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Posing Like a Woman/Like a Man

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    lawless

    Some of you may remember our prior discussion of male and female gaze in the context of Naruse’s movie Flowing and some links I collected. I thought the group might be interested in posts by fantasy author Jim Hines on women and men’s poses in cover art for books in which he replicated cover poses and posted them with the applicable book cover and commentary. He did the men’s poses specifically because of complaints that men are equally objectified in book covers (at least in the fantasy and romance genre) as women are.

    In addition, LiveJournal member ocelott made a post shortly after Hines’ post on posing like a woman comparing male and female poses.

    Not surprisingly (at least I wasn’t surprised), the women’s poses were backbreaking and unnatural, usually emphasizing the model’s breasts or butt. Sexiness, not strength and competence, was emphasized.

    On the other hand, the men’s poses were generally straight on, or if not, didn’t require the spinal flexibility and hip thrusts of the women’s poses and emphasized their strength and competence and, other than posing shirtless to emphasize their muscles, don’t usually emphasize sexuality above all else. These differences fit neatly into the paradigm discussed in this post, linked to in the discussion of female gaze, of women being posed tilted or at an angle, simultaneously diminishing and sexualizing them.

    As Hines says:

    But overall, to suggest that the posing of men on covers is anywhere near as problematic as the posing of women seems, well, ignorant and wrong.

    .

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    Vili Maunula

    An interesting post, Lawless. Many of those photos are absolutely hilarious. 🙂

    To play a devil’s advocate for a moment, I wonder how much of this is some kind of a male chauvinist sexism, and how much of it is biologically encoded or a voluntary reaction to cultural traditions. Women have, for instance, apparently evolved to sway their hips more when ovulating, as well as doing other things that are largely subconsciously used to signify fertility.

    As for a more voluntary tradition, I present you the duck face. In fact, people’s avatar photos are interesting to think about in this context. One thing that I have noticed is that many especially younger women seem to be (perhaps subconsciously) leaning into positions that make their breasts look bigger.

    You could of course argue that those women/girls are only victims of a male-dominated cultural tradition, but I think that it is quite a bit more complex than that. As biological machines, our aim is to reproduce, and it would be very surprising to me if our poses (whether natural, forced or imaginary) weren’t largely the products of that single goal and the various requirements for the optimally successful completion of that task. These requirements are of course different for men and women, considering the different roles that the two sexes play in reproduction and caring for the offspring, hence perhaps also different kind of poses.

    I’m not saying that that’s all that there is to it, though.

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    lawless

    Vili – I would find more to agree with in your devil’s advocacy if it weren’t for the fact that all of the characters illustrated, not just the men, are main characters who are supposed to be strong, competent, and badass, and sexualizing the women (but not the men) in ways that undermine that strength and competence says something. Examples include clothing that would get in the way or be impractical (I forget, but I think one includes high heels) and poses that are clearly meant for eye-candy and would be completely useless for defense. Even granting that women thrust their hips more than men do (more about that in a minute), these poses are clearly extreme. On the other hand, the men are posed in ways that are attractive but still allows them to defend themselves.

    That isn’t to say that sexiness and impractical clothing isn’t a problem with book covers in general, just that it makes sense to forestall objections that the men shown are different types of characters than the women and that explains the differences by using covers of characters who have similar functions in the narrative the cover is meant to illustrate. The fact that women may exaggerate the sway of their hips has a lot to do with the fact that in a society run by men, where cisgendered heterosexual men and their interests come first and are considered normative, appealing to or manipulating men is a good way for a woman to get what she one wants. (Let’s keep the romance/relationship side out of it altogether.) Appealing to women is much less important and helpful.

    The phenomenon I’m talking about is itself a pervasive part of culture and goes far beyond obvious male chauvinsim and sexism. It has less to do with men thinking they’re better than women, or that women are incompetent or shouldn’t work outside the home, and more to do with women looked at (by everyone) as cisgendered heterosexual men do and expected to make pleasing such men a priority. It’s a fine distinction, but it has more to do with sexual attraction and power dynamics than the political, social, and economic dynamics underlying what we traditionally call “sexism.” They’re not the same thing.

    What it boils down to is that even in romance, a genre aimed at women, not men, women are depicted as sexy fantasies, not in ways that are practical or likely given their role in the narrative being illustrated, whereas men are depicted attractively but straightforwardly and realistically. It’s another rather glaring example of the prevalence of male gaze in society that’s so permeated with it we all take it for granted — to the point where women sometimes enforce it more fiercely than men do.

    The evolutionary biology analogy you make would be more convincing if we weren’t so far along evolutionarily already, but given the availability of birth control and artificial insemination, the old rules, which mostly had to do with genetic competition, carrying the best genes, and ensuring a child’s legitimacy by enforcing taboos about sex and virginity, are unncessary and outdated. I’ve even seen a cover article in the Atlantic Monthly (from last year, and unforunately, I can’t find a link) proclaiming that men are irrelevant because modern technology has made strength, which is their main advantage over women, mostly irrelevant, and women are better at the kinds of things needed in the workplace now (collaboration rather than competition, etc.) Men and society need to evolve as conditions evolve. To a large extent, that hasn’t happened.

