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Mar 18 2013

Runway Recap: Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love

How do you make men look sexy?

This week’s Project Runway challenge: Make performance wear for the Thunder From Down Under male stripper group. It was a difficult challenge for a lot of reasons: making men’s wear is always hard on designers who mostly make women’s wear, what with the different body shapes and all. Add to that the fact that they had to make, not just men’s wear, but men’s wear that was both stretchy enough and durable enough for vigorous stage performance… while still having enough structure to not look like pajamas. Add to that the fact that the outfits weren’t just dance wear, but stripper wear, and they had to tear away easily and completely at a moment’s notice. Add to that the fact that the men they were making clothes for had giant muscled beefcake bodies, with huge chests and arms: bodies that were far from ordinary, and that are unusually hard to fit.

But then, in addition to all that, add this challenge:

How do you make men look sexy?

Specifically, how do you make men look sexy in a heterosexual context? (As far as I’m aware, Thunder From Down Under aim their performances primarily at women.)

In a sexual culture where women are assumed to be the objects of desire and men are assumed to be the subjects, where women are expected to be looked at and men are expected to do the looking, it’s very difficult to make men look blatantly sexy. In a heterosexual context, anyway. It’s one of the main reasons that men’s wear is so often such a snoozefest. The very act of trying to look sexy, the very act of trying to make one’s body and one’s self look sexually desirable, is seen as a feminine act. (Or a gay act. More on that in a sec.) It’s a weird double bind/ balancing act: straight men are supposed to look good, or not look like slobs anyway, but they’re not supposed to look like they’re trying, or like they care.

There are, as I said in my original piece on men’s wear, some exceptions to this: the historical costuming community, the kink community, some others. And gay men have largely untied this knot and re-woven it into a sexual culture where everyone gets to be both gazer and gazee, mutual objects and subjects, in turn or simultaneously. (A somewhat problematic sexual culture, if my gay male friends are to be believed, in which a high premium is often placed on fitting into one of a handful of ideals of male sexuality and attractiveness, many of which are hyper-masculine in their own way — but still, one in which men can openly express their sexuality and their desire to be desirable, without it being seen as undercutting their masculinity.)

But the very fact that gay male culture has embraced the conscious display of male sexuality and created a space for it makes it harder for men to do in a heterosexual context. Given the homophobia of our culture, anyway. Looking sexy and trying to make your body look sexually desirable is seen as something that either women do or that gay men do — and since our culture is both so sexist and so homophobic, straight men are strongly discouraged from doing anything that would make them seem gay, or feminine, or both. I find it very telling that the usual route for male strippers in a heterosexual context is to go hyper-masculine: super beefcakey, huge muscled chests, huge muscled biceps, often in costumes that represent iconically male roles, from construction workers to cowboys to suits and ties. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this hyper-masculinity is done to offset the automatic feminization that comes in our culture with sexual display. (Not consciously, I don’t think, but still.)

So of all the challenges this season, this should absolutely not have been a one-day challenge. The designers had to make clothing for unfamiliar bodies — unfamiliar because of gender, and unfamiliar because of huge muscled beefcake-ness. They had to make said clothing work as stretchy and durable stagewear. They had to make said clothing with a design spec that they almost certainly had never dealt with before — namely, making the clothes tear away in a second. And apart from all these technical challenges, they had to face a serious conceptual challenge: making men look conventionally sexy in a conventionally heterosexual context, displaying their sexuality without undercutting their masculinity, maintaining their masculinity without being a bore.

