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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, December 7, 2009

CRUEL TO BE KIND

On 11-25-09 when Jennifer complained to JR Brown that the latter was stereotyping gay desires, JR responded:

"I don't follow; the stereotype that gay men like muscular men? It is a stereotype that is well-known and frequently perpetuated by gay men themselves, partially as a corrective to the idea that gay men are universally feminine and desire to be so."

So if gay men dominantly like muscular men, and all gay men are trying to find other gay men with whom to make whoopee, then shouldn't most real-life gay men be bulked-up and steroidal?

It's quite possible that they are in JR's neck of the woods. But I suspect that even if this was so it would be the exception to the rule. It's my observation that most gay men, like most straight men, are of average build. Do gays fantasize about muscular men? I imagine that they do, but if they are fantasizing, rather than of seeing in fiction a type that they regularly encounter in real life, then their fantasies can't be reasonably distinguished from the fantasies of female patrons of American romance novels. In both cases gays and straight women may desire something that is rarely obtainable in real life, but which does have the real-life effect of turning them on.

Now, the fact that I've entertained this line of reasoning does not mean that I subscribe to JR's notion that gays are dominantly attracted to hypermasculine men, any more than I buy her notion that women are dominantly attracted to "beta male" types. I believe most heterosexuals and homosexuals demonstrate a wide gamut of tastes and that those who try to typify any group are usually those ready with a dull axe to grind.

JR, of course, objects to this sort of axe-grinding when it's turned against something she likes:

'As you do not appear to be a manga reader, you will probably not relate to this, but yaoi and shoujo manga and the women who read them are routinely derided (by men) because of the two genres' emphasis on androgynous, pretty male characters, which is taken as evidence that the readers cannot handle, cannot attract, or are afraid of "real men". I cannot count the number of times I have seen someone (almost always male) claim that all yaoi fans are pre-pubertal, terminally insecure or closet lesbians because real women want real men, who are by definition manly and muscular. (Plus the whole "gay is icky, women who like it are sick" thing.)'

I do not doubt that such individuals exist or that they have expressed such negative stereotyping. But I argue again, as I did before, that saying that the majority of gays prefer a certain physical type is no less a negative stereotype, even when it is in reaction (as it appears to be with JR) against another negative stereotype (i.e., gays are all mincing sissies).

JR's justification, I presume, is that she thinks that there have been enough trustworthy studies of female and gay responses to pronounce her stereotypes to be natural "trends" rather than stereotypes. Thus she thinks her stereotypes are justified by "science." But a science that contravenes what one can see with one's own eyes is a science like that of the famous joke that ends with, "After loss of all four legs, frog goes deaf."

JR said to me on 12-2-09:

'As to your dismissal of voluntary disclosure, why would women, en masse, lie to a computer program (as used in the Pope study) about which pictures of men they found more appealing? This smacks to me of the hoary old "women don't know what they want" argument.'

Well, they might prevaricate not because they're women but because they're human and they know that the data will be read somewhere by some other human, even if it's no one they know. They might fudge their true opinions because admitting that they like hypermuscular men makes them sound shallow, while saying that they like men who are "emotionally open" makes them sound mature and together. There's a whole chapter devoted to the topic of voluntary disclosure studies in Levitt and Dubner's SUPERFREAKONOMICS, on sale wherever fine books are sold. (Damn; if I'd had an Amazon link I'd of made some cash just now.)

If JR can show me studies in which hetero women's sexual responses were accurately measured and did not show any physical excitation at the sight of muscular males, then that might be something closer to dependable physical evidence. But one would still need a LOT of these readings to prove anything-- many more than the humble number of studies that JR's cited so far on this blog.

In the story of Philoctetes, the main character's poisoned wound is healed by rust from the spear that wounded him. That's a great fictional conceit, but it doesn't work in real life. One negative stereotype does not cancel out another, and roundabout attacks on superhero comics don't make Japanese manga any better than they already were.

10 comments:

JRBrown said...

"So if gay men dominantly like muscular men, and all gay men are trying to find other gay men with whom to make whoopee, then shouldn't most real-life gay men be bulked-up and steroidal? [...] It's my observation that most gay men, like most straight men, are of average build."

Well, the average straight man also wants to be hypermuscular (to the same degree as the average gay man), thinks that the male ideal is hypermuscular (selecting the same ideal as the average gay man), and thinks that hypermuscularity is appealing to potential partners (again, selecting the same ideal as the average gay man). So why aren't straight men as muscular as they would like to be? If they could have their preferred body type by wishing for it, I am sure they would. But in real life, finishing work, feeding the kids, walking the dog or seeing a movie wins out over hitting the gym. Otherwise, none of us would ever be fat or out of shape.

"Do gays fantasize about muscular men? I imagine that they do, but if they are fantasizing, rather than of seeing in fiction a type that they regularly encounter in real life, then their fantasies can't be reasonably distinguished from the fantasies of female patrons of American romance novels."

