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female nudity vs male nudity – is one more acceptable?

Several folks on Twitter recently promoted a piece originally written in September 2011 “Why is female nudity more acceptable than male?” Author Jennie Rosenbaum offered some possible explanations:

Despite all our efforts to the contrary we still live largely in a patriarchal society. While males dominate industry, advertising and the media there will still be a slight locker room mentality. While nudity remains mainly sexual in the minds of the general public, it will be more acceptable for that locker room mentality to gaze upon nude women than men.

Many men fear nude men, but women do not fear nude women. I do not know why this is. It could be media and advertising, it could be that we grow up seeing semi nude women constantly or it could just be that there is a homophobic backlash still in effect.

Women are more aesthetically pleasing than men nude. It’s the truth. No matter the shape of the woman she is beautiful. Men are interesting nude, but not necessarily beautiful. There is an inherent charm in the swell of a hip, the curve of the breast. We have been taught since ancient times to revere the female figure.

I find the question fascinating mainly because I don’t know that female nudity is necessarily more “acceptable” as it is most commercialized and commodified.

For instance, in music videos, men are often fully clothed with eyes hidden behind shades while women dance about with very little on their bodies. Of course companies often use female nudity to sell ideas and products. Yet, it is still unacceptable for us to walk about bare-chested in most places. Even mothers who breastfeed their children in public receive cruel responses or punishment by law. And of course we know that many people across genders still believe that a woman walking about with little or no clothing is “asking for it.” There are also plenty of women who believe the female nude to be vile and sinful. So, while the female nude is tossed about for money, it is not acceptable for women to own and live our nudity for ourselves. Some cultures jail or even murder women for such displays. But I have also noticed a particular kind of repulsion to the male nude in some contexts. Still in other cultures, any nude could merit prison or death.

Sigh. A very complex question, right?

I want to look at one piece of it, connecting to Rosenbaum’s mention of the impact of patriarchal society and take it a step further. More specifically, I want to speak to the cis-gendered straight male perspective as a major influence on our socialization around the female and male nude. I believe that specific perspective is what claims the female nude to be more “beautiful” than the male nude, because female nudity appeals to the sexual attraction of that particular demographic, which still holds the main reigns of influence and power in many contexts, even education. So, if you have that perspective dominating education and industry, it impacts the entire population across genders and orientations. We begin to accept it as given and true. We see the world that way.

thinking-faceI do not believe that the curves of a female body are naturally more aesthetically pleasing than the curves of a man’s body (also, some men have similar curves as women). And if you know Abigail Ekue and her book Bare Men you would see that plenty of women (and other genders) find male bodies, as well as the stories of the humans associated with those bodies, beautiful. Sometimes men respond with disgust or disbelief when we women say things like that, but that’s honestly how we feel. A lot of women think men are beautiful in a non emasculating way.

I think there is something to her mention of men fearing the male nude, although I don’t know that it is “fear.” Maybe, maybe not. I’m not a man, so I couldn’t say. However, there is a pattern even in the naturist/nudist/clothes free community. A lot of men are happy to reblog, favorite and comment on the awesomeness, beauty, strength, etc. of the female body. Yet, they are quite critical and unappreciative of men and especially their own. “Nobody wants to see me,” was/is a common attitude. I noticed this pattern quite early in my clothes free experience, and it actually made me think the whole naturist/nudist/clothes free thing was a hoax. For all the times men criticized my self-confidence, they didn’t have the space to appreciate themselves. They just kept posting and promoting pics of chicks. It shouldn’t have surprised me, though, since society doesn’t encourage men to see themselves as “beautiful.” Rather, men are “supposed” to be hard, rough, emotionless beasts of industry. Men are often raised to look and consume while women are raised to be seen and consumed.

There are so many intersecting aspects to this question of attitudes towards different types of bare bodies. I couldn’t possibly know and address all of them. I just wanted to add to the conversation.

What are your thoughts?

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20 thoughts on “female nudity vs male nudity – is one more acceptable?

  1. Nice article! There is no doubt that male nudity and female nudity are viewed differently, particularly in the US. But I would say this is true in most counties, even those where naturism is much more accepted. Unfortunately, male nudity is more associated with a whole host of negative connotations. Your article inspired me to address this more fully in my blog.

  2. This is such an interesting subject. Thanks to all who have added to the convo. I have known boys and guys who were totally cool with being able to compliment another, without implying anything as far as sexuality and I have known (mostly close-minded) males who cannot. Yet, we (females) are expected and it is normal, to be able to do the same with our own gender.

