Sunday, November 17, 2019

Constructing Feminine Form for Masculine Sake Essay Example for Free

Constructing Feminine Form for Masculine Sake Essay Fashion provides one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities. (Bennett, 2005) Constructing Feminine Form for Masculine Sake. Does it make sense to say that sex is at the heart of identity today? The answer is surely yes, and more so than ever before. (Gauntlett, 2008). Introduction. Consider the cover of the December 2011 edition of FHM (Fig. 1). It portrays a constructed ideal of female attractiveness. Aimed at the male market it conveys the attributes of female form deemed attractive to men. Has this identity been constructed by women or imposed upon by men? Butler (1999) suggests ‘the female body is marked within masculinist discourse’ , and women have not had the freedom to create their own identity, ‘women with the ostensibly sexualized features of their bodies and, hence, a refusal to grant freedom and autonomy to women as it is purportedly enjoyed by men’ (Butler, 1999). Macdonald (1995) notes that this enforced construction is neither a new concept nor just present in magazines aimed at a male audience: The body has historically been much more integral to the formation of identity for women than for men. If women had defined for themselves the ideals of their bodily shape or decoration, this would not be problematic. It is the denial of this right in the western cultural representation, in medical practice and in the multi-billion dollar pornography, fashion and cosmetic industries, that has granted women only squatter’s rights to their own bodies. However for the purpose of this essay we will concentrate on the feminine identity constructed in men’s lifestyle magazines and identify from where this was created. Why we enjoy beauty. ‘It is suggested that what makes one thing beautiful and another less so is our psychological attraction, probably unconscious, to some quality in the former that is absent from the latter, combined of course with equally-implicit cultural biases.’ (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) Considering this, it is hard to determine how a particular portrayal of the female form is universally attractive. However studying the following passage from Sigmund Freud’s study Civilization and its Discontents we can note the possibility that the images constructed of women in men’s magazines are not to portray beauty, but to invoke sexual feeling through lack of clothing and provocative poses: Psychoanalysis, unfortunately, has scarcely anything to say about beauty either. All that seems certain is its derivation from the field of sexual feeling. The love of beauty seems a perfect example of an impulse inhibited in its aim. ‘Beauty’ and ‘attraction’ are originally attributes of the sexual object. (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) Another psychotherapist Lacan puts forward the idea ‘women are objects for men: men are objects for women: men are objects for men, and women are objects for women. Each of us can only ever be objects for another subject, however much we try. (Hill, 1997) With this in mind it can be said that all identity is constructed to receive the admiration of others, regardless of gender. (Gauntlett, 2008) states ‘sex as being at the core of identity’ further suggesting that male identity is constructed with the same intentions the female. Although ‘it has been women in particular who have been defined primarily in terms of their physical appearance’ (Negrin, 2008). The emergence of new men’s lifestyle magazines. It is interesting to note that men’s lifestyle magazines are not a new concept, neither has their content changed over time. The earliest attempt to launch a men’s lifestyle magazine in the UK was in 1935, it consisted of ‘heroic masculinity with style features and pictures of female nudes’. (Gill, 2007). The 1950’s saw the launch of Playboy, a lifestyle magazine aimed at an emerging class of men who enjoyed consumption as much as their female counterparts. The magazine ‘became the ‘bible’ for the men who dominated this class fraction; its individualistic, hedonistic, consumption-orientated ethic of personal gratification represented a rebellion against the ‘old’ figure of male as breadwinner and family provider and opened up a space of libidinous fun and lascivious consumption, albeit premised on troublingly sexualized and objectified representations of women. (Gill, 2007). The content of such magazines was not necessarily in place to objectify women but to protect the ‘new man’s’ masculinity. ‘Consumption for men was promoted in an atmosphere not threatened by suspicions of homosexuality’ (Gill, 2007) and said of Playboy ‘the breasts and bottoms were necessary not just to sell the magazine, but also to protect it’ (Ehrenreich, 1983.). If we look forward to the 80’s and 90’s we see a new generation of men’s magazines emerging, ‘constructed around an assumed white, working class aesthetic and sensibility, centred on football, (beer) drinking, and heterosexual sex. (Gill, 2007) In circulation terms, figures