The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private.

Author:Owens, Annette Fuglsang
Position:Book review
 
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The Male Body. A New Look At Men In Public And In Private By Susan Bordo Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, First editions: hardcover (1999), paperback (2000) ISBN: 0-374-52732-6 (pbk.); 358 pages, US$ 15.00, CAN$ 24.95

The Author

Susan Bordo holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, where she is also a professor of English and Women's Studies. She has written and edited several books, including Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J.

What This Book Is About

I read Susan Bordo's book The Male Body during my recent summer vacation. It proved to be a perfect combination of entertainment and mental challenges. On my flight overseas I noticed interested glances from across the aisle, whenever the page turned to one of the photographs and reprints of fashion ads displaying beautiful male bodies, more or less dressed. One young man, completely naked, is getting ready to put a pair of underwear on, or maybe he just disrobed? Other illustrations show Susan Bordo's cigar smoking father sitting at a table at a convention, or an apron-clad Jim Backus in a scene from the movie Rebel Without a Cause, or G. I. Jane pumping muscles. My seatmates on the plane clearly were confused. What is this book about?

As the title indicates, the book is about men's bodies and changing cultural perceptions over time. Susan Bordo not only takes a close look at men in public, including past and present presidents; she also shares some of her private experiences with us. Many of the illustrations from the book have been scrutinized and discussed in a class setting, and Susan Bordo offers in-depth interpretations: however, she does so without imposing her view on the reader: "... You may not see the same things in this ad that I do. Representations of the body have a history, but so too do viewers, and they bring that history--both personal and cultural--to their perception and interpretation. Different viewers may see different things. In pointing to certain elements in ads, or movies, or fashion, I'm not ignoring the differences in how people may see things, but deliberately...

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