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Men Are Much Harder: Gendered Viewing of Nude Images Author(s): Beth A.

Eck Source: Gender and Society, Vol. 17, No. 5 (Oct., 2003), pp. 691-710 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3594705 . Accessed: 02/09/2011 17:02
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MEN ARE MUCH HARDER Gendered Viewingof Nude Images

James Madison University

Drawing on 45 interviews, this article addresses how heterosexualmen and women respond to and discuss opposite and same-sex nude images in distinctive ways. Viewingbothfemale and male nudes to provides an opportunity observe the sexual and gender identityworkmen and womenperformwhen confrontedwith this culturalobject.Both men and womenhave access to shared, readilyavailable culand turalscriptsfor interpreting respondingtofemale nude images.Neithermen nor womenare culturand ally adeptat the interpretation use of nudemale images,particularlythe man in the softpornframe. Men respond to this male nude with overt rejection and stated disinterest. Womenare more likely to reject the seductive advance or welcome it with attachedfeelings of guilt. Keywords: body; nude; pornography; images; gender

Recent scholarshipin the sociology of culturehas paid a lot of attentionto issues or of audienceinterpretation the constructionof meaning(Griswold 1987; Liebes and Katz 1990; Shivley 1992). The issue of culturaluse has similarly garnered attention(Beisel 1992; Corse 1997; Griswold 1987; Long 1986; Radway 1984, obviously intertwinesince whatpeople use especially chap.4). The two literatures of culturefor influences theirinterpretations it. Littleof this research,however,has consideredsystematicdifferencesin how men and women both interpret seriously and use cultural works. I investigate both how men and women interpretnude images throughhighly patterned,gendered lenses and, simultaneously,how the allows men andwomen to constructtheirsexualidentities. processof interpretation focused interviews with 45 people, I demonstratethat heterosexual Through men and women respondto and discuss opposite- and same-sex nude images pubin licly (i.e., in the presenceof an unknownresearcher) distinctiveways. Both men
AUTHOR'S NOTE:An earlier version of this article was presentedat the 1997 InternationalVisual Sociology Association meetings in Boston. For their commentson an earlier draft of this article, the author wishes to thank Jill Fuller, Sharon Hays, James Davison Hunter, Karin Peterson, Bess For Rothenberg,and Saundra Westervelt. their assistance on later versions of this article, the author wishes to thankSarah Corse, ShariDworkin,Fletcher Linder,and the anonymousreviewersat Gender
& Society. GENDER & SOCIETY,Vol. 17 No. 5, October2003 691-710 DOI: 10.1177/0891243203255604 ? 2003 Sociologists for Women in Society



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andwomen have access to shared,readilyavailableculturalscriptsfor interpreting and responding to female nude images (it is part of the "culturaltoolkit") (see and Swidler 1986), althoughtherearegendereddifferencesin those interpretations Neithermen norwomen, however,areculturallyadeptat the interpretaresponses. tion and use of nude male images; they have particular difficulty commentingon the male in the soft porn pose. Thus, some images of male nudes requiremore "work"by individual viewers because cultural scripts are less readily available. The process of viewing nudes provides a clear opportunityto observe the sexual and genderidentitywork men and women performwhen confrontedwith this culturalobject. The researchpresentedhere is an extension of an earlierstudy thatinvestigated the significance of the frame in one's reception of nude images (Eck 2001). That nudeimagesprojectassertedthattherearethreeframesthathelp one understand art, pornography, and information (e.g., medical texts). In addition, the commodified frame of advertising provides an increasingly importantfourth frame.In thatearlierwork,I arguedthatframescome to adhereto images. The conaidedby but tentof an image is important, the meaningof the contentis importantly the context.Forexample,one female nude(Titian'sVenus Urbino)is recognized of her: as artbecause of the conceptualframethatsurrounds the old-lookingpaintthat conveys her body and position, her body shape that suggests a model from a past time, andher pose thatharkensback to a particular periodof art.These cues frame her and instruct respondents on how to understandher: She is to be revered, admired,keptin the sacredrealmof art,wherethe bodies are not presentedfor sexual pleasure. Thus, the context and content of nude images exist in a dialectical relationship. My earlierwork,then,was concernedwith how people apply a varietyof frames to nude images. I now ask, what otherresources, in particulargender, do people drawon when makingsense of these images? What do men and women do differently when they look at images of nude men and women? How do these different ways of seeing simultaneouslyallow for the mobilizationand elaborationof identity work? LITERATURE REVIEW Thehistoricalprevalenceof female nudeimages cannotbe denied(Berger1977; Bordo 1993; Callaghan 1994; Clark 1985; Nead 1992; Pollock 1988). The availabilityof these nudes has affectedhow men and women receive them. Both understandthatthe female nude is thereto be looked at, an activeprocess by the assumed male viewer (De Lauretis 1987; Gamman and Marshment 1989; Metz 1982; Modleski 1982; Mulvey 1975) andthatshe invites the gaze, the passive positionof being viewed (Berger 1977). process, one thatcalls on individualsto "do Looking at the nudeis an interactive gender"(West and Zimmerman1987)-to "reflector express"who they are. For



