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The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private

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An exciting new popular study of the male body--fresh, honest, and full of revelations In this surprising, candid cultural analysis, Susan Bordo begins with a frank, tender look at her own father's body and goes on to perceptively scrutinize the presentation of maleness in everyday life. Men's (and women's) ideas about men's bodies are heavily influenced by society's expecta An exciting new popular study of the male body--fresh, honest, and full of revelations In this surprising, candid cultural analysis, Susan Bordo begins with a frank, tender look at her own father's body and goes on to perceptively scrutinize the presentation of maleness in everyday life. Men's (and women's) ideas about men's bodies are heavily influenced by society's expectations, and Bordo helps us understand where those ideas come from. In chapters on the penis (in all its incarnations), fifties Hollywood, male beauty standards, and sexual harassment, and in discussions of topics ranging from Marlon Brando and Boogie Nights to Philip Roth and Lady Chatterley's Lover, Bordo offers fresh and unexpected insights. Always--whether she is examining Michael Jordan or Humbert Humbert, the butch phallus or her own grade-school experiences--she rejects rigid categories in favor of an honest, nuanced version of men as flesh-and-blood human beings.


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An exciting new popular study of the male body--fresh, honest, and full of revelations In this surprising, candid cultural analysis, Susan Bordo begins with a frank, tender look at her own father's body and goes on to perceptively scrutinize the presentation of maleness in everyday life. Men's (and women's) ideas about men's bodies are heavily influenced by society's expecta An exciting new popular study of the male body--fresh, honest, and full of revelations In this surprising, candid cultural analysis, Susan Bordo begins with a frank, tender look at her own father's body and goes on to perceptively scrutinize the presentation of maleness in everyday life. Men's (and women's) ideas about men's bodies are heavily influenced by society's expectations, and Bordo helps us understand where those ideas come from. In chapters on the penis (in all its incarnations), fifties Hollywood, male beauty standards, and sexual harassment, and in discussions of topics ranging from Marlon Brando and Boogie Nights to Philip Roth and Lady Chatterley's Lover, Bordo offers fresh and unexpected insights. Always--whether she is examining Michael Jordan or Humbert Humbert, the butch phallus or her own grade-school experiences--she rejects rigid categories in favor of an honest, nuanced version of men as flesh-and-blood human beings.

30 review for The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dusty

    With reference to famous male bodies -- John Travolta, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton, and others -- Susan Bordo offers in this book an insightful analysis of how, and why, men at the end of the 20th Century have become equally as insecure about their bodies as women have been for centuries before. She admits that because she is a woman her perspective is both limited and enhanced; she has no penis of her own, but perhaps that means she can more "objectively" analyze the penises of other people. T With reference to famous male bodies -- John Travolta, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton, and others -- Susan Bordo offers in this book an insightful analysis of how, and why, men at the end of the 20th Century have become equally as insecure about their bodies as women have been for centuries before. She admits that because she is a woman her perspective is both limited and enhanced; she has no penis of her own, but perhaps that means she can more "objectively" analyze the penises of other people. The fact that I've just used the word "penis" twice in one sentence should tell you something about the book -- its first half (roughly) is dedicated almost entirely to that particular organ and the various meanings it has developed over the course of human development. It's helpful to remember that Bordo is a feminist who has spent much of her career analyzing female body issues, for her analysis of male anatomy is comparative. In one of the book's more memorable sections, she contends that public nudity has come to serve a different purpose for men than women: Whereas an exposed vagina often means vulnerability, an exposed penis nearly always means power. (You can tell by the expression on the person's face.) Bordo here references fashion advertisements. However, her arguments are applicable across the board. I read the book while traveling Italy -- land of the naked statue -- and I confess: While standing in front of Boticelli's Venus, and Michaelangelo's David, I was thinking less about artistic style than I was about Bordo's book. My complaint is that after its stellar first half (about the penis/phallus), it veers in the second half into territory I found less interesting and only tangentially related. Bordo devotes her final hundred pages or so to sexual harassment and, ultimately, to her defense of Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Her claims are well-explained and persuasive; however, this rather long section felt to me more like its own separate work than a continuation of the book I had been reading up to that point.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elly Tams

