Where are all the men?

Collage of artwork featuring only female subjects
Screenshot of Art for Adults

Where are all the men?

This does seem like a ridiculous question, seeing as our movies, books, video games and music are stuffed to the brim with men, but this is something I've noticed for a long time. Why are there no men in art? Where are the male models? Where is the male figure? When I browse around art blogs and galleries, the thing I notice first is that the artwork almost always features women. Women's legs, waists, hair, butts, breasts and faces are a near-ubiquitous feature of artwork, both modern and historical.

Why?

The reason is that men aren't beautiful. Our society thinks it's impossible that male bodies can be beautiful in their own right. A male body is only attractive in as much as it demonstrates masculine power and agency, while female bodies are beautiful (well, erotic) on their own. As a woman, it's very difficult for me to imagine getting up in the morning and going about my morning routine and never once fussing about my appearance. I can't imagine not checking myself out in a mirror; I can't imagine not having days where I felt amazing and sexy, and days where I felt frumpy and ugly. I can't imagine never once catching someone's eyes doing a once-over from my feet to my hair. I can't imagine not browsing through magazines that bombard me with ways to be more attractive. Most of all, I can't imagine never (or, rarely) seeing images of someone my sex presented as beautiful.

At this point you're probably thinking, "Oh, those poor menz, they don't have to be measured against society's unreasonable expectations with every single human interaction. How terrible! Cry me a river!"

And yes, you'd be right. In fact, you'd be exactly right. The primary reason I despise critical attitudes of women's appearance isn't that there are beauty standards that cause body image issues... it's that it's not fair. A woman's whole life is centered around her appearance, while men's whole life is centered around his success. And this is bad for everyone.

We use female bodies as decorations because they're so beautiful! Where, then, are the beautiful male bodies? The only time we feature male bodies, they are sexual. And when they're sexual, they're often considered a joke. When the male body in question is attractive (I.E. is a well-muscled, powerful and heavily masculine body), the joke is at the expense of female desire. When the male body doesn't meet those requirements, the joke is at the man's expense.

Girls grow up thinking they aren't beautiful. Boys grow up knowing they can never be beautiful. Girls grow up thinking that they are a particularly unattractive example of an attractive archetype, while boys grow up with the awareness that now matter what they do, no one will ever consider them - or someone like them - beautiful.

I think this is the fundamental reason that very few men "get" what's so bad about being hit on by strangers. Being catcalled or yelled at while walking down the street is seen as a compliment to men. They don't experience an entire culture's worth of sexualization, harassment and abuse. Instead, when it comes to their physical bodies, they have a null area in their self-esteem that is filled by such "compliments."

Let's look at it from the other perspective.

Every once in a while, I'll see an attempt from someone to demonstrate how ridiculous the representation of women is by swapping the genders:

Can you imagine a “good male character who just happens to be wearing sexually exploitative outfits because he’s ok with his masculinity?” Constantly has the camera pan lovingly over his asscrack and firm glutes, and big ole dangly ballsack that is totes sweaty from all this MMA and soldiering. [...]

He’s not even a Bond-esque confident man, he’s basically a weird Bowie caricature that’s constantly having near-dickslips in every single cinematic as the completely nonsexualized female characters do their business of being gruff and shooting dudes and advancing the plot.


One of the primary critical responses to examples like the above is that there really is no equivalent. Having a camera slowly pan over a guy's junk isn't an expression of female desire. Visual molestation is still a male gaze tactic... because there is no female gaze. If you believe what our society tells you, a female gaze would be looking at his bank account, not his package.

It took me years and years to actually begin to develop a concept of what I thought was an attractive man. As in, physically attractive - not, "I need to get to know you first" attractive. This was not helped by the fact that the very few images of "sexy" men that we get to see are not what I'm attracted to. My sexuality and desire is completely marginalized (and often ridiculed) by our society, and the act of doing so also prevents men from feeling beautiful. It's Feminism 101: we all get shafted by patriarchy.

6 things about

Where are all the men?
  1. I think you're spot on when you say that for us boys, we think that we can never be beautiful - a way of shielding ourselves from vulnerability or from judgement against our appearance? Whatever it is, it's an ugly double standard.

    Humans will never stop appreciating their own and one another's beauty, that's only natural. But as long as this is a one-sided obsession, true equality between the sexes will be limited, I think.

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    1. It makes me so sad. Either way has its shit lining, but it's particularly nasty when it's a double standard rather than a common experience shared between the sexes.

      I do my best to let my boyfriend (fiancee!) know that he's pretty. :3

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  2. I don't quite understand this line; "When the male body in question is attractive (I.E. is a well-muscled, powerful and heavily masculine body), the joke is at the expense of female desire."

    Why is a heavily-muscled male body a joke at the expense of female desire?

    I agree that women are over-sexualised (a lot, A LOT) in society, but men are increasingly becoming more so. Taylor Lautner in Twilight, anyone? Then there's all the from all the well-oiled, six-packed guys in most 'chick flicks'.

    It's still not on the same level as is done to women, but I do think it's getting there. The crucial difference being, men aren't routinely degraded for being depicted as, or depicting themselves as, sexual beings.

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    1. Ah, I should have clarified that line. I meant that things like Twilight and chick flicks are ridiculed... It's treated like it's a stupid joke. The best example I can think of is that book, "Porn for women" which is a book of photos of shirtless guys doing dishes and vacuuming.

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  3. Twilight is indeed ridiculed, because, well, it's stupid. Just like Transformers is stupid. But also, really, I think it's ridiculed because of how the stupid fangirls behave. Screeching and crying and whatnot.

    But yes, you have a point. Chick flicks are indeed ridiculed. I hadn't noticed that!

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"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."