men, gazing at images of nude females helps to remindthem of their masculinity (Dines 1992; Kimmel 1990). For women, gazing at these same images offersthem lessons on how "women"look. However, the viewing experience for women is more complicatedthan it is for men. As Betterton(1987, 3) suggested, "Women have an ambiguousrelationshipto the nude visual image. This is because they are representedso frequentlywithin images yet their role as makers and viewers of images is rarelyacknowledged." the Understanding viewer/viewedexperienceas outlinedabove has come under criticism from Bordo (1999). She noted that "passive"does not describe what is going on when one is the object of the gaze. "Inviting,receiving,responding... are attentionto appearanceinvolves a lot of active behaviors"(p. 190). Furthermore, it hardworkandis aboutmorethan"sexualallure"; also indicatesone is disciplined and has "theright stuff' (p. 221). While female nude images are prevalentin society (thoughtheir positioningas activeor passive maybe disputed),the oppositeis trueof male nudes.These images are less common and less availablefor objectification(Coward1985; Davis 1991; Saunders1989). However,Bordo noted the recent increasein images of nude and scantily clad men, particularlyin fashion advertising.She arguedthis increase is not a responseto heterosexualfemale pleas for morenakedmen buta productof the "eroticizingthe malebody,male sensuousgay male aesthetic-gay photographers ness, and male potency"--as well as the buying power of gay men (Bordo 1999, 183). While Betterton(1987, 11) assertedthatwhen women aregiven the opportuas nity to view nudemales that"powerandcontrolarenot so easily reversible" who "hasthe power to look is embeddedin culturalforms,"Bordo suggested the same uneasiness for men. "Formany men," Bordo (1999, 172) stated, "bothgay and straight,to be so passively dependenton the gaze of anotherpersonfor one's sense of self-worthis incompatiblewith being a real man."A similarassertionhas also been made by Coward(1985) and Davis (1991), who arguedthis is because men have controlledwho looks at whom. In fact, looking at nude men can call into question men's own heterosexuality. For example, Pronger's(1990) examinationof heterosexualand homosexualmen in sportsuggests thatall men, gay or straight,look at one anotherin lockerrooms. However,the men he interviewedsaidthattheywere taughtearlyon thatone should not get caughtlooking lest he be thoughta "fag."If he looks too long or likes looking, it raises seriousquestionsabouthis sexualidentityand,hence, his masculinity. Similarly, Kimmel (1994, 133) stated, "The fear-sometimes conscious, sometimes not-that othersmightperceive [men]as homosexualpropels [them]to enact all mannerof exaggeratedmasculine behaviorsand attitudesto make surethat no one could possibly get the wrong idea about [them]." Forwomen, looking atmen is complicatedas well. Disch andKane(1996) noted therecan be ramificationsassociatedwith "peekingexcessively" at nakedmen. To look critically at men goes against the feminine role and disruptsthe power relationship.Everyoneseems more comfortablewhen a womangives up herauthoritative position and assumes a docile one.1


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 2003

Bordo (1999, 177) noted thatwomen "arenot used to seeing nakedmen frankly portrayedas 'objects' of a sexual gaze." Women arejust learning to be voyeurs. Althoughwomen may be more accustomedto seeing male bodies, they arenot as accustomedto having those bodies "offered"to them. In short,the literature suggests thatmen and women have a certainfacility with of nude women but lack the same vocabularyand comfort level viewing images looking at men. Whathappens,then, when men andwomen confrontthe male nude image in a public setting? RESEARCH DESIGN This study involved in-depth,face-to-face interviews with 45 people collected natureof the research, throughsnowballsampling.Given the potentially"delicate" or I foundit useful to be introducedto potentialintervieweesby acquaintances previous interviewees. This method also allowed for purposiveselection of responacrossgender,age, andeducation.My samdistribution dentsto ensureappropriate ple included 23 men and 22 women (see Table 1). Most of the respondentswere non-Hispanic white, with 2 African Americans, 1 Mexican American, and 1 KoreanAmericanin the sample. The respondentsrangedin age from 18 to 65 and were roughly divided between those younger than 35 and those older. The interviews took place in variouslocations includingNew Hampshire,Ohio, Pennsylvania, California,Virginia,andthe Districtof Columbiawherea snowballsamplewas startedin each.2Half of my respondentsheld a high school diplomaas theirhighest degree, and half held at least a bachelor'sdegree, with a significantminorityholding advanceddegrees at the time of the interview.I interviewedthe majorityof my respondentsindividually but also interviewed5 couples to explore the effect of work I was askingintervieweesto do. The genderedinteractionon the interpretive interviewsaveraged1.5 hours. I presentedthe respondentswith 23 images of the nude drawnfrom four contexts-medical texts (informationframe), "adultentertainment" magazines (pormagazines(commodifiedframe),and artbooks (art nographicframe),mainstream the frame)(see the appendixfor a list of images). I arranged images in sets of two to The four,groupedby similarityof pose andsubjectmatter.3 selection of the images Thatis, I wantedto ensuresome similarityof was both purposiveand exploratory. pose as the initial projectwas focused on the importanceof contextualcues, and I wantedto be sure the images came from a variety of sources;however, I was not concerned with including particularperiods of art or specific magazine titles. I selected images with attentionto poses, positions, and mediums. For example, I selected an "artistic" image of a pregnantwomanto juxtaposeagainstthe commeron of cially stylized photograph Demi Moorenudeandpregnant the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.Each image was color xeroxedto a similarsize, pasted onto a neutralbackground, laminated.Duringthe interviews,I passed each set of images and



1: Respondent Characteristics TABLE Characteristic Meanage Education Highschool B.A. M.A./M.S. Ph.D. M.D. J.D. Religion/spirituality Religious Spiritual Both Neither affiliation Political Conservative Moderate Liberal Libertarian Socialist None Women(n = 22) 37 years 12 4 3 3 0 0 10 7 2 3 4 8 7 0 1 2 Men (n = 23) 38 years 11 3 5 0 2 2 8 6 2 7 8 9 3 2 0 1

to the intervieweesso thatthe respondentscontrolledthe lengthof time theyviewed each image. The largerstudy,within which this researchis located, was focused on complicating the simplistic public discussions that revolve aroundpublicly funded art. Those discussionsfrequentlyfocused on the "types"of people in the debate,classifying those who defend Robert Mapplethorpe'swork as "art,"for example, as and (Eck 1995). Missing fromthose "pedophiles" those who do not as "Christians" discussions was the importantrole context plays in the interpretation process. Hence, the focus of the interviewaskedrespondentsto identify anddiscuss the origin of each image and its social meaning.In most cases, viewers knew the correct origin (e.g., images from National Geographicand Penthousewere easily identified as were images from "artbooks"). Othertimes, respondentsguessed (e.g., the Calvin Klein ad was thoughtby some to be a photographtakenduringthe depression). The following gender analysis exists within that interview framework(see Eck [2001] for an examinationof contexton the interpretation process). The initial and discussion of context were followed by (1) a discussion of art and questions (e.g., How does one define each of these concepts?), (2) the responpornography dent's culturalconsumptionhabits (e.g., Does one read a newspaper?How much does one watchtelevision?), and (3) questionsaboutthe respondent'sreligiousand political orientationas well as his or herpositions on a varietyof social issues (e.g.,


