Female masculinity and the blogosphere

After these photos were posted to some Russian website (and subsequently to Boing Boing), an undeservedly large brouhaha broke out amongst feminist bloggers. Here are some examples: 1, 2, 3.

A huge majority of this discussion can be organized into two categories: people who think the women are gross/unnatural/unattractive/the apotheosis of grotesquerie, etc., and people who defend the women by claiming that it doesn’t matter what the former group thinks, women should have the right to look however they want, they’re not doing it for you, “well, I find them attractive,” etc.

The interesting thing about this discussion is that neither of these categories really said anything of substance. Roy (#2) pointed out repeatedly that people who find body building grotesque and express that in a feminist thread are “miles away from the point,” without ever really getting to what the point actually is. This is regrettable, because the concept of female masculinity is a fascinating and fruitful avenue of research, and with this recent opportunity to have an interesting discussion the research was kind of thrown by the wayside in favor of a bunch of reactionary squabbling and PC censorship.

Let’s please acknowledge that people do find other people attractive and unattractive. Instead of pretending this isn’t the case, it would be much more productive to examine why we find certain people attractive and not others (and I don’t mean “why” as in “because she has a nice haircut,” but rather what kind of sociologically-grounded preconceptions are coming into play). In cases like this, one of the most interesting aspects is the arguably true generalization that masculine heterosexual women are rarely, if ever, revered for their physical beauty (by straight people), and if they are, its usually for their feminine traits. Masculine lesbian women, on the other hand, have a well-established community of people who find them attractive and revere them for their masculine traits. What’s the difference between straight men and lesbians that makes only the latter find masculinity attractive in women? Is attraction innate, like the evolutionary psychologists want us to believe? If so, to what degree? And also, as Lauren at Feministe (#1) brought up, what’s the significance of the hyperfeminine “accessories” like the hair and makeup? Has anyone ever done an ethnography of bodybuilding so we could better understand the tanning and the veininess? What was the role of the photographer in creating these personae? Etc., etc. These questions would make for a much more interesting discussion.

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One response to “Female masculinity and the blogosphere

  1. I believe you mean “Roy”.

    And I didn’t say what “the point” was, because I took it as obvious–the point of the original thread seemed very clear to me. Lauren’s point was not “look how gross these women are”, but, rather, “look how interesting this representation of femininity is, and how interesting the human body is.” Feminists–or anyone else–taking that thread as an excuse to say how ugly they found those women was missing the point of Lauren’s post as I saw it.

    Further: I think that there’s a difference between talking about social issues or why we find what we find attractive, and talking about how specific women are gross. The former is interesting. The latter is obnoxious. The majority of the people in the original post were, unfortunately, engaging in the latter.

    Lastly: the point of both my own blog and feministe is feminist discussion, so I think it makes sense that the focus in both places would be about the feminist implications of people’s responses to the photos themselves, particularly to those of us interested in size acceptance.

    [ME: Fixed. Sorry about that.]

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