- Revealing Male Bodies
On my way home from the screening of a new documentary about the gay male community's obsession with masculinity and muscularity, I stopped at the corner newsstand and immediately noticed the current issue of Newsweek (June 16, 2003). The magazine proclaimed to be devoted to "Men's Minds, Men's Bodies" and featured popular science stories on men's health couched conveniently between drug ads. Having just read Revealing Male Bodies for this review, I realized that while the short documentary, the weekly news magazine, and the scholarly anthology were developed within different contexts and speak to different audiences, their similarities are more revealing than their differences. Now more than ever, the standard feminist interrogation of gender—and women's roles in that system—is accompanied by a sometimes-feminist investigation of men and their positions in our gendered world. In a society also seemingly obsessed with bodies, this new collection edited by Nancy Tuana and four male graduate students offers new insight into the particular issue of male embodiment.
Terrance MacMullan introduces the collection by remarking that the project's collaborators agree that the recent proliferation of literature on men lacks a thorough investigation of the body. He promises that "Revealing Male Bodies addresses this absence by initiating an interdisciplinary discussion of male embodiment" (1). The contributors to this volume propose to address the omission by expanding the phenomenological investigations of embodiment, enhancing "analyses of the impact of social power on the body," and adding a feminist analysis of embodiment (2). The collection succeeds in its main goal of opening up the dialogue on male embodiment and for that reason stands as a valuable contribution to the field. [End Page 126]
That being said, I want to begin by pointing out a few of the weaknesses I found in this collection to clear the way for an appropriate discussion of the book's highlights. The volume's greatest shortcoming is one recognized by the editors: the authors concede that they are unable to cover all types of men, masculinities, and bodies. MacMullan hopes that this work will be just a beginning, and Hamington and Cowling admit in the postscript that, "given the limitations of a single volume, only a few of the socially inscribed male typologies have been explored" (288). However, despite their self-critique, I finished many of the essays wondering, What about trans men, Latino men, drag kings, gay masculine men, or working-class white men?
Too often, it seemed as though the essays actually engaging with race managed to bolster the standard black versus white race discussion. Though this trope, which often overwhelms the U.S. racial imagination, has not been drained dry, it was disappointing to not find essays also attempting to tackle the questions about Latino masculinity, Asian masculinity, and white masculinity. In addition, because my scholarly work in visual culture often includes a study of "female" and queer masculinities, I was particularly aware of the ways in which Revealing Male Bodies did—and did not—address these issues. Two essays include the role of the drag queen in discussions about men's bodies, but the topic of this book would be further challenged by the inclusion of an essay on drag kings (typically, females who perform as men). This would beg the question of whose body counts as male. Also unasked are questions about the ways in which transgendered and intersexed individuals complicate the assumed definitions of "male," "masculinity," and "the body." Ultimately, I believe collections like this would benefit greatly from a thorough interrogation of their very premise.
Despite this sense of unanswered questions looming throughout the text, a few of the essays struck me as particularly insightful. The first chapter of Revealing Male Bodies, Susan Bordo's "Does Size Matter?" opens the dialogue on male embodiment with a very appropriate essay on the importance (or lack thereof) of penis size. As usual, Bordo is witty, accessible, and thought-provoking—a treasured combination not often found in academic writing. She claims that...