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 2003

homosexualparenting,condom availabilityin public schools). The originaldesign of was set up to see if "types"of people andtheirinterpretations nudes could be so classified. I did not ask respondentsabouttheirsexualorientations.Onlytwo easily men, a couple, volunteeredto me thatthey were homosexual.This couple hadbeen togetherfor five years, andboth of the men were physicians.Theirreactionsto the body arecomplicatedby the confluence of these two factors,and so in this articleI only focus on assumed heterosexualresponses.4An examinationof homosexual by responses is certainlywarranted anotherstudy.5 Therearesome limitationsto this study.Because of the small samplesize, I hesitate to make generalizationsabouthow men and women view nudes, and I cannot make any claims about nonwhite respondentsas a group. The sample is mostly workof intersectinggenderwith nonwhite andheterosexual,andso the important white racial and ethnic cultures (and the correspondingstandardsof beauty and ways of looking) is not done here. Within this study, the responses of nonwhite respondentsdid not vary from those of the white respondents.It should also be noted that most of the subjectsin the images were white, with the exception of a Robert Mapplethorpephotograph(Thomas) and the two images from National Geographic (for some discussion about race within the images, see Eck [2001]). a Furthermore, retrospectiveview from this inductiveanalysis suggests thatthere are surely more pointed questions that could be asked. However,this exploratory workdoes beginto shedlight on how heterosexualmen andwomenunderstand and, male nudity. hence, interactwith images of nudity,particularly I first turn to a discussion of how heterosexualmen and women view female nudes. Because of the existing researchon the viewing of female nudes, my summaryis relativelybrief. The bulk of my discussionfocuses on the less studiedtopic of both genders viewing male nudes. LOOKING AT WOMEN The firstset of images thatrespondentsin this study see containsfour bodies, all photographed. Cindy Crawfordposes on the cover of Rolling Stone, armscrossed overherbarebreasts.The image is croppedatmidthigh,anda piece of fabriccovers herpubic area.CalvinKlein model KateMoss faces the camerain an ad, croppedat the waist, one barebreastexposed. Thereis also a black-and-whitephotographof Lisa Lyontakenby RobertMapplethorpe. is coming out of She formerbodybuilder the waterfully nude. Finally,the set includes a heavy-set womanphotographed by HarietteHartigan.She is seated, her nude body three-quarters exposed to us. The second set of female images that respondentsview includes reclining nudesTitian's Venusof Urbino,a Penthousenude, and a black-and-whitephotographof Fair magazine. Demi Moore from Vanity view the female body with a Men, as previousresearchershave demonstrated, femalenudesas objectsof pleasure sense of ownership(Berger1977).Theyinterpret



or derision and by so doing reproduceand sustain heterosexualmasculinityon a daily basis. Men's statusas "men"is reaffirmed every time they encounterandpass on the female form. Considerthe following comments from men about judgment Cindy Crawford,Lisa Lyon, and Kate Moss. "I think she's beautiful physically. "I From PersonallyI thinkshe is attractive." like that.That'swhatwe dreamabout." an older man, "She's a good-lookin' girl."One man repeatedlytold me thatCindy Crawford is a "professionally sexy, good-looking woman." Conversely, men's responses to the Hartigannude dismiss her as a potential candidate for desire, quickly labelingthe image as "art"-an antiseptictermthatremovesthe body from potentialerotic pleasure(Nead 1992). When men look at these images, theyreveal or no sense of embarrassment self-consciousness in renderingan opinion on these models. They assume a culturallyconferredright to evaluatethe female nude-as do the female respondents. and The Cindy Crawford Lisa Lyon images elicit these commentsfromwomen: "I wish I had a body like that,"or "She's an attractivewoman.I'd love to look like that."Many women echoed this response from 26-year-old Sophie: If I'mwaiting a doctor's in officeI'll openupa Glamour aMirabella something or or I butI really it's of don't them. think more, theportrayal thesethinmodels and buy just I justget depressed.... I'm veryhard myself,wanting be thatway. on to Like the men, the women I interviewedlook at the female nude with an evaluative eye. Unlike the men, their eyes were simultaneouslyon their own appearances. Womenviewers use female nudesto reflect on theirown bodies andwhether these bodies are acceptableto themselves and others.Because the definitionof the "ideal" female body is partly imposed from the outside (e.g., the media, other women, and men), evaluating, judging, and even obsessing aboutthe body arepart of being female. In viewing the image of the heavierwoman,women, like men,first define her as art.About one-half of them then use pejorativeterms such as repulor sive, unattractive, ugly to describeher.Finally,andimportantly, they often idenwith her. For example, tify Ohthisis whatI'm goingto looklikein 10 years.(Rachel, newspaper 56, editor) I because amdisgusted it because is fat,butI'malso, she Well,thisis unfortunate by so it's rightafterChristmas I needto lose about10pounds it's a sensitive and issue. 29, (Roxanne, legalassistant) I don'tnecessarily herbodythat Her find attractive. is overweight. stomach She looks likemine(laughing). (Lori,31, lobbyist) I don'tthink is doneingoodtaste.... Americans nowit'sshowin' that us thin this [sic] is theway.Andthinis healthy I'velost60 somepounds and I'm myselflatelybecause into and yourself what feelabout youryou getting my40sandit'sallinhowyoucarry self. (Paula, short-order 38, cook)


