Men: Erotic Objects of Women’s Gaze

Sexy, but all covered up.

Sexy, but all covered up.

A nude woman frolics in silhouette as clothed men sleuth about, guns in hand and feet in chase. These images introduce The Spy Who Loved Me.

Flipping through TV stations the other day, this Bond rerun caught my eye and left me imagining the reverse: a nude man cavorting about as clothed women race in pursuit of criminals. Weird.

The female body is celebrated – or exploited – while the male body is ignored.

Check out People’s sexiest men. Until 2013s Channing Tatum you would be hard-pressed to see anything but face shots, loose T-shirts, and very few rippled muscles. Who could imagine a “sexiest woman” shoot sans bodies.

Searching for a calendar of sexy men at one bookstore, the closest I could find was Barack Obama.

Yeah, yeah, there is the occasional men’s underwear ad, but they are rare.

And when men walk around in the world they’re all covered up.

No wonder women don’t spend a lot of time checking out men’s bodies, ogling them or judging them.

man commented on one of my posts that (to paraphrase):

Not only are men not considered erotic, they are often used to get laughs. In Seinfeld, Elaine referred to the male body as “utilitarian,” implying that the female is much more erotic. George Costanza became a victim of “shrinkage.” Scenes of Johnny Knoxville running around in a thong get chuckles.

Why is the male body so de-eroticized?

One possibility: Men have historically controlled media, and they focus on what they find sexy (about 95% of them anyway). Homophobia further hinders eroticization. As women enter the industry we find more focus on men, but still not much compared with women. Meanwhile, showered with sexy-women images from the time they are small, even women come to find women the sexier of the species.

What if the world were to switch? Suddenly, a universe of men in Speedo’s?

What if women became subject, and men erotic object for women to gaze upon? What if women sought to consume men as objects? Judging them, grading their beauty? Would women feel empowered, experiencing themselves on the “person” side of the person/object divide?

Something to think about.

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men
Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze
Women Learn the Breast Fetish, Too

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on January 21, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. I enjoy your continued exploration of eroticized femininity. Since I unplugged from broadcast media in 2002, I have lost the tough hide to protect my psyche from hyper-sexualized media images (And glorified graphic violence.) When I accidentally catch TV (Hard to avoid. TVs blast in airports, dentist offices, gyms, restaurants) or a glimpse of a magazine cover in a grocery store, I feel assaulted, insulted and intruded upon.

    At the same time, I enjoy hanging out at the beach where real people, men and women of all ages and shapes, expose more skin than usual. They walk barefoot. Catch sun. The human form in real life situations is a delight to my eye. Lovely and alive.

    Then again: I feel totally empowered when I watch the guy surfers dress and undress from their neoprine wetsuits with towels wrapped around their waists. I find myself wishing for a sudden gust of wind. But only from a purely artistic perspective, of course. ;-))

    Thanks for thinking and writing.
    Alice

  2. I do find it odd how it seems difficult to find men erotic. When i put the two together I only think about the erotic things they want to do to women. I have tried fantasizing about a man nude and being sexy but find it very difficult without putting a naked woman next to him. The social media controlled by men has made as all accept women’s body as erotic and men just sexy in their suit and tie or the occasional underwear model that doesn’t really do much for me. There isn’t much we can change since it has been so implanted in our minds. I mean when I watched a reality show where there is a make stripper completely naked the women either scream of excitement or shield their faces when a woman stripper would be much more accepted.

  3. Sabrina Paynter

    This post gave me some insight that I had not thought of before. As a teenager, I found it confusing that I was attracted to boys, yet found women to be sexy as well. I wonder if the same is true for many other people, gay or straight, man or woman; it can be difficult to tell what desires are exclusively yours when they’re competing with the desires instilled upon you by society.

    On another note, I’ve found that between most of my friends, we feel that men are sexiest while wearing a suit and tie, but we also find the image of a shirtless man appealing. When “sexy” men are presented in the media, they’re usually at least fully covered from the waist down. It makes sense, then, that when a man on film or in print goes from shirtless to completely naked, the appeal diminishes and phrases such as “Ugh, put that away” are expressed.

  4. Round here calendars are sold for charity featuring well-muscled, scantily-clad (real) firemen looking sweaty and grimy, surrounded by hoses and boots and ladders and whatnot. They seem very popular, certainly among the female members of my organisation!

