Then society also has a (less vocal) issue with females who have larger vaginal lips and/or a larger clitoris. (Only less vocal because society doesn’t really like to talk about or acknowledge the existence of vaginas.)
The male and female genitals are made out of the same tissue. If a male with a small penis and testicles had instead gotten that other x chromosome, that person would have a small clitoris and small vaginal lips, which would be society’s preference. And if a female with a large clitoris and large vaginal lips had instead gotten a y chromosome, that person would have a large penis and large testicles, which would be society’s preference.
Except in extreme and very rare cases, genital size has nothing to do with the ability to reproduce or how pleasurable sex is. There is nothing inherently masculine about having a large penis and there is nothing inherently feminine about having small vaginal parts. Nobody should ever be made to feel ashamed over any body part, especially something as personal to us as our genitals. It also makes no sense to praise someone for having genitals that meet society’s “ideal” sizes. No genital size is better than another. All genitals are valid.
Body-shaming is always wrong, no matter who you’re doing it to.
because penises are effing gross
YAY! Sexism and body shaming!
It’s only really hit me just how self-conscious men really are.
Before we start, I’m not at all suggesting that men have similar beauty standards to women. We don’t. The gender roles work in completely different ways, and in our species it is the female who attracts a mate through appearance. Unfortunately, in the modern day this is much less relevant, and so mostly it is expressed through what we see as oppression: impossible standards, objectification, and so on. Men aren’t supposed to be physically attractive in the same way. We are supposed to be strong, rich and powerful, and that is how we are valued and objectified. That’s how we attract a mate.
But nobody caring about male beauty raises another issue: nobody caring about male beauty. Men are not traditionally seen as good looking. The female body has historically been seen as a work of art; the male body is more utilitarian, a machine to fit a purpose. Naked or partially naked men are still seen as repulsive today, with our giant lumbering frames and hairy skin less likely to be complemented than women of any size or shape. Any woman can post a picture of herself here and be told that she is beautiful. If there is a woman who isn’t seen in some way as beautiful, it’s likely that she reminds the beholder of a man. Masculine women are the only ones who come close.
Now, the average woman has a very low level of self confidence herself, but there is an important social factor. Although women being traditionally beautiful means that women face higher expectations to be beautiful (just as men face high expectations in male fields), it also means that they are applauded when they attain it. Women often have low self esteem regarding themselves, and so will compliment almost every other woman for her own appearance. Women face a constant challenge, but get a great deal of compliments if they even slightly manage to pull it off. The expectations and dynamic of relationships means that women will also get a high level of appreciation from their male partners, whilst compliments almost never flow in the opposite direction. Men, forced to live in an atmosphere of intense competition and borderline homophobia in order to be valued as a real man at all, almost never compliment each other. If we are to comment at all on a brother’s appearance it is likely to be derogatory and mocking, a type of interaction which is conversely seldom seen amongst women.
So men are today forced to mutilate their body to be seen as attractive at all by women and wider society, or as real men by their peers. They need to be strong and well muscled, unnecessary traits in a developed society. They are also prized for showing no signs of ‘weakness’, by failing to react to pain or shutting off their emotional intelligence, qualities which are if anything now a disadvantage. This is because, in a patriarchal society, men have always faced the burden of expectations. They have had to hunt, fight, lead, and more recently provide for their entire family. A man who is not strong, or powerful, or rich, is no man at all. Women, by contrast, have had less demanding roles. They have been expected to bear children, and raise them, and care for those who need it, each a large burden but a less constant and intense one. Women, then, have had to be differentiated differently. In a patriarchy, where to be successful in male terms (power and wealth again) a woman must find a successful man, women have devoted their efforts to attract such men. Woman have made the choice to change their appearances in such ways, and as such men alone cannot be blamed for beauty standards. Women only face higher expectations to be beautiful because they face lower expectations almost everywhere else, and in a varying population it is inevitable that natural selection would lead to trends of ‘what is attractive’. ‘What is attractive’ today is very different to ‘what was attractive’ in the past, and it constantly changes. Ultimately men are going to work with the population of women which they have, and divide it up the same no matter what. This is similar to the way grade boundaries are decided for exams: if everybody does terribly, the grade boundaries go down, and the same proportion of people get top grades (and vice versa). If all women were what is today seen as ugly, they wouldn’t be. If all women were what is today seen as perfectly beautiful, they wouldn’t be. Men’s preferences change according to what women see as attractive, and can easily vary. There are no impossible expectations when you look at the bigger inter-cultural picture, as the boundaries are constantly adjusted to allow the same proportions. This selection of mates is the basis of natural selection, and it is natural.