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 2003

For women, female nudes are objects to be studied,viewed, judged, and, above all, used as a comparisonforthe self--"her stomachlooks like mine,"and"Ineed to lose 10 poundsmyself." Womenboth view the image and respondas if the image is representsa partof themselvesbeing viewed. Becky,a 42-year-oldlibrarian, a little heavier than the other women in my sample. She identifies fully with the Hartigannude, but her negativereaction is not towardthe image itself but toward how society evaluatesthatimage. "I always say I was bornin the wrong century.I women like this."She indicatesthat need to go backto a time whenmen appreciated it is men who would not appreciatea body like this, a body like hers.Womenjudge other women based on what they have learnedmakes the female form pleasing to men. Furthermore, women's expertise on female forms raises no alarms or chalmadeit a point to tell me she to female heterosexuality. Only one respondent lenges was not a lesbian. Tammynoted, I that creatures. maybe think justbecause ama I think women beautiful that are I And, toward samesex so I I I woman, amnotreallysure. don'thavesexualtendencies my I but womenarebeautiful. reallythink don'twantthatpointto comeacross, I think Godknewwhathe wasdoingwhenhe madeus. Both men and women in this study easily find a languagewith which to discuss the nakedfemale image. Formen, this everydaypracticeof viewing allows themto enact theirheterosexualityandtheirpower;for women in my sample,this practice is more complicated,suggesting a sensitivity towardand even passive acceptance of externaldefinitions of female beauty and desirability.Both genders, however, talk freely aboutfemale nudes in a way thatthey cannotdo when confrontedwith the male nude.6

LOOKING AT MEN Viewing male nudes in classical Westernartallows for a separation,a physical distancingbetween the viewer and the viewed. Thus, when askedto commenton a fifth-centuryB.C.sculptureof a sleeping satyr,respondentshave little to say past relevant.Viewing It "it's art." does not seem imposing, threatening,or particularly male nudes, however,is anothermatter. contemporary My respondentslook at two sets of the male nude. The first set includes three images of frontal poses including a fifth-centuryB.C.sleeping satyr sculpture,a twentieth-century painting by Lucian Freud, and an image from Playgirl. All of with legs apartandone handbehindtheirheads.The these men aresitting/reclining of second set includes a side-view photograph Mapplethorpe a manleaningon a by a photograph titled TheBoxer in which the shadingall but conpodium (Thomas), of ceals the genitals,and a photograph SylvesterStalloneposed as Rodin's Thinker Fair.The images arehandedto the respondentsstackedin from the cover of Vanity this order.



to Althoughthe respondentsin my samplehavethe opportunity commenton six of men, the image thatreceives the most reactionis the Playgirl nude. This images is unlike viewing images of women in which comparabletime is given to each. They comment on the otherimages primarilyas they relate to this soft porn pose. For men, this is apparentas they are viewing the images. For example, Jamie, 31, looks throughthe first set of images and comments, in is because amless interested looking I at reaction of course positive less Myinitial Thislookslikeit camerightoutof Playgirl I don't or nudemalesthannudefemales. women's knowwhattheycall theequivalent magazine. All of the images are not as pleasing to look at as the images of women are,butthe Playgirl image is the one thathe will use to talk aboutthe others;it is the one he is drawnto first. Similarly,Gary,32, notes on being handed the first set of images, This practiceof This one is definitelyout of a porno." "Hmm.Men aremuch harder. on the Playgirl image firstoccurredfor one-half (12) of the men in my commenting sample, the half who laid out all the images first ratherthandiscuss them in order. Interestingly,this orderingof responses happenedwith only six women. Most of the female respondentswere like Rachel who laid out the images and said, "Thisis the high end [sculpture],this is in the middle [painting],and this is totally exploitative [Playgirl]."Women'suse of the Playgirl image to talk aboutthe otherscame out laterin the interview,when images were discussed more generallyand respondentswere askedabouttheirlevel of comfortlooking at images. Men also used this time as an opportunityto returnto the image. The male response to the Playgirl image is more uniform than the female response.A couple in theirlate 20s offers an illustrativecase. They sit at the dining room table of their Clevelandapartment mulling over the first set of male images to them. In the following interviewexcerpt,they are discussing the first presented set of male nudes. I Brian: haveno feelingabout of thesepieces. any Holly:Whatdo you mean? at knowwhat say.So to I I Brian: havenoresponse. havenoresponse all.Big deal.I don't what? he's but guy just Holly:YouknowI think a good-looking [Playgirl] I wouldrather see
him like that(she covers up the bottomhalf of thephoto with her hand). Thatkind of turnsme off a little bit.

much on Brian: don'tcareforanyof them.I havenofeelingson it. ... I can'tcomment I I themalebodybecause havea malebody. on Holly:Why?I commented thefemale. for Brian: Yeah.Butit's different a guy.It'sdifferent.
Holly: No it's not.

I Brian: looksatanother andgoes"sowhat." betyoulookatanother andgo girl Guy guy "sowhat." like don't.I pickherapart crazy. Holly:I actually a It's between Brian: guys.Big deal.That's guy.So what. Really? different If Holly:Alright. you sayso.


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 2003

Threekey pointsareilluminatedby this exchange.First,Holly mistakenlyassumes thatwhen Brianviews men he will mimic her responseto women and"pick[them] when she finds thathe does not andthathe has no She apartlike crazy." is surprised otherway to discuss them. Second,Holly coversupthe lowerhalf of the imagefrom with exposed male genitalia(atleast in front Playgirl because she is uncomfortable of a stranger).She says that it "turnsher off." Third,Brian mentionsseveraltimes thathe is a "guy"and as such has "noresponse."Both BrianandHolly arereciting bits of the social script.For Holly, her female identityinvolves her abilityto judge, evaluate,and compareherself to female images. It also involves a certaincaution about looking at naked men. Brian must be careful too. Whereas Holly seems repulsed and maybe embarrassed,Brian suggests there is something troubling about one man looking at a nude image of a man. These three themes reverberate discussion of men viewthroughthe responsesin this study.I now turnto a broader male nudes. ing "I Like Women" Heterosexualmen respondto male nudes in two ways-with overtrejectionand with more with stated disinterest.Both responses construct a hypermasculinity, than one-half of the men in this sample implicitly distancing themselves from homosexuality.They also indicatethatbecause they "don'tgo looking"for images of men, viewing them is just not somethingthey areused to doing. Theirresponses suggest thatwhen men look at both women and men they affirmtheirheterosexual masculinity-in the first case by gazing and evaluatingand in the second by not gazing and evaluating.Looking at male nudes involves more elaborateresponses than those responses directedtowardfemale nudes. Only two men in my sample noted thatthey had the same level of comfort looking at nude men as they do nude women. Gary, a 32-year-old floral arranger,had told me that "men are much harder" when looking at the Playgirl nude, but when I askedhim if he had a different level of comfort looking at same-sex versus opposite-sex images he said, "It doesn't matter.Really."Sid, a 58-year-oldstockbroker, noted, "Imeanthatdoesn't botherme. I don't see very muchof the same sex."Whatthese mennote particularly is not a preferencefor male images but a stated indifferenceto them. Most men, however,were like Jorge, who stated,"Definitely I like to look at women."When asked if this meanthe was uncomfortablelooking at men, he said, "No. I just like women." men do not identifywith nakedmale images the way women idenInterestingly, tify with nakedfemale images. For example, the sample of male images contains well-definedbodies as well as one overweightindividual.Only one male remarked, with referenceto the heavy male, "That'llbe me in 50 years."'And only two men in my study identified with the well-built men. For example, Arthur,a 38-year-old professional managerwho defined himself as a "stick-up-the-ass-preppie-type," noted, "Thisis a stud.I would love to look like him."But it is Arthur'ssubsequent discussion of male nudes that speaks to viewing as a means of affirming his


