October
5th 2011
Men-ups, plus why do I say that Rick Perry is handsome and has great hair?

Posted under: American history, Gender, women's history

Photo by clickandclash

UPDATED BELOW later this morning, with a link to my New Fave Blog. 

Reader & commenter Digger sent this link to Men-Ups, which is clearly a feminst commentary on the work of midcentury pin-up artists  like Gil Elvgren, whose cowgirls and other cuties I use here ironically to illustrate this blog.  I like the way artist clickandclash made the photos look creased and well-worn.  However, the comparison is pretty tame by my lights–for example, these d00ds are showing too little skin and are wearing way too many clothes.  I also think that the artist could have done better with the hair–for example, not covering it up with caps and hats, and also depilating her models in the way that the idealized Elvgren models are depilated.  These guys look far too natural, when of course the point of the pin-up is the commodification of denatured women.  Maybe the artist thought that more skin and depilation would make her photos look like gay pin-ups?  (And the weightlifting guy with the sideshow performer beard?  Please, boys:  there is nothing flattering whatsoever about those unkempt crazy Amish chin slinkies that are so fashionable these days.  WTF?)

I’ve been thinking about the subject of male beauty lately ever since Spanish Prof said in a recent comment, “[T]he biggest mystery to me is why American women would consider [Mitt Romney] or [Rick] Perry handsome. Seriously, I don’t get it. John Hunstman is OK (among Republicans), but Romney and Perry?”

First of all, girlfriend:  John Huntsman?  Srsly?  Do you still harbor that crush on someone’s dad when you were in junior high school?

I thought about Spanish Prof’s question for a little while, and while I do think that Rick Perry in particular is almost too handsome for politics, I also thought that her question and my harping on Perry’s looks exposes a real divide in the way that beauty works for male pols versus women pols.  (I know:  big surprise!In Perry’s and Romney’s case, their good looks are almost always portrayed as an asset–the fact that they look the part of an American president when Hollywood casts the part.  Whereas in the cases of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton, beauty (or the failure to look like a movie star) have worked quite differently in their political careers.  In Bachmann’s and Palin’s cases, their gorgeous looks, bodies, and hair are used to impeach their seriousness as pols.  In Clinton’s case, the fact that she is in her 60s and looks like a woman in her 50s instead of Geena Davis or Jennifer Aniston was also used to denigrate her candidacy in 2008. 

Too pretty for President?

So, consider my constant harping on Perry’s good looks and great hair just a little dig at the reverential seriousness that greeted his candidacy.  Longtime readers here know that I frequently complain about the double-standard for men and women in show biz–e.g. the fact that guys like Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman, two of the most unprepossessing men I have ever seen, get cast in any movies at all, let alone consistently get interesting roles, whereas Aniston has to do yoga 8 hours a day and dog knows how much botox and she’ll still end up cast at age 45 as the mother of the 32-year old slobby male star of a Judd Apatow movie.  (If you haven’t seen it yet, see Mindy Kaling in last week’s New Yorker about how the only movie roles for women are for characters who don’t exist in real life.)

UPDATE:  Speaking of hotties and history, anonymous points us to my new favorite blog, My Daguerrotype Boyfriend, whose tagline is “where early photography meets extreme hotness.”  Thanks, anonymous!

28 Comments »

28 Responses to “Men-ups, plus why do I say that Rick Perry is handsome and has great hair?”

  1. ej on 05 Oct 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I’m sorry Historiann, but Rick Perry is not handsome. He just has a lot of hair, which is not the same thing.

    I totally agree with your observation about how the whole thing is gendered. I just personally don’t find any of the male GOP candidates attractive.

  2. jgolden08 on 05 Oct 2011 at 8:37 am #

    You might enjoy this posting I wrote with a friend:
    http://womensvoicesforchange.org/fat-chance-what-if-an-overweight-woman-ran-for-office.htm

  3. Leslie on 05 Oct 2011 at 8:50 am #

    While I completely agree with your analysis of the “Men-Ups”, I gotta say they’re a total crack-up in and of themselves.

  4. Notorious Ph.D. on 05 Oct 2011 at 9:00 am #

    I love the men-ups: thanks! The puckered lips are a beautiful detail here. So much to love.

  5. anonymous on 05 Oct 2011 at 9:08 am #

    This is as on-topic an excuse as I’m likely to get:

    http://mydaguerreotypeboyfriend.tumblr.com/post/6142032557/young-teddy-roosevelt-was-a-stone-cold-fox-here

  6. Historiann on 05 Oct 2011 at 9:45 am #

    ZOMG! Dig those mutton chops. (Another facial hairstyle that never looks good. Never.) Thanks, anyonymous!

