I wonder how many men, viewing this video of a guy dancing among female cheerleaders, feel their shared manhood slightly undermined?
Let’s face it: the sense of male superiority is not something isolated among antediluvian members of the male sex; most men share it to a degree. Even gay men. To see a guy doing what is strongly associated with the other sex in some way threatens our perceived status. It leaves us with a queasy feeling.
It isn’t the dancing. We are now so used to seeing men dance, even when it involves moves not all that dissimilar to the cheerleader’s, there is no gender panic, except perhaps for the rare ones among us. Take, for example, this captivating dance, Moorhuhn, brilliantly performed by Daniil Simkin:
From these two examples, it appears that what destabilises our identity is the context: that of a guy doing something that is generally done by females. If both sexes do the same things interchangeably, it gets very hard to argue that one sex is superior in status to the other. Thus the discomfort in seeing a guy dressed in a skirt and a chest-band that looks like a bra doing high kicks and splits, and waving pom-poms.
That said, the intensity of the reaction varies a lot from one male to another. Nowadays, I think most men take a nuanced approach, saying perhaps: Well, it’s his right to do whatever he wants especially when it doesn’t hurt anybody, and it’s really none of my business, even if we may never want to do it ourselves. Watching him, we may be slightly uncomfortable, but we also recognise that we ought not be so. We realise that our discomfort is in an inchoate way illegitimate, and so the rational side of us holds it in check.
Others have much stronger feelings, saying of the male cheerleader that it is disgusting: It should not be allowed! Those who give more vent to their objections this way, we generally regard as social conservatives. The key difference is probably that they do not feel guilty about their expectations of male superiority; in fact, they may not even recognise any feelings of male superiority in themselves (at least not the way most of us perceive it), but merely see it as the rightful, natural order of things. To them patriarchal structures and attitudes are, or should be, normative, and it is legitimate to expect, even demand, clear gender roles with a status differential.
Sustaining patriarchy needs constant vigilance, especially as modern societies are moving steadily towards gender equality. As I have mentioned several times before, this male-superiority panic manifests itself as homophobia. The idea that two men can play interchangeable sex roles is seen as extremely threatening to male sexual dominance over females. Homophobic ire is particularly reserved for the male who gets penetrated as this male is seen as a traitor to his sex. In any conflict, traitors are typically dealt with more harshly than enemies, which explains why homophobia can get so strident.
Add sex-phobia to the mix and things get really toxic. What sex-phobia brings is the heightened sensitivity to anything that can be construed as erotic. Offence is taken at the sight of too much skin and any form of closeness between males is seen as sexual, specifically, homosexual. Socially conditioned thus, individuals make great effort to avoid such physical contact lest one is inadvertently seen as homosexual. In our westernised culture today, physical contact between males is carefully restricted to greeting protocals performed in the briefest possible way in well-defined situations, or to acts of aggression. Sports is an extension of aggression and thus more leeway is allowed on the playing field. Outside of these situations, contact, physical closeness and any suggestion of homo-affective relationships are seen as violative of gender norms.
The above Razor TV report is almost painful to watch. The show hosts are trying hard not to say what they might naturally say. They begin by referring to “couples behaving intimately”, yet for the rest of the clip they avoid calling any pair of men “couples”. Instead, great effort is made to speak of “brotherhood and togetherness” — bending backwards to desexualise the gender norm violations — though very soon after, they make a slip: “Doesn’t look good,” one of them says. It’s like trying hard to hold back a fart, but eventually, it comes out.
Try as they might, the fact that people took photos of these men and submitted them to Stomp, Síngapore Press Holdings’ netizen portal, can only mean one thing: People find these incidents worthy of remark, a shade scandalous, even. Some might have felt queasy confronted by the sight. Did you?
What about showing male skin? What about the ten-metre tall Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement at the corner of Cairnhill and Orchard Roads?