masculineheterosexuality. Being interviewedalong with his wife Cassie, a college him some freedomto admirethe male body withoutfear of being professor,gives asserthis machismothroughhis language. seen as a homosexual.Buthe can further Arthur'sresponse below is to an image from Playgirl, and it providesa useful illustrationof his efforts to maintaina "manlyfront"(Kimmel 1994). at for is with So Youhavetobecareful nudity. looking DemiMoore sortof 10seconds mightbe a bitmuch.I okay,butlookingat thisguy'sballsformorethan5 seconds if Fuck colorarehiseyes?" mean, lookatthatandsomeone's you goingto say,"What Yeah. I know.But "Howmanytesticlesdoeshe have?" Two."Ishe circumcised?" (Arthur) Here, Arthuris trying to distance himself from the sexually seductive male in the He photograph. cannothelp but notice "thisguy's balls,"buthe has to be "careful" about doing so. He is not overt in his identificationwith the model the way most women were in theirdiscussions of female nudes. He does not talk of fear or hope this for himself when encountering image. Rather,Arthur, along with the othermen in my sample, speaks awkwardlyaboutthe image and in doing so reflects his disthe comfortandperhapsdisassociationwith manas object.Moreimportant, chance to state the way he receives this image provides a site where his own heterosexual masculinity can be demonstrated.This masculinity precludeslooking "for more than 5 seconds." Similarly,let's returnto Holly and Brian and listen to Brian:I ask them if they have a differentlevel of comfort looking at same-sex versus opposite-sex images. view women andso Holly, like most (16) of the women in my sample, would rather would Brian,like all buttwo male respondents(againthese exceptions did not prefer looking at men but simply did not have one preferenceover another).Now rememberthatBrianstatedthathe could not really commenton men becausehe is a man. He told me laterin the interview,"Yeah,I'd ratherlook at the opposite sex. I would ratherlook at a pictureof a girl than a guy."I remindedhim that when he he looked at the picturesof men he set themaside and announced hadno reactionto those. I asked him what he meantby that.Holly interjected,"Areyou afraidthatif you look at it too long we'll thinkyou'regay?"Brianlaughedin responseto this, "I just don't carefor this. He's a man.I have whathe has andas faras the pornographic issue, it does nothingfor me. Big deal. Big deal. I'd rathersee this"he said,stabbing the image of Lisa Lyon with his finger. This exchange highlights how heterosexual men respond to images of male nudes. Brian begins by noting, "He's a man. I have what he has."This is a quick thathe sees some of himself in the image. Unlike women's comacknowledgment pulsive self-reflexivity in viewing female nudes, however, with attendantcomments aboutthemselves andhow they compare,Brianbrushesquickly past a similar opportunityfor comparison.He moves on to stress that it does "nothing" for him. The male as the objectof the pictureis meantto sexuallytitillate.Men arenot for used to viewing othermen in this positionandrefuse the opportunity doingso.


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In fact, more than half of the men I talked with stated they were virtually unable to comment on the male form. Two stated their heterosexual orientation explicitly, as if that explained their inability to comment. Others made implicit reference to their sexual preference by noting how they were raised or that they "like women" as a way of justifying their lack of response to the male nudes. One man noted, Well, thatone don't turnme on. ... And if I had to exercise my imaginationand say wheredid it come fromfor somebodywho paintedsomethinglike this I would say that maybe it is someone who is partof the gay community. This comment explicitly connects the nude male positioned for display as only accessible through the homosexual gaze. This is stated even more emphatically by Arthur: OK, I am a productof society andguys who take too much interestin guy's anatomy arevoyeursat best andgay atworstandin a lot of the worldwhich I haveto occupy,for betteror worse, gayness is not a highly regardedlifestyle. And I do find, yeah, I do havea differentlevel of comfort.I wouldnot say thatI recoil at men'snakedbodiesbut to sit here and gaze at it for too long would make someone suspect my character. That men reactively construct their heterosexuality through a disavowal of interest in male nudes can be further illustrated. Jack is 60 years old. Retired from the Navy, he now works as a benefits counselor for the service. I ask him if he has a different level of comfort looking at same-sex images versus opposite-sex images. He says, I thinkso. I'm more comfortablelooking at a woman's picture.But I thinkthat'spart of your makeup.My belief is that humanbeings come in every possible degree of totallyheterosexualall the way downto homosexualandall the way backup the other but side again.Some people areasexual.So I think,I don't findmyself uncomfortable I would thinkthatif I found thatthe male pictureswere more attractivethen I would have to wonder aboutmy own sexuality which I don't normallydo. Other men also allude to not having to wonder about their sexuality when they note that nude males are "less appealing" than women, that they "don't do anything for them," and that naked men make them "less comfortable." Hank's comments illustrate this point. Hank is a native Virginian. He is retired from the food service industry. He told me that we have always seen naked women because "it's reality. It's the way it is." He told me that he "actually stumbled into a bar in New Orleans about 30 years ago with a buddy" of his, and indeed there were paintings of naked men there. I asked him if he stayed. bar No. I didn't care for it because I figuredit was either a queerbaror a transvestite andthat'swhatit turnedout to be andI was with a good friendfromhigh school andhe said somethinglike "let'sget the hell out of here andgo see some women,"andI said, "Yeah.I don't thinkwe want to stay here too long."