  3. Men, and especially black men, fear the male nude. Hypermasculine culture has made us this way, but thankfully my own personal intersection of art and nudism have gone great lengths to fix that for me, to break that “you can’t admire another man without it being gay” line of thinking that we are force fed. One of my favorite things that’s been happening lately (which i am so wanting/needing to do more myself) is photographers being willing to be in front of the lens and being as open and vulnerable as they ask others to be.

    1. This is really helpful to hear, Matt, thank you. The description of your journey is amazing. And what you mention about photographers being willing to step out and be as open and vulnerable as they ask others to be is huge.

  4. I think a lot of men are afraid to let themselves admire male bodies because they are afaid of homosexuality. Open the door a little and you don’t know what may sneak in. I know this was true of me in my younger years. Its easy for us to admire the female form. We’ve also been conditioned to see
    the female form as separate from the person, as if there were no person inhabiting the body. This is a major sin. Naturism has helped me learn what noble ceatures we are in shape and form and in abilitiesof mind and body, all of us.

    1. I agree. I used to be uncomfortable with male nudity because I thought that it would be seen as something homosexual, but then, after a while, I began to get used to it. There’s nothing wrong with it, so why should we think otherwise.

  5. First thought:
    An erect penis means something though usually it’s not what someone else thinks.
    Naked people can be seen as something unfamiliar and regarded as dangerous or damaging to their environment when the truth is likely much less harmful. We can let naked people, and the whole concept of nudity, naturism, even freedom, bother us so much that we no longer want to face any of it.
    Interesting idea, though — I’m still thinking… I would like to elaborate on this!

    1. Thanks. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts. But I do want to specify that the question is not about an erect penis. Nowhere in the article is that mentioned. The entire original article as well as this one is about whole bodies.

      1. Touche! Hontouniheart:
        The first time I read your comments about female versus male nudity, I started reading my own thoughts about feminine versus masculine nudity, veering off-course just a touch, I admit, though when I think of the two genders, each is identifiable, nudity notwithstanding. I am re-reading it again, more carefully, and trying to reply again, more carefully.
        When I think of the female, I think of different shape (and function) than I do about the male. When a soldier takes a stance with sword drawn, is he saluting or attacking? I feel that that’s one primary difference between female nudity and male nudity. The female is approachable — the male might not be.

        1. Thank you, Gary. I guess that’s what I’m wondering…. why is the male not approachable? What has made it so? If bodies are just bodies and every body is beautiful, as so many naturists/nudists claim, then why the different attitudes towards them, even within the naturist/nudist contexts, as I’ve seen these past few years of clothes free living?

          It’s something I have wondered for a long time, because I find the kind of attention male naturists/nudists give to female nudity to be off-putting, as if there are underlying ulterior motivations that are unspoken, precisely because so many don’t male. When I look at different gendered bodies, are they not all miraculous works of art to be appreciated? What has conditioned people to favor female nudity as “good, more acceptable, more beautiful, more emblematic, more artful, etc.?” (and yet, at the same time, more sinful, as some others might say.).

          These thoughts are helpful for the conversation. They are peeling back the layers to get to more intricate and nuanced levels. Thanks for contributing!

  6. I’d say, yes, one is more acceptable, but it doesn’t mean it should, and it depends on a lot of other things. Female nudity (and nudity in general) is something of a sensitive subject, but it shouldn’t be, and people tend to only accept this nudity in a sexual context, and when shown a non-sexual context, they will say that it’s wrong (basically, society is a bunch of hypocrites). Male nudity is more accepted as something humorous, but that too is also associated with sex. Basically, both tend to be accepted, but not in the way they should be, and we need to realise that both male and female nudity are nothing to be ashamed about and both should be accepted.

    In other words, one should not be accepted more than the other.

    1. You make an interesting point about the different ways in which different nude bodies are accepted, particularly how male nudity is accepted as something humorous. I’ve seen that trend as well. Thank you for that contribution to the conversation.

    1. but WHY do people have that attitude? That’s the question. Because from my perspective, as well as other women I know, the male body is also a work of art. It’s just so many people choose not to appreciate it as such. The WHY is what I want to get at.

    2. And the female body is also utilitarian. I “get around” in mine just fine: hands, feet. It’s also utilitarian for producing life.

      So, I have to keep asking these questions. why, why. What’s at the bottom of it?

      Why do people think women are art and NOT utilitarian? We are both.
      Why do people think male bodies are only utilitarian and not art? They can be both, and so can other genders.

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