Sunday, August 9, 2009

Week 5: Men’s Bodies


Leila said...

Respond to The Male Body. Think about your relationship to your body in relationship to your father's (or grandfather's, brother's, etc.) body. Did your father's body and/or his relationship with his body (or lack of relationship with his body) impact the way you perceived your own body? This might include developments during puberty, body image, self-perception, sexuality, etc. Was "the male body" seen as something private, to be celebrated, ambivalent...?

Brian H. said...

It's plain to see just how much Susan Bordo loved and looked up to her father in reading "My Father's Body". Their relationship was very touching, and I was saddened by his passing. Her description of her father was very inspiring and she did a fabulous job of showing his quiet, introspective side compared to his jovial, loving personality. Although, as I read "My Father's Body", I found it incredibly difficult to relate Susan's father to my own dad. Having seen my dad's boyhood pictures and hearing stories about him growing up, it was almost comical to see how completely different they were. It became apparent to me that my relationship with my father was COMPLETELY different from Susan and her father's relationship. She describes her father as "A trim and dashing young man" and a "tough Jewish street kid" who had ties to the mafia and would never be seen without his trademark cigar. Whereas my dad worked long hours and would watch gratuitous amounts of television.

I also found it hilarious, and a little impressive, that Susan viewed he inheritance of her father's "vagrant patches of dry, flaky skin" and dandruff as "intimacy" with her father. Susan says that it "was proof of our genetic connection -- a sense of belonging" that "made her feel close to him in some new way." Personally, my brothers and I dread our genetics and pray that none of us inherited our father's genes (except for his ability to grow a fine mustache). My dad suffers from vertigo, an genetic illness where one becomes nauseous if the individual looks above a 45 degree angle. As I read "My Father's Body", I knew that if I inherit my father's bad case of vertigo, probably the last thing I would feel as I vomited, would be an intimate sense of closeness with my father. In addition, I really doubt that balding men look at their thinning hair and feel a inner sense of paternal bonding and thank their fathers.

Susan's father also differed from my own father in the sense of poetry, romance, and love. One of the last things my father would do is to write a poem about dreaming "when knighthood was a flower, and he would rescue every hour on the hour, the fair maidens from the dark and evil tower". Her father also wrote about Susan's mother as "a child of the gutter, sharp, and streetwise." The words "streetwise" and "from the gutter" are probably the last words I would use to describe my own mother. Apart from the brunet hair, my mother is the polar opposite from a mafia affiliated streetwise woman. Comparing Susan's mother and father with my parents is like comparing apples with oranges. My mother is incredibly intelligent and caring but I'm almost positive she has never gotten "three to five" for trying her charms on a policeman. I feel like Susan was trying to relate to the reader in the opening of The Male Body, but after reading "My Father's Body" I felt like growing up in her household with her father was completely different in every aspect from growing up with my father.

Merritt Johnson said...

I enjoyed doing the readings and seeing Susan relationship with her father, I feel every girl has a special relationship with her father, yet everyone is different.

My story was different than Susan’s yet, how she said her dad was "a trim and dashing young man", I'd have to admit, my father is also. My dad has psoriases, so he has "dry, patchy skin", thankfully, my sister and I have not inherited that.

When reading the blog prompt, I was clueless is what to write, I asked my mom for some help and she told me about her father (my grandfathers) body. My pop-pop was a short man with a short mans complex. He was mighty handsome at his time. He was a hard worker and made a good amount of money back in the day with his own iron business. He was 1 of 14 children, so he was very determined to make something of himself. Even though he was successful and handsome, he was still short and very insecure and protective and jealous of my mom-mom. He lovedddd her, he would call her friends houses and say "how is MY Marie?" He was comfortable in his body yet everyone knew there were insecurities.