Hankmakes it quite clear thatreal men shouldnot want to be in bars where naked male images are displayed.Those places could never be associatedwith a heterosexual environment,one with "realmen." Oldermen arenot the only ones to speakuneasilyaboutthe male nude.Matt,32, admitsthatI really threwhim when I introducedthe picturesof men: "Itwas like wow! Am I going to see old people next?"For Matt, images of naked males and naked "old people" occupy the same space in the margins-unusual and inappropriateobjects for viewing. The male voice is concerned,perhapseven alarmed,thathis viewing of the male will be misconstrued.Male viewers fear that looking at or thinking about male nudes may say something inaccurateabout the kind of men they are. Jamie, 31, states this even more explicitly than Jack, Matt, or Hank. Jamie and I sat at his kitchen table in New Hampshireto discuss the images: of I don'twantto look at anycontemporary pictures a nudemale .... I'mjusta bit of and at to uncomfortable looking a manwhois trying be lookedatkind sexually so I at findit mildlyuncomfortable staring it fortoo long.(Jamie) With that,Jamie's mouthgave way to a slight smile, and he covered up the image from Playgirl with a female image. If looking at men forces these men to actively,and even defensively, construct their heterosexualityin elaboratedways, what does it ask of women? The TablesTurned Unlike the fairly uniformresponses men gave to the sexually available male nude,women's responsesaremorecomplicated.I find thatwomenrespondin three ways-a few welcome the advance, some are attractedbut with feelings of guilt, and some reject the seductiveimage altogether. Threewomen in my samplesaid thatlooking at images of nakedmen is or could be stimulating. Yes. the AmI blushing? Um,is it donein badtastebecause genitals showing? are He has a nice body.I woulddefinitely pornography. . He has a fantastic .. say body and I are he's (laughs) thegenitals notbadeither (laughs).... Yeah, attractive;guess (Paula, 38) you cansayyourpulseis elevated. As faraswhenyougetintoPlaygirl, and I Playboy allof that,sure canlookatthepicand tures getphysically and turned stimulated the articles on, anyway, I canread nasty that andrealize it'sgarbage, thetrick working. readthisa lot,totally but is I've nasty, articles I'vefeltbad.I'vefeltperverted and I because wasbeingstimulated scummy at I'mmore uncomfortable I because amawoman I know and looking themaleimage in or to mybodyandit'suncomfortablethat I findanattraction I'mexcited seethe yes, malepartso maybeit makes uncomfortable. me 28) (Sophie,

but then I really tried to just let it go because I don't see it as a bad thing. (Zoe, 26)


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WhileZoe andSophiecanbe stimulated images of nudemales, they still must by work out their feelings of shame. The three women are anomalous,however, as most of the women I interviewedwere not accustomedto looking at images of men For in termsof arousaland found the idea "absurd." example: and dancers these women,I said,gosh, I don't.That Well,it's like Chippendale
doesn't do anythingfor me. I don't see how anyonecan get excited aboutthat.I don't know.I guess maybe I'm weird. (Diane, 46)

I just thinkit's absurd.... I just can't imagine this would arouseany woman. I think they would look at it andlaugh.... I hadthis friendin college who used to get it [Playgirl] andI thinka lot of times women will get it for the shock value. I don't know.I've neverheardof anybodygettingit becausetheyreally enjoy it, althoughmaybe they do to andthey areembarrassed say.I don't know.But I hada friendwho hada few of them in college andI hadneverseen themin my life andalmostdied andthenone day someone broughtone in here [workplace],I can't rememberwhich one, and it was just really ridiculous (laughs).... We were all laughing. I mean, it's ironic because I assumethey sell quite a few magazines.I can't imagine why. There'sno appealwhatsoever. So, I would imagine people buy it as a joke. (Roxanne, 29) Debbie said the same about Playgirl when she noted that her brother bought a subscription for her when she was in college, as a joke, and all the girls would run down the hall to her room to see the forbidden. She continues, I see the purposeof Playgirl being the same as Penthouse,butmaybewomen aren'tas desperateas men. I thinkPenthousesubscribersare really lonely old men or teenage boys who really haven'tfiguredout how to get girls yet. Maybe very lonely andugly (laughs) 20- and 30-year-oldsandmaybe that'snot truebut I see sortof Penthouseis desperate.Playgirl is sort of harmlessbut not really serious in any way. I don't think Playgirl has the subscriptionrate and there is only one of them and that sort of tells you somethingright there.There's only one magazine that exploits men for women andyet there are all these [magazinesthatexploit women for men], there are a lot of them. (Debbie, 34) While Playgirl might be adult entertainment for women, these two women suspect that few women take it seriously-or even know what to do with it. This comes across in the responses from other women. Women, like men in my sample, lack the tools to speak about these images of men, particularly the Playgirl male. They speak of the offensiveness of male genitalia and the comparative comfort they feel looking at nude female images. The women in my sample also acknowledge that if they saw images of men more often then they might come to view them as easily as they view female images. As Debbie puts it, I thinkI'm just more used to looking at nude women than nude men because that's with. I thinkwe're sortof indifferent,well, maybenot indifferent whatwe're barraged but it's much more acceptableto go out and see a nude woman thana nude manjust because everywherewe turnthere are images of nude women. We'retakento museums and we're told, "Well,it's OK that she is nakedbecause she's art."