    I would be interested to know what you think of the Calendar Girls phenomenon (where matronly middle-aged ladies of the UK’s Women’s Institute created and sold a calendar of themselves pictured naked, with their bits tastefully concealed with rolling pins, flower arrangements, jam jars, and other wholesome paraphernalia). Personally I think it was clever, ironic, empowering, and beautiful, but when push comes to shove, what they did was to publish naked pictures of themselves to get money and publicity for their very stuffy, very British organisation. It worked! The original (true) story was even turned into a movie.

    Vivienne.

  5. Forgot to mention this. You are not alone in thinking that women in action films (for example) are depicted in ludicrous costumes and sexualised poses. As a witty, humorous backlash, readers of comics have attempted to recreate some comic-art poses with the positions of male and female protagonists reversed. The character Hawkeye (an archer) is used as the female lead, and the whole project is called the Hawkeye Initiative. http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/

    According to the Hawkeye test, if the picture of Hawkeye in the pose of a female character doesn’t look ridiculous or funny, then the original image probably wasn’t sexist or objectifying to women. The contributions vary from the very amateur to the very professional. After a couple of pages, you get the gist; see one, you seen ‘em all. But still: a powerful message, cleverly put across with humour.

    Vivienne.

  6. Blessed Son of man

    A Man has never needed to be sexy just, physically able and moderately wealthy and he can have almost any woman he wants.

    Lets look at it from a another angle gay men more or less want to be attractive because men are visually oriented. So you’ll notice far more gay men putting more stock in there looks appearance and muscle tone.

    • It’s not that women are incapable of being visually oriented. But women learn not to be visually oriented toward men, even as they become visually oriented toward women. It kind of sucks.

      Women Learn the Breast Fetish, Too
      http://broadblogs.com/2010/11/29/women-learn-the-breast-fetish-too/
      Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men
      http://broadblogs.com/2011/01/10/women-seeing-women-as-sexier-than-men/
      Women, Objects of Desire (Even for Women?)
      http://broadblogs.com/2011/10/03/women-objects-of-desire-even-for-women/

      • Blessed Son of Man

        Why does that suck? To me that is great, its a small bit of equality. Both men and women can enjoy a similar beauty.

      • It sucks that women don’t learn to enjoy the male body in the way that men learn to enjoy the female body. So that cuts out a lot of enjoyment and pleasure for both sexes.

    • Yes, we know how much you men like us women to like women. Wouldn’t it be great if we both liked men?
      What is great about women not being attracted to men? Would it be great if all women were gay, so that you men couldn’t go anywhere with your “attraction” beyond masturbation watching your porn movies. You don’t think about that because for you women are not serious and they will play till you men say “no”. This is what objectification is.

      • Blessed Son of man

        Yes, we know how much you men like us women to like women. Wouldn’t it be great if we both liked men?

        Absolutely.

        What is great about women not being attracted to men? Would it be great if all women were gay, so that you men couldn’t go anywhere with your “attraction” beyond masturbation watching your porn movies.

        I find it quite liberating to not let our organs blind us, don’t you feel good about having the power to say no and not have your own body curse you for it? I think so, I’m not felt more focused in my life to I gain control over my own desires and realize as a man I am in constant danger of someone using my emotions, my societal obligations and my body against me.

        You don’t think about that because for you women are not serious and they will play till you men say “no”. This is what objectification is.

        Women are DEATHLY serious. Men know this that is why we fear things about women and dealing with women. A single woman’s bad day can ruins a man entire life.

    • Also what does equality mean? If we were attracted to the people we say we prefer wouldn’t that be equality? How are we equal when women have to sleep with men, to whom they aren’t attracted or when you force women to be gay for the night? Why don’t you go fuck with a guy, so that we would be equal? Your “logic” is so fucked up and anyone could totally see where it comes from-porn.
      Equality…. I get so angy when I see this ultimate objectification, if I write all the words about you I want to use right now, my comment wouldn’t be approved.

      • Blessed Son of man

        Anon: Also what does equality mean?

        To be equal.

        Anon: If we were attracted to the people we say we prefer wouldn’t that be equality?

        Absolutely but as its been shown women aren’t attracted to us on a physical level unless were rolling around looking like Magic Mike. (Which not alot of us look like.)