My dad on the other hand, is very secure. He is tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, successful and has a thin build. He's in his 50's so he's no at hot as he used to be, but I think he still thinks he is. Luckily, I take after him. I am confident, not overly but I am happy with myself. I am built just like him and have his personality. I'm a mix of my mom and dad, so that always made me happy. Having confident parents growing up made me confident. I can tell my dad’s relationship with his body is one that he is comfortable with. He workouts out and walks every night with my mom, he eats properly and take vitamins. He knows that he's not a spring chicken but he's not embarrassed of taking his shirt off to go boating. I know that my dad has always been proud to have his hair still. I think my mom brags about that more than my dad, she says all her college friends husbands are balding and is proud my dad isn’t. I think this boosts his self esteem. I often catch him walking around naked upstairs and eww this summer I heard a splash outside my window at 6am and though my cat fell in the pool, but it was my dad skinny dipping, YUCK!

I think the male-body in my household is just like how I treat my female body. My dad has two daughters and all girl animals. We are comfortable with each other, we all dress appropriately around the house and respect each others personal space. My family has always been very open with each other. When I was going through puberty, obviously I related more with my mother, and certain things would be awkward talking with my dad, but whenever I needed my dad, he was there. My parents both showed me pictures of them when they were babies, toddles, and teens. My dad told me all about how he was awkward and had pimples and was quirky. Since he told me these things, I was not ashamed during these things when i went through them. I saw how great my dad turned out and how his ace is clear and he's confident, so I knew I would be someday also. I feel that men’s’ bodies are something good; you should not be ashamed of them for any reason. Tall, short, hair, no hair, fat, skinny, bad skin, good skin…. Everyone ‘s bodies are fit for them so CELEBRATE them & be comfortable your skin. So in conclusion, my dad and pop-pop had good relationships with their body in different ways. I feel that I am comfortable with my body and have a good body image of myself thanks to the way my dad perceived himself.

Ross said...

I started this post with a response to the prompt but it just didn’t work. Not that the prompt was bad! Quite the opposite: I found that exploring my body in relation to my father’s opened too many doors for me to explore with just one blog post. There’s enough material there for a dozen essays and short stories, so I decided to hold off and try to express my feelings on this topic in a different medium. Instead, I’m going to draw from the text and examine how I see my and other male bodies in relation to politics.

Of course gender shapes the way we interpret opinions on an intellectual level. Intro the Women’s Studies pounded that into my brain during the hazy early days of my feminist enlightenment. When I’m in a dialogue with a woman I take time to consider if I’m taking her contentions as seriously as I would if I were talking to a man. I’ve also become pretty good at noticing gender bias in arguments and conceptualizations. I’m not perfect with either, but I’m light-years beyond where I started.

I’ve been blind, however, to the way gender socialization shapes the way I perceive the bodies of the men I interact with politically. Overwhelmingly, I see my allies as phallic and virile and my opponents as soft and emasculated. These pallid bourgeois strike me as more fungi than men. Unmuscled, unthinking parasites that feed off the real, productive, “masculine” labor of the oppressed. If I am talking to a male liberal (in the classical sense), any lack of build, paleness of skin or manicured aspect of appearance comes to dominate my mental picture of him.

This is a strong current in radical thought. The wild beards of Marx and Engels stand in sharp contrast to the shaved or trimmed pantheon of capitalist philosophers. There are few “harder” men in the twentieth century than Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Castro and Guevara. The more radical the thinker, the more masculine he seems to be: Bakunin and Kropotkin both sported beards that put the state socialists to shame. In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, the first dystopian novel that inspired 1984, primitive masculinity is the symbolic savior of humanity from rationalist tyranny. Despite the birth of the new-age-sensitive-kind-of-guy, Western counterculture of the 1960s used beards and an unkempt appearance to distinguish its male members from the shaven majority.