In this, of all challenges, the designers should have had an extra day. Nobody — not the judges, not the producers, nobody — should have been surprised that this week was such a universally miserable and laughable fail-fest.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Daniel and Patricia

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Michelle

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Stanley

I’m not going to do a design- by- design analysis of this week’s looks. Everything sucked this week. Everyone admitted that everything sucked. It all sucked in the same way: it was all ill-fitting, and it was all tedious. Tedious, tedious, tedious. They totally went with “suits, suits, and more suits” — and while I like a nice suit as much as anyone, what typically distinguishes a good suit from a bad or boring one is fine details, and it’s very tricky to make a suit read from a distance as innovative or distinctive without it reading as bizarre. Also, one of the things that makes a nice suit work is structure, and it’s very hard to do structure in tear-away dance wear. And it’s pretty much impossible to make a good suit in a day. Michelle’s vesty thing with the diagonal zipper was the one piece on the runway that was vaguely interesting, and even that was weird, with iffy fit and way the hell too much going on at once. (I’m kind of sorry Michelle’s team didn’t go with her original concept, which was the only one with a shred of imagination: if you’re going to go with a “sexy office” trope, put some variety into it, with a suit, a delivery man, and a bike messenger. It might have wound up looking a little Village People, but it couldn’t possibly have been worse than what they wound up with.)

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Richard and Samantha

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Amanda Layana and Richard

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Amanda and Richard 2

We could get into a debate about whether the “clothes that looked marginally more shitty but did at least tear away pretty well” team was more deserving of a loss than the “clothes that looked marginally less shitty but failed to tear off, which is the one thing they were supposed to accomplish, and which looked sadly embarrassing in performance, like a comedy parody of a bad male strip show” team. But I kind of don’t care. It all sucked. And it wasn’t the designers’ fault. This was totally the producers’ fault. This was an unreasonable expectation, and it was no surprise that the designers fell so far short.

But there was one thing that happened this week that was very much the designers’ fault:

The designers’ behavior towards their clients this week was totally, grossly, 100% inappropriate.

People — you are professionals. You do not flirt with your clients. You do not sexualize your clients. You do not fall into hysterical teenaged giggle-fits about the hunkiness of your clients, or about their unconventional profession. Especially not in a professional relationship that is so physically intimate. Your clients have to allow you a certain amount of access to their bodies in order to work with you. It is seriously invasive and inappropriate to take advantage of that access in a sexual way. Strippers are not there to provide sexual entertainment on demand to the entire world: they are there to provide sexual entertainment, in specified settings which they control, to their customers. If you’re designing stagewear for them, you are not their customer. They are yours. And they have a right to expect professionalism from the people providing services for them: whether that’s makeup artists, lighting technicians, box-office staff, or costume designers.

And here’s how this is related to this week’s theme.

Straight male designers are expected to behave professionally around naked and near-naked female models. If straight male designers on Project Runway behaved around female models or clients the way the straight female and gay male designers behaved this week around the male strippers, there would be outrage. But part of our culture’s myth of masculinity is that men are supposed to always be happy with sexual attention, at all times, from anyone (or at least, from any reasonably attractive person of the appropriate gender). They’re not supposed to consciously dress to draw that attention — but they’re supposed to welcome it, and be receptive to it. Always. So when men get hit on or otherwise sexualized in a professional setting — especially by women — it’s not seen as invasive. It’s not seen as disrespectful of boundaries. It’s seen as funny and cute.

Fuck that. That attitude doesn’t just perpetuate the myth of masculinity in generally screwed-up ways. That attitude specifically makes people dismissive of male victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Fuck that noise. And shame on you, Project Runway designers, for participating in it and contributing to it.

32 comments

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  1. 1
    ladyatheist

    I agree that the challenge allowed too little time. I wondered at the time if the producers intentionally did that to create laughably bad results but good TV. It was very cruel. The people who didn’t understand how collars work would still have had sucky collars but they might have had better results in the rest of the clothes.

    I disagree about objectification of the guys. Their job is to objectify themselves, so it’s not like the designers were getting steamy about each others’ dads or brothers (that would be a fun challenge). Now that I’ve seen what their act is like, I have a perverted wish that the Village People would have done that! They were some handsome dudes!

  2. 2
    Nick Gotts

    How bizarre to base it all on suits – or was that in the brief (pun intended)? Surely sports/gym/cycle wear would have given a lot more scope.

