Monday, April 4, 2016

Core Post #3: Harmful masculinity & outdated standards of beauty

The Patriarchy, as they say, harms everyone. Being female and raised in a majority female family, I have always wondered how harmful standards of beauty and expectations from the sexes affect males. My father is from an older generation where he was raised with a traditional ideal of what it is to be a man: he opens doors and pulls out chairs, wears button downs and polos on a daily basis and spends his Sundays watching soccer and drinking beer, the odd mixture between upscale looks and downscale pastimes of Brazilian masculinity. He fits comfortably into his straight, white, cisgendered role, but I always wondered if I had a brother in this day and age, would it be the same?
In the past few years we have been advancing in terms of how we view race, sex and gender, and spend much of it thinking about how our strict cultural norms affect the oppressed and marginalized. However, I do think it would help and might even be necessary to question how those somewhere in 'the norm' are harmed, as well. I cannot imagine how it would have felt to grow up in the 80's, if masculinity was presented as The Terminator, with Schwarzenegger's hypertrophic muscles, Kyle, with his soldier's attitude, or even young devil-may-care John Connor, with his law breaking and pretty features.
To me, the images used in Terminator Two make the above heroes appear "cool". However, I would not necessarily call Arnold Schwarzenegger an attractive man - his features recall an older time, the sort of excessive, oiled up masculinity one might see in body builders and porn stars. I can understand, within this view, both of Dyer's points that the extremely masculine body can incite either appreciation for the hero's strength as it can incite ridicule. To me, it does both, but the former comes with a realization that it is an outdated sort of strength that no longer belongs in the present, at leasr not in the same way. Large men like Arnold, such as the Rock, today star in movies that poke fun at their shape and size rather than simply admire them (take, for example, Vin Diesel in The Pacifier). Our standard of what is the ideal body shape has changed, but it does not mean that it's become wider or more attainable.
The ideal of beauty keeps getting younger and younger for both sexes. While "Baywatch Babes" might once have been revered with their curves and their large breasts in the 90s or Jamie Lee Curtis' muscular physique may have been "The Body" of the 80s, as Dyer points out, today thinness and petiteness is the ideal norm for women. Likewise, whereas muscular men like Arnold might've once been the ideal, today it is more of a lean muscularity best seen in young men, probably in their twenties. While the standard for men might've changed, it has not become any less difficult to attain. Again, I go back to my original point, wondering how males of today come into their masculinity and their bodies, having zero insight of it myself.
It is interesting that Dyer also calls action a genre of 'the body', but mentions a few other films where the body is central although they are not action films. Indeed the body of the actor is never neglected when talking about the artist or their performance. Perhaps because film and photography have become so accessible and pervasive, and because both mostly deal with people and bodies, most genres have become 'of the body'. Musicals are about people singing and dancing, both facilitated by the body; horror is about how the external world threatens the body; comedy is often about how one manipulates the body; drama is about expression of the internal through the external body; and so on, and so forth. We are obsessed with the body, because it is inescapable, from the media we watch to our own reflections staring back at us from photos. Here it is as Dyer says, that because the body is central, it becomes 'meaningful' and 'removed, and anyone who is framed becomes a 'star'. We are constantly elevating all bodies beyond the mundane and every day, forgetting that they are vehicles for life rather than things for speculation, manipulation and often pain as we try to get them to look as we want.

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