Eh. As I have mentioned before, I believe the 1980's buff-guy romance cover is primarily a marketing signal saying "romance inside", in the same way that sticking a spaceship on a SF novel was at one point a standard marketing signal saying "SF inside". There might not actually be a spaceship in that specific SF novel, and there might not actually be a buff guy in that specific romance novel.

I would instead suggest looking at visual erotica aimed specifically at women versus that aimed specifically at gay men; however, there's a limited amount of the former in Western commercial media. The best I could do would be to point you at Western-made fanart, in which my personal observation is that the body types depicted by women are, in aggregate, more slender than those depicted in fan-made or commercial gay art, although there are no formal studies confirming this.

In Japanese commercial media, however, where there is are several genres of erotic material specifically for women, there is a definite and obvious difference between depictions of men for the consumption of women and depictions of men for the consumption of gay men. There is some overlap, but I would bet a dollar that, given 50 men extracted from women's hetero-erotica manga and 50 men extracted from gay erotic manga, the average person-on-the-street, asked to sort them into "pretty" versus "manly", would have greater than 90% accuracy in determining their origin.

[more coming]

JRBrown said...

"I believe most heterosexuals and homosexuals demonstrate a wide gamut of tastes and that those who try to typify any group are usually those ready with a dull axe to grind. JR, of course, objects to this sort of axe-grinding when it's turned against something she likes: [...]"

I am not angry because the yaoi-fangirl-bashers are making generalizations about yaoi fangirls. If that's all they were doing I could just say they were incorrect (or not), and be done with it. I am objecting to the fact that these men are applying a prescriptivist view of female sexuality which states that it is wrong (abnormal, bad) for women to desire non-stereotypcially masculine men, and that women who do so are therefore not normal.

This is not a parallel case to my statements about gay male preferences. Nowhere have I said that is is wrong for gay men to like hypermasculine men. Nowhere have I said that is is right for gay men to like hypermasculine men. I'm not arguing that gay men who like hypermasculine men are more gay, or less gay, or otherwise different from those who do not. I am not arguing that all gay men like hypermasculine men. I am stating that, given a choice, the average gay man prefers men who are significantly more muscular than the actual population average.

"But I argue again, as I did before, that saying that the majority of gays prefer a certain physical type is no less a negative stereotype [...]"

I don't think the average gay man prefers muscular men because his is gay. I think he prefers muscular men because he is a man, and has been socialized to believe that male muscularity is attractive. This is a product, I should point out, of modern American culture; other times and other places have conceived of other male body types as maximally attractive.

And I don't see why this is a "negative stereotype". If you think that most women would prefer muscular men, would that also be a negative stereotype? Or do you object to any statements of the form "most [x] prefer [y]"? Would you be offended if I said most people like chocolate?

"JR's justification, I presume, is that she thinks that there have been enough trustworthy studies of female and gay responses to pronounce her stereotypes to be natural "trends" rather than stereotypes. Thus she thinks her stereotypes are justified by "science." But a science that contravenes what one can see with one's own eyes is a science like that of the famous joke that ends with, "After loss of all four legs, frog goes deaf."

Again, I do not think this is a "natural" trend. I think it is a culturally mediated bias.

"If JR can show me studies in which hetero women's sexual responses were accurately measured and did not show any physical excitation at the sight of muscular males, then that might be something closer to dependable physical evidence."

It would be possible to do the type of study you suggest, but so far no one has. The closest proxy would be the works that women produce for their own enjoyment, hence my suggestion to look at fanart.

"But one would still need a LOT of these readings to prove anything-- many more than the humble number of studies that JR's cited so far on this blog."

Um. You don't trust these studies anyway but you also want more cites? How does that work?

I'm happy to list and summarize the existing research examining body type preferences, if you like, but if you are simply going to dismiss them as insignificant I don't see why I should take the time.

[more coming]

JRBrown said...

And finally:

"One negative stereotype does not cancel out another, and roundabout attacks on superhero comics don't make Japanese manga any better than they already were. "

Manga is "better" for me, insofar as that goes, because there's large and identified genres of it that are written for women, by women, and which more closely reflect the attitudes and preferences of women. An analysis of shonen (for boys) or seinen (for men) manga, or for that matter gei manga (for gay men), would give very different conclusions regarding femininity and gender roles.

Gene Phillips said...

"So why aren't straight men as muscular as they would like to be? If they could have their preferred body type by wishing for it, I am sure they would. But in real life, finishing work, feeding the kids, walking the dog or seeing a movie wins out over hitting the gym."

So gays' desires for the extraordinary don't get in the way of what they can get in reality-- both in terms of building up their own bods and finding mates who have massive bods.

In other words, they may be attracted to "hypermuscularity," but they'll settle for the average.

This is pretty much how I characterize the way hetero women feel toward the hypermasculine/dominant male: they can be attracted to , and do sleep with, "alphas" like Wilt Chamberlain and, more recently, Tiger Woods, but these women have quite sensible reservatons about the alpha's suitability as a permanent mate.