    The Male Body begins with a moving account of Bordo's memories of her father's body. After that she charts the changes in culture, especially in the 1990s which have put the male body very much on display. It was written in 2000 and already seems dated. Calvin Klein ads have now been taken over by Armani for example, and the Spawn of Sporno is what we see everywhere we look. I liked her refs to film in particular with some interesting observations about The Crying Game and Boogie Nights -Dirk Digg The Male Body begins with a moving account of Bordo's memories of her father's body. After that she charts the changes in culture, especially in the 1990s which have put the male body very much on display. It was written in 2000 and already seems dated. Calvin Klein ads have now been taken over by Armani for example, and the Spawn of Sporno is what we see everywhere we look. I liked her refs to film in particular with some interesting observations about The Crying Game and Boogie Nights -Dirk Diggler's Dick deconstructed. But I didn't like her attachment to feminist and 'gay' analysis of men's bodies in culture. She mentioned my friend and compadre Mark Simpson once briefly, in relation to gay porn. But really the story of the display of the male body in contemporary culture is completely reliant on his theories of metrosexuality to make any sense at all. So without that, Bordo's arguments were incoherent. www.marksimpson.com This is an update. Having read Male IMpersonators by Mark Simpson, I think Bordo's The Male Body is a complete rip off of that book. It uses all the same subjects - The Crying Game, Tom of Finland, Gay porn, Calvin Klein, Marky Mark, Bill Clinton, and never references Simpson's work.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Ugh. I picked this up in an airport-- it was on a display table, and I hadn't heard of it before, so thinking it was new and recommended, I grabbed it. A few pages in and I figured out it was published in the late 1990s, so it feels dated, both in terms of the cultural referents Bordo draws on as well as (and more importantly) the ideas. A larger problem, for me, is that Bordo seems inordinately willing to give men a pass on lots of bad behavior because of their repressed shame and sensitivity a Ugh. I picked this up in an airport-- it was on a display table, and I hadn't heard of it before, so thinking it was new and recommended, I grabbed it. A few pages in and I figured out it was published in the late 1990s, so it feels dated, both in terms of the cultural referents Bordo draws on as well as (and more importantly) the ideas. A larger problem, for me, is that Bordo seems inordinately willing to give men a pass on lots of bad behavior because of their repressed shame and sensitivity about their inadequate penises. I'm really in a reading slump right now and I want more than anything to finish a book, but this is not going to be the one. Bordo can have her Philip Roth quotes and her tenderness toward the flaccid male's snail-like penis-- I'm out.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cody Case

    This is a crazy good read, indeed. I was fortunate enough to haphazardly read this one and bell hook's "the will to change" in the same season. they both occupy that scanty genre of feminist writers giving voice to the theme of "patriarchy against men too." bordo insightfully surveys such topics as penis size and public portrayl, consumerism and sexuality, sexual harassment, the inevitable fetishization of adolescent females, the responsibility of women to consider their sexual power in apparel, This is a crazy good read, indeed. I was fortunate enough to haphazardly read this one and bell hook's "the will to change" in the same season. they both occupy that scanty genre of feminist writers giving voice to the theme of "patriarchy against men too." bordo insightfully surveys such topics as penis size and public portrayl, consumerism and sexuality, sexual harassment, the inevitable fetishization of adolescent females, the responsibility of women to consider their sexual power in apparel, a critical review of gender roles and film since the 1920's, and more. With the exception of her film theory, I found every page worth my time. And as a man I was surprised to find her insights on men to be so astute and novel. Perhaps, though, it's because of, and not inspite of, the author being a woman. She offers a defense of the desire to cum on another's face. Explains why sexual harassment is more about harassment than about sexuality. And expounds simple social reasons why it could be that men are more "visually stimulated" than women. She hits it all, and with a candor like I've never heard before. If you like sex with men, or are a man, or are a woman who likes to have sex with women but are still interested in why men are so fucking diverse, you'll definately want to read this book (except for the film sections).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book had a lot of potential, but is riddled with simple errors that an editor ought to have caught. Beyond that, the scholarship is not strong, and while it includes some insights the material is generally dull and uninspiring. The topic is still worthwhile, and I would suggest anyone interested in the sociological nature of the male body look to one of the other books on the subject out there.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Missy

