Men: Erotic Objects of Women’s Gaze

Michelangelo's "David" -- a view from behind.

Michelangelo’s “David” — a view from behind.

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 raced in pursuit of criminals. Weird.

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

Check out People’s sexiest men and you will see 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 Boarders, the closest I could find was Barack Obama.

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

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

A 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.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 14, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I have ever actually thought about how the world would be if roles were switched. I feel that in a way while men in this article are seen as more of the cause of the gender divide, it could also be that women simply do not try to equal out or flip this divide. It would be interesting to see the differences between then and now. I do feel that when its said that in a flipped society, then men are the objects of desire just as women are currently in our society. I do feel that is isn’t the case though. While its more widely known that yes, women are more desired sexually than men, it is not true that men in todays society aren’t desired as well.

    • Sure. But don’t you see how the experience is completely different: People respond much differently to the so-called sexy guy versus the sexy girl. There is a strong quality of difference.

      And men and women both internalize their cultures so that the way things are same natural and normal. And then no one questions it, male or female.

  2. blackdiamondstudbrad1953

    At 61,this black Canadian chap who’s said to be cover boy handsome,muscular,beefy-I’m 5’81/2″,205 lb.,181/4″ biceps,though like a LOT of older dudes,am attempting to shed 20-25 lb. (my 2015 New Year’s resolution) and to resemble a handsome black cowboy stud in my Wranglers jeans and other casual,sometimes Western garb,gets approached in bars/pubs,at concerts,even on the street by ladies who compliment my good looks!!!!!!

  3. I really love this idea because it is so prevalent in today’s society. Wherever I go, I constantly see magazine’s with women being objectified all over the cover, in skimpy outfits showing off their butt cheeks and side boobs, revealing just enough to make you want to buy it and drool or whatever people do with the scandalous pictures in magazines. However, you see more half naked men in abercrombie & fitch then you do in magazines, billboards or any public media outlet. Its kind of a shame because personally I would love to have more half naked men than women on the covers of my magazines and other media prints and television but society disagrees. For various reasons. When you look at People’s magazine “sexiest men alive” for 2014 you see pictures of men in small shirt with muscles but when you look at GQ’s sexiest women alive, its Mila Kunis half naked, crawling with her legs spread and her boobs hanging out…It would be great to see Adam Levine do the same.

  4. I have also long noticed that the male body is an object of comedy more than desire. But when it is an object of desire, I maintain that the male body must be far beyond the expectations placed on women. Men are not only expected to set down the Twinkie and step away from the buffet (as women are) but they’re additionally expected to spend many hours a week lifting weights and thus grinding their joints to premature erosion – so as to build muscles.

    An additional distinction is that males not only have to meet much higher physical standards to be considered desirable, but they also need to have a whole host of other traits/resources to be considered worthy. Power, money, and the associated trimmings are a well known aphrodisiacs for women. Yet men are considered the superficial ones.

    Another strange thing is that grabbing a breast in our culture is a high sex crime. But kicking a male in the genitals is always good for a laugh – at least as far as females are concerned.

    I’ve also noticed in pop culture (and you’ve probably seen plenty examples on Facebook) that images of violence directed towards males are embraced by females as hilarious. We really don’t see anything even remotely like this directed at females however. Yet most people seem oblivious to this odd cultural phenomenon.

    • Interesting points. I hadn’t thought about the “violence-against-men as funny” angle. I’ll have to give it more thought. It may be related to sexist notions that men should always be able to defend themselves against a woman, and if they can’t manage that, it’s hilarious, something to deride a man for.

      I do agree that men have an additional layer of needing to be monetarily successful.

      Of course, when women are monetarily successful finding a mate can be more difficult for women since many men feel intimidated and feel they need to have greater financial success than the woman.

      On narrow notions of what’s beautiful, when I was in college I was 5’1 and 107 lbs. Yet some men seemed to worry about my weight (not thin enough) or my bra size (not big enough). So I’ve definitely felt that cultural notions are too hard on women. That said, I think that most women overestimate how harshly men see them (and then spend time in bed worrying that their thighs are too fat or their breasts are too small, etc — I think men only worry about penis size while in bed). But I suspect that most men are more accepting of women’s bodies than women are, themselves, because few live up to the current tall, skinny, large-busted cultural ideal.

      Overall, I feel that both men and women are harmed by sexism.

      On the point about worrying about how they look in bed, see these posts:

      Lose Virginity, Lose Self-Esteem?

      Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?

  5. I do agree with you BroadBlogs, you don’t find rippled males in mainstream media, only men that are are wearing clothes that pretty much hide the body. But calendars, magazines and content depicturing men in an erotic manner do indeed exist, it’s just not that easy to find. I’m actually a male model and performer myself, so I know such content is around, but it’s harder to find. The rest of this comment will put my opinion on display and I’ll try to back it up with some of my own experiences as a male model/performer.

    As you point out, there are several reasons as to why depicturing the male body in an erotic manner isn’t more widespread. The male media control is one of them, which also means less interest among women. This is a mutual relationship, less interest among women means that it’s not as lucrative, and less content means less interest.

