I noticed something peculiar in class on Monday. There was a whole lot more laughter and giggle than I ever noticed in our other lectures. Somehow, the subject of female gaze and the question of whether size mattered, seemed lighter, more amusing to me and I suspect to a few others.
Could this be the consequence of what Bordo, Gill, Henwood and McLean all referred to as the limited discussion around the male body? Perhaps, but as I read Bordo’s article and watched the video on penis enlargement, I couldn’t help but think that men were getting the raw end of the deal.
Whereas in previous weeks, the readings and discussions on Bordo’s Slender Body and Reclaiming Fat Bodies, centered on the overarching serious theme of female objectification and of the unreasonable expectation for women to achieve the perfect body, this week allowed us to navigate to the other side. I noticed that the manner in which in previous classes we discussed the sexualization and objectification of women though the male gaze was much accusatory and “heavy” in tone. When it came time to discuss what could be constituted as the female gaze however, the discussion felt a lot more cheerful and entertaining. What could account for such a disparity? I would like to argue that men, by virtue of their position in society, are expected to be less bothered by objectification and by the female gaze.
Throughout history, the most frequent manner in which men were objectified had been as financial providers. The more economically stable and powerful they were, the better. This is still very much present today. And I do consider that objectification.
In addition, as the authors argue in Body Projects and the Regulation of Normative Masculinity, I believe that one of the pressures felt by men to conform to normative masculinity is the pressure to relish the female gaze. Voicing discontent for being the object of such a gaze, would surely brand a young man as a sissy or a homosexual. On the other hand, the same complaint about the male gaze from a woman would be taken a lot more seriously.
In fact in Hollywood, when a man utters the classic line “I feel like a piece of meat”, it is usually inserted for comedic relief, and does make for big laughs. In the same way, in movies such as Sex in The City for example, the female character Samantha usually holds most of the comedic scenes with her womanizer, man-eater portrayal. She somehow still remains likable, whereas I am doubtful that a male character that treats women the same would be viewed similarly.
Thus when a female gaze is present, it is always displayed under the guise of humor. Comments are all very tongue and cheek, fun and lighthearted, this apparent in our discussion in class. Thus I argue that when women do it, they do so with very little guilt; in the contrary, it is seen as empowering…and the short guys? They don’t even stand a chance do they! Besides penis, I cannot think of another more contentious male characteristic than height. Evident in Noah Brand’s article, height is intrinsically attached to the notion that men and women have of masculinity. The sexual objectification and the importance attached to height, and penis size (for men) as Bordo argues, has the same psychological effects on men than they have on women, and can lead to negative body image among men.
Therefore, not taking the female gaze more seriously, severely restricts the possibilities for men to voice their frustration and disapproval and seek help for their insecurities.