and private. I’m not sure I’d take that at face value, though. Otherwise, why wouldn’t a magazine like Playgirl be more popular with heterosexual women (and not mostly gay men?)

Also, Professor Parham briefly mentioned on Tuesday the issues of class and media genres. It made me think about the shows that most people look down upon but have strong (and often intellectual) cult followings – genre programs. Buffy (camp horror), Veronica Mars (mystery), Xena (action fantasy), Firefly (sci-fi western), Battlestar Galactica (sci-fi), Heroes (superhero fantasy), and Alias (action/suspense) to mention a few, all feature “ass-kicking” women. I think the contrast between these shows and so many popular, mainstream shows that feature whiny, annoying, and love-hungry female protagonists (Grey’s, Ally McBeal, Desperate Housewives, even Sex and the City) under the guise of post-feminism quite striking. It appears that women can only have real power in fantasy settings, and that “career women” actually don’t have real power because they base all their time and energy on relationships. And while these genre women DO have relationships, they are peripheral to plot, character development, and action.

And I don’t know where to begin on Carrie



1. sindhub - February 24, 2007

I think history shows that it’s not inherent/biological for humans to look upon the nude female body more favorably, like if you were to look at ancient Greece and Rome and their adulation of the young nude male form. I would say that, as young women living in the modern world, we probably have internalized the male gaze to some extent. It would be difficult not to, I think, considering how advertising is everywhere, and very often advertising uses female bodies to sell things.

As for the naked male body… I think the rarity of seeing it in film and in the media is definitely one reason we are made uncomfortable by it. But of course, is it so rare because we as a society are uncomfortable with it in the first place? I think there’s certainly that possibility, especially since the penis can represent/be a threat in many cases. But I don’t think that this discomfort with media representations necessarily represents how women see men in their daily lives. I think girls learn early on to subvert their desires in less obvious, ‘safer’ ways, e.g. boy bands, admiring a guy’s arms or eyes, or something like that.

2. sindhub - February 24, 2007

Also, I haven’t seen Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, but I think it’s interesting that in all the other genre shows you mention, the female leads are still definitely attractive women whose characters often rely on their sexualities or seeming vulnerability to get what they want or need in order to complete the job (e.g. the Alias clip we watched in class, and soooo many instances on Veronica Mars where she plays the dumb blonde act so that she can get info). And Heroes’ two main female leads are a blonde stripper mom who is literally experiencing the madonna/whore split personality, and a blonde cheerleader.

3. robynbahr - February 25, 2007

I think your right, Sindu, about how history shows that it’s not inherent. I sort of forgot about the whole Ancient Greece/Rome adoration of the male nude. Very insightful comments.

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