Men, by contrast, both have other high expectations, and are objectified to be strong in almost every culture. Male impossible standards have been enforced on men throughout space and time, and they are not nearly as fickle and avoidable. If a woman was ugly, she might have not found a successful man to sponge off. If a man was weak or poor or couldn’t work, he not only had no chance of attracting a woman, but he might very well have died. Women have been historically expected to do little else than look good, and they themselves have enforced this through competition, and so it seems rich to call these expectations obvious oppression by the male gaze. If you don’t want men to see you as attractive after participating in practices designed to make men attracted to you, stop participating. Women have always had that choice. Men haven’t.
In the modern world, where our strength is unnecessary but still mandatory, where we have to to live up to beauty standards but can’t be seen as beautiful (again, without becoming incredibly feminine: the average male form is not going to be appreciated nearly as much as the average female work of art), men are a confused group. All of the old factors are combining with the new influences from femininity (as gender boundaries are weakening) to make us especially insecure about the way we look. The article says that we are ‘catching up with women’, but I would say that we’ve always had to deal with body issues, we’ve just taken a lot longer to notice them as problematic.
Women are still insecure, of course, but for different reasons, and they deal with it in markedly different ways. For one, there is the confidence which comes from accepting your lack of self-acceptance. Women I know who find themselves unattractive tend to admit this without shame, and pay a lot of attention to peers and fashion columns to compensate. They know where they are, and what they have to do about it. Men, to contrast, are left in ignorance, do not talk about these things and so are left to doubt themselves in private. If a problem shared is a problem halved, and a problem confessed is a healthier one, then it could be seen that women have the better deal here. Women certainly seem less ashamed of their bodies, and are typically happy to talk about them and undress in front of each other. When I was ten I remember hearing a boy telling a girl that he was jealous of women, because they ‘had it all up front’ (literally). He has a point. The women I know with small breasts know that there is no point in hiding it, and so they have gotten used to it, and so they don’t care. The guys I know with small penes… well, I wouldn’t know if I know any. That’s what the ten year old boy was talking about. Men are forced to be insecure in the privacy of their own minds, always doubting, never being reassured. Even the guys I know with small muscles or a bit of body fat do their best to hide this, and find it a constant source of shame. The girls, the complete opposite, are constantly drawing attention to their insecurity. “Oh, look how fat I am”, “My pores are huge”, “I have really bad breath in the morning”; Mean Girls had it right. They complain without shame, and they are then immediately complimented by somebody who thinks they have it worse off. Men never have the courage to either open up about their own insecurities or to allay their peers’, and do to verbal chivalry inter-gender relations are much the same. Men are supposed to chase after and woo and compliment women, whilst women just have to make themselves worth chasing after and complimenting.
In a great deal of social interactions where gender is concerned, men with their higher expectations get a raw deal; and appearance is no exception. Women are almost universally insecure, but (told that they are supposed to be) they are secure about their insecurity. Men, though, are the polar opposite in every way. We are not supposed to be insecure, and so we are not secure about it. Nowadays men are physically objectified almost as much as women are, in some media overtaking them, and we are a lot more ashamed about the results. Whilst women will compliment their supposed beauty role models and are content on their own level, men have not learnt how to deal with it. Our competitive, private, non-supportive culture is also not helpful; whilst I know plenty of women who if anything feel more secure getting changed or going to the toilet with a friend (even if it is just somebody to complain to), the men I know feel fairly uncomfortable even getting topless (supposedly a non-sexual area) unless they have devoted months to building a socially acceptable physique; let alone standing anywhere near each other at the urinal.
