[Disclaimer: Gender identity is extremely complex and diverse however, for this article, when I use terms like “man” or “woman” I am referring to the mainstream representation of cis-heterosexual men and cis-heterosexual women considering their images and stories dominate our media culture. Additionally, most of the examples below feature white people because I am talking about “mainstream” media culture which essentially means “white” as I wrote about in another article.]
In the U.S., “nudity” has become a short-hand word for “women’s bodies.” Each time I try to watch a film on Netflix, I know that when the rating is “R”or “MA” for nudity, I can pretty much assume that the rating is in reference to the women in the media product. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with displaying women’s bodies, it’s extremely problematic when men’s sexualized or nude bodies are routinely excluded.
This double standard is perhaps best exemplified in a video from College Humor called “HBO Should Show Dongs.” [Yes, I am aware that being a man doesn’t necessarily mean you have a penis. Refer to the disclaimer above].
This pattern of purposefully excluding men’s naked bodies isn’t necessarily a common practice in other countries or cultures where gendered nudity can be pretty equal. This is why I love watching films from other countries or even films that center on queer culture where there’s a pretty equal distribution of body parts.
While feminism has offered a space for women to grapple with body image, representation, and body-shaming, it seems that many men are still remaining covered.
Films like Magic Mike are shaking up this framework a bit where men are soaking up the spotlight of the sexual gaze.
Even Jennifer Lopez’s music video for the song “I Luh Ya Papi” offers a different type of narrative where she strategically features attractive men wearing speedos with women gawking at their bodies. While the tide is slowing changing, there still exists a pervasive double standard that leads to men covering up while women’s bodies continue to be used as sexual props.
Though Blurred Lines is often cited as the most horrendous display of unequal power dynamics in mainstream media culture, other recent examples demonstrate the double standard between the display of bodies.
Here are 5 recent examples of men who should have been naked or hyper-sexualized, but weren’t.
1. Christian Grey
Really? I read all three books in the 50 Shades of Grey saga because at the time there was an immense amount of controversy about Ana and Christian’s relationship and I wanted to be in the loop. Though I thought the books were very poorly written, I personally felt intrigued by the story line and was excited to see the film [until I saw the casting choices]. The book is graphic so I knew that droves of people would be flocking to theaters to see some action.
If anyone saw the film, they know that Ana [the lead character] is naked A LOT…which is fine…because she’s having sex. What’s odd is that the viewer NEVER EVER gets to see full-frontal nudity from Christian despite the fact that most folks went to see the film for him. There is one really quick part [and I mean quick] where Christian pulls his pants down and the viewer gets to see a tiny bit of his penis, however, we never actually see full-on frontal nudity which was pretty surprising. Sure, we saw his backside, but that’s not exactly what people were there to see. Hopefully in the next installment, they’ll show us what Christian really has to offer.
2. The Weeknd “Earned It” Music Video
Speaking of 50 Shades of Grey, let’s quickly focus on a song that was featured in the film from The Weeknd. “Earned It” is a sexy song with gorgeous vocals, but when I saw the video, I was confused. 50 Shades of Grey is predominantly coded as a book for heterosexual women [I think that’s pretty safe to say], yet the music video features sexy burlesque white women dancers, while the man [lead singer] is fully clothed. Throughout many parts of the video, he is sitting down watching the women perform on stage, reinscribing tropes about men gazing and women operating as muses for men. If this was just a general video, I wouldn’t care, but this song was attached to the 50 Shades of Grey enterprise. Why aren’t there sexy men dancing or giving women lap dances? The directors of that video might need to watch Magic Mike.
3. Rihanna’s music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money”
I’m going to preface my quick observation with a note that I think Rihanna’s video was super clever in her strategic desecration of white women’s fragility. Many people I admire have written excellent pieces summarizing why her video is significant and brilliant from a black feminist perspective; however, I will say that I was disappointed at the end when she didn’t show the body of the accountant. The viewer witnessed his wife’s demise, but he was on screen for seconds.
For some, like Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous, it doesn’t necessarily matter that Rihanna chose the wife to focus on in the video because for many black women, white women and white men’s bodies are symbolically interchangeable because of their violence towards people of color. McKenzie says:
“But here’s what white feminists don’t get (and what has them fucked up): black women often see white women as the same as white men. The harm done to us by white men and white women isn’t vastly different to many of us. White women have been unapologetically violent towards black women for centuries. They’ve used the power of the state, of the police, of the courts, of the media, and of individual white men to harm black people, including black women, time and time again. They are as harmful to us as white men are. So, for many of us, kidnapping the white brother or the white wife is all the same.”
Brilliant points. I completely agree; however, I still think it would have been a little refreshing to see just a snippet of what she does to him at the end.
4. Adam Sandler and Kevin James
The photograph of Selena Gomez alongside Adam Sandler and Kevin James sparked a national conversation about the unequal power dynamics of display politics in Hollywood. The trite ritual of women engaging in labor to look like supermodels while men are allowed to like they just finished a marathon feels archaic and unfair. There seems to be a fear in our culture of heterosexual men being the objects of desire or the objects of public consumption which is demonstrated in this photograph.
5. Ryan Guzman in the Boy Next Door.
Yes, I admit that I actually watched the film. I wanted to have a trashy movie night so I bought 50 Shades and The Boy Next Door the same night and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Through previews and trailers, The Boy Next Door basically promised viewers that we would be seeing some intense sexual action. I was hopeful that Guzman, who played the young neighbor next door, would be hyper-sexualized, but I was disappointed. Jennifer Lopez looked stunning as usual, but the movie spent more time centering on Guzman’s back story than they did his front and backside. Sure, while we did get to see his backside, we really didn’t get to see anything else. In fact, we see a naked blonde girl who is supposed be a high school student [which is weird] while she performs sexual acts on him, but we don’t see full-frontal nudity from Guzman at all. I’m almost certain that if this film was called Girl Next Door, the lead actress would be completely naked, but of course in this film, our boy isn’t.