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    Vili Maunula

    Lawless: I would find more to agree with in your devil’s advocacy if it weren’t for the fact that all of the characters illustrated, not just the men, are main characters who are supposed to be strong, competent, and badass, and sexualizing the women (but not the men) in ways that undermine that strength and competence says something. Examples include clothing that would get in the way or be impractical (I forget, but I think one includes high heels) and poses that are clearly meant for eye-candy and would be completely useless for defense.

    (As an aside, this has been a pet peeve of mine in video games, where the same tradition exists.)

    But aren’t you now assuming that the book covers are meant as illustrations and not marketing materials? While I don’t know anything about these books or how they were released, I would hazard to guess that in most cases they hired illustrators who never saw the book, while the marketing departments (or their equivalent) may have glanced at it, or read a synopsis to know what to order. I would bet that the illustrations are sexualised because it has been found to sell more copies, both to a male and female audience.

    Of course, this does happen in films as well. And games, as I said. Again, probably because it sells.

    Which leads us to your point about this male gaze being prevalent in our society. Which it probably is, I wouldn’t argue that. I’m just not sure what the reasons for that are, or if they are quite as straightforward as you seem to suggest. But then again, I have been known to argue about things just for the sake of arguing about them, so don’t mind me.

    The idea of women being expected to make pleasing men a priority sounds very 19th century, but I guess it can still be true in many places. As I have mentioned before, my own experiences in life have been very different, as women have been both major role models and running the show for most of my life. So I don’t know if I should even be commenting on these topics, lacking any real understanding of or familiarity with the actual issue.

    I must say though that I’m not sure if I understand your comment about evolution. Are you suggesting that just like that we should be able to discard behaviour patterns that millions of years of evolution have hard coded into our programming? While it is absolutely true that many of these behaviour patterns have been made irrelevant by technological process, I’m not sure if it’s all that easy for us to just switch off a few millennia of genetic coding.

    Having just last night stuffed myself with unnecessary chocolate while unnecessarily watching the Eurovision song contest semi-final (and confirming that once again the ladies with the longest legs went to the final), I know for a fact that it will take a stronger man than me to fight those primeval urges.

    The “men are now irrelevant” argument pops up every now and then. And while it probably has some truth to it, it always makes me think of Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender, a video game from the early 1990s which satirises this very idea and feminism in general. I’m not saying that it is a particularly great exploration of the topic, but it is a dear childhood memory of mine, as I was playing it with an English dictionary (and learning quite a number of new words while at it!).

    So, in the end, I don’t think that I really have anything to add to the topic here. But at least I still spent my morning thinking about it. 🙂

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    cocoskyavitch

    Naw, men aren’t irrelevant, Vili. We sexualize them, too, now. I spent last night with freezer pops, uselessly watching the Dancing with the Stars finale…and of the three left standing…the two males were comic-book heroes. One, the footballer with extraordinary abs and the other the latin lover with extraordinary abs. Butt wriggling, lifts, shirtless dances—all par for the course, my friends. It is indicative of changing relationships and attitudes that we now sexualize men as eye candy in quite mainstream culture.

    And, here’s a personal observation : feel free to disagree….the way in which women are sexy on the show is much more aggressive, physical…even wildly over-the-top aggressive (Peta was being flung about in lifts by Donald Driver, but rather than a doll, she seemed a demoness whirling about him in the air…as if she was willing the moves and he was simply complying with her demands…which, of course, is true, since she was the choreographer!)

    I really loved the “I Played Chicken with a Train” dance!

    http://www.youtube.com/embed/c1AVo-UeN28

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    Amnesty11

    Lawless:

    What it boils down to is that even in romance, a genre aimed at women, not men, women are depicted as sexy fantasies, not in ways that are practical or likely given their role in the narrative being illustrated, whereas men are depicted attractively but straightforwardly and realistically. It’s another rather glaring example of the prevalence of male gaze in society that’s so permeated with it we all take it for granted — to the point where women sometimes enforce it more fiercely than men do.

    It seems to me that things are changing tho. I feel like women are finally coming into their own sexuality, in a way unlike any time before this, in America at least. Younger women especially are so comfortable with sex and with their own needs for it that the older ways of thinking that spread across all of society – that women shouldn’t be demeaned by being trapped in that male gaze, seems almost irrelevant now. Meaning that when we are trying to protect women from the male gaze and make them see how sexist it is, we also are saying that we somehow need that protection, as if we aren’t dialed into our own bodies, our own fantasies of ourselves, our own fantasies of others. Maybe the posing and the posturing is created by men, but I think women often totally dig it. Not as a being trapped in another person’s fantasy of what a woman might be (a sex object of any sort), but as a super sexual being in her own right that likes to show that off, act on it, be it, live it.