  3. 3
    Eristae

    @ladyatheist

    Assuming that we go with a definition that allows your statement about it being their job to be sexually objectified (and my definition does not; I think we should always view each other as human beings whose feelings matter, and I think sexual objectification doesn’t allow for that), then the simple truth is that it isn’t their job to be sexually objectified by all people at all times. These men should be able to separate the times that they are stripping (“objectifying” themselves) from the times that they are not.

    The strippers were going to the designers as customers who wanted the designers do do their job. They were not going as strippers to do a job for the designers. The strippers did not consent to or get paid for the way the designers treated them. The designers had no cause to expect that they should be able to expect services that they had not paid for and had not procured consent for.

    If a computer technician went to the designers to get some clothing, we would not expect the computer technician to fix the designers’ computers for free during times that they were not working. It is the same for the strippers.

  4. 4
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I disagree about objectification of the guys. Their job is to objectify themselves

    And prostitutes can’t be raped, because it’s their job to have sex with people? You’ve got to be kidding. Either that or you need to do some serious self reflection.

  5. 5
    Gregory in Seattle

    @ladyatheist #1 – “Their job is to objectify themselves”

    On stage, while doing a job for which they get paid. That is a very different situation from working with a clothing designer to create stagewear. Context is everything, as Ibis3 states so eloquently in #4.

  6. 6
    Gretchen

    It’s interesting how you can judge the caliber of a talent-based reality show by how the contestants act– and are allowed to act– when they work with clients/models who are chosen because they’re attractive, or are dressed scantily/nude, or both.

    A couple of seasons ago on Face Off, the show for makeup artists, a guy went into a homophobic fit when the challenge was to body paint nude models and he got a guy model. He almost forfeited the challenge but ended up facing the guy toward the wall and making him wear a lampshade on his head (!). I think forfeiting would have been better. The other makeup artists were aghast by his behavior. The show did body painting challenges in later seasons with no more incidents.

    On Ink Master there is at least one challenge in each season which involves body painting nearly nude women (never men). The tattoo artist contestants, mostly male, are allowed to act like slimeballs. In the most recent season there were also challenges involving female mechanical bull riders and a pinup challenge that involved taking photos of a risque model to use for reference in doing a pinup tattoo. You can guess how the contestants behaved on all occasions.

  7. 7
    Onamission5

    @ladyatheist: Consent and agency don’t work that way. A person can consent to one thing under one set of circumstances and not consent to that same thing under another set of circumstances. Just because I’m a baker by trade doesn’t mean I make cakes and cookies for every. single. person. with whom I cross paths just because they’re hungry and want a treat– because that would be a ridiculous expectation, right? Just because these guys take their clothes off in a sexually charged work environment for a living doesn’t mean they cease to be human beings with a right to be treated as such when they are not at work (and I posit that they are still human beings with agency who are able to give or withdraw consent while at work, as well). It does not mean they have given consent to be ogled or groped 24 hours a day. The contestants have an obligation to treat all of their clients with professionalism regardless of whether they find the clients sexually attractive. That does not change just because the clients are sex workers.

    @Gretchen: I saw that episode of Face Off. Talk about dehumanizing. It was awful.

  8. 8
    Greta Christina

    ladyatheist @ #1: What everyone else said about strippers and consent. With the addition of this personalization: As someone who used to work as a stripper, the idea that being a stripper meant giving automatic consent to being sexualized by everyone I encountered, at any given time, at their discretion, regardless of context, regardless of my relationship to them, regardless of whether they were a professional I’d hired to perform a professional service for me… it gives me chills. And not in a good way.

  9. 9
    scott

    I just hope that this fiasco drives home to the producers that one day is just not enough time for even superb designers to do something really great. They can put something together that probably won’t fall apart (unless the hot glue melts) and they can hope for a lucky flash of brilliance, but that’s all.

    I don’t have a lot of hope, to be honest, but it sure would be nice.

    Presumably, they thought that the extra person on each team would have made things go faster- people who think this need to be smacked upside the head with a copy of The Mythical Man-Month.