    Really interesting topic; really dry book. Bummer, I really thought I'd like this one.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    This book, published in 1999, has not aged well. Early on, Bordo notes that "If the available categories of social identity are flexible, fewer people will feel themselves--whatever their biological dispositions--in conflict with them. Part of what seems to be going on nowadays is that more people are trying to reconstruct the categories as well as their bodies" (41). That's one of the things Bordo gets right, but her analysis doesn't anticipate at all just how much reconstruction of the categor This book, published in 1999, has not aged well. Early on, Bordo notes that "If the available categories of social identity are flexible, fewer people will feel themselves--whatever their biological dispositions--in conflict with them. Part of what seems to be going on nowadays is that more people are trying to reconstruct the categories as well as their bodies" (41). That's one of the things Bordo gets right, but her analysis doesn't anticipate at all just how much reconstruction of the categories would happen in the next couple of decades. As a result, the first 100 pages or so of the book don't really say anything surprising or illuminating about the world today. Then there is a section on "public images" in which Bordo does things like detail her lusting over naked or near-naked men in underwear ads, mentioning, for instance, how "biteable" she finds a pair of male "buns." I was alive in the 1990s, so I get that heterosexual female desire wasn't discussed in the same way as male as heterosexual male desire, and that this move was not merely prurient but intellectually transgressive. That doesn't change the fact that after #metoo, it feels really creepy. It truly is possible to not merely look at but admire the naked human form without imagining that it's your plaything to do whatever you want with. And even if you do imagine it, you really don't have to announce it to everyone else. There's an extended defense of Bill Clinton's sexual escapades that just seems willfully ignorant. I really hope Bordo has reconsidered the position she takes here. There's a chapter on Lolita in which Bordo informs readers that she had to read it three times before she figured out that it's not sexy for a middle-aged man to rape a 12-year-old. She asks readers to take seriously the proposition that "we are all Humbert Humbert." NO! We do not all kidnap prepubescent children and make them our sex slaves. In between all that crap there is the occasional meaningful insight. I'm glad I finally read this book; it's been on my shelf forever. And there is one passage I'll quote in a project I'm working on. But I don't actually recommend it to anyone else.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Griffnilla

    Though this came out in 1999, I appreciated the ability to revisit details of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair, and Bordo's untangling of details and analysis of the complexities in how we define sexual harassment. [See her chapter The Sexual Harasser is a Bully, not a Sex Fiend.]

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Martin

    About as unfocused and meandering a work of non-fiction that I have ever read. The author needed to stick to the topic of the book. I finished it, but hated her lack of focus. Pass on this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Loved this. Wish I had taken notes- it's really a textbook worth of information and theory. It's definitely dated, from the ads highlighted to the section on Bill Clinton's manhood (woof), but the sections on classic Hollywood and on the 90s switch to objectifying male bodies in ads were timeless. Made me want to rewatch Streetcar Named Desire and Philadelphia Story asap. Recommend for any gender theory geeks and/or people who track their lives and development by which movies they saw when.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Darren