As a womanit is OK to look at nude womenbecause "everywhere turn" we there are.In fact, many areeven takenby the handto museumsandinstructedon the they of appropriateness looking at nakedwomen. Debbie notes how extensive this education is by bringingup National Geographic. As long as theyweredark brownit was okayto see nakedwomen. NationalGeois middle-class We had graphic averystandard magazine. hadit;allof ourfriends itin their homes.There werenever men.So we grewupwiththatidea,thatit'sOK naked to lookat naked womenandnotnaked men.8 By omitting or de-emphasizingimages of nude men, high cultureand popular cultureinformwomen-and men-of who is the appropriate object. Peggy, 51, an assistantin a university town in Ohio, makes the same statement: administrative "I'mmorecomfortableprobablylooking at womenrather thanmen. I thinkthatI'm shy. And just a culturalthing. It's OK to look at women but it's not OK to look at men." In this context, it is not "OK,"and perhaps not desirable, for women to assume the role of actor/aggressor/maker this relationship.9 in Men andwomen arebothuncomfortableviewing male nudes,but theirdiscomfort is different.Diane, a 44-year-old legal secretaryfrom Cleveland,states, as like That's personal Well,asmuch I hatetoadmit I don'tmuch anyof these. this, my I the to feeling.Ofcourse, feelthat malebodyis notrealattractive lookat(laughing). thanmuscleformit doesnothing me. That's for reallysexist,butother Diane notes the male form "does nothing for her."She does not mean this in the same way the men mean it when they look at women. Not one man said that the female body is "notattractive." Heterosexualmen in my sampleevaluateall kinds of women in terms of sexual arousal-whether a particular woman does anything for them.Diane's statementis a blanketone-"I don't much like any of these."Any of these. The male body, male genitaliain particular, offensive to her.As Becky is notes, "Idon't know. I'm just not into men's genitalia.... It'sjust not somethingI enjoy looking at.... It's like, excuse me, I wouldratheryou didn'tpoint at me."For men andfor the women who feel ashamedorembarrassed, then,looking at the male nudes raises fears aboutidentityand sexuality.But the fears aredifferent.Men fear too long a gaze will suggest a homoeroticinterestand thus a homosexualidentity. Forwomen,the fearis thatthe active subjectwho capturesthe nudemale in hergaze is not a properlyheterosexual,"feminine"subject. From the responses above, it appearsthat the men and women in my sample demonstratethe inadequacyof the scripts availableto them. Men, over and over again, reject the seductive advance. While some women welcome the advance, most feel a combination of shame, guilt, or repulsion in interacting with the image-or, at least, in doing so publicly.It is worthnoting thatthis response spans age categories. Youngerwomen in the sample are not any more adept at viewing these images.Furthermore, appearsthatthese womenhavebeen socializedto find it


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 2003

the naked male body unattractive, perhapsby men themselves as Coward(1985) At the sametime, they acknowledgethatif they saw the male body more suggested. often they would be more comfortablein their role as the viewer here. CONCLUSION There is a dialectical experience in viewing nudes. Genderinforms how one as looks, andhow one looks informsgender,particularly it is linkedto sexualidentity. Individualsuse nudes to comment on the acceptabilityof a sexual advance. Whenwomen view the seductivepose of the female nude,they do notbelieve she is "comingon to"them. They know she is thereto arousemen. Thus,they do not have to work at rejectingan unwantedadvance.It is not for them. They look at her and respondto her with longing ("Iwish I looked like that")andfear ("Ican't look like that").The casual way thatmen respondto female nudes suggests thatthe assumptions of male heterosexualjudgmentsprevailwithout muchquestion.Womenmay resentthese images, they may uneasily identify with them, butthey arealso accustomed to the mundanepracticeof viewing them and acceptingthem. The way men assume the active subject in this relationshipand all that it entails barely warrant comment.The manreaffirmshis masculinityby conferringjudgmentas well as his heterosexualityby showing thathe is, as one respondentsaid, "headedin the right direction." Nude male images aremoredifficult.Because viewing male nudes,particularly in seductiveposes, is still unusual,the respondentsstumblethroughtheirresponses and (with laughter,embarrassment, even disinterest).Their very hesitancies and embarrassment indicate the incomplete and fragmentedculturalscripts on which they are relying. Because these men are used to being the subject in the viewerviewed relationship,they reactively construct a hypermasculineheterosexuality when the viewed object is male. The male viewer must distancehimself from the male object, speak abouthis own sexualityto reasserthis privilege,and stressthat "mendon'tinterestme."EventhoughtheyknowthatPlaygirl is an "adultentertainment magazine for women,"these men cannot dismiss the seductive pose of the male nude the way women can in the reversecase. Women,in my sample, areunaccustomedto takingon the role of subjectin the viewing experience.However,whetherthey arerepulsed,indifferent,or intrigued, women areactiveviewers. These women areworkingto evaluateandassess images as well as actively producingtheir own responses. The producedresponse is of a "feminine"sexuality-hesitant, shy, disinterested. If certainframescome to adhereto images makingthe contentand contextone, then it appearsfrom examininggenderedresponsesto the Playgirl nude thatthis is one subject that does not fit the frame. The pornographicframe (context) is presumed to encompassthe female body (content).With the Playgirl image, the pose is right,the look is clear,butthe genitaliaareall wrong. Femalerespondentsin this study suggest that they might be arousedby the male in the soft porn pose if they


were more familiar with it. Only then would this image fit the frame for them. However, it is not clear from this research that men are on their way to blending the two. What is desirable is constructed in and reflective of the dynamics of power (MacKinnon 1987). Examining how men and women view nude images guides our attention to how desire is structured, how sexuality and identity are linked, and how object-subject relations are still gendered.