    And jgolden–thanks for the link. I agree with you completely–a fat man President might be a punchline but he’s still president. A fat woman president? Fat chance!

  7. Indyanna on 05 Oct 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Looks like a squinty-eyed sidewinder from West o’ the Pecos to me. But he drove a hundred of my sheep off a canyon rim into a dry gulch, so I’m not objective!

  8. Spanish Prof on 05 Oct 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Hey, Huntsman is OK! And when I was (in the Argentinean equivalent) of junior high, I had a crush on every single member of Depeche Mode. And IRL, the idea of being with anybody more than a year older than me just terrified me at that time.

    I absolutely agree with you on the gendered nature of beauty in politics. I would also add that in my comment, there is a cultural element. For example, in real life, you will not find many Argentinean women who are attracted to blonde men. But going back to politics:

    As I said, you are absolutely right on the gendered nature of beauty in politics. And that happens not just in the United States. Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine president, can be criticized for many things. But the fact that she likes to wear expensive designer clothing is not one of them (on the other hand, everything points out that she will crush her opponents in the national presidential elections in 2 weeks. So people don’t vote for or against her based on that). Dilma Rousseff, the current Brazilian president, underwent a complete makeover transformation when Lula hand picked her as his successor. I would like to see whether Angela Merkel’s looks are a point of discussion in Germany.

    I also completely recognize that a combination of personal appearance plus body language does have an impact in how I perceive a politician. I will stick to men here. I certainly had my issues with Hillary Clinton, but how she looked were not among them.

    I am thinking in particular of John Edwards. I never liked the guy, since I became aware of him in 2004. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why, but there was something in his body language that raised red flags. Although I can’t vote, that became a problem in 2007, when he was the candidate I agreed the most with. I still couldn’t bring myself to volunteer for him, I just didn’t like him. At a rational level, I just did a little research in his voting record, and that was enough: he had repeatedly voted the complete opposite of what he was campaigning for. But my dislike of him was at first completely instinctual. If you go back to 2006-07, it is interesting to see how for some pundits, John Edwards looks were a plus, while for others it was an occasion for mockery.

    This is more a rambling than a coherent reflection. But I will finish with another comment that signals cultural differences, things I am still learning about the United States: the famous Howard Dean’s scream that ended his run in the 2004 primaries. Huhhh? In Argentina, that would be considerate moderate. It was a rally, not a debate. But in the United States, it was proof that he was unstable and could not be trusted.

  9. anonymous on 05 Oct 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Ha! You’re welcome, Historiann. Really, it was no trouble at all.

    http://mydaguerreotypeboyfriend.tumblr.com/post/7653559592/cowboy-c-1890-submitted-by-tergiverso

  10. Bardiac on 05 Oct 2011 at 11:07 am #

    The men-ups would be lots more fun if they were more inappropriate for what they’re staged to be doing. Instead of jeans for the lumberjack look, little hotpants and no shirt, and so on.

  11. Historiann on 05 Oct 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Exactly! And don’t forget the pushup bras for their moobs.

    Love the cowboy in his dirty shirt. He’s kinda cute!

    Spanish Prof makes a good point about asking us to think about these issues internationally, where women have had much greater success in rising to the top of the political heat. I also think that’s a good point about John Edwards: he was patronized and feminized because of his handsomeness. That may be because he is a Dem, and Dems are clearly much more interested in these gender-trashing games than Republicans. It’s Dems (for the most part) who criticize Bachmann and Pailn, and it was Dems who were responsible for the most vicious gender-trashing of Clinton in 2008. There was a lot of trashing of Edwards from the Republicans back in 2004 and 2007-08, of course, but then Democrats LET their candidates get gender-trashed in ways that Republicans just don’t accept.

  12. Spanish Prof on 05 Oct 2011 at 11:27 am #

    And by the way, if I have to go to the dark side and pick an attractive evil Republican, my vote goes to Donald Rumsfeld. Now we are talking…

  13. Scholasticamama on 05 Oct 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Off-topic, but that MDB – total swooning site! Thanks for that!

  14. Perpetua on 05 Oct 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Spanish Prof also raises an interesting point re: Howard Dean and his scream. Even though it wasn’t about looks, it was clearly about gender-trashing in a way; Dean was feminized because of his “instability” and “lack of control” because he expressed himself emotionally. This didn’t happen due to rugged good looks, or lack thereof, but (IMO) he was on the fringes of Dem politics – an actual progressive! Dems didn’t know what to make of him; he wasn’t in the norm. Naturally, once he was absorbed into the democratic juggernaut, he become much less interesting as a politician, much more centrist.

  15. Spanish Prof on 05 Oct 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    @Perpetua: interesting. I had never thought of it in terms of gender, but in the context of the United States, it makes total sense.

