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Summary: “The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private”


In the extract from her book The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private, Susan Bordo (1999) discusses the peculiarities of the complicated nature of men and the problems of their perception in society. To be more precise, the author handles the problem of two controversial characters coexisting in one man – the beast and the gentleman. To investigate this issue, Bordo presents points of view of different scientists and journalists, which will be summarized below.

At the beginning of the extract, the author explains the ‘hot man’ thesis. The main thought running through the whole extract is the statement made by John Gray, a famous writer, about the different origin of men and women – women are from Venus and men are from Mars (p. 230, para. 4). This metaphor has become the basis of understanding what the ‘hot man’ thesis means. According to Gray, men are like blowtorches heating up very fast and getting cold likewise, and women are like ovens heating up and getting cold slowly (p. 231, para. 3). He also states that men, being blowtorches, look at and are heated by the parts of women’s body, while women first pay attention to the character. Men just cannot control their physical attraction and sometimes they cannot stop at the right time, which leads to the perception of them as beasts.

The same ideas are supported by the authors of “Boys Will Be Boys” (1998) (p. 231, para. 1). They agree that men and women are from different planets, though they should understand their distinct needs while living together on earth. Moreover, the idea of ‘ovens’ and ‘blowtorches’ is shared by evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill, who states that aggressive sexual behavior is explained by natural selection (p. 232, para. 3).

The similar ideas appear in some little advice books like What Men Want: Three Professional Singl Men Reveal What It Takes to Make a Man Yours. This book advises women to keep their men on a very short leash, as they do not stop being polygamous unless someone takes control over them. The book What Men Don’t Want Women to Know: The Secrets, the Lies, the Unspoken Truth also provides the idea that men spend their lives in either loaded or unloaded state, stressing that they do everything possible to become unloaded – it is just their physical need (p. 233, para. 2-4).

Another question raised in this extract is whether the culture can influence the men’s behavior or not. To be more precise, the author finds out who the man is supposed to be – a gentleman or an animal. She describes the situation when footballers are taught to be beasts on the field and not to be dependent on their body at the same time, which leads to their confusion. Bordo states that the man should combine features of both characters (p. 234, para. 2). To support this idea, she provides an example from Ally McBeal show, when one man broke the cheekbone of another man who insulted his girl. This action was regarded as worthy of respect because it was the protection of girl’s honor. Moreover, this case was also considered to be the demonstration of the real man nature (p. 234, para. 3).

The author also provides an example of boxing, when men should be beasts in the ring; however, they can be nice and non-aggressive sexual partners at the same time (p. 235, para. 4). Nevertheless, Bordo notices that the encouragement of violence between boxers gives them the feeling of impunity and raises the level of violence in society. Moreover, it is stated that this adoration of real men – fighters – help them escape punishment even in the most serious cases (as in the case of Mike Tyson convicted of rape or five footballers accused of raping one girl). Some members of societyy rather accuse girls of losing control (p. 237, para. 2).

Clinical psychologist William Pollack agrees that the ‘boys will be boys’ thesis is an advantage for boys when they are celebrities or high-school footballers. Nevertheless, he thinks it does not describe all boys. He provides examples when boys and girls behave in a similar way – for example, make indecent remarks – but stresses that girls are not blamed for sexual harassment. Pollack wants to show that boys should have the possibility to play as well as girl do (p. 239, para. 3).

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This extract also presents the opinion that all men share common features such as competitiveness, aggressiveness in fights, being winners with women. According to Glen Ridge, these standards of manhood are mainly picked up from fathers, brothers, and other exemplars (p. 240, para. 4). She states that children, who enjoy reading instead of playing football, baseball, and other active games, will never be ‘real men.’ According to Bordo, such boys have the most complicated lives, as they do not know how to behave with girls. It is explained by the fact that they are between  natural physical desires and understanding of moral ideals. The example of such situation is described by Pollack, who cites the feeling of an intelligent and nice boy on his first date (p. 241, para. 2).

Furthermore, the author examines the so-called double binds of masculinity – the concept formulated by psychologist Gregory Bateson in 1956 (p. 242, para. 2). Bordo states that women want men to have high sexual aggression and at the same time understand when a woman says ‘no’. She describes some fictional heroes as the examples of men combining these features. Among them are Tarzan, a man of aristocratic origin raised by apes, and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, a clever as well as tender man and aggressive fighter (p. 242, para. 4).

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