“If you want to write something, or need a(nother) topic, I keep having discussions about if guys can do “sexy” and “pin up” photos like girls seem to be able to do. Proceed. I feel like you might enjoy that topic, somehow. I might be nuts. I probably am.”
So a friend of mine posted this on facebook as a suggestion of something to write about and it struck my fancy. I feel like there’s a lot to unpack in this discussion. So first of all, why do girls “get” to do pin up and sexy photos? Is that really ok? I’ve had discussions about this with others who are worried that even enlightened women trying to take back this trend may be contributing to objectification, or perpetuation a lot of old images of women. I think that that’s a danger, definitely. I think that if and when a woman chooses to do a pin up type photo, she should try to be subversive about it; in traditional pinups, women look submissive, domestic: they’re often shown doing cleaning, or in traditionally “female” settings. I feel a lot better about pinup calendars or pictures if the woman in it is being sexy in an assertive way, is actually looking the viewer in the face, is in a different type of environment than the traditional pinup.
And the thing is that I actually LOVE the idea of pinup type pictures. Because very rarely does the average woman get to do something that celebrates her body, her beauty, and her sexuality. I love that different body types can be celebrated in pinup pictures. I love the idea of something like suicide girls. I do wish that more types of women were celebrated in these pictures: I wish more women of color, trans/genderqueer women, overweight, older…all kinds of women got roped in when we choose to a pinup calendar or photo session.
But they aren’t. And I worry that’s because as hard as we try to do pinups for ourselves, to celebrate ourselves, and to be subversive, as woman showing off our bodies we cannot help but be subject to the male gaze. It’s just there. And no matter what we do about it, there will be men objectifying us. To me that’s just a really shitty thing that rains on my body positive parade, and it makes me really scared to promote or participate in pinup pictures because I don’t want to perpetuate objectification by using “the master’s tools” as it were.
So what about guys? I think that guys are in a really unique position when it comes to pinup pictures. Men really aren’t very traditionally in pinup pictures. There is the classic sexy firemen calendar, but those aren’t nearly as ubiquitous and don’t have the same vintage thing going where anyone can replicate the feel. You kind of have to be a fireman (or have a bunch of oversized hoses lying around) to do the sexy fireman calendar. So there is a blank slate when it comes to men doing pinup pictures. There’s no history of objectification (as far as I’m aware at least…anyone in comments feel free to disagree) that would put a historical lens on the pictures and make them problematic. And very, very rarely are male bodies put on display in a sexual way. Rarely are men told to celebrate being beautiful, being sexy, being hot. I think pinup calendars could be a GREAT opportunity for men to make body positivity part of the male conversation, and I think that particularly it could be incredibly beneficial to make it part of the straight male conversation, because generally flaunting your body is considered gay. Only effeminate men let people look at them and do any sort of objectifying apparently, because it’s a woman thing to be the object. But here’s the thing: BECAUSE men are not considered the object, because they are assumed to have autonomy and assumed to be an equal in any relationship (even the relationship between subject and viewer in a photograph), they can bend the traditional notion of pinup to be one that asks us to reconsider how we view women in pictures, how we view sexuality, and how much autonomy we grant those women we see in sexy pictures.
And just as I mentioned with women, this is a WONDERFUL time for different types of male bodies to be on display, to be celebrated, to be considered beautiful. Perhaps even more than women, men have a single body type that is ever shown as the pinup (mostly because all women’s bodies are more objectified), and so seeing more men as attractive and sexy and proud and embodied is a beautiful idea to me. Maybe I should go join a nudist’s colony. But it would also help young women to start to see a variety of body types and begin to understand the different bodies they might encounter. More exposure to real bodies is the healthiest way to build attraction, sexuality, and honesty
I personally think that men in pinups is exactly the wonderful kind of subversive parody that Judith Butler would promote and love, but I think it’s even more active than a parody because it’s a challenge, and active question to the viewer about how they see the picture. If it was a genderbent pinup, then all the better (men in maids outfits anyone?). I don’t think that I want to see men be objectified the same way women have been, but I also don’t think that ever WILL happen. I think what IS important is to allow the power that a man’s body has to infiltrate the submissive space traditionally occupied by women, and to rebuild that space in such a way that says the space doesn’t have to be submissive or objectified. This is a place where I believe men can do far more for feminism and women than women can, because of the privilege that men already have.
So I personally think that male pinups are a great idea. I don’t think it’s an infringement on a female space, I think it’s a reimagining of a traditionally oppressive space, and I really don’t see how it would lead to the objectification of men since men are nearly always assumed to be the subject and have autonomy, complexity and thoughts. Very rarely are they reduced to a body alone.