Surely the bourgeois I know view me in the same manner. Jack Nicholson’s wolfish character is the ideal bourgeois capitalist. Rather than critiquing business and civilization, the story suggests that the wild, masculine individual will get what he wants in the capitalist system: “…becoming a wolf also makes Will more effective in the world of business…and most strikingly, his new wolfness makes him adept at the very kinds of ruthless machinations that the movie had portrayed so negatively earlier…”(Bordo 252). The advertisements shown throughout the book (especially the car ads on page 88) demonstrate that masculinity can be achieved through consumerism. Fascists, too, appropriated masculinity during their day in the sun as evidenced by the sculpted “comrades” and the fact that “The Jewish man…is represented in Nazi literature as dwarfish, womanish, simpering, impotent.”(bordo 49)

None of these constructs, mine or others, bare any resemblance to the physical bodies they shape. Men of all descriptions inhabit every inch of the political spectrum. It’s interesting how subtle this effect has been on me.

amanda said...

When discussing the male and female body we can’t help but discuss the double standards involved. Men and women are judged differently on how they choose to dress and/or modify their body. Recently, I got a new tattoo on my calf, my sixth one. As I female with visible tattoos I have noticed how I am judged differently than men who have tattoos. People seem to think that I am “trashy” or should not be taken serious, yet men with tattoos are attractive and manly. I even become the victim of this double standard in my own family. My brother has a tattoo on the outside of his bicep. When I went to get my third tattoo, which was on the inside of my bicep, I got so much grief. I could not understand why this was. All of my tattoos can be easily covered up and are not visible from when you are looking at me straight on. Whenever I finally show my parents my tattoos we always have the same argument. I say it’s my body, my money, and my choices. They say I’ll regret them later on in life. I’m never going to wake up one morning and decide that I am no longer a feminist and that I wish I did not have the feminist symbol on my wrist. And well if I do regret my tattoos, then I’ll face the consequences and I’ll have no one to blame but myself. All of my tattoos reflect who I am as a person. When I got them reflects who I was at that time in my life. They mean something to me. When I’m older, I won’t look at my tattoos as just ink on my skin. I will look at the skeleton key on the back of my arm and remember when I went and got it on April 24 with Cristina and Andrea and remember my favorite song, Skeleton Key, and what it meant to me when I was in my twenties.

So many factors, from our family life to social interactions, go into shaping who we are and how we view ourselves. While I disagree with my parents on politics and some of the choices I make in life, I know that I got my sarcasm, stubbornness, and my love of crafts from them (well the crafts came from my mom). I also got the way I view my body and self-esteem from them. My father has really bad asthma, which has affected his weight. He wouldn’t be able to go to the gym some times because he would be sick or would fear having an attack. I can’t remember a time in my life when my parents did not complain, or just talk, about their weight, even though they are not overweight. Dieting and going to the gym always seemed like a chore for them. After reading this prompt I realized that the way I view my body goes hand in hand with how my parent view their body. Working out and dieting is something I know I should do but something I never feel like doing. I say that I am comfortable with my body, but that’s a lie. I wish I was skinnier or at least more toned. I have low self-esteem and I know other things have factored that and I don’t want to blame it on my parents cause they have never said anything bad about my body, I just can’t help but think that they have had some contribution to that. I love my family and who I am and I am trying to work on loving my body, I just know it will be something that will take some time.

I have read If Men Could Menstruate by Gloria Steainem before, but it just never gets old. While this article is hilarious, we have to be angry by the fact that we live in a society that would probably view menstruation differently if men did it. If men could menstruate then “menstruation would become an enviable, boast worthy, masculine event” (Men’s Lives 280). Menstruation means that women have the ability to give life, yet we never hear about men being jealous and envious that we menstruate. If anything we are able suppose to be envious of the male reproductive system. Men have copious amounts of sperm and will always produce sperm, yet women only have so many eggs and will eventually stop menstruating. So yet again men come out on top. We can give life, but they have sperm. Yeah, I see how that makes sense.

carly mac said...

We have discussed in this class the ways that society sees gender as meaning sex. They are interchangeable, according to popular notions. I am a strong believer in the societal and cultural constructionist point of view on gender. Reading Susan Bordo’s The Male Body has opened my eyes to many aspects of the biological body that I would not have otherwise been inclined to regard, seeing that I reject biological determinist beliefs.

