What if the world were different for a day?


9:00 am - March 8th 2010

by Laurie Penny    


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Picture this. You open the newspaper one grey morning, and there in a bright pixel smear on the third page is a full-length photograph of a young man. The young man is almost naked; a flesh-coloured thong clings tightly to his hairless cock and balls; he looks over his shoulder at you, his jaw a perfect masculine square, his dark eyes smouldering. Everywhere, this young man is hard, smooth, impenetrable and yet submissive, wanting you to consume him. You turn the page.

There are more young men on each of the pages that follow, naked or scantily clothed, poreless, flawless, with broad shoulders and rock-hard arses and muscles that bunch and gleam under oiled skin. You are used to the sight of these young men; these days, they hardly even arouse you. Their glassy eyes follow you on public transport, on the internet, on television, in the fashion spreads of magazines.

Picture this. Every one of the men and boys whose images you see repeated thousands of times a day is impossibly perfect, hewn from some arcane piece of rock on the platonic plane. Not one of them is over thirty-three. In the shadow of their hard, robotic masculinity, the possibility of paunches and puppy fat and male-pattern balding is unthinkable . They rarely speak, and when they do speak, they ventriloquise; they implore you to look at them, to understand their silent semiotics of commercial masculinity; they threaten and seduce you in a boring parade of billboards, adverts, music videos.

These men don’t seem to be doing very much. Usually, they are moronically thrusting and jerking around cereal boxes, insurance packages, bottles of shampoo and soap. They seem to beg to be penetrated, but it is they who have invaded your body and brain, as if the images were trying to force themselves out through your skin. Some of them are known to you by name or sobriquet, as singers or actors, or as the sons or lovers of powerful women. They grimace beautifully as they drape their impossible bodies over stages and sets, showing off watches and shoes and beautiful clothing that hangs from their perfect torsos in artful folds and flutters in artificial winds. Their images cluster in everywhere , unseeing, bored, as if they can’t quite decide whether to fuck you or punch you.

You know that it’s not real, of course. You understand vaguely that the real men and boys who pose for these images are almost all on punishing diet and exercise programmes; cocaine and steroid abuse and compulsive weightlifting are endemic in the modelling and media industries.You know that in order to make your body resemble the bodies you see around you you would have to push it to its limits, to the exclusion of all else. And yet the idea occurs to you, almost daily, oozing out of every advertising surface. You see more images of perfect men, on a daily basis, than you meet ordinary men in real life. Your sense of reality, of what gender and beauty and power mean on a day-to-day basis, becomes warped. They are the real men, not you: if you don’t look like them, you’re not trying hard enough. Other men in your peer group clearly are trying, perhaps not hard enough, but hard enough that they don’t seem invisible in this glossy, thrusting semiotic stream of plastic masculinity. So you try harder, too. You start to eat less, go to the gym more, maybe play around with taking some steroids – everyone’s doing it, what harm can there be? And maybe you succeed, maybe you don’t. At least you’re trying. At least you’re buying things. Isn’t that the point?

You begin to forget what real men look like. Older men, overweight men, plain men, scrawny men seem to shrink and fade as you look past them, unsure how to react to the freakish weight of their humanity. Images of men over thirty-five are such a rarity that when you glimpse real elderly men, they seem obscene, the lines and trappings of years a monstrous deformity. The few much-photographed men who have been permitted to age are known to have undergone extensive, brutal surgical procedures and to spend thousands of dollars a year ‘maintaining’ their appearance. Whatever their age, they all have full heads of hair -male-pattern balding becomes an obscenity, and the hair loss and implant industry is worth billions each year, as is the dangerous and murky skin-lightening industry, because these men aren’t just all lean, perfect and young, they’re also all white.

The small proportion of images of men from non-white backgrounds features young men who have typically Caucasian features, from height and straightness of hair to pale skin and blue eyes. Airbrushing helps here, too, bleaching faces, hardening the lines of lips and noses and erasing epicanthal folds. The pop-star Kanye West appears on a box of Rogaine looking suspiciously pale, but the firm denies altering his appearance, and the singer is contractually bound to shut his million-dollar mouth and keep on smiling.

Across the country, young boys are caught in this stream of images, and being young, they make the mistake of trying to swim. Young black and asian boys bleach their skin with illegal creams and dyes and turn up at hospital with third-degree burns; young boys of all backgrounds, some as young as five and six, are embarking on diet and exercise regimes to try to look more like their favourite male models, actors and porn stars. Boys of seventeen and eighteen are having surgery on their penises, their pectoral muscles and their faces to make them resemble the ideal. Fully half of teenage boys are on a diet, and some begin to take the process too far, cutting out snacks, then meals, then sustenance altogether. They pump iron for hours everyday, their infant muscles screaming with pain. By the time they arrive at university, one in ten of the best and brightest young boys are already racked by anorexia, bulimia, compulsive exercise and steroid abuse. They drop like flies, and you can do nothing to save them.

