Women Gazing At Men

Lately I’ve been asking why women don’t get so excited by naked men, why women are often uncomfortable with male nudity on stage and screen or in print, and why these nude men can seem “gay” to the women who gaze at them.

Elizabeth Hall Magill has been asking the same questions over at Yo Mama. And she’s wondering how women can better appreciate the male form, without objectifying them. Here’s an excerpt from one of her posts.

So—where does that leave a woman’s gaze?

Neither here nor there.

And yet, we have eyes. We gaze. And we like what we see.

As I pondered this issue, I realized something: perhaps men posing sexually seem homosexual not only because we are used to the male gaze. Perhaps it is also because we are used to the female pose. And here we encounter a difference between media (artful or otherwise) and life: real sexiness is rarely posed. It just happens. But in “sexy” pictures of women, the women are aware of the gaze and arranging themselves for it. So, when a man does the same thing, we read him as feminized. And when a man strips for a woman, he can be seen as “performing” something generally feminine, and therefore we define it as insincere, the object of a joke. Not true eroticism.

In one of my favorite essays of all time, Looking at Women, Scott Russell Sanders says:

When I return to the street with the ancient legacy of longing coiled in my DNA, and the residues from a thousand generations of patriarchs silting my brain, I encounter women whose presence strikes me like a slap of wind in the face. I must prepare a gaze that is worthy of their splendor.

This is how I feel about men. And I bet I’m not the only one.

We’re all conditioned to ignore the fact that women feel this way about men. How many times a week do you think a man checks out his wife as she reaches into the refrigerator to get something from that bottom drawer, or reaches high above her head for a rarely-used dish? How many times a week does he check out the women walking by him on the sidewalk, riding a bike in the gym, or sitting in the next office? Magazines love to make little pie charts telling us about how often the male brain does these things. I’ve never seen a pie chart telling me how often the female brain does similar things.

And yet.

Men get things from the refrigerator or the top shelf, and often look damn good doing it. They walk on the sidewalk, ride bikes, and work right next to us, looking good all the while. And women notice.

What we need is more women noticing themselves as they notice men. Thinking about how they feel when the tide of desire leaves and returns, leaves and returns. And owning that tide.

And then we need women talking about it—not giggling, not blushing, not encouraging men to mock the idea of their own desirability. Somebody ought to talk about it so often and so loudly that a pie chart becomes inevitable, cause we just know women are thinking about sex so dang much that we better measure it.

After that, we need female photographers and directors, tons of them, taking pictures of and telling stories about men being men. Holding babies in the middle of the night, shirtless and vulnerable and full of fatherly love and strength. Squatting in the middle of a road, looking at a rock (clothed, as squatting naked in the middle of the road is unnatural and possibly unsafe). Running on treadmills, making copies in the office while wearing snazzy ties, washing the dirt off their hands after a day working outside, laughing with their friends, kicking a tire and making dinner and coming home at the end of a long day. We need to see men being men through the eyes of women, not men posing as the objects of female desire. And we should see them in all their shapes and colors—in all their splendor.

You know what I think?

I think men would totally get being sexy in this way, and I think they would love it. They wouldn’t feel like objects, they wouldn’t feel feminized, they wouldn’t pose or feel goofy. They’d be themselves, and they’d be damn glad that the women they’ve been checking out all this time are checking them right back.

Which means the female gaze would no longer be marginalized, masculinized, or mocked. It would be honest, and it would be powerful—as powerful as desire itself.

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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 July 23, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, men, objectification, pornography, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. *Great* post and, as comment above says, so true. I was watching a BBC adaptation of North & South with my brother, when he was visiting the other day. I have a massive crush on the lead character, and couldn’t prevent myself from making noises of adoration when he did something particularly sexy. My brother felt slightly objectified I think.

  2. Where do I go if I want to read more about this? On women’s meta-cognition of themselves as desires of men and male cognition of their desire?

    • This is something I’ve read time and time again in a variety of places. Maybe check out pretty much any book on women’s psychology – like an introductory book to get started. But I’m not aware of any books that are completely devoted to this topic.

  3. I didn’t learn until I was 22 that some women thought naked men looked good. All of what you write of in this post really sounds unbelievable to me. That men are the desiring sex and women the desired sex certainly agrees with my own experience. I think maybe 5-10% of guys women are viscerally into visually and the rest they can form a liking to over time.

  4. There is something that I don’t get.

    Men learn to be visual, men learn the breast fetish and men learn that they “must” ogle at women and be verbal about it.

    But the male body isn’t fetishized, and women never learn to be visual with men. And women are turned on by looking at men. So women aren’t interested in gazing at men in real life?

    I can say that I have noticed women looking at men the same way that men are looking at women. Not just a glance, but wide opened eyes, dropped jaws and going speechless.

    Is it nature over nurture?
    women may have “learned” to repress their “natural need” to gaze at men but every now and then this “natural need” overcomes the social learning?
    I am pretty sure that at some level there is a “natural need” for gazing because some women do it unintetionally even though they have been taught not to do that.

