"The social definition of men as holders of power is translated not only into mental body images and fantasies, but into muscle tensions, postures, the feel and texture of the body. This is one of the main ways in which the power of men becomes 'naturalized', ie., seen as part of the order of nature. It is very important in allowing belief in the superiority of men, and the oppressive practices that flow from it, to be sustained by men who in other respects have very little power."
"Although it would be quite wrong to say that all homosexual men are attracted to a certain type of man, that is, attracted to the same degree of masculine expression, masculinity is the source of homoerotic desire. The desire for male bodies, after all, is an attraction to the physical sign of masculinity."
Ultimately the most recognisable
male physical sign within the gay community is that of the muscular
mesomorphic body. Its semiotic language, its text if you like, can be
read by anyone who has knowledge of the rituals of the gay territory
and environment. And like a piece of text it is, like every-body, a
construction which hides other meanings, other insecurities behind its
facade. But when putting on a mask, it is only the mask you see and
not other things that lie behind the mask. The ultimate physical sign
of gay men wanting to be "real men" has become a 'simulacra',3
a simulation of reality which is more real than reality itself, where
the image is the reality and has become more real than the feel and
texture of the body itself.
" ... it is based on the assumption that experience and knowledge is structured by the human body in a significant way which is prior to and independent of discourse. Far from discourse determining the body in a Foucaldian sense, then, the body is integrally involved in the construction of discourse. The relevance of this [Lakoff's] work ... is that it implies that the concepts and classificatory schemes which inform our understanding of women's and men's bodies do not stem purely from disembodied categories we utilize as a result of some externally located dominant ideology. Instead, they are based in a very important way upon our multiple experiences of embodiment. These involve seeing, experiencing and imagining our own and other people's bodies."6 (My bold)
Personally, I do not believe that discourse and the body lie at the
opposite ends of the one axis, either one thing or the other. I believe
that they are orthogonal,
that they intersect and interact at various points that can change depending
on the situational context, and that they are unpredictably (in)dependently
"We find it more important to preserve and foster the myth of sexuality as mechanical process than we do to develop any kind of detailed or sensitive phenomenology of sexual experience (ie., establishing how in fact people experience their sexual needs and feelings). I suspect that a vast proportion of people live in secret unhappiness about their sexuality because they are unable to meet what are in truth entirely mythical 'norms' of 'performance'."7
Norms of performance are
not just measured in terms of sexual performance but also in terms of
how the body image measures up, performs in relationship to the 'ideal'
of the muscular mesomorphic body. From the analysis of the interview
data I believe that a phenomenology of sexual experience, establishing
how people experience the relationship between living in their body,
discourse, morals, and sexual intercourse would reveal the effect and
performance of body image on self-esteem and the effect both aspects
have on the occurrence of unsafe sexual activity. As the body becomes
more implicated in technological developments8 (for example
cosmetic surgery, organ and limb replacement, cloning, and genetic engineering),
and the upkeep of the body is increasingly seen by society and the individual
as a moral choice, our bodies will become even more embedded in complicated
'abstract systems'9 which challenge our understanding of
how we feel and act in our bodies and how we interact with other bodies.
1. Connell, R. Gender and Power. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987, p.85, quoted in Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, p.112.
2. Pronger, Brian. The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990, p.130.
3. "In Baudrillard's world, reality is mediated by the image, it has become replaced by a system of simulacra. At times this simulation of reality appears more real than real - hyper real ..."
Moore, Suzanne. "Getting a Bit of the Other - the Pimps of Postmodernism," in Chapman, Rowena and Rutherford, Jonathon (eds.,). Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988, pp.180-181.
4. Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp.112-114.
5. For a discussion of Lakoff's theory of 'experiential realism' see Lakoff, George. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
6. Op. cit., pp.112-114.
7. Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, p.113.
8. "The problem with such investment is that the body has become an increasingly inadequate basis on which this project of the self can be built. This is because the body itself is implicated in technological developments, or 'abstract systems' (which consist of 'symbolic tokens' such as money, which separate transactions from their immediate contexts) which have called into question our sense of what the body is ..." (My bold)
Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp.181-183.
9. Ibid., pp.181-183.