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Susan Bordo: Beauty (Re)discovers The Male Body

Let's talk about sex.
by

jess m

on 4 January 2013

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Transcript of Susan Bordo: Beauty (Re)discovers The Male Body

Bordo on Beauty Let's start with this idea from page 190:

"Some psychologists say that the circuit from eyes to brain to genitals is a quicker trip for men than for women. 'There's some strong evidence,' popular science writer Deborah Blum reports, citing studies of men's responses to pictures of naked women, 'that testosterone is wired for visual response.' Maybe. But who is the electrician here? God? Mother Nature? Or Hugh Hefner? Practice makes perfect. And women have had little practice."

Naturalizing Naturalizing is the process whereby what is considered "acceptable" becomes "natural." The flip side of this means what is not "acceptable" becomes "unnatural." Spend some time googling arguments against interracial marriage and gay marriage. Spend some time googling those who advocate against "feminism" and women "working outside the home." Keep a tally of how many times the word "natural" is levied as proof of an argument. Pay attention to how many times people stand against a behavior because it is "unnatural" or "monstrous."

What is the difference between something we don't like or something that makes us uncomfortable and something that is UNNATURAL? "For many men, both gay and straight, to be so passively dependent on the gaze of another person for one's sense of self-worth is incompatible with being a real man" (192). Think about the word "passively" here. Why do we equate "passiveness" with femininity and "aggressiveness" with masculinity? How do these associations affect standards of beauty, marketing, and language? Pretty vs. Handsome etc? Thinking about naturalizing and passivity We enter into the realm of homophobia and fears of being "gay." I like what Bordo has to say on the subject:

"Some people describe these receptive pleasures as 'passive'--which gives them a bad press with men, and is just plain inaccurate too. 'Passive' hardly describes what's going on when one person offers himself or herself to another. Inviting, receiving, responding--these are active behaviors too, and rather thrilling ones. It's a macho bias to view the only real activity as that which takes, invades, aggresses. It's a bias, however, that's been with us for a long time, in both straight and gay cultures" (205).

What does it mean, then, when fear arrives alongside attraction? If homophobia is tied into the possibility of unwanted attraction or possibility of rape why are we worried about being "gay" instead of considering how those who live with being raped each day must be terrified? "Men act and women appear." It's easy to shake our heads and say, "yeah, yeah sex sells and that's too bad but whatever." But the problem is the unavoidable side-effects of such ideas.

When was the last time you felt insecure about your appearance? Why did you feel insecure? How many of you have laughed at "the people of Walmart?" How many of you have ever worried, however briefly, you might end up one of those people?

When was the last time you expressed disgust towards an unattractive person or saw disgust expressed? When did we start actively OWING each other attractiveness? Why do we expect other people to consider our standards of beauty and attempt to fulfill their standards in return? Why is this a topic worth discussing? Why are gender roles problematic?
Why are impossible standards of beauty problematic?
Why is not examining what we find attractive and why problematic? What ideas are these ads tapping into? Why do we need them? Of course, most men, gold chains or not, straight or gay, DO care how they "appear." The gender differences...are "fictional," a distillation of certain IDEAS about men and women, not empirical generalization about their actual behavior. This doesn't mean, however, that they have no impact on "real life." Far from it. As embodied in attractive and sometimes highly manipulative images, "men act and women appear" functions as a visual instruction. Women are supposed to care very much about fashion, "vanity," looking good, and may be seen as unfeminine, man-hating, or lesbian if they don't. The reverse goes for men. The man who cares about his looks the way a woman does, self-esteem on the line, ready to be shattered at the slightest insult or weight gain, is unmanly, sexually suspect (213-4). What Bordo is saying (and what I'm unsubtly trying to make sure you grasp) is that attractiveness is a MYTH supported by the very real experience of BEING attracted to someone. Myth teaches us how to BE. Myth is how we learn to be human beings. It's all well and good to have expectations of behavior (is it?) but those expectations limit and control behavior across the board. This isn't a women's problem or men's problem--this is a human problem.

The "problem" isn't being attractive or being attracted. So then, what is the problem? What is it exactly that we're talking about here?
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