I have a feeling someone who knew more about sports than I could probably find bulked-up football players who've played the man-whore quite as much as Chamberlain and Woods, who would seem to be hypermasculine in attitude if not hypermuscular in form. But I believe that even the example of these two slender-bodied horndogs disproves the easy equation of hypermasculinity with hypermuscularity-- an equation that doesn't add up even when one is projecting that equation onto the minds of hetero men.

Gene Phillips said...

'Eh. As I have mentioned before, I believe the 1980's buff-guy romance cover is primarily a marketing signal saying "romance inside", in the same way that sticking a spaceship on a SF novel was at one point a standard marketing signal saying "SF inside". There might not actually be a spaceship in that specific SF novel, and there might not actually be a buff guy in that specific romance novel.'

But if someone who has read a lot of romance-novels says that the interiors dominantly DO have buff guys depicted in the prose adventures, then that's a datum that can't be dismissed. It's my impression that Jennifer of the Uncle Walter blog indicated that such was the case, but even if her single testimony wasn't sufficient for you (as I don't imagine it is), I would still think that books that too often promised a thrill that they didn't deliver would go the way of the dodo.

Gene Phillips said...

"The best I could do would be to point you at Western-made fanart, in which my personal observation is that the body types depicted by women are, in aggregate, more slender than those depicted in fan-made or commercial gay art, although there are no formal studies confirming this."

And I merely repeat one of my earlier assertions: that a lot of comics-art by American women ranges from both the androgyny you find in yaoi (Cynthia Martin) to the fetishization of male muscularity (Pini, Scott and even a Goldie Oldie like Tarpe Mills.) Since we're speaking of how erotic interests arise or don't arise in adventure-comics, I would think this would be more to the point than pure erotica, even *if* a statistical survey supported your impressions of that genre.

Gene Phillips said...

"In Japanese commercial media, however, where there is are several genres of erotic material specifically for women, there is a definite and obvious difference between depictions of men for the consumption of women and depictions of men for the consumption of gay men."

That may indeed be significant for the genre of erotica in this or that medium, but erotica isn't concerned with the same story-content as an adventure-genre comic.

Also, I don't see any reason that what may be true of Japanese culture should have wide applicability to other cultures. To say that there are a wealth of cultural differences between Japanese and Americans, Japanese and Europeans or even Japanese and their Chinese neighbors would be stating the obvious.

Gene Phillips said...

"This is not a parallel case to my statements about gay male preferences. Nowhere have I said that is is wrong for gay men to like hypermasculine men. Nowhere have I said that is is right for gay men to like hypermasculine men. I'm not arguing that gay men who like hypermasculine men are more gay, or less gay, or otherwise different from those who do not. I am not arguing that all gay men like hypermasculine men. I am stating that, given a choice, the average gay man prefers men who are significantly more muscular than the actual population average."

You say that this is not a "prescriptive" interpretation on your part, and that is correct.

However, it is still just as reductive as the views of the yaoi-bashers, and that's why both I and Jennifer objected to it as ultimately creating a stereotype with negative connotations even though it is your clear intent to be simply "scientific."

The axe you're grinding in this case is not specifically against the characteristics of gay men but against those of hetero men whom you and Noah consider implicated in gay desire by virtue of "homosexual panic."

"This is a product, I should point out, of modern American culture; other times and other places have conceived of other male body types as maximally attractive"

Unless it's unique to modern American culture, though, you gain nothing by stating that. If it's in other cultures, like that of the Greeks who imagined Heracles, then it's likely that it's a visual and narrative archetype that re-occurs throughout history, much as you argue elsewhere an identity between the archetype (my word) of the weak homosexual is constant from the Roman period to the present.

Gene Phillips said...

'And I don't see why this is a "negative stereotype".'

It assumes that the fact of one's being gay results in a dominance of body-type preferences, rather than envisioning such preferences as a sliding scale, much as they are for hetero men and women. I tend to think those individuals who are locked in to just one dominant type constitute a small portion of the whole set to which they belong.

"Um. You don't trust these studies anyway but you also want more cites? How does that work?"

I meant that one would need a whole lot of studies of the brain-measuring kind, which is more or less what Jennifer also suggested as a sound criterion for judging the matter of physical attraction.

Gene Phillips said...

'Manga is "better" for me, insofar as that goes, because there's large and identified genres of it that are written for women, by women, and which more closely reflect the attitudes and preferences of women. An analysis of shonen (for boys) or seinen (for men) manga, or for that matter gei manga (for gay men), would give very different conclusions regarding femininity and gender roles.'

I meant that even if you prefer manga-adventures to American superheroes, which is unquestionably your right to do, your preference does not erase the positive qualities of the latter even if they're not to your taste. There's no arguing taste, but if a critic like Noah actually papers over the heterosexuality of the Siegel-Shuster SUPERMAN in order to make a point about homosexual ideology, then we're talking misrepresentation of facts.