    But do they feel “dirty” and “guilty” when they catch themselves gazing at men, because they are not suppossed to do that? – that would be interesting to know

    • 3rd paragraph – typo
      [And women are *not* turned on by looking at men]

    • Some women do gaze at men. But women are more likely to learn that men are not sex objects and not do it. So you can look at this study where some women enjoyed looking at nude men but other women were uncomfortable with this:
      Men, Women React to Male/Female Nudity
      https://broadblogs.com/2011/10/12/gendered-reactions-to-male-and-female-nudity/

      Typically when I gaze at men I’ve been more inclined to gaze at their faces than their bodies. Another study found that all women are “face women”. Meaning that when asked whether women wanted to have sex with a man, or marry a man, would they rather see his face or his body? All women chose face in either circumstance.

      When men were asked the same question half wanted to see her face for a one night stand, but three quarters cared more about face for a long-term relationship. I can only assume that the other men cared more about things like breasts or butt or legs or something.

      • We have to clear this up, when we talk about ‘gazing at someone’ that means looking at that person’s body?
        If that’s so then probably there aren’t that many women that gaze at men’s bodies in real life. I don’t really know about that.

        But if staring at men’s faces counts as gazing then most of the women do that. Some are more subtle and some are more obvious, that depends on the woman and how much they are attracted to the man they are seeing.I am very good (for a man) at observing how people behave (women are general better at reading signs). It’s very interesting to take notice on how some girls/women are trying to make the man they like, to take notice of them. They can walk right past him several times, they can stand right next to him, “accidentaly” stumble upon him, some follow him around not in a creepy way but in hope that they will draw his attention, and of course look and smile a lot. All of these not because they are attracted to his personality, in these cases he is a stranger that they are trying to draw his attention. So what they “fall for” was his looks.
        I don’t know if this apply for most of the women or if they are only few who actually do this kind of things but I do know that this kind of women do exist. And some of them are really attractive women who are trying to “seduce” a man – who would know that?

        women can be attracted to a man’s face the same way that a man can be attracted to a woman’s face. And in that case women will feel urged to try to make the “first move” but it’s more subtle than men’s “first move”. Of course sometimes a woman can feel intimidated by a man’s looks just like men do about women’s looks.

      • A lot of what you say makes sense. I understand that Calista Flockhart got Harrison Ford’s attention by spilling water on him. Could have been a way of getting him to notice her? And now they’ve been together for years.

        While all women are “face women” caring more about face than body, women can still notice and appreciate a man’s physique. But it’s probably not going to be the same level of attraction that men have when they look at women because nothing on the man’s body has been fetishized and his body is less sexualized than women’s bodies are.

      • Men are more attracted to female body than women are to male body.
        Men are more attracted to female body than female face (I think so)
        Women are more attracted to male face than male body

        But what about if we compare the level of attraction that men have for women’s face and the level of attraction that women have for men’s face.
        If we leave the body (male and female) out of the equation and concetrate only on faces what happens then.
        Men appreciate the faces of beautiful women more than women appreciate the faces of beautiful men or is it the other way round, or is it the same?

        When a woman is admiring the face of a beautiful man, does that count as “gazing” ?

        And yes, I bet Callista did it on purpose. Many women do that sort of things to get the attention of a man they like. It’s their own way of making the first move since they have learned that a woman should never approach a man directly. So they just create oppurtunities and the right “circumstances” for “forcing” him to talk to them.

        Remember the classic image where a lady lets her handkerchief “accidently” fall down so that man she likes can pick it up and give it to her. She made the first move but it was in a subtle way so that the man still thinks that he made the first move. Many women do that in many different ways and the men never realize that the woman made the first move.

      • I can’t think of any reason that women wouldn’t find men’s faces just as attractive as men find women’s. Neither of their faces are particularly sexualized. Women do have makeup that can enhance their appearance though. But it can also backfire and make them look worse.

        I haven’t seen any studies that would answer your question.

  5. That would be interesting to know. Since the faces of both men and women aren’t particularly sexualized, if we knew which gender is more attracted to the facial features of the opposite sex then we could possibly tell which gender is more naturally attracted to the opposite sex when it comes to physical attraction.

    • I can find the faces of both women and men very attractive. And I can find the faces of some women more attractive than some men. For instance, Angelina Jolie’s face is much more attractive than your typical guy. However, I’m much more drawn by Brad Pitt’s face. I also experience them differently. I want to have sex with Brad Pitt but I don’t want to have sex with Angelina.

  6. A man could “fall” easily for a beautiful woman.
    How many women would “fall” for a beautiful man?
    That could also answer if both genders can “fall in love at first sight” at the same level.

    I know some women who were drawn to a stranger man only by his looks and they tried to get his attention and to get to know him. Of course he was someone they could actually meet, (same class, club, gym, grocery store etc) and not a random guy in a street in a big city.
    But I don’t know if these women are the exception, or they were just bold enough. Perhaps many more women would like to get to know someone they think that he’s handsome but they are too shy or they have learned that women should never talk to a man.

    • Women can easily fall in love with a beautiful man. And women and men seem to be doing so at near equal rates these days. But there are reasons why women tend to be more cautious. And it’s not because he’s not beautiful.

