THE MALE BODY by Susan Bordo


A New Look at Men in Public and in Private
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A cheerful but probing look at the male form, seeking to prove that similar myths, fantasies, and pressures have been applied to men’s and women’s bodies, with some surprising parallel effects on the male and female mind. Bordo (English and Women’s Studies/Univ. of Kentucky) begins her airing of the male body with her father’s penis. That is, the fact that she could not imagine it leads the author to conclude that society has never bombarded us with male bodies in film, literature, magazines, and advertisements as it has done with the female form. In the vein of Roland Barthes, Bordo plows through some of the more disturbing and graphic myths of the phallus in modern times, using Philip Roth, Jockey ads, romance novels, and Seinfeld (among others) to infuse humor into such subjects as the pressure to “perform,” the stereotyped Åbermensch of hardened body and heart, and gender roles in the home. A recurring question is whether men and women react differently to images of the opposite sex, and Bardo answers with a resounding no. Gay culture and African-American culture, the author argues, have contributed greatly to the reintroduction of beauty to the male body, as their attitudes about public display and preening fashion have altered the mainstream American conception of masculinity. The modern man is bewildered by women’s conflicting ideas as to what this male essence should be, the serene and sensitive “nice guy” or the aggressive beast and sexual machine that the mass media reifies as the only unadulterated man. The author occasionally moves too far afield, dedicating entire chapters to the Lewinsky affair and Lolita, but these too are written with style, humor, and insight. Bordo may get personal but is never too serious, and her work underlines some surprising commonalities and differences between the sexes without a whiff of demagoguery.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-28065-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999


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