  16. Frowner on 05 Oct 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    There’s a kind of “handsome” that I recognize but do not feel. Like, I recognize that Perry looks – in that photo, which is the first one I’ve seen of him – like precisely the kind of actor whose looks symbolize charismatic gravitas and sex appeal. But he doesn’t actually have those things. I tend to think that this is about how straight women are not encouraged to have actual sexual desires. Because it’s scary when we have autonomous ones but a buzzkill if we have none, we’re supposed to mime them – Chippendales dancers, on the plastic-and-thus-unreal end of the spectrum, or character actors on the real-and-thus-non-threatening-to-actually-existing-dudes end.

    So it’s not that Perry is handsome or desirable; it’s that we are encouraged to show our buy-in to the existing order by agreeing that yes, he is “handsome” and “desirable”. It’s a way to perform straight femininity correctly, not an actual statement about male beauty.

    Thus, the “men-ups” (and the term is like “murse” – it serves to indicate that the real thing is feminine, not to create parity) aren’t actually about male beauty, or flesh, or desire or whatever – whereas the pin-ups, though cheesy, are. The men-ups are like those “porn for women” calendars that show men doing the dishes – they suggest that women don’t actually have physical sexual desire. That’s why it’s funny to see a straight dude in a woman’s pose, because LOL women would never want to look at a dude being all erotic – not because it’s a woman’s pose. (There’s certainly queer porn in which men posed to allure are very compelling.)

    Actual beauty is, like, destabilizing.

  17. Anonymous on 05 Oct 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I vaguely remember back in the day that Dan Quayle was chosen as Bush’s running mate to get the “woman vote” — we would all vote for him because we wouldn’t be able to resist his looks.

    (Btw, Almanzo Wilder FTW).

  18. Historiann on 05 Oct 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Uh, I think you mean “Manly,” as Laura calls him!

    Even as a child, I found that name false and off-putting.

  19. truffula on 05 Oct 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    I think TR looks like Wolverine.

  20. Notorious Ph.D. on 05 Oct 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I agree with Truffala.

    Also, check out the young Rutherford B. Hayes:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_kwm6w8FJxRY/SWbQdRLoVAI/AAAAAAAAAzQ/_eFBUXs7ABc/s1600-h/hayesyoung.jpg

    Rowr!

  21. koshembos on 05 Oct 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Handsome comes through the door and everyone feel the urge to drop her/his two cents.

    As somebody who came to this country in his 30s, I can categorically say that Perry would be considered a buffoon with his hair and probably boots while Romney would have been considered weak (look at his face).

  22. Historiann on 05 Oct 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Hayes? Meh. He looks like every Jewish boyfriend I ever had (and I actually had quite a few in high school & college.)

  23. Digger on 05 Oct 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I agree the Man-Ups would be more accurate with shorter shorts, tighter tops, more skin, and air brush effects that make secondary sex characteristics um… primary. The pouty lips are a nice touch, though! Perhaps if the photographer went “all the way” the images would become so ridiculous that they wouldn’t even be funny anymore, just icky?

    For a taste of this in the world of video games, check out “Go Make Me A Sandwich” (subtitled “how not to sell games to women). In this post, the author puts male characters into typical female poses. She of course has absolutely no sense of humor. Probably wears sensible shoes, too…

    http://gomakemeasandwich.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/gender-swap-yuna-and-kuja/

    PS: I agree with Frowner that Perry looks like an actor playing a President.

  24. Susan on 05 Oct 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Well, Perry has what I think of a rugged good looks (I think it’s the square face that makes it look rugged) in a conventional way; Bachmann and Palin have conventional good looks for women. And obviously how the media treats them is gendered. I’ve never fallen for conventional good looks: thinking back to junior high, when I was about as clueless as a 14 year old could be, the guy I had a hopeless crush on would not be considered conventionally handsome…

  25. Dr. Koshary on 05 Oct 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    @Notorious and Historiann: Great. Now I can also feel inferior in relation to Rutherford B. Hayes. Like my insecurity wasn’t bad enough already.

  26. Wini on 06 Oct 2011 at 4:12 am #

    Timothy geithner and huntsman both make me swoon.

  27. Historiann on 06 Oct 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Koshary: I didn’t say ALL Jewish guys look like that, I said just the ones I dated!

    Geithner? EEeeewww. But, I can see your point if he’s standing next to Larry Summers. . .

  28. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Oct 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I think the man-ups work best the way they are. This way they highlight how ridiculous female pin-ups really are and how pin-ups don’t seem ridiculous only because women are the sex class and are supposed to be ridiculous. If you really used handsome buff dudes and shaved them and put them in appealing outfits and attractive poses, it wouldn’t work.