However, I have often questioned my sociological viewpoint when thinking about transgendered folks. If gender really is culturally constructed and doesn’t really exist (like I so adamantly believe), then why do so many people in the world have the desire to surgically alter their sex? If gender roles aren’t inherent, why do trans-people often say that their body doesn’t match their mind? “Many transgendered individuals too have viewed getting rid of or acquiring a penis as the fulcrum of their search for a body that will fit their gender identity” (Bordo 37). I have often pondered my own beliefs and thought that maybe I am entirely wrong. Maybe a penis or a vagina really does make one a male or a female, like most people believe. Thankfully, Bordo answered my questioning. Bordo argues that the sense of having ‘wrong’ genitals is produced “by the culturally available framework for imagining the relation between gender identity and body in terms of genital fit or mistmatch. If gender identity is tied to having a certain genital morphology, then of course one’s morphology is going to be experienced either as corresponding to or in conflict with who one ‘really is’” (37).

I suppose what it boils down to is that transgendered people are subject to the same societal norms and ideas as non-trans people. If someone has a penis, but feels more like a girl, that does not automatically mean that they reject the dimorphic ideals of male and female. They are not somehow naturally enlightened to the idea that gender is fluid and one’s body doesn’t determine their gender. They live in this dualistic society like the rest of society. Bordo quotes philosopher Henry Rubin, who describes his experiences in wanting to transition his body from female to male. Rubin states, “I want to live manhood with the same authenticity as a man born with a male body. I want this so much more than I want a penis” (Bordo 38).

We live in a society where penis=male and no penis=not male. Bordo even states, “men are their penises” (36). Transgendered people are not exempt from this dimorphic pattern of thinking. Maybe they don’t innately feel like they NEED a penis or NEED to remove their penis (despite the way that transgendered people are presented in the media and popular culture). According to Bordo, these ideas are culturally constructed also. Bordo claims, “Rubin recognizes that people may respond in the desired way only to those whom they believe have the right genitals-a penis- but that recognition is a far cry from seeing the possession of a penis as necessary to reflect the inner ‘truth’ or one’s identity” (39). The Male Body alleviated my internal debate and presented me with the idea that the desire for a sex change is not biologically intrinsic, but indeed culturally constructed.

Cristoina said...

It was brought to my attention by a few of my friends that I was going to really enjoy Susan Bordo’s prologue to The Male Body, and it was true. Although my father is not Jewish, he did grow up in Brooklyn during the 1950s and has a plethora of stories to share about that time. Vincenzo Calandruccio, my dad, has told me tales about him, “Johnny Pinstripe”, “Jamutz” playing by the johnny pump and I feel their spirit also, “dwelt in King Arthur’s Court.” Vini, as his friends call him, was never involved with the mob but did live ‘several lives ‘as Susan explains it, and it is difficult as a child and even as an adult today to hear these stories of extravagance and adventure and equate them with the man I grew up with.
My father enjoys his privacy and has always made it a point to not share too much with people (only the good things) and this could reflect his upbringing along with the generation in which he lived, but luckily for me this focus on privacy did not carry on into the home. We are a very open family, and this is evident in a lot of ways, including the ways we show and express our bodies. My father growing up in an era of “free love”, living in Woodstock and California for a bit and having hair down to his bum for a while (I guess you could say he was the quintessential hippie ) I think really aided in his being comfortable with his body and I learned by his example. I was encouraged to express myself, my body and to not be ashamed. Even growing one of the things my parents promoted was being comfortable; comfortable with my body but also with my friends and situations. So being comfortable to me meant being not constricted and this correlates with my father. My father does not mind wearing women’s shoes/sandals as well as scarves and never feels ashamed in saying so, he likes what he likes. So that dichotomy of men’s and women’s clothes was blurred and wearing men’s shirts or other things was not discouraged. He was more of a robe man, and liked to keep things breezy. He does not enjoy lounging in jeans, wearing turtlenecks or any other restrictive neckline and puts comfort over fashion trends. I picked up some of these characteristics from him, maybe from trying to emulate him as a child, and have adapted them into my lifestyle, like taking my bra off first thing when I get home because I hate that feeling of being restricted. And when I did this at home it was not discouraged or encouraged. My father seeing my undergarments was always lighthearted and jocular, never an issue of embarrassment or discomfort. My parents also emphasized the fact that they took care of me as a child, saw me naked everyday as a baby, and that they knew my body, so it was never an issue to discuss transitions into puberty and later on issues of body image. I think my parents being comfortable with themselves and with me allowed for me to me confident and pleased with my own body and view the human form as something to be seen and embraced.

