Susan Bordo – Reading the Male Body – summary
part 1 - 2
In "Reading the Male Body" feminist thinker Susan Bordo is building on Luce Irigaray's distinction between the feminine sex which is "not one" and the male sex which is "one". According to Bordo, as long as long as we are talking about the construction of the man as representing phallic unity in the phallocentric western imagination, this distinction is justified, but when we move to discussing real men we find that there are men, and not just women, who are not "one". According to Bordo human existence is embodied, biological and historical, and this embodied existence often challenges the unique law of the phallus. Bordo holds that the phallus, as the signifier of the symbolic order of male domination, is haunted by the penis, and the penis, unlike the phallus, is not "one". The penis has not distinct and unified social identity and no fixed shape, having been fragmented by ideologies of race and ethnicity.
Bordo suggests a reading strategy for reading the male body through it vulnerability. This is a reading that does not ignore male domination, but exposes the ways in which this control shapes not only the female body, but also the male body as a site of guilt, self hatred and concealment.
Unlike the female body, the naked male body is usually hidden from the public eye. Public sphere offers scarce representations of male nudity, especially representations of the male penis in an unengaged mode. Bordo argues that it is precisely because the real penis, which can be soft or hard, threatens to undermine the power attributed to the phallus that patriarchic culture prefers to keep it under wraps.
Bordo indicates a number of groups of men that are forced to play the "cultural shadow" of the phallus. This means possibilities that the male body holds within it that threaten its masculine status. For example the Jewish body was always portrayed as soft and feminine while the black body bears the shadow of urges, instincts and animalism.
An example of Bordo's manner of reading the male body through its vulnerability can be found in her account for why men consume pornography. Bordo argues that the psychology of pornography consumption is one of powerlessness. This sensation comes from the notion that women control masculine sexuality, and therefore manhood itself, and can use this control to penetrate the male subjectivity and arouse desire which will be unrequited, leaving the man humiliated, frustrated and angry. Many men, Bordo argues, find comfort in degrading pornographic representations of women that enable them to regain their pride and sense of superiority over the bodies that tempt them only to leave them rejected and hurt. In addition, pornography creates a fantasy world in which the male body is always welcomed and never rejected. In other words, pornography enables men to turn their penis into a phallus. Pornography, Bordo argues, does not necessarily objectify women for it does represent them as subjects, willing subjects that will accept men no matter what. The fantasy created by pornography in of a sexual encounter that poses no threat on men.