    A couple of seasons ago there was a guy who got through three challenges or so even after tossing out his project in the last hour and slapping something together in the waning minutes. It was absurd for that to be able to compete with projects that had been worked on for the full time- and if the full time was two days, that wouldn’t have happened.

  10. 10
    Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare

    I didn’t watch the show. But I did spend years doing theatrical costume design and costume construction. As the designer / fitter, you have a respondibility to behave professionally. That being said, I am always aware that the job of the producers / camara folks / editors is to select materials that are going to play well on TV, which, for me, always leaves me with the “how much of this is staged” question, and “how much is editeed to heighten the effect?”

  11. 11
    brianl

    Guess I should have been lighter on the fast-forward button this week, but the train was headed off the bridge pretty early. A few things, first of all, how much of the one-day crap is budgetary for PR? I’m not buying for a moment that “Oh gee, we’ve got to make everything harder season to season” is being driven by anything but the budget, which is absurd considering how cheap the show is to produce anyway (compared to a non-reality show). There are so many one-days because they’re being too cheap to film two.
    Next, this was a crap challenge. Designing costumes has very little to do with fashion or real clothes, and it’s always a bummer (remember that awful Godspell challenge? I hated the Rockettes challenge as well).
    On the professional behavior issue, not catching who crossed the line where (although I can guess, and I’d be shocked if it wasn’t encouraged by the producers) and not wanting to minimize the issues you raised, Gretta, this is another place where the designers were sort of screwed. The whole set-up was designed to be titillating. Regardless of what actually happened, it would be edited that way. Plus, it’s perfectly within the bounds of “professional” for a straight male designer to cheek/air kiss a model before or after a fitting, describe their appearance in sexual terms (hot, fierce, sultry, etc.), and encase them in hyper-sexualized styling to achieve the effect they’re after. The boundaries around that are actually fairly well-known. That set of rules isn’t as well-known for male models (and it’s not sufficient to say they’re the same–the dynamic is different for precisely the reasons you described).

  12. 12
    ladyatheist

    They were there in their role as strippers, having stripping outfits made for them, so I don’t think it’s that inappropriate. Thunder from DownUnder makes its living by being sexy and appearing on this show was advertising for them. It’s not like some average model or someone’s relative who happened to be sexy being objectified. It’s what they do and why they were there.

  13. 13
    Gretchen

    They were there in their role as strippers, having stripping outfits made for them

    That’s a definition of “stripper” I’ve never heard before– someone who has stripping outfits made for him/her. So being a stripper means you go somewhere and people design and construct clothes for you? I’ve heard that guys hire strippers for bachelor parties– you mean they’re actually sewing circles?

    Wow. You learn things everyday.

  14. 14
    Onamission5

    @ladyatheist: By that rationale, if someone who strips for a living (or even for a hobby) goes to a store which sells stripping attire, the salespeople are perfectly within their rights to expect that person to be available for a private show, and if their outfit doesn’t fit them properly and they take it to a fitter for them to make adjustments, just the fact that a stripper brought them a stripping outfit that they plan to wear at work makes it totes okay for that fitter to treat them like an object on display.

    Nope, still doesn’t work, sorry.

  15. 15
    Sastra

    I think ladyatheist meant something else — something I was thinking as I watched Project Runway last week. The clients weren’t simply clients: the show was deliberately structured around advertising the group Thunder From Down Under as a bunch of sexy men whom you just have to go and see OMG they are so sexy. The ‘unprofessional’ reactions were part of the script — no, not written down but encouraged. And I suspect the group’s manager wanted it this way, and the men happily agreed because of the commercial potential. They didn’t walk into Men’s Warehouse: they were on TV. TV!

    My guess is that the designers knew this and probably were fine with good-naturedly obliging with the obligatory drooling and eye-rolling and grinning … on camera. They were hamming it up. The dancers were nice guys and this was their moment to impress America and reinforce the idea that it’s okay for nice, ordinary women to want to go to a strip show. ‘Twas understood. And as soon as the camera was off it was probably back to business again.