        Anon: How are we equal when women have to sleep with men, to whom they aren’t attracted or when you force women to be gay for the night?

        Um When did they have to sleep with these men and who is forcing them. I find girl on girl boring because most of its fake.

        Anon: Why don’t you go fuck with a guy, so that we would be equal?

        I have multiple times and it was pretty good to be honest. I like to see things from both sides of the coin and since I have done this are we equal?

        Anon: Your “logic” is so fucked up and anyone could totally see where it comes from-porn.

        Honestly porn is pretty boring I would rather read a book or go out and have sex myself. Also why make this a personal attack I’m sure your a decent human being just like I am.

  7. A clothed man in a suit and tie is more attractive because they symbolize wealth, profession, security, and strength. As independent as one is, what kind of women won’t like that? I’ve have never thought about the male’s naked body attractive, always thought of it as just being there. Yeah, when they’re shirtless and look like Channing Tatum, it’s hot but it just takes moments for me to lose interest. Whenever the guys in my group of friends want to go to a strip club and they ask us girls if we would like to go, we usually agree. We agree to go with them because we would much rather prefer a girl to shake their boobs in our faces then a guy shaking his junk in our faces. This guy I was dating at one point asked me if I was bi-sexual because whenever an attractive girl passed by I would look, even stare at her. I told him that I wasn’t attracted to girls sexually, but that I admire their beauty, because women are beautiful. He found it weird because according to him, girls usually just hate on other girl’s looks, which is slightly true. If the roles in our society actually changed and women became subject and males objects, I honestly think it would be pretty cool, but also awkward at the same time.

    • Blessed Son of man

      Jacobo :If the roles in our society actually changed and women became subject and males objects, I honestly think it would be pretty cool, but also awkward at the same time.

      I think that would be great but we wouldn’t be in the same situation. Men already know they are only as good as theirs use to society. (Sad but true.) There is a reason why we do what we do. So we would have little problem being just another object, Both in media and society we are treated as if we don’t really matter while we are suppose to cater to women as our superiors. So being objectified as a sex object wouldn’t be nothing more than another role.

      • To both of you.

        I think it’d be best if we appreciated the male body more, but that neither men nor women were objectified. Get that whole, multidimensional experience (sexual desire being one part) instead.

  8. As soon as i started reading this i looked up “people’s” and realized i had never thought about objectifying men in ads. I guess that makes sense because i am a man. Although i would think it fair for men to be objectified for the sake of equality. I find it ridiculous and yet terrible to know that so many people in America are extremely homophobic and it shows through the whole film and tv industry. This effects all the people who watch it and how they react towards it. Which then makes it okay to be homophobic. A universe where men are objectified and women are the subject sounds really funny to us because it is such opposite of life now. But i definitely think that women would feel empowerment and create everything in the world differently than from Mens’ designs.Everything from agriculture to technology. I think that would happen because artistic vision is different for everyone.

    • Thanks. I’m not really interested in objectifying men so much as considering what this particular exploration tells us about how we objectify women. Though, I wouldn’t mind more appreciation of the male form.

  9. In my country, it often seems that the body of a man is celebrated and objectified as much as the body of a woman nowadays. Physically fit male celebrities are often persuaded by the talk show hosts to show the audience their muscular abdominal muscles as much as physically fit female celebrities are often persuaded by the talk show hosts to dance for the audience. In films and television shows, main male characters are often not wearing anything on their upper bodies as main female characters are not. In magazines, photographs of popular actors and male models of whom the upper bodies are bare are easy to find as much as photographs of actresses and female models who are sexually dressed. Physically fit men and women are praised by the public, and male celebrities are therefore motivated to show their bodies through the media. Here is an interesting YouTube video that I just found that deals with this phenomenon in South Korea.

  10. I do find it bothersome how in this world it is (more) acceptable for a woman to gaze at another woman, even if they are to be judged on a completely physical level. Whereas if a man were to judge another male based on physicality it would be deemed as homosexual and he would most likely receive a negative response. I do agree that because men have had the upper hand or more control over media, which is main component of how society is shaped, that they are de-eroticized to their patriarchal standards. If the roles were reversed the men would feel this constant fear and pressure to present themselves in the gaze of a female’s eyes. Granted there might be times where they do feel strain to look a certain way or to live up to a particular standard but not in a sexualized way due to a women’s gaze. Would they be comfortable with it and accept it? If only they could truly experience it through a woman’s world.