    But it’s not just women themselves that contribute to the lack of content, because I’d say men in general can’t see themselves as models, as an object of desire either, and it’s an established truth that men go to the gym to work out to become stronger and not to build and maintain a body for aesthetic purposes, and the same reluctancy applies to keeping on track during diets and low-carbs periods of “ripping”. I’m not afraid of admitting my occupation to anyone, but I have been ridiculed sometimes by male acquaintances when I tell them I can’t go to that barbeque because of preparation for a photosession or erotic performance.

    Another reason is also the fact that so many companies employing male models/performers are male, and the photographers are often male. Oh yes, that has implications. While you wouldn’t believe it should matter at first glance, think about it. Women know what other women want, so instead of male managers and photographers pretending they know what women want. Very often, when there are other men in control, extremely muscular men are being used as models, while in my opinion a somewhat muscular, ripped body is what even more women desire to see. Since women have a better understanding of other women, they are much better at seeing just that. And that’s my goal when maintaining in the gym.

    Further, something that both myself and a few other male models have experienced is that photosessions with a male photographer seems a bit unnatural. Not necessarily because he’s a guy, but it’s awkwardly mechanical and doesn’t really facilitate the necessary trust, confidence and sensuality — which in turn will affect the result negatively. I remember my first time in front of the camera as a 21 year old, with a male photographer. I won’t elaborate much on that, let’s just say it wasn’t a success. “Stand over there and take off your clothes” doesn’t really do it when you’re not experienced and shy for the first time. Female photographers seem to be much more…gracious and mild, yet focused to get a perfect result – a good combination for the job.

    As 22 I was hired by a company with female staff and found the athmosphere to be more relaxing myself. The first time I was really shy, but the photographer was so supportive, and so was the rest of the staff – the requirement is still high, but beginners are handled very gently where I work in order to get used to performing and exposing in front of the camera. And there’s also a doctor there to check upon your health from time to time, the main concern is having as low level of body fat as possible without reaching dangerously low levels during “ripping” periods before photosessions. There’s really not that many places with that kind of support.

    To round off, all of this comes down to the last comment in the original post about women being on the “person side” of the distinction between being the subject and the object. But it’s possible to be a person on both sides of the line as long as you are treating the object with respect. Yes, one may be objectified and have beauty evaluated (you’re constantly evaluated by a “panel” represented by the staff in our company every three months or so), but as long as that’s carried out with respect and dignity, being an object isn’t necessarily such a bad thing.

    • Thanks for your perspective. I was wondering about a couple of things. First, you’re an “object” in your profession, but do you feel that way in everyday life, too? Women can feel like objects constantly. You would think that if it bothers them enough, they may be able to dress differently. Though some women complain that it’s difficult to find clothing that doesn’t show off the body. I haven’t personally found that to be a problem, but then, I’m an A-cup.

      Another question. To keep your body weight that low, do you do the starving thing that female models do? If so, do you find that difficult?

      • Hi again, I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Do I feel like an object in everyday life? I’d say both yes and no. I think I’m living a pretty normal life privately, but at the same time, the job takes a lot of time and I’m generally spending a lot of time at work.both in front of the camera for long hours, so I guess the feeling of “being watched” at all times is present in my life in general. Ok, it’s bit wage, but does it answer your question?

        For the other question; I’m not starving myself, but during the body fat loss periods I’m definitely eating much less than usually. But it’s not about weight loss, but loss of body fat, which is an important difference, because during other periods of “building” I gain muscle weight. However, since periods of eating a lot to build muscles also generate body fat, and that’s where the body fat loss periods come in afterwards, the aim is to build muscles and loose fat in a long term perspective and maintain that. That’s sometimes hard because it means that you have to be very strict about a diet that also affects what you can eat in your private life. And I admit it may seem funny to just sit there with a protein shake while girlfriend eats a full fledged dinner. But I’ve been lucky, I have a girlfriend that’s supportive and not jealous of what I do, and she’s very encouraging.

        Feel free to ask if you have other questions.

      • Thanks so much. I may well think of more.

  6. Here’s an example a friend on facebook posted of male objectification –

    I also want to add my own experience with objectification. I work here – at an online psychic portal and the women (and some men) there objectify me ALL THE TIME. People come into the room and just say “ur hot” “ur cute” “i want to f*** you” and talk about how good looking I am all the time. While it is nice, it is hard for me to focus on work when that is where their attention is. HOWEVER, I have to admit it’s a lot of fun.

  7. I agree with Lindsey. I think the entertainers and performers should make videos where they have their bodies covered up and see what people say. It would send a more positive message and great role models. You can be attractive while keeping everything covered up. No one should be viewed as an object. It would be different if guys were viewed as the objects. Music, movies, television, and everything is all about scantily clad people. Now I’m not saying that these artists, actresses/actors, songwriters, dancers, producers etc are bad role models. I’m just saying it would be refreshing to see them do something different. I’d like to go back to the days when it was all about the music (great meaningful lyrics, awesome and catchy beats, great choreography, original or different videos). Some might cause controversy but they are sending out good messages to people like being yourself and live each day to the fullest). “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”- Eleanor Roosevelt…”Mean what you say and say what you feel because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”- Unknown..”It’s better to be hated for who you are rather than being loved for what you’re not”.