    Now, you can still say that this deliberate, planned objectivication of strippers is a bad idea. And I see the point: it’s perpetrating a cultural stereotype. Bad idea. But if the strippers and their managers were planning it as part of the deal it’s not the same situation as some poor guy just wanting to be measured for a suit and damn, look at how he’s treated. Nor is it necessarily PR’s bad taste or judgment or choice. “We’ll do it — but make it look like we’re irresistible.”

    Is this what happened? I don’t know. But that’s what it looked like to me at the time:a mutually-agreed on promotion with the designers buying in and trying not to make it look too phony and thus disappoint their clients on camera. “Reality” shows are a mix of reality and fantasy, spontaneity and staging.

  16. 16
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Ladyatheist, is your uncle who’s a lawyer obligated to give you free legal advice at a family gathering?

  17. 17
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    “They were there in their role as strippers, having stripping outfits made for them, so I don’t think it’s that inappropriate.”

    No, they were there as CUSTOMERS and CLIENTS, having clothing made by supposedly professional designers for their professional performances as strippers. … The designer’s libido and vocabulary should have stayed firmly on a leash.

    Would you think it OK if ER staff or ambulance crew got all lewd and suggestive if a female stripper came in for a work-related injury, such as a broken wrist from an awkward fall of the dance pole? Maybe even straight from the job site, in a g-string and pasties?

    ==========
    I have some sympathy for them, because I once walked into a door whilst ogling a superbly constructed intern who was walking the other way, but I was on break.

  18. 18
    Eristae

    They were there in their role as strippers, having stripping outfits made for them, so I don’t think it’s that inappropriate. Thunder from DownUnder makes its living by being sexy and appearing on this show was advertising for them. It’s not like some average model or someone’s relative who happened to be sexy being objectified. It’s what they do and why they were there.

    Oh I see. So, if a computer technician walked into a store with the intention of buying parts to fix one of their clients computers, then they could be required to fix computers during their off time for no pay? If you are doing something related to your job, then you have to perform your job if someone wants you to?

  19. 19
    Greta Christina

    They were there in their role as strippers, having stripping outfits made for them…

    ladyatheist @ #12: No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

    They were not there as strippers. They were not there to put on a strip show for the Project Runway designers. They were not there as service providers. They were there as clients.

    I’ll echo what Onamission5 said @ #14: When strippers go to a costume shop to buy show outfits, are they “there in their role as strippers”? When strippers hire a Web designer to make a Website advertising their services, are they “there in their role as strippers”? When strippers hire an accountant to manage their earnings, are they “there in their role as strippers”? In these circumstances, should they expect to be sexualized by the people providing services for them, simply because they’re having products or services provided that relate to their work as strippers?

    I’ve been a stripper. I’ve had professional products and services provided for me as such, including shopping for costumes. I really hope you’re not saying that the sales clerks at the stripper-gear shop had a right to sexualize me and our professional encounter, simply because I was “there as a stripper.”

    Now, Sastra @ #15 may have a point. It could be that this flirting and sexualization was arranged and agreed upon behind the scenes, between the PR producers and Thunder From Down Under, as a means of promotion. If that’s the case, then I’d be more okay with it. But I’d still think it was very ill-judged on everyone’s part: a public promotion of bad professional boundaries, and indeed of the idea that strippers and other sex workers shouldn’t expect to even have professional boundaries at all. As the audience, we’re not privy to those behind-the-scenes negotiation (assuming they happened): all we see is the designers behaving unprofessionally, in a way that feeds a harmful cultural trope.

  20. 20
    ainuvande

    Maybe it’s because I’m not a designer. Or maybe it’s because of my time in theater costuming, but my first thought here was “how different is stripper wear from the alterations needed for quick-change?” Also, did the designers get to see the routines these men would be doing? I would care a lot about things like order of removal, preferred method of removal, any possible snags (like that long hair), amount of movement needed for the dance in question. I suspect none of these questions were asked. But then, like I said, theater background, not high end designer background.

    Of course, the real discussion here is the unprofessional behavior. Which, again, maybe it’s because of my time in theater, but you just don’t DO that! I mean, I suppose you could, but people would very quickly ask not to work with you. It’s depressing that the rest of the world doesn’t work like that.