      Who Falls In Love Faster? Men or Women?
      https://broadblogs.com/2011/10/17/who-falls-in-love-faster-men-or-women/

      By the way, people can also fall in love quickly with people who aren’t all that good-looking by conventional standards. Like Kate Hudson who fell quickly in love with her first husband. She had a conversation with him and felt like they were soulmates. Guess not, since they are divorced now.

  7. This post put my views in a whole new perspective. I never thought that I was ever gazing at men or “checking them out” until I read this. Whenever I’m with friends we will never let a good-looking guy walk by without giggling, winking at each other, or making a comment. The reality is women definitely gaze at men just as much as men gaze at women. That seems so obvious but society makes it clearer that men gaze at women.

    On another note I absolutely love watching wedding videos or engagement videos because I love seeing the way that a couple looks at each other. Seeing “true love” is the most beautiful thing. I also love seeing fathers with their kids because I never had a positive father figure growing up.Most women drool over men who are amazing dads. At my work fathers come in all the time with their daughters and all of the workers will talk about how adorable it is for the next 7 hours. I believe it is important for society to show this natural and amazing side of men. This post made me realize a lot about myself and our society

  8. If a baby grows up in a world believing that, women are the sexier sex than a majority of the babies will believe it since its been taught from birth. Now there will be some that will be able to break free and find men sexier, I think the same thing goes with religion. I feared GOD when I was a kid up untill l 18 or 14 idk, I am still fearful but not as big as I was or since I stopped going to church. All I’m saying is we are all sponges, feed us only 1 thing and we are all going to look at that one thing as a better thing to feed on. All I saw as a child was videogames and cute girls, cartoons etc, I never lusted after a woman sexually untill I watched porn and immitatted what the guy did on the film, women became my crack; when I learned what sex and orgasm was.If women didn’t cause men to be sexually excited from their apperance, men wouldn’t really care about women or their bodies.

    We men know what a woman’s body can do for us, and that is cause us a sexual high, that is why men go to strip clubs and go after prositutes, women are like a drug. Men are not like a drug to women. If men could cause women a sexual high from just looking at them, then the sexes will be equal. That is majority wise never the case.

  9. I am kind of surprised to see this article, as this is actually the first time I read one article about how to view males correctly. By saying “correctly”, I mean to view them as ordinary human. It’s totally fine for them to be vulnerable sometimes. I have to admit that in my opinion, there are several requirements for males to be “man” (adj.), like they should always be calm, mature, both physically and mentally strong and they are not supposed to do things on purpose to display their nude. I used to think it’s fine to have such expectation for males, but after reading this article, I realize all of my expectations might be a kind of discrimination for them and hurt them.
    Indeed, females should see males as they originally are and view all their aspects, either being strong or being vulnerable, and treat them more inclusively as a half composition of human beings without so many comments or restrictions.
    And I really love the quote about how Scott Russell Sanders gazes at women and how you think women should view men in the same way.

  10. It’s probably the case that women have learned to repress that desire to gaze at men . I’ve caught myself gazing at a man now and then , which sometimes has incited mutual gazing which ends up with me embarrassing myself . I’m not sure why it causes the feeling of embarrassment , as if I’ve been caught doing something I shouldn’t be doing . Maybe it comes from females generally being conditioned to be prim and proper , and staying out of trouble , almost to protect ourselves .

    I have the same embarrassment watching , ( with my hands covering my eyes ) male dancers . It does also , almost come off as feminine behavior for a male to entertain for women , it just seems very odd . On the other hand , watching wrestling , I can gaze for hours .

  11. Paige Montgomery

    This article speaks to me because in reading it I found myself agreeing and thinking of other scenarios and contexts in which I find men sexy. As I woman, I certainly see through the male gaze, which to me is a rather frustrating thing to be aware of, but I also view men as sexy. If there were a pie chart for my brain activity when it comes to checking out other men, mine may look like that of a male brain.

    I agree that men posing in feminized ways is unappealing for most women. Seeing men in contexts where they are comfortably expressing their masculinity is pretty hot. I would love to see advertising capturing this manly phenomenon instead of the somewhat strange images we mostly see today.

  12. Personally, I enjoy looking at men that are either partially naked or totally nude because I enjoy the male form, and it also makes me feel empowered to do so. Maybe it is because I’M the one checking them out, not the usual opposite. Since checking people out is often known as something men do, when a woman does it instead it may make her feel powerful because she is doing something known as “masculine”.
    This post brings up a view I hadn’t thought of before; that naked or posing-for-a-photo-men look gay if they have sexy pictures taken of them. It is a nice change of pace in advertising to see sexy men because I rarely see it in media. I remember really enjoying a collection of photos of Johnny Depp posing in “feminine” ways and I loved it! I wish more men did photoshoots like that because since society has gotten used to the sexy ways in which women pose, can’t those also be applied to men and look just as good?

    • I’m surveying students to see how common your experience is. Historically women haven’t experienced men’s bodies this way too much. But we are a mix of culture + personal experiences + and social interactions so we get social patterns and individual variations.

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