Well, it’s still there. Evidently Singaporeans are less sexually constipated than I feared. Or that they are totally capable of denying the homo-eroticism of that poster. Maybe everybody is kidding himself that it is meant to attract girls’ eyes?
For how long? Don’t people know that the brand is built on narcissism and homo-eroticism as this (bad) parody points out?
Totally denying the possibility of male-male sexuality are the increasing number of sex shops around the city. Singaporeans have become used to the sight of them, but then again, they’re not exactly testing the limits when the sexual object is always depicted as female. I wonder what would happen if one day a shop targets the gay segment in its advertising.
Another frontier Singapore has yet to breach is that of nude calendars.
At the end of 2008, twelve African immigrants in Spain with precarious livelihoods decided to pose nude for a 2009 calendar. They hoped sales would help them pay off debts or buy the next meal, the newspaper El Pais reported in December 2008. The men from Mali, Togo, Senegal and Mauritania were artistically posed by Valencia photographer Adolfo Lopez in the calendar unofficially sponsored by an immigrant support organization. Lopez said he tried to take elegant pictures to reflect the dignity of migrants. “Without clothes, we are all equal,” said 32-year Mady Fofana from Mali, one of the models.
So here’s another queasiness test. What do you think of men posing nude?
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Now, the final frontier: What about heterosexual men who do homosex for a living? Gay for pay, as they say. And I have a little story for you.
A few years ago, I had a short conversation with a straight guy who performed live (gay) sex in a gay bar. I asked him, if he had a choice, and all things (like pay) being equal, would he in a flash quit and move over to a straight bar, there to perform heterosex for a living?
He surprised me by saying, no, he wouldn’t. He’d still do gay sex.
Why? I asked, somewhat mystified.
He explained that it helped to keep his work life separate from his own personal feelings and pleasure. He was afraid that performing heterosex for a living would so badly confuse the two, even heterosex and girls would lose their appeal for him. Then he added that he was also “shy” and when it came to performing sex, he preferred to do it in an all-male setting. What did he really mean by “shy”? I wondered if there might be another unspoken reason — that if he performed straight sex in a straight bar, with, as I would expect, lots of female patrons as indirect paymasters, it would severely test his own sense of male status. Might it risk upsetting the male-female hierarchy in his mind? It was perhaps impolite to ask that follow-up question, and I never did.
Anyway, to end this article, here are five videoclips from a TV show hosted by Tyra Banks. As you watch them, monitor your own feelings. What’s your own discomfort level?
The one guest she had on the show with whom I disagreed was the only gay guy — Sean Kennedy from The Advocate. Did he say he wanted only gay men to work in gay bars? His attitude towards the sex industry was the most conservative of all and rather disrespectful of the other men’s choices in life. Furthermore, his comment about porn being intrinsically related to drug use etc, was over the top.
I also found on the web a comment about the show that is worth sharing:
God love her, Tyra has a good heart, but she missed the point here. Rather than sensationalize the fact that self-identified straight men are having gay sex for money, she could have put a human face on the porn industry and made people question their own sexual boundaries and how the world perceives and treats porn stars. Everyone generally accepts the fact that men in an all-male society, e.g. prison, readily participate in sex acts with other men. No one asks, “How do you perform?” or “Isn’t that weird?”
I’m sorry but the anthropologist in me believes human sexuality is too complex to sum someone or something up in the phrase “gay-for-pay.” I have no problem believing that predominantly straight men can perform sex acts with other men for a variety of reasons, money being a strong motivator. They do what they have to in order to make it look believable.
Why the f*ck invite a self-loathing female ex-porn star, a conservative pundit ex-porn star, and the news editor from the Advocate for commentary? That’s when the show degraded. I thought the most enlightened and believable person was Dean’s girlfriend who admitted to being bisexual and being aroused when she performed for women. (And I had a gay crush on her, too!)
I believe that too often sex is portrayed as shameful. Why can’t someone choose to participate in porn, on their own terms (whatever that is), and be relatively well-adjusted and sane?
— Charles Alan on Afterelton. Link.