    I can almost positively say I have never read or thought about the penis as I have in the last week. Usually I can find a focal point that sticks with me in my reading however Professor Bordo’s writing floods the mind with information, imagery, and because I am male reflection as well. I appreciate the difference she highlights between the phallus and the penis. The phallus in ancient times was a highly spiritual symbol and often represented by the sword or dagger while the counterpart the vagin I can almost positively say I have never read or thought about the penis as I have in the last week. Usually I can find a focal point that sticks with me in my reading however Professor Bordo’s writing floods the mind with information, imagery, and because I am male reflection as well. I appreciate the difference she highlights between the phallus and the penis. The phallus in ancient times was a highly spiritual symbol and often represented by the sword or dagger while the counterpart the vagina was a cup. The sword is like many images Bordo named hard and erect the counter symbol the cup open. These are spiritual symbols of fertility more then sex, while in ancient spiritually sex for pleasure was not given the negativity it would acquire with the western world after Judeo-Christian believes took hold. I grew up in urban neighborhoods that had a mix of cultures and I don’t remember the slang or reference for machismo having as much a focus on the penis as it did on the testicles. ”He’s got balls” or similar refrains were popular, men who had large families earned a kind of respect for being virile. I did appreciate that men were also somewhat subjected to the junk cultural brainwashing inflicted on women as in the last decade we became the Viagra nation. Professor Bordo’s comparisons between male anatomy and machines were interesting in this context as men now sought to perform and be potent in bed. If a man perceives him self as his penis and he experiences impotence, I would imagine this would be a large internal crisis that compounds itself by its nature as the more depression and anxiety it causes the worse the problem could become. I think if there is only one thing we all learn from this book it is the fact we are not our penis or our breast. We are not how thin we are or how muscular, we are what we are upstairs hidden from others scrutiny.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Somewhere between this and this is Susan Bordo's thesis, that our perceptions of men and masculinity are shaped by the ads we see, by the images we endorse, and by the ways we communicate the concept of "manhood" to our children. It's a damn good book. While a tad dated in its pop culture today, Bordo is still insightful and humorous as she tackles the phallus, both real and symbolic, and how we are trained to react to it. She considers MEN as defined by Marlon Brando, biblical epics, fashion ad Somewhere between this and this is Susan Bordo's thesis, that our perceptions of men and masculinity are shaped by the ads we see, by the images we endorse, and by the ways we communicate the concept of "manhood" to our children. It's a damn good book. While a tad dated in its pop culture today, Bordo is still insightful and humorous as she tackles the phallus, both real and symbolic, and how we are trained to react to it. She considers MEN as defined by Marlon Brando, biblical epics, fashion ads, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov, Justice Clarence Thomas, Michael Jordan, George Costanza, Bill Clinton (obvi)... the list is exhaustive and fascinating. Not to mention the best takedown of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus that I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. This is a book that is worth reading and rereading, especially in this strange new world of sexual politics and Jersey Shore. (Lean Cuisine not included). Bonus Points: There's a ruler on the spine. #lol4dayz Buy this title from Powell's Books.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

    The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private is an insightful cultural analysis of how meanings and associations are ascribed to the male body. Although the first few chapters are more specifically about the penis, later chapters (which read a bit like related essays) are more about the ideas embodied by masculinity and how these might be nuanced by history, race, and class. Written in the late 1990s and published in 1999, some of the references—Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Monic The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private is an insightful cultural analysis of how meanings and associations are ascribed to the male body. Although the first few chapters are more specifically about the penis, later chapters (which read a bit like related essays) are more about the ideas embodied by masculinity and how these might be nuanced by history, race, and class. Written in the late 1990s and published in 1999, some of the references—Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Monica and Bill, the emergence of Viagra and Calvin Klein underwear ads—seem dated but the analysis remains relevant. Susan Bardo's writing and thinking are clear, witty, nuanced, and hopeful for both greater understanding between the sexes and less oppression of both men and women by gender roles. I'm a little surprised by how personal this academic book reads: not only does she frame it with discussions of her father, she also mentions personal tastes and experiences throughout. A wonderful, accessible work in gender studies.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    Over the course of The Male Body, Susan Bordo takes the reader on a tour through recent American history, exploring how popular images of masculinity – and what they say about our society’s notion of manhood – have developed and changed. While it is unusual to see a feminist work that deals almost exclusively with men’s relationship to the world, Bordo makes it an incredibly fun process. She uses studies of movie stars, ad campaigns and political figures, as well as some very funny personal anec Over the course of The Male Body, Susan Bordo takes the reader on a tour through recent American history, exploring how popular images of masculinity – and what they say about our society’s notion of manhood – have developed and changed. While it is unusual to see a feminist work that deals almost exclusively with men’s relationship to the world, Bordo makes it an incredibly fun process. She uses studies of movie stars, ad campaigns and political figures, as well as some very funny personal anecdotes, to help men (and those interested in them) understand exactly what the media is telling us we should be, and help us better to ignore the constraints society places on us. This wonderful book is full of insight and humor.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gregzeck