  11. People tend to point to the media as responsible for its content, which they are, but viewers and consumers drive the demand for content.

    Let’s take People magazine. Women are in large part the biggest subscribers to People, yet sexualized pictures of women don’t make the cover (they do have Sexiest Man Alive!). If men were the dominant reader, then I’m sure women in swimsuits would be on the cover often. It is my belief that corporations are run to maximize profit, so it doesn’t really matter if men run the company or women: whatever sells, that’s what they are going to focus on content-wise.

    The question is: why don’t women like to look at sexy images of men?

    It is my belief that women like those types of pictures but really need to first establish some sort of mental connection with the individual; for men, that is not a pre-requisite. Today’s women I think are getting used to sexy images of famous men, like Channing Tatum and especially Hugh Jackman and Ryan Gosling, and the tabloid magazines and websites help build that necessary connection to the women.

    In short, women need to “Like” the guys they see, while men don’t need that connection.

    I think women sometimes perpetuate this reality. Look at the way women dress nowadays compared to the attractive women of yesteryear–those women used to wear skirts to below their knees and didn’t show much cleavage. They were stunning; nowadays, women who “dress up” are half-naked. Is this because they know men like these looks (and it makes other women jealous), or do they dress because they feel self-confident. Who knows.

    • re: “People tend to point to the media as responsible for its content, which they are, but viewers and consumers drive the demand for content.”

      Well, it goes both ways. The reason viewers demand the content is because they’ve been taught to like it. For instance, they demand to see slim, buxom women but that’s what they been taught to like. In the past other body types were more valued. And in other cultures too.

      But to some extent viewers don’t necessarily demand content. Advertisers do. When you create ideals that are impossible to achieve it sells a lot of product because people can never buy enough product to fulfill the ideal.

      Women aren’t taught to see the male body is sexy, either. We are starting to see sexy men, but nothing compared to women. Last year when David Beckham was sexually shown in a Super Bowl ad it made headlines. That would never happen with a similarly portrayed woman. Tons of magazines whose audiences are female put sexy women on the cover, Cosmo being the most obvious. The men on People Magazine aren’t that sexualized, either. Channing Tatum is an exception. And Playgirl is constantly going bankrupt.

      As to your last question I actually surveyed my female students about it. I’ll be posting it in the not-too-distant future. But women have different reasons for dressing sexy. Both of your ideas are among those that women cite. So motivation varies and depends on the woman.

      See these posts:

      Men, Women React to Male/Female Nudity
      http://broadblogs.com/2011/10/12/gendered-reactions-to-male-and-female-nudity/
      David Beckham’s Sex Sells
      http://broadblogs.com/2012/02/06/david-beckhams-sex-sells/
      Women Gazing At Men
      http://broadblogs.com/2012/07/23/women-gazing-at-men/

      The Plump Beauty Ideal: Exotic Dancers in 1890
      http://broadblogs.com/2012/04/25/the-plump-beauty-ideal-exotic-dancers-in-1890/

  12. I don’t know, I eroticise men and images of men all the time. To the point that it sometimes makes me feel bad, as I tend to get irritated when someone does that to women. But living in New Zealand, where we have a great many of handsome men who look after themselves, I would often catch myself looking over one, and be conscious of the pleasure, both erotic and aesthetic, that I derive from it. And I may have no interest in him as a person, may have no interest in getting to know him better – I just like the physical side of him, like looking at it and playing with it in my thought. Same goes for stuff I see on TV/in print. I’m very aware of the eroticism inherent in the male body, and I deeply enjoy it. Does that make me… a minority?

    • A couple of things: There is a bell curve with some women being more “ogling” than others. Also, you live in New Zealand where men may be more scantily clad, and maybe more sexualized than here. When I go to Europe I noticed that men are more likely to wear Speedo’s – revealing swimsuits – compared to hear. Here, men would likely feel “gay” and women would probably see them as “gay” probably because women are so used to seeing sexy bodies through the eyes of men. Because in America it is almost always the case that sexy bodies are meant to catch the male gaze.

  13. I do eroticise the male body. I am obsessed with k pop. I see the most gorgeous young men dancing. They usually do a topless routine. I watch asian movies cos the guys usually get naked. I love their hairless bodies and shape. They are very pretty which is a turn on. As a young girl I used to fantasise about men getting it on. Men love to be sexualised too.