mixed enigma said...

I want to expand further on the “fetish of a male homosexual as heterosexual imagery…within lesbian culture…in dildoes that are designed to look like penises” (Bordo, 47). My cultural artifact was such notion of heterosexual imagery, the dildo, amongst lesbian couples. I believe it is important to note that “penises, like the rest of the human body and unlike dildoes, feel things” (Bordo, 64). Why is it that lesbians feel the need to require such lifeless agency to satiate the sexual desire of the fem? The cultural symbol seems to degrade the homosexual community as opposed to insinuating gender bending. I understand that it may be seen as a play on heterosexuality, but when the dildo is utilized to evoke sensual pleasure, only one individual is deriving any sensual pleasure. The dildo, similar to the penis, is a “tool” that may be used for “weaponry, both dangerous and innocuous” (Bordo, 47). I tend to lean towards the idea that it is far more dangerous, mentally and physically, for the wearer. On an account presented of Lorraine when she had her first experience with a dildo, it seemed as though she presented some anguish over the whole concept; “after I actually started fucking her with it and she was responding this wave of euphoria came over me, which was followed by an even bigger wave of shame” (Bordo, 100). A necessary response to this is that the dildo cannot do what “gods given hands” are supposed to do. Once one brings in the lifeless form of a phallic object, which most lesbians object, into one’s sex life, one is being predisposed to losing the sensual love from lesbian relationships. It’s ironic that most lesbians (committing a fallacy of hasty generalization) despise the male anatomy and turn to girls to carry out their sexual desires. So why is it that they are purchasing male anatomy? Is it to fulfill a longing desire to be a man? Why is the dildo, machine penis, necessary in a lesbian relationship? “The ‘butch phallus’ offers its roughness, toughness, cockiness with a keen eye for when those qualities begin to interfere with rather than enhance a partner’s pleasure” (Bordo, 101).
Dildos are an invasion on the lesbian culture. They offer little or no help to sensual lesbian pleasure. For instance, Feinberg believes that strapping on a dildo could either make a woman feel real good or remind her of all the ways she has been hurt in her life (Bordo, 101). What serves as a better route to take? Not buying a damn dildo. Dildos serve no purpose beside one-sidedness sex and the perpetuation of patriarchal dominions on lesbian culture. Seriously, if you wanted to have sex with yourself, you could masturbate and not have your lover spend fifty or so bucks on a fake penis. What’s the point? Or you could just get a man. As a reader may note, I am strongly opposed to a dildo used in lesbian relationships. As Audre Lorde stated, one cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools; and the dildo is most definitely the master’s tool.

Abigail said...

My father is nothing like Bordo's father. He walked around in his boxer briefs with no shirt all the time even in front of my friends. He drank too much and often made dirty jokes about he and my mother, while she got mad and shushed him. At one of my sister’s weddings he got drunk and said that a friend of the family was like a Jaguar and kept talking about how smoothly she danced and how good she looked. Just thinking back makes me feel slightly nauseous and creped out.

Now I feel obligated to say that my dad is not all bad, he’s been married to my mother since they were 26 (I think) and are very much in love with each other. I don’t believe that they have ever cheated. He’s just awkward and can be kind of a creep.