But there’s more. Something strange is happening to many of the boys who have managed to continue to feed and nourish themselves, the boys you thought were safe. They spend hours in front of mirrors fretting about their appearance, applying make-up, spending money they don’t have on clothes that might make them resemble the images they see everywhere around them, the images that everyone knows are false. They stop doing their work, abandon their studies, dumb down their intelligence, desperate to be accepted as that vital thing – handsome. They want you to notice them, they want to be allowed to exist in a culture which only allows them full purchase if they look great, gorgeous, glowing, up for it. They learn to erase their sexual identities. They learn to flirt, to give the impression of putting out, at every opportunity. They learn to be silent. They learn to stick their arses out when an important woman is in the room. They learn to smile.

These young men know that their chances of getting a decent job will be massively improved if they invest time, money and hours of pain and anxiety in their appearance and give an impression of sexual availability. These men want full, whole lives, they want what everyone wants – to be able to walk in the world as human subjects – but they understand that the culture of beauty fascism isn’t going to change soon, and that means that they also have to be accepted as physical objects, and for that they need to prove their worth in the relentless economy of white, lean masculine beauty. The plea, on a fundamental level, is a plea to exist. These young men are crying out for truth and understanding, but in an economy built on lies, how can they be expected to fight the tide on their own?

What is the response of the government, of the media to this trend? They say nothing. These silly young boys don’t know any better than to copy what they see. And anyway, women have to worry about what they look like too! Granted that it’s the men, not the women, who are judged on the basis of their appearance in public life – but then, there are so few men in politics and in business that we’re bound to look at them a bit funny, aren’t we? It’s all in good fun, isn’t it?

And so government remains silent, as legions of young men drop out of the system, fail to fulfil their potential or grow up into miserable, half starved adults. It doesn’t matter, not really. The men’s groups kicking up their silly little boys’ protests don’t understand the logic of the market. Images of lusty young men sell products – that’s all there is to it. Red blooded women like to look at hot young men – and that’s evolution, that is, and evolution means never ever changing, and that’s all there is to it. And after all, women find it easy to develop individual personalities, unconstrained by silly, masculine, frivolous worries about their bodies. What is it about young men that they can’t do the same? Are they defective? They must be. Come on, let’s talk about women’s problems some more.

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Feminism ,Media

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Reader comments


1. Mike Killingworth

The remedy is obvious. Women should stop smiling in the presence of men.

Laurie, it’s such a shame you aren’t my age. You’d’ve fitted in so well in the GLC Women’s Unit under Valerie Wise. In those days the remedy was “political lesbianism” but it never took off.

As it is, you have a better remedy. Convert to Islam. I am quite serious. If a future government is to do anything about Page 3 girls and the amount of porn on the Internet it is far more likely to do so because of mullahs than because of arguments like yours.

If that does not appeal (as I suspect it won’t) I go back to my first paragraph. We have so many “days” for this that and the other that another one can’t possibly hurt. A Fight Sexual Exploitation Day in which women undertake not to smile at men (it is too much to ask men not to look at women, although the impossibilist in you will no doubt want that as well). It can be done. And I think you’re the one to do it.

I think this might be the best blog I’ve ever read.

Actually, I don’t have to imagine all of what Laurie describes. The rise of the Abercrombie and Fitch, or the Calvin Klein, or the Men’s Fitness front cover, has alreadys started to take effect.

I’ll admit that I already spend too much time worrying about what I eat, and whether I’ve been to the gym enough. I find I can’t eat unhealthy food anymore without feeling guilty or worried about whether it’ll make me too fat.

And I realise that this is what women have been dealing with – on a far worse level – for decades.

It makes me feel sick, frankly. Though I do wonder whether, now that it’s starting to affect men, something will be done about it.

But probably not. Because it sells.

3. Alisdair Cameron

Er, Laurie. A lot of this ‘alternate’ universe’ you depict is here,right now.Ludicrous objectification, vile as it can be, isn’t a female-only preserve and hasn’t been for 20+ years.Look at the Armani,D&G and aftershave billboards.It ain’t sexism as much as corporate/capitalist means of fostering inadequacy or dissatisfaction in the viewer and hence desire (for product X,Y or Z). Look at the hug rise in gym-monkeyism and associated steroid abuse (very widespread in some parts of the country or the flip-side of the huge rise in male eating disorders).
There is much work to be done to counter sexism, but the objectification issue is far less of a gendered issue than a consumerist/capitalist one.

Good one Laurie. Cameron etc are going on in a moral panic about the sexualisation of very young girls, suggesting they should not be ‘sold’ makeup and padded clothes. But the main driver of infantile sexuality is surely more likely to be page three in a family newspaper. What can be done this side of censorship? How about a touch of regulation: any company producing gratuitous nudity has to pay 10p per 1,000 images to a fund that helps protect women from violence and needs to say this on the image, like the warnings on cigarette packs.

Cracking article, Laurie.

Btw, while it’s true that there is objectification of men in the way they are depicted, it is nowhere near the scale or extent of that of women.

In the end, though – what’s going to be done about it? The problem has been described again and again and again. Girls were dying from anorexia and bulimia when I was growing up in the 80s, and well before that. It’s nothing new.

When it comes down to it, you have a choice – you can engage in the hysteria and decide to starve, botox, get plastic surgery, wax yr fuzzy bits – or not. Laurie writes about the young, but I would say there’s even more pressure on older bats like myself to take radical steps to ‘correct’ looks and the signs of aging so that we look younger than we are – salespeople have actually come up to me in the street and asked me if I’ve considered botox (I gave the fecker a wedgie). At least if you’re young, you have a better chance of looking you.

Thing is – I’ve have a choice about engaging or not, and about spending the rest of my life obsessed with being an age that I’m not and never will be again. I choose to ignore the marketing and the pressure to look young – and guess what? I’ve got a nice man in my life who married me, and plenty of friends, and people seem to like me for myself. It’s a great place to be. The only way to bring down the ridiculous standards set by the market is to boycott the products and ideas that the market is trying to sell. Then, maybe we can focus on the important, not-so-middle-class things that women need – free childcare, equal pay, decent single parent support, etc. It’s time to stop looking in the mirror – change must start here on the ground, with us.

Well, if you want to produce such images of men to prove your point feel free (I imagine they are not difficult to find on the internet anyway…). I won’t be offended even if they are all thinner, taller and better muscled than me, but that is my choice (I also quite enjoy the sight of any attractive body – nothing sexual, but my asthetic tastes have clearly been conditioned in an asexual way). Others may choose to be offended, but that is their choice.

I think however you are fighting the wrong battle with your proposed solution. The battle is not what the children should see (I believe another word for this is censorship) but how the children should be taught to interpret it. Do our schools give children the skills to know they are being sold an idealised image, or do they just see an ideal? If there is a problem with people being impressionable, why is your answer to ban or tax and not to educate?

I’m not sure the point is well made, as many of the situations described are already reality. Boys and men also experience pressure to ensure their image conforms. What I’d like to hear are ideas on how we’re supposed to fix the problem.

What angle is this attractive man standing at exactly?

I can see his hairless cock and balls but he is looking over his shoulder at me…

@ Anthony Barnett.

How about a touch of regulation: any company producing gratuitous nudity has to pay 10p per 1,000 images to a fund that helps protect women from violence and needs to say this on the image, like the warnings on cigarette packs.

And we could make any company using an image of an animal donate to the RSPCA and anyone depicting food could pay Oxfam.!!!!

Is this the sort of guff we’d be subjected to at in a joint venture with Our Kingdom? If so I, for one, will be emigrating.

Alisdair;

Although men are starting to suffer from this too (see my blog, today), women still suffer INFINITELY more than men on this count.

And Laurie’s piece illustrates how deep it goes for women, and how much worse it is.

As somebody who personally pays more attention to airbrushed images of topless men than is good for my mental health, I’m still under no illusion that women get a far worse deal than men on this front.

Excellent piece, I’m with Paul in that it could be best ever, although it will bring out the worst in our right-wing commenters here, the male chauvinism round these parts runs deep.

“If so I, for one, will be emigrating.”

Is that a promise?

If so I’d like the proposals you object to in a party manifesto.

😛

Brilliant.

Paul S @13: V good article, I agree, but not as good in a substantive way as Laurie’s one from last week http://pennyred.blogspot.com/2010/02/march-of-underage-slags.html, which is more in tune with what Kate @6 has to say, and with which I agree quite a lot.

I’ll admit to liking the way the piece is done. An excellent advancement of a particular argument.

However, I’m not all that sure about the specific argument itself. Possibly a little too much of arguing from the personal and particular to the general. Laurie has written ( was it just the Evening Standard or here as well?) about her own struggles with imagery, weight and so on.

But to go from that to the point that all women are similarly opressed by such body facism…..well, OK, I can really only talk from my own experience but that simply isn’t what I see in the world around me.

Just as an example, the number of boob jobs is something like 30,000 a year. Which in a population of 24 million or so adult women is what, 0.1% of the population?

That some are affected by the “role models” being offered, sure, of course. But anything more than a very small minority?

17. John Meredith

“Although men are starting to suffer from this too (see my blog, today), women still suffer INFINITELY more than men on this count.”

But that is largely because women spend a lot of money buying photographs of women, isn’t it? I mean the market for images of perfect feminine beauty is massively dominated by women. If only they would stop buying the stuff, they would stop suffering it. The trouble with Laurie’s counter factual is that we know that the boys just wouldn’t bother to consume such images, they would (and do) shrug it off. I have seeen more photographs of the admittedly beautiful eckham in his undies that I could count, but I just don’t care. Actually, along with most men I know I find them bit funny. We can rail about ‘the media’ all day long, but women will find way of getting hold of this stuff whatever we do to try to subdue the market.

