The Male Body A New Look at Men in Public and in Private

Susan Bordo

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

368 Pages



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Bordo offers a cultural analysis of the presentation of maleness in everyday life.
Men's (and women's) ideas about men's bodies are heavily influenced by society's expectations, and Bordo helps us understand where those ideas come from. In chapters on the penis (in all its incarnations), fifties Hollywood, male beauty standards, and sexual harassment, and in discussions of topics ranging from Marlon Brando and Boogie Nights to Philip Roth and Lady Chatterley's Lover, Bordo offers fresh and unexpected insights. Whether she is examining Michael Jordan or Humbert Humbert, the butch phallus or her own grade-school experiences--she helps us understand the origins of society's ideas about men's bodies.


Praise for The Male Body

"Ever since Tocqueville, Americans have relied on foreigners to reveal to us what we ourselves take for granted. With this book, Susan Bordo establishes herself as the Tocqueville of Gender Studies, daring to explore the male body as intrepidly as countless men have pronounced on the female. Looking at both real men and their media representations, and with a tone both critical and compassionate, Bordo remaps this topographic terra incognita, making that strange landscape suddenly familiar, and the familiar, oddly, and illuminatingly, strange."—Michael Kimmel, professor of Sociology, SUNY at Stony Brook, author of Manhood in America: A Cultural History

"Bordo's discussion of the differences between men and women in general is one of the best I have read anywhere . . . I am grateful for this book. Bordo's talent for reading culture presents us with the most valuable gift: a newly configured imagination."—Susan Griffin, The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Remarkable, and not just because it is by a female scholar who has been through the gender wars. It is very tough. It is also very tender . . . Provocative, unexpected, and winning."—Richard Eder, The New York Times

"A prodigiously researched tour through movies, TV, art, advertising, fashion, celebrity culture, pop psychology, social science, literature, medicine, and more . . . a readable treatment of what has sometimes become as academic and abstrusely theoretical object of study."—Laura Kipnis, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

"Susan Bordo is one of the most incisive social critics working today—and one of the best writers, too. Whether she's discussing Lolita, movie and book, or Marlon Brando, fifties icon and symbol of masculinity, she's never predictable and often profound.—Katha Pollitt

"An unqualified pleasure: thoughtful, funny, unusually engaging, with moments of almost novelistic poignancy."—Louis Bayard, The Washington Post Book World

"A cheerful but probing look at the male form, seeking to prove that similar myths, fantasies, and pressures have been applied to men's and women's bodies, with some surprising parallel effects on the male and female mind. Bordo (English and Women's Studies/University of Kentucky) begins her airing of the male body with her father's penis. That is, the fact that she could not imagine it leads the author to conclude that society has never bombarded us with male bodies in film, literature, magazines, and advertisements as it has done with the female form. In the vein of Roland Barthes, Bordo plows through some of the more disturbing and graphic myths of the phallus in modern times, using Philip Roth, Jockey ads, romance novels, and Seinfeld (among others) to infuse humor into such subjects as the pressure to 'perform,'' the stereotyped bermensch of hardened body and heart, and gender roles in the home. A recurring question is whether men and women react differently to images of the opposite sex, and Bordo answers with a resounding no. Gay culture and African-American culture, the author argues, have contributed greatly to the reintroduction of beauty to the male body, as their attitudes about public display and preening fashion have altered the mainstream American conception of masculinity. The modern man is bewildered by women's conflicting ideas as to what this male essence should be, the serene and sensitive 'nice guy'' or the aggressive beast and sexual machine that the mass media reifies as the only unadulterated man . . . [W]ritten with style, humor, and insight . . . her work underlines some surprising commonalities and differences between the sexes without a whiff of demagoguery."—Kirkus Reviews

"Equipped with wit and savvy, Bordo sets out to map the ambivalent attitudes that exist in the American cultural imagination toward male bodies . . . Part memoir, part elegy, this feminist guided tour of the male body concludes with real hope for improved relations between the sexes."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Susan Bordo

  • Susan Bordo holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, where she is also a professor of English and women's studies. She has written and edited several books, including Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J.