  21. 21
    Eristae

    As I was surfing the web, it came to me:

    Someone should have gone with a sexy doctor costume! Doctors’ coats don’t need to fit as well as suits do so that would have toned down the “that just looks like a poorly made suit” badness. And doctors can be super sexy.

    I wish they’d been able to branch out more.

  22. 22
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    The whole thing seems like it was setup precisely for what ended up happening. Heidi’s enthusiasm kinda gave it away at the beginning. Having the guys do a strip-tease on the runway, while it serves the purpose of showing the designers the motion range/movement etc. needs for these guys, also seems like a pretty obvious attempt to create a sexually charged atmosphere with predictable reactions. All the fawning and fanning themselves by the judges also leads me to believe that getting a rise out of the designers and judges was the entire purpose of this challenge. Given how much of this stuff (reality tv) is scripted, I’d be VERY surprised if the show’s producers didn’t encourage everyone to “have fun with it” or with even more explicit instruction. That said, Greta is totally right about the unprofessional nature of the behavior. I guess I’m just not real surprised when PR ignores such concerns. I mean, when Venn wasn’t sent home after his terrible behavior in designing for the real-figured woman, it became pretty clear that concerns of professionalism are pretty low on the list of priorities for PR.

    They could have done a tamer and more interesting (yet similar) version if they had asked the designers to create outfits for the ATP (mens tennis.) You’d have many of the same design constraints (light, breathable fabric, stretchy, comfort) and still be able to bring in a bunch of great looking guys with muscular (though not unnaturally bulky) bodies. And much more variety in color options. Possible star-player judge/client and tie-in to Nike, Reebok etc. I’m really surprised they haven’t done this with women’s tennis, given that there’s even more fashion possibilities (dresses, skirts/tops, shorts/tops etc.) and many of the big stars (Serena, Sharapova etc.) are very into fashion and most have their own signature apparel lines.

  23. 23
    Fabio García

    How come no one has pointed out that, if the intent of the show was to advertise Thunder from Down Under (as ladyatheist at #12 and Sastra at #15 seem to note), then the show screwed up its purpose? Or is it only me who believes that showing up in those hilariously awful suits is not good advertising for a male stripper group?

  24. 24
    didgen

    @#18, I can say that as a former RN in a large hospital, I actually have treated a patient who had injured herself during a performance. The only difficulty at all was in my asking the mechanism of the injury, being somewhat double jointed myself I found myself continuously wondering HOW she got into that position. Other than that, which was an entirely internal dialog, she was treated by everyone the same as we would treat anyone else. She had every right to expect and receive professional service. Those outfits, wow that’s bad.

  25. 25
    bulhakov

    Why all the hate for the unprofessional flirting and sexualization with men? I understand most women don’t like it and it’s more difficult for a woman to discourage a guy. I also know that it’s wrong to EXPECT men to “always be happy with sexual attention, at all times, from anyone” but the fact is that MOST men ARE “happy with sexual attention, at all times, from anyone (or at least, from any reasonably attractive person of the appropriate gender)”.

    If a man is uncomfortable because of the unprofessional behavior, all he needs to do is to openly state it, but I assure you aside from extreme cases (like harassment or assault) men enjoy the attention.

    The only cases I’ve encountered of men not wanting an attractive woman to flirt with them were situations where the guy was in a committed relationship (and it was primarily out of not wanting to hurt his girlfriend’s/wife’s feelings, not out of a dislike of the attention).

  26. 26
    JEC

    I guess the ambiguity is inherent in the idea of a “reality show.” Are we watching authentic, unrehearsed unprofessional behavior, or is it staged unprofessional behavior? Are the “clients” just clients, or are they performers playing the role of clients?

    Personally, I think that the “reality framing” of the show invites the viewers to view — and judge — the actions shown as if they were the unscripted actions of real people, so it’s 100% legit to criticize the individuals involved on that basis.