18. Strategist

Laurie, can you clarify/draw out further whether you think the phenomenon you describe so well is something that men are doing to women, or women are doing to women (or perhaps that consumer capitalism is making men & women to do women).

It seems to me that much of the general thing about body image/clothes/cosmetics is not something being imposed on women by men. Look at the interminable hundreds & hundreds of pages of ads in Vogue etc – these mags are virtually entirely the production of women. I don’t get the impression that men really come into it in terms of the pressure to keep up with weekly trends in fashion/body image etc, it’s more women competing with other women (possibly within the overall concept of attracting the attention of an alpha male, maybe). The general complete crappiness of porn is what you get when men are running the show, and as is shown in that genre, men typically aren’t overpicky.

Be interested in you take on this. It may be that evil men sit behind these massive editorial operations of Vogue etc pulling the strings and raking in the cash.

You certainly seem to be making the point that the government is doing nothing about it because men run the government. I don’t know the extent to which this is really true. Might it be more the case that men run the tabloid media of which the government is afraid? For example, does Brown stop Harman (or Harman stop Harman) taking some kind of action on this because he believes that nothing should be done, or because he worries it’s not worth the negative headlines? I don’t think it makes the lack of action any the more defensible, but it may be worth bearing in mind?

19. John Meredith

“Just as an example, the number of boob jobs is something like 30,000 a year. Which in a population of 24 million or so adult women is what, 0.1% of the population?”

And, of course, it is widely acccepted that obesity is a much larger problem than anorexia or bulimia.

Jesus. It’s 1983 again.

Neurotic Oxford graduate seeks solace in identity politics.

‘let’s talk about women’s problems some more’ do you read the bloody papers? On Saturday there was a THREE page piece in The Guardian by Charlotte Raven saying how she and s similar feminists, like Natasha Walter got it all wrong in the ’90s (actually it was a re-hashed version of piece that had already appreared in the New Statesman).

Raven, Walters, Penny what do these women have in common? (Apart from two of them being Oxbridge graduates).

Come back in 2020 to read a large article in The Guardian how they all got it wrong in 2010…..

Jog on

Paul @ 11

And Laurie’s piece illustrates how deep it goes for women, and how much worse it is.

No.

It articulates how much worse it is for women who want to make a professional virtue from the victimhood of objectification.

Most women, on the other hand, want to look their best for reasons of ….well…objectification.

They aspire to be beautiful. I don’t condone that or disparage it, but it is a fact.

So it seems somewhat hypocritical to complain that the patriarchal society has made you do it as you put on high heels and make up- surely the point of emancipation was to give women choice in such matters?

John Meredith – the biggest selling men’s magazine is Men’s Health, ALWAYS with a picture of a well-toned male torso on the front. Men most certainly do buy these images and buy into the idea that they can and should change their appearance to fit them – they don’t shrug it off.

23. the a&e charge nurse

Funnily enough I took my daughter to the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store (in Saville Row) just the other day.

She loved it, especially the greeter on the door in casual jacket, sans shirt – am I bad parent?

Vinny @20:

That’s why I said @15 that Laurie’s earlier article at http://pennyred.blogspot.com/2010/02/march-of-underage-slags.html is better, altough it is perhaps less ‘crowd-pleasing’ than this. Her commentary far outstrips Raven in its assessment of the real challenges facing feminism in the 2010s. As Laurie says:

‘I am asking for an analysis that is more rigorous, more grounded in an understanding of the gendered basis of capital, an analysis that is less focused on recalcitrant sexual morality……….Today’s young women are neither soulless slags nor tragic victims: we are real people with real desires and real agency, trying to negotiate our personal and sexual identities in a culture whose socio-economic misogyny runs far deeper than conservative commentators would have us believe.’

Read this piece for what it is, I’d suggest, rather than working it into any preconceptions you may have about Laurie as a feminist. I don’t like everything she writes (well I don’t read everything) but that’s because she’s experimenting with different forms and how to tackle different readerships.

“‘I am asking for an analysis that is more rigorous, more grounded in an understanding of the gendered basis of capital,”

But capital (or capitalism if you prefer) isn’t gender based. Or sitting upon a gendered basis.

Think historically just for a moment. There was indeed a huge gender divide in roles. Not all that long ago. Based essentially on the divide in physical strength between the sexes. Human and animal muscle power was all there was (and to effectively use animal power you’ve got to have a fair bit of human such anyway).

It’s capitalism (or whatever you want to call the socio economic system we’ve had over the past century or two) which has meant that muscle power isn’t, except in the most trivial manner, the determinant of who can do what job.

Add in effective contraception and you’ve got what we see around us today: quite probably the least gender based human society ever.

For those here who have never encountered Valerie Wise, I can commend this recent manifestation:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWh_Iry9Rl4

Btw I’m probably among the few here who have actually met Valerie Wise – back in the early 1980s. But then I can also truthfully claim to have met Enoch Powell when I was a uni student.