It’s shameful, and we have a great deal of work to do in making life better for each other, but the influences of women and of the media are both contributing to what is mostly internalised oppression. It has been suggested by feminists that men historically having the power means that men couldn’t have been oppressed, but in enforcing a gender binary these men would have oppressed everyone. If they have certain stereotypes, that men should fit the male role and women should fit the female role, there is no reason why they shouldn’t have restricted men just as much; and the evidence shows that they did, forcing men alone to suffer and die in agriculture, industry and on the battlefield. As power is in the male role, it is perhaps no surprise that men in power didn’t see this role as a problem. Likewise, where weak and poor men are being oppressed and seen as lesser men (where weak or poor women would have been accepted, as this is male objectification), it is ignorant to suggest that a powerful rich man would necessarily have abolished such stereotypes when it would not suit him to do so and his privileges would have prevented him from seeing the problem. Today, where the government are supposedly accountable to the people, and where capitalist businesses and media are definitely accountable to the people, and where society is the people, and where the people are mostly women, it is ridiculous to blame ‘men in power’ for all stereotypes. These stereotypes developed naturally, and they have been enforced by everybody. Furthermore, suggesting that men’s suffering for being men is any less because it is other men behind it is tantamount to ignoring a dictator’s genocide of their own people. Men killed for being men make up a large proportion of such massacres through history, and we call these instances ‘wars’. It isn’t necessarily men behind these expectations, and even if it was it would be irrelevant.
I’ve mentioned a very wide range of issues here, and it hasn’t always been coherent, but what I’m trying to say is this: men have body issues too. If you’re a man, and you have body issues, that’s okay. You can talk to people about that. But you don’t need to have them, because you’re beautiful. Society may have historically seen your body as a tool, or a that of a giant, clumsy, and crude beast, or a necessary evil for some women, but it isn’t to me. I don’t care how short, or chubby, or weedy, or hairy, or spotty you are, or what your genitals look like: you are a human being, and you will never be repulsive just for looking a certain way. You are beautiful. Never forget it.
“Penises are gross.”
It makes me sad every time I hear my female friends talking about how awkward men look naked, even in jest.
I always call them out on it, and they always amend it with “I mean, if he’s really fit and clean then it’s okay.” But, you know, that’s even worse. By clean they mean hairless, and by fit they mean muscular, or thin and toned.
Nothing is inherently beautiful or ugly.* You could socialize a child to be terrified or repulsed by a sunset and brim with joy at the sight of a turd. It all has to do with the values and assumptions that a society is built upon.
It just so happens that because our society is based on thousands of years of men ruling, the message of “the female body is beautiful” absolutely oozes out of everything, from medieval poems and sculptures and paintings to the scores of pop and rock ballads devoted to praising girls ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErPsx8zdnX4&t=36 ).
I call this gynephilic media. (‘Gynephile’ is a term used to describe people who are attracted to women.)
During the transition from the relatively balanced appreciation for male and female forms in ancient Greece/Rome into the Dark Ages, the appreciation for the male form was lost. The Bible came along and condemned homosexual impulses, and proponents of the bible killed off and conquered everyone else.
We ended up in Medieval times with the strict heterosexual binary that brought us chivalry. Men put women on a pedestal, which was restrictive to both of them. Lots of women enjoyed/enjoy being on a pedestal, but it’s often equivalent to being locked in a tower. And while a lot of men enjoyed being able to serve women, nobody would ever rush into battle and face death to defend a lock of an attractive man’s hair, m’lady.