    Actually, there’s an easy and objective way to determine whether the strippers were participating in the show as performers or as “real people.” How were they paid? The television industry is highly unionized, and if someone appears as an actor, there are very strict rules about contract terms, union membership, and pay scale. Were those adhered to? Inquiring minds….

  27. 27
    Matrim

    @bulhakov, #25> in point of fact, not every guy is as you assert. If you want to throw out anecdotal evidence, so can I. Personally, while flirting and attention can be nice SOMETIMES in certain situations, it can be distracting, unwelcome, and uncomfortable. Sure, if I’m at a bar or a party it’s generally cool, but if I’m trying to buy something at the store, trying to order food, or just trying to get from one place to another it’s not something I particularly want. And if I ask people to leave me alone suddenly I’m an asshole who’s being unfriendly. It’s not fun, it’s not cute. I don’t need strangers to bolster my self esteem by flirting with me; if anything it makes me feel superficial. I know I’m not the only person that feels that way even amoung my friends.

    Also, for the record, there is a difference between giving someone attention, flirting, and being an inappropriate horn-dog. The differences are important.

  28. 28
    jessicahopes

    As long as we’re talking about problematic messages about consent, I think we should mention the fact that at least two men on the show [a judge and designer] both failed to recognize the distinction between a stripper and a flasher.

  29. 29
    Greta Christina

    …the fact is that MOST men ARE “happy with sexual attention, at all times, from anyone (or at least, from any reasonably attractive person of the appropriate gender)”.

    bulhakov @ #25: Citation seriously needed. Many men I know do not feel this way — and they are made very uncomfortable and unhappy with this idea. They don’t like this gender role expectation: the idea that to be a “real man” means always wanting and being happy with sexual attention. Among many other reasons, it puts pressure on them to accept sexual attention even when they don’t want it. (For more on this topic, I suggest you read Five Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men.)

    If a man is uncomfortable because of the unprofessional behavior, all he needs to do is to openly state it

    There are at least two big problems with this. One is, again, the fact that there is social pressure on men to accept sexual attention even if they don’t want it — and when men do openly state that they don’t want this kind of attention, they often get shamed. The other is best express by Miss Manners, who says it’s rude to flirt with people who are professionally required to be polite to you. This was a situation where the dancers were put on the spot: they were there to promote their show, and even if they were uncomfortable with the unprofessionalism of the designers, they might not have felt comfortable saying so, for fear of being buzzkills not seeming like good sports, and thus casting their show in a negative light.

  30. 30
    bulhakov

    Dear Greta,

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2010/08/24/five-stupid-unfair-and-sexist-things-expected-of-men/
    I’ve read the piece on the unreasonable expectations when it first came out. I greatly enjoyed it and mostly agree with it. There are a ton of contradicting expectations, we’re supposed to be strong and protective, but not too aggressive (unless it’s a situation aggression is expected of us), we’re supposed to be “the rock” in the relationship, but we’re also supposed to open up and share our feelings, etc. It’s impossible to meet every single one of those expectations, but I admit I try to do my best in all categories of “manliness” (father, husband, partner etc.). I’m definitely more of a rational conformist – I try to fit into society’s expectations, though I will fight a lot of irrationalities (e.g. religion or homophobia).

    As for the citations and non-anecdotal evidence:
    From my own experience – I haven’t met a single guy through 30+ years of my life that complained about unwanted attention from an attractive woman (aside from the previously mentioned exceptions), but I understand the “trial base” is skewed by the social circles I run in plus some friends might not have spoken up because of the above mentioned expectations.

    However, there were several notable psychological studies on the subject, I’ll mention just the most classic one:
    http://www.elainehatfield.com/79.pdf

    http://www.academia.edu/410715/Clark_and_Hatfields_Evidence_of_Womens_Low_Receptivity_to_Male_Strangers_Sexual_Offers_Revisited

    In this famous study casual sex was offered by male and female students to random strangers – 69-75% men accepted the offers, 0% of women did. Also, 67% of the men that turned down the offer did it because of being in a committed relationship.