    This is a fascinating read of the male body from the point of view of a feminist who's frankly attuned to her libido. Bordo surveys male body images in pop culture, going back over the film figures of her teen years, for example, and her own teen coming of age experience. She locates in the films of the '50s (Streetcar Named Desire, Picnic) a tenderness and attention to women's sensual appetites that disappeared, she claims, in the more macho sexual revolution '60s. Did I mention that Bordo's pr This is a fascinating read of the male body from the point of view of a feminist who's frankly attuned to her libido. Bordo surveys male body images in pop culture, going back over the film figures of her teen years, for example, and her own teen coming of age experience. She locates in the films of the '50s (Streetcar Named Desire, Picnic) a tenderness and attention to women's sensual appetites that disappeared, she claims, in the more macho sexual revolution '60s. Did I mention that Bordo's prose is easy, graceful, and available? Though she's an academic, she writes like a mensch! Which she is!

  16. 4 out of 5

    leo

    Yes, my dears, the book talks about penises and phalli (and their difference). But not only that! Thighs, breasts, hocks, and haunches are dealt with in a delightfully mischievous tone that evokes the author's childhood obsessions, including the Marilyn Monroe calendar hidden away in the back of her father's sock drawer. Aside from an old-hat definition of culture as imaginative work, here you will find quite the exploration of the American substratum of the human species that happens to have li Yes, my dears, the book talks about penises and phalli (and their difference). But not only that! Thighs, breasts, hocks, and haunches are dealt with in a delightfully mischievous tone that evokes the author's childhood obsessions, including the Marilyn Monroe calendar hidden away in the back of her father's sock drawer. Aside from an old-hat definition of culture as imaginative work, here you will find quite the exploration of the American substratum of the human species that happens to have little (depends who you ask I guess) poles sticking out between the legs. A cultural history for those who are curious about when men got so naked and complicated.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    Gorgeous insights and wonderful writing, but I actually gave up the ghost on this one around p. 180 or so. If all Bordo was going to do was critique old films and make claims therefrom, well, good for her, but more, much more, could've been done here, particularly given how intelligent she seems at points here and at other points throughout Unbearable Weight (which suffers from many of the same problems).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    Once you get past the hundred or so pages of phallus discussion, this book provides an in-depth cultural analysis of masculine portrayal in the media. ...You might almost forget you are reading it for a shitty seminar...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Has some good ideas but a bit on the over-wordy side... I got bored in a lot of the sections. I appreciated some of thing things written- this book made me reconsider a lot of thoughts about men and the male body.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    I remember her speaking of all the phallic symbols in our culture. Now, every time I see a long blue convertible (like the one in "Thelma and Louise") or a tall building, I think of a penis. Thanks for visual.

  21. 4 out of 5

    amanda

    Bordo is an amazing writer, but this book ends up being a bit trite and dated. Her exploration of the female and body perception (Unbearable Weight) is excellent

  22. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I love Susan Bordo. And this book is a terrific look at masculinity in late-twentieth century culture (primarily American). Her ideas are compelling and her prose is lucid.

  23. 4 out of 5

    MM

    excellent -- Bordo wants to move between materiality and language when thinking about gender and men. Highly recommend it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    This book is one that will always stay with me. I still recall it as one of my favorite texts from a class I took with my mentor. I found the first half of the book more readable than the last half.

  25. 5 out of 5

    A.K.

    mmmmmmm, male bodies.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nia Thomas

  27. 4 out of 5

    Angie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniela

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Thomas

  30. 4 out of 5

    Darius Ghadiali

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