I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the ways in which we – meaning consumers of heterosexual, lesbian and to some extent bi porn – are trained to look at the women in visual smut and overlook the men. Looking at, admiring, and sexualizing women is the default setting of our cultural eyeballs. Women are everywhere, and they are dressed (or undressed) to impress. Straight women are a part of this too – they look at women in a sexualized way that would be entirely unacceptable for straight men to look at one another. Is it necessary to break with this way of looking in order to be liberated or to have porn for women? A woman who commented on my blog Waking Vixen a while back seems to think so:
I’m more or less anti-porn, but wanted to research women-made porn to see the other side of the debate. It interests me that all your blog posts and photos seem to be about and feature naked women and not men. Why is that? Why no sexualization and objectification of men? I just can’t see how perpetuating the women splayed out for male consumption model of porn is very feminist or challenges the dominant discourse of mainstream pornography.
When I was doing media studies and art history in college, there was much to-do about the male gaze – a masculinized way of looking at, visually dissecting, and owning women’s bodies. To some extent, we all participate in this – both men’s and women’s mainstream magazines nourish it for sure. But I think there’s also something potentially empowering in being a woman (whatever her sexual orientation is) actively looking at and engaging with other women’s bodies. I know that I didn’t really look at women’s bodies until I started working in the sex industry. I had, and to some extent still have, expectations about the prettiness and perfection of other women’s bodies – I was in awe of women who were hot enough to make money by being pretty (and cunning). But the closer I got to them, the more I saw not just their imperfections, but also their varying self-doubt and self-pride. And I became one of them – both beautiful and flawed. You can’t really know what women look like if you don’t really look at them. And in that respect there’s nothing wrong or debilitating/objectifying about looking.
But with that argument made, it’s also important to think about why it is that the sexiness of men is so often out of the picture. I’m entirely at fault for this in my own work – sure, it’s my subconscious, it’s the easy availability of pictures of pretty naked ladies, it’s the circles I travel in. There are a million excuses. But the fact remains that given the chance to write about, re-post, or link to images of hot men, I veer towards images of women instead. I’m bisexual, and perhaps visually pulled towards women more than men, but I certainly enjoy ogling and objectifying my male partner in the flesh. So why don’t I seek out images of sexy men?
Obviously there is a thriving gay male porn industry in the world, and many women enjoy watching gay porn. It’s readily available, and the dudes are hot. Of the women I know who enthusiastically watch gay porn, many say that part of their motivation is that gay porn circumvents the whole conversation about female empowerment in porn. If there are no women, you don’t have to worry about whether the female performer really wants that come on her face or if the director is demanding that she take it in the kisser. And there’s definitely something about gay porn that feels like indulging in forbidden fruit. It’s not made with ladies in mind, which is why its fun to peek in on that world. And masturbate to it.
Reading between the lines of the comment from my reader, she seems to be implying that the scale of objectification would be balanced a little better if feminist porn makers put more effort into objectifying men. In many ways this is true, but there are a whole different set of issues when it comes to the gentleman. Many female directors who cast men in their films have had luck with casting better looking men; it turns out that women like hot men much more than they like ugly ones (hence the gay porn). But extremely good looking, well muscled men often read as gay. This is a weird thing about our culture – there’s that deep seated assumption that women don’t really like to look at guys, and if a guy presents himself to be ogled, he must be performing for other gay men. Sometimes this is true (hello, Playgirl!), but a big part of the problem is that the heterosexual female gaze is negated and all looking at men is coded as somehow gay. Convoluted for sure.
I don’t necessarily think there’s a different, not-gay way to look at men and photograph them to make them look less gay or more appealing to women. I think it’s in the ways we’re looking, and weird cultural distortion glasses we all seem to wear when looking at male hotness. The challenge is not to find a not-gay way of looking, but to stop believing there are so many different ways to see. And my personal challenge is to spend more time looking for and writing about sexy images of men.