    Several more recent studies have shown the differences between sexes are not that extreme when potential danger is taken out of the equation (e.g. when the sex was offered by a best friend of the opposite sex, many more women complied) it still shows how open men are to sexual advances.

    As for the problem of a man being shamed for turning down unwanted flirtation – that is the problem that should be fought. I believe the general lesson should not be “don’t flirt with clients it’s unprofessional” it should be “don’t flirt with anyone if you see the smallest hint it’s making them uncomfortable”, also “if a guy turns you down, don’t blame him, he should not be expected to always welcome attention”.

  31. 31
    JEC

    Greta Christina asked:

    How do you make men look sexy?

    and observed that

    …part of our culture’s myth of masculinity is that men are supposed to always be happy with sexual attention, at all times, from anyone (or at least, from any reasonably attractive person of the appropriate gender).

    I wonder whether this masculine stereotype might be the reason that we have no heterosexual-male-appropriate fashion language for signalling, “I am sexy now.”

    Think about it this way: the stereotypes are “men are always interested in sex” and “women are rarely interested in sex.” With those background assumptions, a language for women to signal “I can haz sexuality” is useful — i.e. it conveys non-trivial information, but for men it is merely redundant. It would say little more than, “yes, still male today.” (Which is more or less what male “stripper gear” says…it’s just slightly exaggerated versions of “stuff men wear to work.”)

  32. 32
    Greta Christina

    In this famous study casual sex was offered by male and female students to random strangers – 69-75% men accepted the offers,

    bulhakov @ #30: Flip that around. “In this famous study casual sex was offered by male and female students to random strangers – 25-31% of men declined the offers,”

    Why do you think those men don’t matter?

    Also, of the 69-75% of men who did accept the offers, how many of them did so, partly or largely or entirely, because of the social pressure on men to accept sexual attention, at all times, from anyone?

    And of the 69-75% of men who did accept the offers, how many of them felt okay accepting the offer in a random situation on the street — but would have still felt uncomfortable about it in a professional situation, such as from a doctor or an accountant or a clothing designer?

    From my own experience – I haven’t met a single guy through 30+ years of my life that complained about unwanted attention from an attractive woman (aside from the previously mentioned exceptions), but I understand the “trial base” is skewed by the social circles I run in plus some friends might not have spoken up because of the above mentioned expectations.

    I’ll reiterate your own caveat. Your trial base is skewed. Especially likely since you say yourself that you try to do your best in all categories of ‘manliness,’” and it’s likely that others in your social circle do the same. I’ve known many men who have complained about said unwanted attention — and who have complained about the cultural expectation that they accept this attention, even if they don’t want it. Why do you think those men don’t matter?

    I believe the general lesson should not be “don’t flirt with clients it’s unprofessional” it should be “don’t flirt with anyone if you see the smallest hint it’s making them uncomfortable”, also “if a guy turns you down, don’t blame him, he should not be expected to always welcome attention”.

    But again, if it’s a professional situation, and especially if it’s a professional situation where they’re required to be polite to you, they may not feel okay letting you know that they’re uncomfortable. And besides, you’re basically saying that we should have different standards for sexually invasive behavior towards male victims than we do for female ones. That’s a terrible, terrible idea.

    Can I ask you this: Why are you pushing back on this? Why are you defending and even advocating the sexualization of men in what should be a professional situation?

    As for the problem of a man being shamed for turning down unwanted flirtation – that is the problem that should be fought.

    That is certainly one problem that should be fought. And I am fighting it by asking people to stop perpetuating this notion that men always want sexual attention, and that this is a male characteristic, and that men are therefore less manly if they don’t have it. That is a big part of this shaming that we’re talking about. You’re perpetuating it. Please stop.

  1. 33
    Extendable tethers: skeptidrama and a lesson from Project Runway » Godlessness in Theory

    […] the fastest means of learning sordid truths about them; likewise, our culture’s attitudes to sex work, womanhood and cutthroatism show up most clearly crawling through its trash, and Greta’s […]

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