27. John Meredith

” Men most certainly do buy these images and buy into the idea that they can and should change their appearance to fit them – they don’t shrug it off.”

But they don’t on the whole, do they? Compare the market for images of beautiful men for men to the market for beautiful images of women for women.

@ 24

Howzabout Laurie writes an article about the over-representation of Oxbridge graduates in elite professions, with particular reference to the meeja?

‘It’s The Clever Way To Power’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/mar/16/highereducation.news

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/mar/16/highereducation.careers

John Meredith – er, I think the present difference in market scale was kind of the point of the original article. But the success of a magazine like Men’s Health means that, ‘on the whole’ or not, a large and significant number of men are starting to buy into the same unhealthy attitudes to appearance. Your post @17 implies that men and boys don’t and won’t buy it – but they are and they do and their numbers are growing. Just maybe not in your probably not nationally representative sample of mates.

30. John Meredith

“But the success of a magazine like Men’s Health means that, ‘on the whole’ or not, a large and significant number of men are starting to buy into the same unhealthy attitudes to appearance. ”

No it doesn’t. We can’t be sure what it means, but most likely it means nothing more than that there is a significant mibnority of men who are preoccupied with health and body image isues. But we always knew that, there was always a minority interest in these things and magazines for them. But what there isn’t is an equivalent of the women’s magazine market. How many men do you know who would read 150 pages of glossy photographs of beautiful young men vvariously dressed? And this isn’t about sexuality either. Gay men seem no more interested than straight men.

Um, well – for a start, fellas, seeing as nobody’s suggested a useful starting point except moi, could whomever put that image with the woman with some sort of sticker slapped over her mouth at the top of the site replace it with one of a happy woman smiling or something a little less – victim-y? It is EXACTLY that sort of thing that gives the world the idea that we’re all poor, suffering little fannies.

Over and out.

32. John Meredith

Blimey, I what Kate B means. that image of the woman with the gag is very pervy. The model with her beautiful big eyes and artfully tousled hair is all sexual promise which somewhat undermines the supposed intended meaning of showing her gagged. I am guesssing that campaign was done by a bloke.

33. John Meredith

Should be ‘I SEE what Kate means’, of course.

34. Cheesy Monkey

You have to be careful not to conflate two quite different phenomina: a) male objectivication of women; and b) aggressive and persistent marketing of beauty and lifestyle products to women. Now, (a) can be and is a problem, but it is not endemic – most men (at least those I know) have healthy and equal relationships with women, be it partners, mothers, siblings, colleagues and so on. They find many more different kinds of women to be attractive (be it platonically, sexually or otherwise) than the media tends to reflect.

(b) is a much bigger and much more insidious problem. Remember the old joke that goes: ‘Why do women wear make-up and perfume? Because they’re ugly and they smell.’? Well that’s the approach of beauty/lifestyle marketeers:

‘Keep buying our products and you will be less ugly and less smelly – at least for a couple of hours. But make no mistake – you’re fundamentally ugly and smelly. So keep buying. So keep using. Because you’re ugly. And you smell.’

Now, this approach doesn’t work as well with men. Why? Because beauty marketing to men begins with adolescence and selling deodorants for those sweltering armpits (that’s why Lynx adverts are so crass – they’re aimed at horny 12- and 13-year-old boys). But beauty marketing to women starts much earlier in life and at an age where beauty myths and neuroses can be far more deeply ingrained.

And women are around beauty marketing far more than men are. For example, most women’s magazines are not what you think. They’re not about celebrity gossip, or ‘true life’ stories of overcoming adversity, or about soaps, knitting, hangliding, Australian Rules Football, or whatever it is women are interested in these days – they’re about selling beauty products. Pick up a copy of Heat or Grazia and count how many pages of adverts there are. Most will be adverts for beauty products. Not only that, but a good deal of the content will touch on beauty issues and the regular recomendation of… beauty products. The ‘100 Ways to Get a Man’-type features would, if any sane women used the ‘advice’, cost good money. (100 tips could be whittled down to one guaranteed way: “Go up to him and say ‘I’m bored. Fancy a fuck?'” You’ll never see that one, because, funilly enough that tip would cost you nothing except your self respect, perhaps.)

So what to do? You’ll probably get nowhere trying to get the Sun to drop Page 3 (it’s not just tits – it’s propaganda too). But it might be an idea to put pressure on broadcasters to feature more representative women in its output. Where are the chubby newsreaders, the flat-chested presenters, the plain heroines? If 100,000 people can be roused to try and save 6music, this should be a doddle.

In this world, do young women’s suicide rates vastly outstrip young men’s? Does young female unemployment vastly outstrip young male unemployment? Have women been subject to intellectual and official attacks on their gender role without the assailants providing them with any alternative?

For God’s sake, at least when you ask questions of body image, you could also consider the burden on the Sun-reading, working-class, unskilled men whom the article condemns. Their lot in the 21st century is responsibility without power, without job security, while still being expected to be the breadwinners for their families. But I suppose the real problem isn’t that the world has left them behind without a role, it’s that they like to look at women’s breasts as a brief fantasy to escape from the everyday.