    A couple of years ago, the TV show Glee in it’s first season made some huge leaps for societal “norms.” There was, of course, the young gay high school student who came out – that wasn’t super new on TV, but the way it was handled won that actor an Emmy. But to our discussion here, there was also an amazing risk taken in one scene where the lead actress (Leah Michele) and the male lead (Cory Monteith) are starting to make out. He is a member of the Celibacy Club at school because his girlfriend the cheerleader started it. Of course he is hot and bothered by this new girl and they begin to kiss but he calls it off. Leah Michelle gets really frustrated and starts yelling at him about what a joke the Celibacy club is. She runs out of the room, but turns back to tell him “I have a big secret about girls that you guys have no clue about! And that’s that we like sex! We want it just as much as you do!!”

    I wanted to stand up and applaud right there in my living room! What an amazing breakthrough! I totally believe that half of the problem with feminism and sexism both is not recognizing how teen girls/grown up women want to get it on as much as teen boys/grown up men do! We have always been made to feel bad about those feelings whether from sexists (men wanting to control how we are supposed to feel about those feelings, making us feel like whores for wanting it or society telling us that if we have that feeling and show it, then we are “asking to be raped.”) and feminists too who also make those feelings seem like they are projected onto us by others and couldn’t possibly be felt by us. At least that was my interpretation growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in America.

    I love that young women are in their bodies and having sex when they want to and showing off their physicality when they want to. I know that of course, there is still the despicable possibility that a woman feeling/acting like that is seen as a whore and a wanna be rape victim. I get that, but maybe, just maybe things are changing. Women are coming really really into their own.

    I mean yes, Coco, that dance number on DWTS was all about that Pita woman being a totally actualized sex goddess, completely in control of her wild woman side. Although it was the most ridiculous dance I think I’ve ever seen, she pulled it off phenomenally! (Ridiculous because I hate country western and it seemed like such a weird dance all the way around. Not ridiculous because she was so strong in it.)

    The other thing that I think is cooler than cool nowadays is the rise of the sexy older woman! Cougar, whatever. I love that a woman my age and older are still considered sexual and desirable and not in any way “done.” I’m not!

    We women have it going on – we truly do and I’m proud of us.

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    Amnesty11

    Vili, I hope you realize that I am blowing bubbles in my Avatar, and not trying the Duckface! 😛 Also my ta-tas are nicely camouflaged in my mom’s old navy jacket…., no leaning over for the camera here! lol!

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco: Naw, men aren’t irrelevant, Vili. We sexualize them, too, now.

    Oh, I know very well that women do that. If it were an Olympic sport, my wife would be contending for a gold medal at objectifying men. 😆

    But from a purely social and biological point of view, I think Lawless’s comment about men becoming or already being evolutionarily irrelevant, stands. While it is a terribly generic statement to make, on average women do seem to make better leaders, workers and carers. And once the technology to fertilise an egg with another egg becomes available, there isn’t really much left for men to particularly excel in.

    In an case, funny dance, that chicken thing. 🙂

    Amnesty: We have always been made to feel bad about those feelings whether from sexists (men wanting to control how we are supposed to feel about those feelings, making us feel like whores for wanting it or society telling us that if we have that feeling and show it, then we are “asking to be raped.”) and feminists too who also make those feelings seem like they are projected onto us by others and couldn’t possibly be felt by us.

    This reminded me of the film Waking the Dead, which I liked more than most people seemed to at the time. Maybe because it has the always brilliant Jennifer Connelly and Billy Crudup, two of my favourite actors.

    Anyway, early on in the film’s story the two characters are in a fairly hot romantic relationship. (Which might also explain my love of the film.) In the commentary track, the director Keith Gordon mentions how in the advance screenings of the film they collected audience feedback about the characters, and a lot of people saw Crudup’s character as positive, strong and masculine, while Connelly’s was perceived negatively because she was seen as “slutty”.

    This puzzled the director (and me!), and if I remember correctly (it’s been almost ten years since I watched the film with the commentary, so I may not) he goes on to talk about how this taught him about how differently people perceive men and women, even if they are basically doing the same things. For me, this was perhaps the first time that I really realised that some people do judge male and female sexuality differently, even in supposedly modern and sexually liberated western countries.

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    cocoskyavitch

    …perhaps the first time that I really realised that some people do judge male and female sexuality differently

    that’s right, Vili. That’s still true. Young women are seeing themselves as free, strong, and yet…and yet…society has some problems with it, and sees and judges them differently. But, dude, things are a bit less constrained…I mean we aren’t stoning the woman like the scene in Zorba the Greek.

    And naw….naw, men aren’t irrelevant….what a very interesting time to live, though… when sexual roles are finding more fluidity…do you know, a decade ago I couldn’t have students wrap their minds around the sexual culture of ancient Greece…

    lawless, those pics are pretty funny. I think Vili is right, though-those source pics fall under the “fantasy” category much like a Vargas print from olden times…an idealized sexuality…and the secondary sex characteristics (breasts) can be emphasized by the poses shown…(everybody knows you throw your arms back and twist your torso to jut out your chest and whittle away your waist…the contrast of slender waist making the breasts appear larger…) I mean, it’s all quite a simple recipe…..what are those covers selling? Sex. Men are sexy when strong-that’s why they stand face-on to viewer-they emphasize their bulk!

    And guess what….none of that is really sexist. Just sexy. I’m with Vili…it just is what it is.

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