I’m Fed Up of Men’s Body Being The Norm

…while a woman’s is always an object of curiosity.

Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

After some minor coercion, I ended up watching a football match the other day to keep my friend company. We had previously been watching a romantic movie, including scenes where a belly dancer did a show, surrounded by leering guys. It was filmed with a classic male gaze, the camera moving up and down her body like a slow caress, highlighting her toned stomach and legs, her shapely chest. After the game kicked off and the young men started running across the pitch with their toned bodies, I couldn’t help but wonder: why aren’t they filmed the same way? Why no slow-mo on a toned thigh, a shapely calf, a foot with a masterful handle of the ball?

Men’s bodies aren’t portrayed like that because the male gaze still dominates our world view, and part of the male gaze is seeing man as the norm. The male body as the default body, a functional tool, a non-issue. Whereas a woman’s body is a curiosity: something to be both celebrated as an object of desire, and policed as a subject of sin.

The Male Body is The Default Body

A couple of weeks ago, a picture of a female muscular and nervous system went viral on Twitter. It came as a revelation to many, including me, because, on seeing it, we realised that we had never before seen scientific images of a woman’s build. The default picture is that of a man, the one in all the science books you use in school is that of a man. We had never even noticed that these representations only accurately represented half of people — never even registered that it was a man, because we are very accustomed to men’s body being seen as the default variety.

Being default is a privilege. It means the world is built with you in mind.

I never thought about race before living in India, and no longer being in a majority. Of course, I had thought about the colour of my skin, mainly because I am ginger, and so can get sunburnt indoors in winter, but my skin being something that impacted me and the way I was treated by the outside world was only something I thought about when I was no longer default. White people get to say things like “I never think about race.” In the same way, heterosexual people never have to do a “big reveal” of their sexuality. They don’t have to “come out.” People just assume.

Being the default, the presumed, the no-questions-asked, is a privilege. When it comes to bodies, it has a lot of real world consequences.

It means that men’s bodies are taken seriously by the scientific community, that treatments are made for them, primarily. A lot of medicine is tested only on men, the excuse being that it eliminates the variations of a menstrual cycle. But it also means that its efficiency is tested for someone without a menstrual cycle. Similarly, research shows that women’s heart attacks frequently go undetected, because the symptoms widely known to be associated with heart attacks are those common for men.

Being default means being able to show flesh in public — get changed in public spaces, walk around shirtless — without people suggesting that you are doing it to tease. You get to post photos of your body on social media without it being censored. Your nipples are neutral, apparently, where women’s nipples are shameful. Something to be hidden.

It means walking through the street without being objectified, or encountering random comments from strangers, who think they have some sort of claim over your time, some sort of say over your body.

It means not having to think about your body as much, not having to police it. Worry about how much of it is showing, what message people will imagine you are sending. It means not being in conflict with a body which you have always learned is there to serve you, whereas, for women, that relationship is a lot more complex. A body is an obstacle. It always takes up too much room, makes too many demands, draws too much attention. The body, for women, is something to be managed.

It means a lot of free time, I presume, because managing a body takes so much time, and thinking about these things takes so much energy. What do men do while I am pondering things like, Should I say that I have a body? or that I am a body?

Having a body implies that it is just a possession, something outside of you, which can be taken or given. Something which can be damaged or hurt without effecting the core of who you are. Being a body means that you begin and end at your body, and that once it is hurt or someone has taken it for their own, you, too, have been captured and destroyed.

Both sound wrong.

Bodies aren’t the only thing where men are default, and women some sort of specialised version. A sociology professor collected hundreds of pictures of products on her blog, showing the “default” version on one side, and the “girls’” version on the over. The latter often costing a little bit more, I might add.

And think of how, for movie genres, there is a specific category called “chick flicks”, everything else, presumably, being for men. Generally, a chick flick is just a film where a woman is the lead — because men would apparently not identify with a woman, whereas women are expected to identify with male characters, because they are default human. It’s like how women are described as complicated. An excuse so as not to try and understand their experience, but presume that it is simply womenkind that is odd. I’d like to be default, for once.

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