Out of everything i’ve read so far, I find “Cheesy Monkey”‘s analysis @34 the one I agree with the most.

37. Alisdair Cameron

@ Paul (11). I accept that as things stand the whole media/business peddling body disatisfaction currently impacts more upon women (but it’s nothing like as ‘imbalanced’ as some would portray thing) than men, but there’s danger of only aiming at one head of the hydra,as it were. When 35% (and rising) of admissions at my regional eating disorder unit are men, and when my regional drug and alcohol strategy has had to now encompass a lot of resources to steroidal abuse (almost exclusively by men), then it’s becoming evident that this is less of a gendered problem than before and one whose real roots lie in selling dissatisfaction and expensive products to ‘solve’ that created unhappiness.Laurie’s binary piece above misses that: now if she’d focused less on the objectification, and more upon more patent examples of gender discrimination and structural impediments, then in my opinion it’d have been a stronger piece.
(re: Men’s Health magazine and its six-pack/body fascism. Worth noting that it is the UK’s biggest selling men’s magazine, selling far more than the supposed ‘lad’s mags’ over which people (rightly,to some extent) get aerated, but whose sales are plummeting)

Can we swap some other roles as well. So that men take their turn at living longer, being less suicidal and less likely to be a victim of violence than women?

In general, I just don’t really see the massive problem here. We have been looking at images of beautiful people since chalk and charcoal was discovered, mostly for fun. In fact, it was so fun, the early Hebrews had to ban it. Advertising gives you some nice people to look at while they try and inform you about their products (it is not just beauty products that do this trick!). I feel sorry for people who aspire to be more attractive than they can be, but I don’t see why that means the rest of us should be prevented from looking at attractive people. Beauty (photoshopped or not) is not a crime.

39. John Meredith

“and one whose real roots lie in selling dissatisfaction and expensive products to ’solve’ that created unhappiness.”

What evidence is there for that? I haven’t seen any. And how great is the problem? Can we put some figures on it?

40. Dick the Prick

Dear Laurie

Bravo!

DtP

41. rob tennant

hairless cock and balls; he looks over his shoulder at you, his jaw a perfect masculine square, his dark eyes smouldering. Everywhere, this young man is hard, smooth, impenetrable and yet submissive, wanting you to consume him. You turn the page.

There are more young men on each of the pages that follow, naked or scantily clothed, poreless, flawless, with broad shoulders and rock-hard arses and muscles that bunch and gleam under oiled skin

Epic fail on trying to turn the tables Laurie – what you’ve described here is how gay men would be objectified, and they are a minority of men. Most men would not feel under any pressure to be like the men you describe – they would actively puke at the sight of such manthings, and then carry on drinking their beer and eating their pork pies!

Also, as Kate Belgrave says, what is the solution? Journalism isn’t just about complaining, you have to suggest a concrete, real alternative.

42. rob tennant

I also agree with Cheesy Monkey @34 – there are two issues at work here. Men are not mindless evil drones with a “get laid” sticker on their retinas.

43. rob tennant

Also, whats the problem with Mens Health magazine? It encourages men to eat healthily, work out more often, and treat their partners better. I’m not a fan of the six pack, but come on, who really likes their beer gut? You would do away with it, if you could, wouldn’t you?

Frankly, we do have a problem with obesity in this country. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to go completely the other way, but we cannot escape this truth: after a certain level, fat is bad for your health, and the fatter you become the more unhealthy you become, and the more fat you lose the healthier you become. Simples.

C’mon, fatties. Stop using “gender fascism” as an excuse to not go to the gym.

44. rob tennant

Also, last point: not really fair to always attack Oxbridge graduates for their privilege, especially when the ones like Laurie are trying to address society’s problems. That said, Laurie and her fellow elite should look at ways of changing society for the better, that do not involve self-important prosletysing on blogs and in newspapers. Show, don’t tell.

45. Alisdair Cameron

@ John Meredith: it’s a major area of research, just Google away and you’ll find papers galore. A good (and now quite seminal) text is Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture by Stuart Ewen. A one-stop book containing more stats than you can shake a stick at is Milestones in Mass Communication Research (Lowery and DeFleur).

The thing is – it is a question of really deciding what feminism as such has and hasn’t delivered.

As I said above, I for one simply don’t believe I’m in a position to whinge. Some people are in a position to complain about their lot as women – I am not, and if I made my experience the focus of my politics, I would not be able to expect much sympathy for women as a group.

I was born into a family that had resources and was prepared to put those resources into educating me. I was able to choose what I wanted to study at university, and then was eligible for good, well-paying jobs that allowed me to save money and travel the world. I was able to choose to live in London – which I always wanted to do – and to get a good job here, which has allowed me to take advantage of being in this great city. I have never been overlooked for promotion, or dismissed because of my gender. I am able to control my fertility, and have been able to decide not to have children – my choice. I am, in short, in no position to complain that society and/or feminism and/or anything much, has let me down. My experiences, frankly, are not relevant as a result.