APPENDIX List of Images

Set 1: Female frontal 1. CindyCrawford[C],cover of Rolling Stone,23 December 1993 to 6 January1994 2. Kate Moss [C], Calvin Klein ad, inside cover of Elle Magazine, August 1994 3. Lisa Lyon [A], 1990 (Kardon,Janet, ed. 1994. RobertMapplethorpe:Theperfect moment.Philadelphia:Instituteof Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania Press) 4. Photograph HarrietteHartigan[A], 1993 (HaldemanMartz,Sandra,ed. 1994. I by am becoming the womanI've wanted. Watsonville, CA: Papier-MachePress) Set 2: Female reclining 5. TheVenusof Urbino[A], Titian, 1536 (Bohm-Duchen,M. 1992. Thenude.London: Scala Publications) 6. Female reclining [P] in Penthouse, September1994 7. Demi Moore [C], black and white, inside VanityFair, 1992 Set 3: Male reclining 8. "Sleeping Satyr"[A], plate 157a (Sismondo Ridgway, Brunilde. 1990. Hellenistic sculptureI: Thestyles ofca. 331-200 b.c. Madison:Universityof WisconsinPress) 9. Male reclining [P], Playgirl, September 1994 Catherine.1993.LucianFreud:Recentwork.London: 10. Malereclining [A] (Lampert, WhitechapelArt Gallery) Set 4: Male focus on musculature 11. Sylvester Stallone [C], cover of VanityFair, November 1993 Peter. 1988. Thehiddenimage:Photo12. TheBoxer [A], by JamesA. Fox (Weiermair, MA: graphs of the male nude in the nineteenthand twentiethcenturies.Cambridge, MIT Press) 13. Thomas[A], by RobertMapplethorpe (Weiermair,Peter. 1988. Thehiddenimage: Photographsof the male nudein the nineteenthand twentiethcenturies.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) Set 5: Anatomy 14. Anatomy diagramof woman [I] (Boston Women's Health Book Collective. 1984. The new our bodies/ourselves.London:Touchstone) 15. Anatomydiagramof man [I] (Anson, BarryJ. 1992. Morris' humananatomy. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill)


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Set 6: Nursing females 16. Womanbreastfeeding[I],photograph (Launois,John. 1972. "Stoneage cavemanof National Geographic 142 (2): 244) Mindanao," 17. Womanbreastfeeding[C], cover of Life magazine,December 1993 Set 7: Pregnant females Nude" [A], by Imogene Cunningham,1959 (Ewing, William A. 1994. 18. "Pregnant The body. San Francisco:Chronicle) 19. Demi Moore [C], cover of VanityFair, August 1991 Set 8: Children 20. Boys playing soccer [I], photograph(Conger, Dean. 1971. "Java:Eden in transition,"National Geographic 139 (1): 34) 21. "Jessie McBride" [A], by Robert Mapplethorpe(Kardon,Janet,ed. 1994. Robert Art, Mapplethorpe:Theperfect moment.Philadelphia:Instituteof Contemporary University of PennsylvaniaPress) 22. "Virginiaat 4" [A] (Mann,Sally. 1992. Immediate family. Carson,CA: Treville) 23. "Virginiaat 3" [A] (Mann,Sally. 1992. Immediate family. Carson,CA: Treville) NOTE: frame;[C]= commodified frame;[I]= informational [A]=art frame;[P]= pornographic frame,as designated by the authorin selecting the images.

1. In Disch and Kane's (1996) analysis of an incidentinvolving female sportsreporterLisa Olson, the authorsnotedhow manyfemale sportsreporters play by the rules of the locker-room game. They are expectedto look at the nakedmen paradingaboutthembutnot for long. If, like Olson, they do, they may be called "dick-watchingbitches." 2. A lack of resources limited my researchsites to places I traveled to visit friends and/or attend conferences. 3. The respondentsviewed the sets of images in the following order:female frontal,female reclining, male reclining, male with a focus on musculature,pregnantfemale, nursingfemale, anatomydiagrams, and images of children. 4. Forexample,in viewing thePlaygirl nude,Thadnoted,"I'veseen threePlaygirls in my life andall the men have long hairlike Fabio. And it also it looks like [lookingat genitals], does he shave?Probably that his left testicle shaves."Kevin responded,"Orat least plucks."Thad goes on to say, "Interesting Kevin hangs lower thanhis rightand it's usuallythe otherway around.I rememberthatfromanatomy." Thadlooks at the genitalsagainandagrees, "Oh,you'reright.His is replies, "Idon't thinkyou'reright." While the first partof this exchange may reflect a gay male aesthetic,the rest of the exchange correct." reflectstheirexperienceas physicians.This type of respondinghappenedon at leastfourotheroccasions duringthe interview. I as 5. In doing this project,I hadto takeinto accountmy own statuscharacteristics a researcher. am a hence, I wore no marital female, and at the time of the researchI was in my early 30s and unmarried; badges. I was conscious of both my physical appearanceand my body language duringthe interviews and kept the environmentas formal as possible. Doing the interviews in cold weatherenvironments allowed me to wear turtlenecks,slacks, and blazers to all interviews. Only one respondent,a male, to openly appeared flirtwith me. In a conversationaboutthe female images, he said, "Menlike to fantasize. I could have a fantasy aboutyou."



6. I do not discuss responses to the female reclining nudes in this article. An examinationof the responsesto the Penthousenudecan be foundin Eck (2001). In short,men and women discuss the Penthouse nude with more ease thanthey do the Playgirl nude discussed withinthis article.Most of the discussions about the image revolve aroundissues of context. Also, unlike the Playgirl image, the Penthouse nude does not garnersignificantlymore attentionfrom the respondentsthanotherfemale nudes they are shown. 7. The overweightmale is painted.It is possible men and women would have commentedmore on this image if it had been a photograph.However,women did commentmore than men on this painting and statedthatthe man in the picture"looks sad."The comments by both men and women were rarely aboutsize but abouthis circumstances:"Whyarehis sheets on the floor?""He looks poor.""Is he in a mental hospital?"This line of commentaryand lack of focus on his size suggest that "fatness"is gendered. 8. See LutzandCollins (1993) for anexaminationof the darkfemale nudeinNational Geographic. 9. Segal (1994) noted that many women even admit that they change themselves into men when or engaging in sexual fantasy.Sometimesthey readhomoeroticliterature constructhomosexualstories thatallow women to identifywithbothcharacters-the personwho desiresandthe personbeingdesired.

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Beth A. Eck received a B.A. in sociology from Westminster College in 1985. She completeda master'sand Ph.D. at the Universityof Virginia, finishing her doctoraldissertationin 1996. Dr Eck is presentlybeginninga project on men outside of marriage.She is currentlyan associate professor in the Departmentof Sociology and Anthropologyat James Madison University.