    • Melina Yousef

      I agree with this also; however, the reason why women are as exposed is becuasee women know sex sales and they use it to get what they want. I dont mean to be blunt about it but women know that men would pay big money to see sexy women as an example.I think its sad to know women actually do have control over men and society and yet they dont use it for the better. I think when women dress sexy but nice sends a much better message then what we normally see on mustic videos for examples.

  8. Lindsay Sauln

    While I think that no longer being on the object side of the person/object divide would empower women (obviously), I think that making men into objects would in a way invalidate that (women’s) empowerment. Sure we would in fact have more power, if we were subjects and men objects but society as a whole would be none the better so our empowerment would be inauthentic. I think the answer is not role reversal, but the creation of entirely new roles in general.

  9. Deirdre da Silva

    I think that the way in which we have come to celebrate (or exploit) the female body and not the man’s has a great deal to do with the media, as was mentioned in the post. Being such a male dominated field for so long, we were constantly exposed to what men found sexy, and women’s views were ignored. As a result, we have become so accustomed to seeing exposed female bodies and associating them with sexiness. The lack of male counterparts for us to ogle also left us to focus on women. Also, this has made it acceptable for women to look upon other women as sexy and to admire the way they look, or the way their bodies curve, but in today’s society, for a man to do the same to another man would inspire the assumption that he was homosexual and prompt homophobic comments. It is so rare to see men and their bodies being objectified as women are that to try to envision a world where these roles are reversed is very strange and takes quite a bit of effort, but as more and more women are being found working in the media world, perhaps one day this won’t be such a difficult picture to imagine.

  10. Men: Erotic Objects of Women’s Gaze

    I feel that it would be very interesting to have the roles reversed in terms of men viewed as sexual objects, and women viewing men this way. It seems that women are viewed this way because the man is always been viewed as the stronger of the two, and more dominant. Women value a man’s personality and values, as opposed to men who value the way a woman looks as the number one , most the time. Women do love a great looking man by their side, but would rather have someone of substance first. It would be very interesting to see men portrayed the way women are sexually, through magazines/media. This sure would be a change.

  11. I never thought about how I personally forget about the beauty of the man’s body. It’s true how you say that the woman’s body is always put out there in skimpy clothing and fantasized about, whereas the man’s body is usually kept under cover with bulk underneath. It’s sad how it is impossible to get away from the double standards everywhere. When my fiance and I met I always internally referenced how I thought his body reminded me of Hercules or some other ancient warrior, but now I do not consider other men’s bodies as an object of desire. Maybe it’s due to the fact that we’ve been together almost a decade and nearly married. Hopefully there will be someday when advertising can gets its point across without having to bear it all.

    • do you mean women dont find men attractive?
      I can you not think about the beauty of the opposite gender body despite how much you are taught not to desire or despite male body is often not shown erotically?

      • Men Don’t Feel Sexy–and It Sucks
        Do Women See Sexy Men As Sexy?

        Women Gazing At Men

        And I’m doing a bit of editing on some of this for reposts. Like this:

        When I discuss this sometimes men are worried that their partners will be uncomfortable with nudity. Or women find the notion strange because they find their real life partners attractive. Or they enjoyed checking out men’s butts.

        What I’m discussing seems to be limited to objectifying images, not real people. When a woman is with her real-life husband she’s not uncomfortable with his nudity. And she can enjoy and appreciate his vulnerability in their intimate relationship. Her husband does not have to have to be hyper masculine to not seem gay. Same with women checking out men’s butts.

        I’m not entirely sure why it’s different with imagery — sexualized and objectifying photos. Maybe it’s because we are so used to these sorts of images being meant for the male gaze that women and men both see them that way. But real life holds more dimensions and isn’t experienced in such a narrow way.

        So if you are a man you can stop worrying that your partner will be uncomfortable with your nudity, or expect you to be hyper-masculine, a la David Beckham. And indeed, both women and men can find real-life men and women pretty sexy even if they don’t match cultural ideals.

  12. After reading this, it really got me thinking about what the world would be like if the roles were switched. What if we saw nearly naked men on the cover of magazines or like you mentioned, men in Speedo’s. When I thought about it, I don’t really find the image of a man in a Speedo attractive and I’m not quite sure why. However, I do feel that we already do judge men almost as much as women are judged, I think women are just more quiet about their judgment. I think we should embrace any body, of a man’s or a woman’s, and observe its natural and true beauty. It’s funny that the “Sexiest Man” article was mentioned, because when it came to mind, all I could imagine was images of men in suits, or just with their shirts off. Nothing too revealing. This really makes me wonder why, hopefully I will get to the bottom of it.

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