What IS relevant – at least as far as I’m concerned – is using one’s own advantages to help others get the sort of access that I had and have.

There are two issues for women, as far as I’m concerned. 1 – education, which is the way to a better life and economic independence for all of us, whether we’re born male or female, or born here, New Zealand, or wherever. 2- control over our fertility AND the right to continue to function if we do have children (women who have children are immediately compromised economically and often at work – this needs to change, to favour all parents). Those are the issues. My issues with my ageing face or greying hair or body shape and size are completely irrelevant and minor. I was dealt a good hand and feminism has served me very well. I cannot – and should not – complain. To complain would be grotesque. What I can do is advocate for those who don’t get the chances, and that is something I do. I feel that feminism will forever falter if we can’t move away from the irrelevancies of self.

Last thing.

The ‘what if it happened to men’ is an old rhetorical chesnut.

Look:

“”I’ve been a passionate feminist since the mid-80s,” he says. “It was Gloria Steinem who converted me in a single day in New York. It’s the rhetorical device she uses throughout, and it’s very effective: she just reverses the sexes – what if men menstruated, what if men had babies? It’s unanswerable.”

Guess who the convert was?

http://tinyurl.com/yb9r5o4

48. Just Visiting

As others here have asked – I ask – what is your alternative Laurie?

In a recent thread on LC you proposed censorship – by a feminist committee.

And you were rudely shot down.

But… I think you were actually nearer to the fault-line than teh average LC reader would like.

Because whilst censorship has been one of the sworn enemies of the mainstream left of centre zeigeist for a few decades now….

… censorship would be one way to reduce the objectification of women that troubles you.

Reduce the ubiquituous images.. reduce the objectification.

Anyway, I’m sure many voices will come in to shoot this line of thinking down – simply because censorship has become a knee-jerk dirty word to the centre-left.

“The small proportion of images of men from non-white backgrounds features young men who have typically Caucasian features, from height and straightness of hair to pale skin and blue eyes”.

Caucasian? Pale skin, blue eyes? Caucasians, if they have anything, have swarthy skin, brown eyes, black hair. It’s high time this ludicrous and misleading usage of the term Caucasian was abandoned. It’s as misleading as utilising the term “asian” solely to refer to certain southern asians and a testament to geographical ignorance.

‘… censorship would be one way to reduce the objectification of women that troubles you.’

So how do you ensure the censors actually censor the things that you think should be? It is not as if these things haven’t been tried in several places already. One classic deployment was in Canada where anti-pornography laws gave mainstream pornography a free pass, while arresting and prosecuting images produced by and for LGBT people.

If it is one thing that liberals of all sorts really ought to agree on, is that the aggregation of power to a small group of people given arbitrary means to punish people always end in tears (or worse). That besides, the whole free speech and freedom of expression thing but I realise that has already been chipped away at rather too much.

Interesting piece, but be warned Laurie.

‘Looking sexually available’ won’t help you to get a job.

Quite the opposite.

25 Tim W
Where do you learn your history? Of course capitalism (Industrial capitalism) is gender based, it created the division between production and consumption and the home and the workplace. Sure there were previously gender-based divisions of labour, but industrial capitalism produced the scenario of women as dependent and consumer, basically the same status as children.
Primogeniture did not change despite the massively changed social and economic environment, it was males (from wealthy families) who received education, Oxbridge didn’t give out degrees to women until the 1920s And the 1880 Education Act divided basic education on gender grounds, where needlework and domestic science was taught, almost fully occupying the female child’s day.
Not to mention voting, I could go on forever, but women have been, for centuries, objectified, I suspect that the recent objectification of (young) men is more market driven than the absolute patriarchy which women have had to suffer for centuries.

“Of course capitalism (Industrial capitalism) is gender based, it created the division between production and consumption and the home and the workplace.”

You what?

“Sure there were previously gender-based divisions of labour, ”

Quite. There’s been gender-based division of labour ever since the start of the species. We can actually see it in our genes. differrent musculatures, different eye hand coordinations, different colour recognitions and so on.

Modern capitalism (or if you prefer more Marxian cognomens, late stage capitalism) probably has the least gender based divisions of labour of any human society ever.

52
Blimey, capitalism’s played a huge part in the social structure of Islamic societies then. Man – work; woman – bed and kitchen.

Quite. There’s been gender-based division of labour ever since the start of the species.

When Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman…

@52: ” Of course capitalism (Industrial capitalism) is gender based, it created the division between production and consumption and the home and the workplace.”

Comparing the living standards in capitalist countries with those which claimed to be applying socialism, it’s fortunate overall that capitalism has prevailed.

Your sense of reality, of what gender and beauty and power mean on a day-to-day basis, becomes warped. They are the real men, not you: if you don’t look like them, you’re not trying hard enough.

