By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
You may feast your eyes on this lusciousness, says Bordo, but it's not necesssarily a good thing: To her mind, the current bonanza of male flesh above all is "a triumph of pure consumerism." As gorgeous men's bodies are exhibited and celebrated, ordinary men start to feel the need to measure up, and "the management and enhancement of the body is a gold mine . . . one whose treasures are inexhaustible, as women know." In fact, she observes, this expanded culture of perfection enslaves men without necessarily helping women. Pointing out increasing male use of cosmetic surgery, and the growing incidence of a body-image disorder given the unfortunate name "bigorexia" (the sense that your muscles are never big enough), she mourns, "I never dreamed that 'equality' would move in the direction of men worrying more about their looks rather than women worrying less."
IN PART, BORDO'S BOOK SEEMS TO HAVE been written as a wistful tribute to her father, whose death unleashed a grief "so much deeper, longer, purer than I had ever expected it to be" and caused "my love of men, my sympathy for them, my identification with them [to be] released from the prison of old angers and wounds." It belongs to a small genre perhaps best described as "reconciliation feminism" -- while never denying female oppression, it acknowledges the ways men can be victimized too. (In her discussion of penis size, performance and Boogie Nights, Bordo notes that "Dirk Diggler's predicament -- shame, exhaustion with cultural expectations, the failure of the body to live up to those expectations -- these are all experiences a woman can relate to.") Blaming "culture" for all our problems is a bit too easy -- left unmentioned is who created this "culture," who set its rules, whose interests it serves. Still, emphasizing that men and women share some common humanity seems far more productive than simply saying we come from different planets and will never get along.
The Male Body ends with Bordo's recollection of a conversation with her father in which he finally "gets" what she's saying about sexual harassment and Anita Hill. "In the midst of that time . . . when we had begun to despair of the possibilities of communication between men and women," she writes, " . . . my father handed me a sweet wild card of hope."
THE BOOK OF THE PENIS By MAGGIE PALEY | Grove Press | 242 pages | $20
THE MALE BODY: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private | By SUSAN BORDO Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 358 pages | $25