My father’s behavior didn’t encourage me be open about my own body but made me regress and think that my body and everyone else’s was some vulgar place. I became very uncomfortable with body image and anything remotely sexual until I met a man that I felt safe with. Body parts that were normally covered were not to be free and meant to meet the light they were something that came out when the lights were off and then were quickly put away.

I haven’t had a good relationship with my father and have come to terms with this fact. I don’t know if my father is fully to blame for my prudishness though I imagine there is a connection. At this point it doesn’t matter.

I'll end with, it gives me hope when I hear girls/women speak about how much they love their dad and how awesome they can be.

Evan Wyss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan Wyss said...

In a house with three males, my brother, my father and I, and one female, my mother, there was a surprising amount of ambivalence about the male body. Actually, to use the words of the prompt, it was more of a combination of privacy and ambivalence.

My father is the son of the son of a Swiss immigrant to the United States. He grew up in a small Swiss-dominated community in Upstate New York, so much of the culture of that country was prevalent. My experience with Swiss culture is that it is very conservative, but not necessarily politically. Think of the opposite of the warmness and physical contact of Italian culture. While they can be very friendly people, the body is seen as something private and not discussed. Sexuality is something that is completely swept under the rug where you must find out about it on your own.

Going through puberty was an interesting experience, because most of what I knew about it was from the internet. My father never really related his own experience with puberty to me or talk about what was happening. But, this didn’t seem strange to me. The body had always seemed like something that is one’s own business, and not other family members’. To put it in a phrase that Ordo used, the male body parts were often seen “as an unfortunate by-product of evolution” (Ordo 19).

jorge mendoza said...

Having grown up in a mostly single-parent household (my parents divorced when I was 4, my mother would re-marry twice in the future), I did not have much experience comparing myself with other men. I had seen my mother's body when I was a child and knew we were different and that it was okay, my mother explained to me from early on the difference between boys and girls, body-wise atleast. Through puberty, as I would go to school and started to notice the bodies of other young males in comparison to mine, I'd go through the usual things that most young men would, wondering about my muscles, how to make them bigger, when would I start growing hair and in which areas, why some of the other guys were already covered in hair or growing facial hair. One thing I did not like of my own body was when I looked in the mirror and thought I had 'my mother's thighs/hips', which I think can partly be attributed to how I did not have a 'father's body' to compare to. Even though I was okay with my own body image for the most part and my mother being always quite open to explaining many a thing to me, there's still a part of me and I assume of most other people that seeks to establish similarities and differences with others body images, often embelleshing the negative differences and downplaying or ignoring the neutral or positive images of their bodies. People can do this very little or they can do it quite often.
What I mean to make of this is that those starkest of differences I observed of my mother's body from mine (the fact that she had breasts, that she did not have a penis but rather a vagina) did not keep me from still making comparisons.
My mother, unknowingly, taught me to be more of a functionalist, atleast in my perception of the human body. Never was I taught to be proud or ashamed of my body, of my shape, of my legs, of my stomach, of my penis. But she did want for me to take care of myself above all things. It wa sonly when I reached puberty when the effects of socialization began to fill my head with the common notions of what a 'man' is supposed to look like and how to feel about his body.

Merritt Johnson said...

I would also like to touch base on If men Could Menstrate. Obviously this is one thing as women we have that men will never experience. I think to myself, I wonder if men ever were jealous that we had this over them and they'd never experence it. Men do think of it as "nasty" but maybe that formd a long time ago as a cover up?! I liked the quote, "what would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and woemn would not? The answer is clear- menstration would become an enviable, boastworthy, masculine event. Men would brag about how long and how much." This was funny, yet it's sadly true. Men find anything to boaat about. They said street men would brag "I'm a three-pad man". I just enjoyed the humor of this, yet it was actually very intellectual. It says that; women would like a menstruating man, and lesbians would want a good menstruating man?! All of the logic to this was interesting and well thought out. It promotes good discussions. I previously read this in my sex and gender class this summer, but didn't really read it deeply like I did today. Just thought I'd share how what I enjoyed.