(please skip if you’re easily upset)

Laurie

I’m in a minority I’m sure, but this is me, to one degree or another. Perhaps not so strongly. As I type this, I sit having not eaten for, oh more hours than I care to remember. This isn’t particularly good; I prefer it when I can measure the time in days.

My shoulders, arms, thighs and abdomen ache from the workout I did at half past one this morning. I pushed myself so hard during the session I briefly lost feeling in my left arm. And yet, I hardly feel like I did anything worthy at all.

At the moment I’m trying to push myself harder because of an off-the-cuff remark by a girl a couple of weeks ago implying I wasn’t quite perfect. I know I’m not, but I want to be.

But I’m not content with pushing myself physically either. I won’t be worthy until I can speak several languages, play an instrument or two and do a number of other sundry things. These days, I’m practicing juggling because it is the only thing that brings me pleasure other than football and seeing my friends (which is getting rarer).

My discipline wavers of course, and I feel terribly guilty when it does. I’ll not say any more.

I’m not unique, I don’t want attention; but there are thousands like me. No one knows how many, because as Real Men, we’re not allowed to have emotions or admit we’re less than perfect the way we are. It’s part of the code.

I hope this doesn’t upset anyone. If it does, you probably already know where to discuss it.

@Real Man

shut up and eat some pies already, the only way to look good is to eat food then work out at the gym. starving yourself only makes you more hungry, ffs, which leads to you eating more, which leads to you putting on more weight. you want to be thin but youre making yourself more fat. and you are doing it to yourself, you cannot blame anyone else.

take some fucking responsibility for yourself, you child.

dont believe everything the billboards tell you.

@38 – “Beauty…is not a crime.”

If it were, I’d be public enemy number one, two and three!

Sorry, couldn’t resist an old Red Dwarf joke…

Blanco: I appreciate your candor; I really do. I feel I should point out that 1) I’m not fat (I’m just not as well-shaped as I would like to be) and 2) having a biomedical degree, I am quite well-versed in how human metabolism works.

Of course, others in my situation may not be so familiar with the biology of course. Eating something small (however small floats your boat) coupled with exercise on a regular basis is of course more healthy if you are looking for weight loss. I don’t want to contribute to people to being unhealthy, which is what happens if you couple restriction with trying to force anabolism.

Another point to consider is that not everyone abstains from ‘pies’ for pure weight reasons. Food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Lastly, I do take responsibility for this myself. Of course, the topic on which we are happily commenting concerns the multitudinous mass of media messages saying that one particular body type is desirable over others.

53
Capitalism is not biologically determined, it’s not in our genes, although I know it would suit your particular economic/political views. You brought-up the idea about how genderless capitalism is, I pointed-out many examples to dispute your argument, I notice that you haven’t addressed one single point.
54 See above comment, I did not assert that other systems did not objectify women.
56
It’s interesting to hear your preference of economic systems but what has it go to do with this particular thread?

“Capitalism is not biologically determined, it’s not in our genes”

I didn’t say it was. I said the gender based division of labour is in our genes. More specifically, I said that we can see in our genes the results of such a gender based division over the history of our species.

I then went on to point out that modern capitalism, by reducing the physical differences between the sexes to near irrelevance in the labour market, has produced a society with less gender based division of labour than just about any other ever.

Do please try to react to what I actually say rather than some fantasy floating around inside your head.

62
Why mention genes? I agreed with your initital assertion that prior to capitalism there was already a division of labour based on gender. I disagreed. and still do, that capitalism changed that situation by giving (socially determined) examples of how women were made dependents. Physical inequality (if that was ever an issue) was replaced by social/political inequality, If my response was based on fantasy it was because I was responding to your own fantasies.

John Meredith –

@30: “How many men do you know who would read 150 pages of glossy photographs of beautiful young men vvariously dressed? And this isn’t about sexuality either. Gay men seem no more interested than straight men.”

and @39: “What evidence is there for that? I haven’t seen any. And how great is the problem? Can we put some figures on it?”

Make a sweeping claim, based on your non-representative sample of acquaintances. Then later demand other posters emprically verify their claims.

The success of a magazine like Men’s Health suggests that there is a trend towards men working on their body image and though it doesn’t yet rival the same trend among women, it is clearly growing – it is the *most* successful men’s magazine, but this is recent and coincides with the cover image featuring ever-more attractive men (as opposed to the grotesquely ripped men of traditional body-building magazines). I haven’t claimed there is an “equivalent of the women’s magazine market”, but there is a market for men consuming images of attractive men nonetheless. In my non-representative sample of acquaintances, both gay and straight men variously indulge in images of beautiful young men in magazines. So which of our personal experiences should be extrapolated to make a broader point?

65. Terry Orange

Well it could be worse, we could have a society in which men are regarded as mentally retarded idiots, whom are incapable of completing simple tasks, and regarded with suspicion and hate. And find themselves more likely to be homeless, unemployed, suffer domestic violence or die prematurley soley on the basis that they are men.

Oh wait, we do live in such a society


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