from 2006 show that over 370,000 copies of FHM are sold per month and almost 300,000 copies of Nuts per week. (Gauntlett, 2008). From this we can see the popularity of such publications and the importance of the portrayal of a new type of masculinity. Considering the content of these magazines; ‘numerous photo-shoots of semi-clothed and topless women appear in the UK magazines’ (Gauntlett, 2008), and speaking of the launch of Loaded ‘the sexual politics of the magazine were in place from the first issue, which featured photographs of Liz Hurley, a homage to hotel sex, porn channels etc., a ‘travel feature’ recounting cheap cocaine and cheap women, and the Miss Guyama bikini contest. (Gill, 2007). The magazines depict the rise of a new type of masculinity or the ‘new lad’, the figure of which ‘became embedded in advertising and popular culture- his multiple articulations in different spaces generating a sense of his solidity and ‘realness’, making him instantly recognizable as an embodiment of a type of masculinity’ (Gill, 2007). This new generation of ‘Lads Mags’ has often been attributed to two factors; firstly the ‘feminine backlash’ occurring in the 80’s. These new publications ‘constructed around knowingly misogynist and predatory attitudes to women, represents a refusal to acknowledge the changes in gender relations produced by feminism, and an attack on it. (Gill, 2007) served to reaffirm male dominance in the gender war and a refusal to change. They are considered by Whelehan ‘a direct challenge to feminism’s call for social transformation, by reaffirming – albeit ironically – the unchanging nature of gender relations and sexual roles.’ (Gill, 2007) Studying the content of these magazines in more depth there is an underlying theme where ‘’feminist’ becomes a pejorative word to label, dismiss and silence any woman who object to the lad mags’ ideology’ (Gill, 2007). Two examples of such; ‘an article concerned with the question of ‘how to get your girlfriend to come in your face’ (FHM, April 2000) any possible feedback is forestalled with the comment ‘now before I get any angry letters from feminists..I have asked women and they agree it can be an incredibly rewarding experience’. (Gill, 2007) and ‘a letter to FHM from a woman called Barbara who wished to object to the magazines portrayal of women as ‘weak, frail, ob edient, submissive and sexually available’ is dismissed as a ‘blundering rant’ from ‘Butch Babs’ (FHM, May 2000)’ (Gill, 2007.) Two prime examples of where the subject of feminism is dismissed before it has even been raised, suggesting the magazines know their content is anti-feminist, but either dispel the argument before it is raised or ridicule and patronise anybody that dares challenge their viewpoint. The second factor is again a backlash, this time on a type of masculinity, himself more aligned with the ideals of feminism, referred to as ‘The New Man’. (Gill, 2007). Trying to dispense with this, the ‘masculinity they constructed was regarded as true to men’s real selves, in contrast to the contrived image of the new man.’ (Gill, 2007.) As with the issue of feminism this form of masculinity was ridiculed and dismissed, leading the way for ‘laddish’ behaviour to be accepted. ‘New man was derided for his ‘miserable liberal guilt’ about sexual affairs and presented as insipid and unappealing. By contrast, new lad was presented as refreshingly uncomplicated in his unreserved appreciation of women’s bodies and heterosexual sex.’ (Gill, 2007) Are these the views of the average man? So we can deduce how these magazines and images within them came to be but where does this leave the average male? Are these depictions of woman the ‘ideal’ for men? ‘By men’s own admission, the playboy ideology has created conflicts both in men’s view of themselves and in their attitude towards women.’ (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) Many men insist they do not subscribe to this scantily clad, temptress type identity as being their ideal. (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) suggest what most men fantasize about is a woman they can connect with and that personality is more important than looks; ‘Many men spoke of movement, gracefulness, a direct look in the eyes, an aura of mystery, attributes which cannot quite be captured by a camera, as what they felt constituted female beauty.’ Their ‘observations seem to contradict what the media not only tell us men want but also what they propose women should look like.’ This seeming indifference to contrived images of female form could be the over production and readily available means to consume them. ‘we are so bombarded with visual images that men are taking refuge and looking for the real thing’ (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) Also another factor is that as we are increasingly aware of artifice in the production of images it can cause the consumer to be disillusioned with them; ‘And its disappointing to find that the women, when interviewed, don’t sound that interesting really. And it’s disappointing because you see these gorgeous women who wouldn’t look twice at you, but then you remember that they probably look like people you know, really, and it’s the careful styling and makeup and photography that makes them so irresistible’ (Gauntlett, 2008) Where do women fit in? What we have to remember is there always a willing subject to construct identity upon. In this case, a women to present as the ideal to men. Whilst feminists may view the women featured in the magazines as ‘submissive, obedient and sexually available’, do the subjects themselves feel this is the case? Pre-feminist women were programmed to be as attractive as possible to their male counterparts. Anne Fogarty an extremely successful American fashion designer highlights the importance of dressing for men ‘when your husband’s eyes light up as he comes in at night, you’re in sad shape if its only because he smells dinner cooking’ (Fogarty, 1959). It is possible that even now women are still programmed by society to want to appear as attractive as possible to men. With the post-feminist shift in gender relations it is argued that women are now objectifying men in the same way that they have traditionally been; ‘looking at scantily-clad women was clearly quite wrong for a right-thinking man, but have started to change their views as time has moved on and gender relations have changed again (including the development of the new language in popular culture where women can treat men as disposable eye-candy too).’ (Gauntlett, 2008). This seems to have caused a sense of double standards when talking of the objectification of women; â€Å"I used to agree, and I mean I really did agree, with women who said that naked women in magazines was a bad thing. But now-a-days I can hardly remember what the argument was. Women can look at handsome men in films and magazines, and men can look at attractive womenit seems fair.† (Gaunlett, 2008) Another reason argued why women cultivate this identity is it can provide means to increase their economic and social standing; ‘denied access to power and status by legitimate means, they had to resort to using their looks as a means of furthering their aims.’ (Negrin, 2008). This was very true of the playboy era where working class women did not have the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts. Conclusion. So who is determining this supposed ideal of the female form? Psychoanalysis tells us we all respond to natural sexual urges and have the need to objectify other beings. Yet today’s men’s magazines were not primarily constructed to satisfy their sexual urges. The content was also put into place long ago, not to objectify women, but to protect masculinity from any suggestion of homosexuality. What better way to diminish these threats than by filling the pages with naked women? The tone of the ‘new generation’ of men’s magazines was constructed around a backlash to feminist principles and the emergence of the ‘sensitive, understanding man’. Again what better way to protect these new threats by objectifying women and distancing themselves to ‘new man’s’ ideals? As gender roles have shifted and the issue of equality is facing us, men do not feel that looking at women is a guilty pleasure, as women do it themselves towards men and are compensated for it by the advancement of their social and economic standing. It can be said that this construction of female identity truly is for masculine’s sake, not necessarily for their consumption and enjoyment, but to protect and cultivate the meaning and existence of masculinity, reminiscing of a time where men were secure in their place in society. Fig. 1. Bibliography. Halberstam, J. (1998) Female masculinity. Durham, N.C. ; London : Duke University Press, 1998.:. Bennett, A. (2005) Culture and everyday life. London: Sage, p.95 116. Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing : based on the BBC television series with John Berger / a book made by John Berger [et al.].. London: Penguin. Butler, J. (1999) Gender Trouble; Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge. Forgarty, A. (2011) The Art of being a Well Dressed Wife. 2nd ed. London: VA Publishing. Gauntlett, D. (2008) Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction.. 2nd ed. Oxon: Routledge. Gill, R. (2007) Gender and The Media. Cambridge: Polity Press. (2011) Happy Socks / FHM UK  « Happy Socks in the Press. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 2nd June 2012]. Hill, P. (1997) Lacan for beginners. London : Writers and Readers:. Lakoff, R. and Scherr, . (1984) Face value : the politics of beauty . Boston ; London : Routledge Kegan Paul:. Macdonald, M. (1995) Representing Women:Myths of Femininity in the popular media. London: Edward Arnold, p.192 221. Meyers, D. (2002) Gender in the Mirror. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.. Negrin, L. (2008) Appearance and identity: Fashioning the body in Postmodernity. Cowden: Palgarve Macmillan, p.33 52. Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2001) Practices of looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press., p.72 108.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.