  14. I wonder which is the cause and which is the result.

    Women aren’t visual about men because men aren’t portrayed as sexy in the media or
    men aren’t portrayed as sexy because women aren’t visual about men?

    If women could be visual about men, wouldn’t the media already have tried to take advantage of this and create a new market by portraying sexy men for the female gaze?

    • But women have internalized the idea that women are sexier, too. Women have come to see the world through men’s eyes.

      • Natural and/or social constructed the male gaze does exist and it’s so powerful that even women see the world through it.

        Is it possible that the female gaze doesn’t exist because it can’t possibly exist since women aren’t visual about the male body anyways?
        So far there has be no paradigm in any society that could prove that the female gaze could possibly exist too.
        Perhaps females aren’t “capable” of attaining a female gaze about the male body the same way that people (men and even women) can attain a male gaze about the female body.

      • Women can be visual. Many learn the breast fetish, which is contrary to most of their natural heterosexuality. But they’re absolutely bombarded by it. Just trace elements of cultural appreciation of male body, and nothing fetishized.

        Do tribal men not do the male gaze because they aren’t capable of it? No. It’s just not taught in their cultures.

      • You have mentioned paradigms of
        men learning the male gaze (modern society)
        women learning the male gaze (modern society)
        men not learning the male gaze (tribal societies)

        but there is not a single case of women actually having a female gaze about the male body. Ever.

      • We’ve never designed clothing to selectively hide and reveal the male body, that I know of, to create the tension that creates intrigue. May be due to anatomical differences? Start wearing clothes, main dif between women and men/children is breasts. Now that they’re covered they become mysterious?

      • but the obsession with the female body isn’t only about breasts but it’s also about bottoms, legs, hips, bellies, even shoulders, in matter of fact every part of the female body is portrayed as sexy and all these are body parts of the male body too.

      • Maybe because men have been the poets, novelists, painters, constantly celebrating the female form? And having more power to procure females just for sex and nothing else — so more sex objecty (wealthy, powerful men)?

      • Could that also be the reason why only a woman could be portrayed as “temptation” but never a man was considered to be “temptation”?

        I wonder if women are capable of seeing men as “temptation” ?

      • For sure if she’s in love with him. I’m sure Brad Pitt et al could be a temptation, too. The temptation could come from lust, even if not a fetish.

      • I don’t think that we see women as sexy and not men as sexy simply because it’s socially constructed. It could be the other way round. Men are “capable” of seeing women as sexy so we have images of sexy women in the media.

        “A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance.”

        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-interacting-with-woman-leave-man-cognitively-impaired/

        The fact that women see Brad Pitt or used to see Elvis as sexy could be because they were attracted to their fame and status

      • Yes, their mental performance goes down because they are so distracted trying to figure out how to get sex. I wrote about this, myself (see link below). But that difference could be because women’s sexuality is repressed much more than men’s. So when aren’t preoccupied with trying to figure out how to have sex with men.

        Women Make Men Dumber?
        http://broadblogs.com/2012/03/26/women-make-men-dumber/

        And given my taste in men, the only reason I would want to have sex with Elvis is because of his fame. But Brad? Incredibly sexy. Even though I experience no fetish with regard to him.

  15. Last night there was a beauty contest on TV. Of course the contestants were women.
    That made me wonder, why there are so many beauty contests for women but there is absolutely no beauty contest for men. None at all.
    Could that ever work?
    Would women be interested in watching something like that?

    • I take that back. In some societies the roles are reversed.
      Men compete in beauty contests, they wear make up, dress up and the judges are women.
      In these societies what we think that it’s the norm, it’s reversed.
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12215138

      • “Make-up, flirting, bling outfits. But this beauty contest has a twist – the men dress up, the women pick the winners.
        And the prize? Each judge chooses her champion and may take him as her lover – even if both already have partners – and the winners are celebrated for years to come. Nor is the potential for match-making limited to judges and winners.”

        This is what we “know” and take for granted, 100% reversed.
        Men with cosmetics, and flamboyant clothes trying to impress women and women get to choose men by valuing the way they look.

        “…she, too, is on the look-out. “I’ve spotted three men here that I like.”

        this is almost hilarious, it’s like hearing the typical western male going out and saying “I’ve spotted three women here that I like”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: