Tip: Keltik & terrysmalloy
The ‘male gaze’ so beloved of many feminists doesn’t exist. The female gaze on the other hand, does. And it’s scoping other women.
Or so you might be forgiven for concluding on the basis of the results of eye-tracking research by academics at Bristol University, England.
This is how the Daily Telegraph reported the research:
Revealed: women are the secret oglers
And it is the fairer sex that gives their rivals’ bodies a good visual once-over, found Bristol University researchers, rather than their supposedly Neanderthal partners. Men are more likely to concentrate on a potential mate’s face.’
Fifty two volunteers (26 women, 26 men) with ages ranging from 19-47 were asked to examine a range of different images, ‘including stills from nature documentaries, classical and surrealist paintings, and freeze-frames of couples in films.’ The last category included Love Actually, starring Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon.
The results showed that, understandably, the women weren’t very interested in looking at Hugh Grant – or any of the other men. They lavished 61% of their time looking at the women in the pictures, and only 39% on the men. Men also preferred to look at the women in the images too – but only just, at 53% to 47%.
What’s more, when women looked at other women their eyes tended to roam around the whole figure, while men concentrated on the face and eyes. In other words (not used by the researchers) women tended to ‘objectify’ other women rather more than the men did.
The (male) scientist who led the study was quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying:
“This is counter-intuitive from a sexual perspective if you are thinking about desire, but it’s not surprising if you look at it in terms of sexual competition.”
He continued: “The women might be checking out their sexual rivals, and comparing themselves with them.”
He noted: “That’s speculation of course – I’ve no proof whatsoever.”’
And highly heterosexist speculation at that. I’ve looked and can find no mention in the study of the sexuality of the volunteers, just their numbers, their sex and age. But clearly they are all presumed heterosexual – along, as usual, with ‘desire’ and ‘sexual competition’ itself. In fact, as often happens with this kind of study it’s so heterosexist it’s positively reproductivist.
And of course, the Daily Telegraph’s reporting and presentation of the story is equally presumptive – e.g. the use of ‘rivals’ and ‘potential mates’ in the opening paragraph, and Kate Figes’ unsupported supporting speculation further down. There is no possibility here of any other sexuality than heterosexuality – and only the breeding kind of heterosexuality at that.
If I were straight I would be picketing the offices of the Daily Telegraph to indignantly demand my right to non-reproductive perversity. To visual pleasures that don’t make beautiful babies or eliminate ‘rivals’.
Rather than tying themselves into knots trying to make the findings fit what heterosexuality is supposed to be/do, perhaps it would make more sense to admit that some of their presumptions might be wrong – and open their eyes.
The near evenly-split figure for men’s ‘fixation length’ on male and female models in the images is in some ways more ‘counter-intuitive’ than the findings for women, but is largely lost in the attention given to the female ‘ogling’ of other females. After all, women looking, really looking, at men is a relatively recent notion – female narcissism on the other hand is not. What’s more, male gaze fans would probably say that because the images the women were looking at were constructed ‘by men for men’ (even when they weren’t) women are merely looking at other women the way men look at them.
But it turns out of course that the (presumed heterosexual) men in this study aren’t doing what everyone, including Laura Mulvey, expected them to be doing. They’re not ‘objectifying’ the women in the images as much as the women viewers. Worse, they’re not paying the women nearly as much attention. Unforgivably, their ‘gaze’ is almost equally split between the male and female subjects. What kind of a gaze is that?
In a sense, the men in the study are being far more visually bi-curious than almost everyone, traditionalist or feminist or scientist, wants them to be. No wonder no one’s talking about it.
Next month, on December 5th, Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, The King of Rockin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ Rhythm & Blues Soulin’, turns 80.
Whether or not Mr Penniman invented rock ‘n’ roll as he has often loudly and boldly claimed – and, to be sure, he’s got a better, prettier claim than most – it’s as obvious as the eyeliner around his lips that this son of a bootlegger from Macon, Georgia invented glam rock. Way back in the ‘uptight’ 1950s.
The King-Queen of Rockin’ ‘n Rollin’ may possibly have been inspired in his style by the early 1950s tonsured ‘bad-boy’ TV wrestler Gorgeous George (who also influenced James Brown and Muhammad Ali), but wherever he got it from he definitely stole, to quote Oscar Wilde – he didn’t waste his time borrowing. With his imperious pompadour, his sequinned capes, his outrageous gestures, his shrieks, his full make-up and false eyelashes, he channelled a fun, furious, flaming effeminacy that bore down on the charts like a screaming, squealing steam train.
Wisely, the charts surrendered, unconditionally. From 1955-57 he had fourteen hit singles and three number ones.
“Lu-CILLE! You won’t do your sister’s will!” came blaring through the house like a pack of rabid dogs. It was as if a Martian had landed. My grandmother stopped in her tracks, face ashen, beyond comprehension. The antiques rattled. My parents looked stunned. In one magical moment, every fear of my white family had been laid bare: an uninvited, screaming, flamboyant black man was in the living room. Even Dr Spock hadn’t warned them about this.’
– John Waters
Unlike Gorgeous George, however, the queerness of Little Richard wasn’t just a pose. According to Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell the producer behind his first hit ‘Tutti Frutti’, the ‘minstrel modes and homosexual humour’ of Richard’s original lyrics had to be bowdlerised for the mainstream. “Tutti Frutti, good booty”, for instance, was replaced with the slightly less sodomitical “Tutti Frutti, aw-rooty”. (There’s also speculation that the hits ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ may have been about transvestites.)
Little Richard didn’t though bowdlerise his private life, at least not during his 1950s heyday. According to his authorised biographer Charles White in The Life and Times of Little Richard on tour he would host swinging parties that were so swinging they were orgies. He would invite men back to his hotel and enjoy watching them have sex with his girlfriend.
So when racist groups such as the North Alabama White Citizens Council alarmed by his enormous, unprecedented popularity with white teens put out statements on TV, warning that “Rock ‘n’ Roll is part of a test to undermine the morals of the youth of our nation. It is sexualistic, unmoralistic and … brings people of both races together’, they weren’t entirely wrong.
Little Richard, like many people, had a complicated sexuality. Complicated by both his self-described ‘ominsexual’ tastes – he has had affairs with both men and women – and also by his devout evangelical Christianity, inculcated by his adored mother, which has led him to, ahem, turn his back on his homosexual side for much of his post 1950s life. Unsurprisingly, many gay people regard him with resentment as a result.
He gave an uproarious interview in 1987 to uberfan film director John Waters – whose famous pencil moustache was inspired by Richard’s own iconic lip-fur – in which he announced, not without foundation, that he was not only the architect of rock and roll but ‘the founder of gay’:
‘”I love gay people. I believe I was the founder of gay. I’m the one who started to be so bold tellin’ the world! You got to remember my dad put me out of the house because of that. I used to take my mother’s curtains and put them on my shoulders. And I used to call myself at the time the Magnificent One. I was wearing make-up and eyelashes when no men were wearing that. I was very beautiful; I had hair hanging everywhere. If you let anybody know you was gay, you was in trouble; so when I came out I didn’t care what nobody thought. A lot of people were scared to be with me.”’
In the same interview he confesses the source of his inspiration for his unorthodox use of his mother’s curtains. Not Gorgeous George, but rather His Holiness:
“I idolised the Pope when I was a little boy,” he says reverently. “I liked the pumps he wore. I think the Pope really dresses!” But there were other, more low-down ecclesiastical fashion casualties who seemed a bigger influence. “There was Prophet Jones of Detroit – he used to walk on this carpet. They would spread this carpet out of the limo and he would walk on it. When I got famous, I had the guys just spreading carpet for me to walk on, and they would kiss my hand… and I used to like to live like that.”
Happy birthday, your Most Royal Magnificent Rockin’ Holy Highness!!
At Muhammad Ali’s 50th birthday celebration in 1992. Ali: ‘The king!’ Richard: ‘I love you. Happy birthday, baby’:
Check out the full length packet shot at beginning:
BBC Radio 2 today aired a documentary about Little Richard with lots of (archive, I think) interview footage with the great man himself. It also revealed that his friend the late 1940s jump blues singer Billy Wright, who helped arrange his first recording sessions, liked to curl his hair, wear make-up and sometimes threw his panties in the audience. So Gorgeous George is right out of the window….
It also reported that a fourteen-year-old David Robert Jones – later known as David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust – attended one of Little Richard’s UK gigs in the early 1960s, at which the showman pretended to die on-stage, before resurrecting himself with: “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom!”
James Dean, the lost bisexual love-object of the 1950s, famously denied being homosexual, but explained that he ‘didn’t want to go through life with one hand tied behind his back.’
Probably it’s just because I have a weak spot for Lee Ryan, the cheeky blue-eyed Essex boy who sings in a dreamy falsetto – and I know this makes me deeply unhip – but I rather like Blue’s ‘I Can’, the UK’s entry for next week’s Eurovision Song Contest. I hear in it a kind of metrosexual anthem, about men expressing things and having experiences that they really weren’t supposed to until recently.
Untying that hand – and waving it around a lot in time to the music.
I can untie these hands
Boybands played an important role in the spread of metrosexuality, with Take That most famously evangelising the male desire to be desired in the 1990s, turning a generation on to the charms of pierced nipples, leather harnesses and eager male sex-objectification. It seems none of Take That were, despite the many rumours, gay. But Take That as a band were very gay indeed. Their gay manager took the gay male love of the male body and sold it to millions of teen girls – and boys. All that baby oil helped loosen up ideas about masculinity.
London crooners Blue were in many ways the slightly more boring Noughties successor to the tarty Manc lads. Duncan James famously came out as bisexual a couple of years back, making him one of a very small club of out celeb bisexual males (so small I can’t think of any others off the top of my head).
But it’s not as if the others, especially Lee, are acting particularly hetero in this video for ‘I Can’. At the beginning Lee appears to be shagging Duncan from behind, though never losing eye-contact with the camera of course. And in fact a year ago he admitted/boasted to having had MMF threesomes with Duncan, whom he ‘loves to bits’.
When I first began writing about the subject in 1994 I talked about metrosexuality being the male compliment of female bi-curiousness (then called ‘lesbian chic), but quickly shut up about it when I realised no one wanted to hear that. And while metrosexuality did in some ways culturally stand in for male bi-curiousness – it’s his jeans not his ass I fancy – by encouraging an awareness of male beauty and attractiveness amongst men in general it ended up making the expression of male bisexuality/bi-curiousness much easier. ‘I can’.
Blue recently did a homoerotic, Du Stade type nude shoot for Attitude magazine (with Lee looking by far the most saucy), and have promised another one if they win Eurovision. Those hands have been untied already.
So much so that when the foxy ladies join them at the end of the video, and the heavens open, suggesting perhaps some kind of pan-sexual gang-bang, they don’t really convince as objects of the camera’s gaze – next to the full-wattage metrosexiness of Blue.
I’m obviously a bit slow this week. It’s only finally dawned on me what’s going on with the lady dancers in the video.
They’re Blue’s ‘feminine side’. All tied up in bondage at the start of the video they end up ‘untied’ and freely mingling/merging moistly with the boys.
(For a longer, much less entertaining, prose version of this see my post ‘Curiouser and Curiouser: The Strange Disappearance of Male Bisexuality’.)
Tip: Dermod Moore
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