This system stayed in place for a long time (we were given the Gothic novel as a response to the evolution of this dynamic; the men are out having adventures and the women are confined to their homes, but they end up exploring the dingy manors in which they dwell and having adventures of their own), and we’ve certainly come a long way since then as far as women having the freedom to be more than simply adored for their beauty.
BUT, a relic of this ages-old inequality is the revulsion that the male body inspires.
There’s a classic Seinfeld scene in which Jerry’s girlfriend is permitted to walk around naked but Jerry isn’t. (The photo above is comprised of two frames from the episode.)
Elaine: “Whoa! Walking around naked? Ahh… that is not a good look for a man.”
George: “Why not? It’s a good look for a woman.”
Elaine: “Well, the female body is a…a work of art. The male body is
utilitarian, it’s for gettin’ around, like a jeep.”
Jerry: “So you don’t think it’s attractive?”
Elaine: “It’s hideous. The hair, the… the lumpiness. It’s simian.”
George: “Well, some women like it.”
Elaine: “Eugh. Sickies.”
Now, we all know this is meant to be humor.
But we also know that humor hits home when it’s rooted in truth. Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld, for those who don’t know) is a master of exposing the weird inconsistencies in the social structure by twisting circumstances.
This is a very real mentality, and the hundreds of campaigns to help young girls and women of all ages love their bodies and feel beautiful stand in stark contrast to the utter lack of attention paid to the gross-ification of the male form.
What I’m trying to say is, guys: spend some of your alone time naked. Get acquainted/comfortable with your nudity. Your body is as much of a miracle, as much a work of art composed by [nature/the divine] as anyone else’s.
What makes me sad is that I feel like I’m the only person that’s telling you this.
* I’m aware that assessment of mate fitness via symmetry and other phenotypical expressions of resistance to mutation exists. We’re talking about the element of human beauty that is socialized. It’s obvious to anyone who knows their way around evolutionary psychology that not only is the dynamic I’m describing an entirely socialized thing, but that it’s actually maladaptive.
If you’re really interested in what elements of beauty are intrinsic/evolved, Denis Dutton (recently deceased) wrote about the subject in detail, and delivered a fascinating TEDTalk on it.
Not sure if I reblogged this before, but I overheard some people talking about this the other day and it made me sit up and listen.
Beauty is certainly a complex beast. Normally I see women complaining about always being expected and pressured into being beautiful, and the effort that takes, so it’s certainly interesting to see the reverse; we want to be seen as beautiful. This reminds me of something else.
Men are expected and pressured into being powerful, so that women can find them attractive, and that takes a lot of effort. Women aren’t expected to be powerful. This is oppression against women.
Women are expected and pressured into being beautiful, so that men can find them attractive, and that takes a lot of effort. Men aren’t expected to be beautiful. This is oppression against women.
If you’re a feminist who doesn’t believe in misandry, just read the bolded part. We don’t want to risk injury to your double standards.
The expectation and competition within a gender role can hurt (Should I cook the meal just because I’m the woman? Should I pay for the meal just because I’m the man?), and so can being excluded from the role altogether. That’s two sides to the sexism of gender roles, and each side hurts two genders equally - because where one is forcibly included, the other is forcibly excluded.
The male suffering here is part of a much wider problem. It is akin to women previously not being able to work or fight for their country. But we have to remember the double-sidedness, and consider that the same gender role hurts women as well. It hurts women that they are forced into beauty, just as it hurt men to be forced into labour or combat. Two sides.
As it is, men are objectified for their looks nowadays, just as women are beginning to be objectified for their wealth or power. We’re beginning to share each other’s problems. It’s probably too much to hope that this will allow us to see the other side of the story in all of our struggles… but it’s all we have to hope for. The masculist movement - which attempts to support men in the same way that feminism supports women - is growing, but it is frequently suppressed by its female counterpart. We need an epiphany, and we need it soon.