Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Tracy Jordan of gay men UPDATED

Defying what one would expect, going by stereotype, from a gay men who works in the fashion industry, Simon Doonan took a break from telling us that gay men only eat salad, to express his horror at women with large breasts, those fatty protrusions that ruin the line of clothes:

The larger boob became the norm around the turn of the century, and it shows no signs of deflating. Radical rack augmentation is now ubiquitous, and to hell with the consequences. So what if you knock yourself unconscious while running to catch the bus? So what if you can’t fit into any trendy clothes because your waist is a zero but your bazongas are the size and weight of cantaloupes? It’s worth it to be the focus of male attention. Right?
Hold up a moment. Women with large breasts, Doonan admits, can't fit into trendy clothes. Or, for that matter, classic/classy ones. Large breasts, even medium breasts, are, as it stands, unfashionable. Shouldn't this be enough indication that female well-endowed-ness is not in fashion?

But Doonan isn't content with the boyish build dominating the runway. He - a gay man - would much prefer it if straight men got aroused by what he finds chic. Find that offensive? Oh, you square. Don't you get that it's tongue-in-cheek? (Or as one Slate commenter puts it, "tong-in-cheek.") It's clever! Why? Because Doonan's British, Fashion, and Fabulous! Never mind that there are episodes of "Two and a Half Men" that reach more sophisticated levels of humor, that include wittier turns of phrase. Doonan strikes me as a good argument for scrapping the entire subset of humor known as "tongue-in-cheek," given how often this phrase is invoked to explain why we shouldn't be offended by something that's ultimately more unfunny than it is offensive.

If all of this would seem about as relevant as if a lesbian were to offer up praise to men with small penises (although the analogy would require lesbians to be prominent in a media-and-entertainment industry that celebrated the poorly-endowed man, making well-endowed men feel grotesque, but anyway), let us not forget that Doonan is merely - as the Friend to Women that all gay men inherently must be - voicing his opposition to the pressures on today's Woman to get her boobs did. Don't be offended, wimmins of bustiness. He's with us in our fight against the patriarchy!

The equation of large breasts with fake breasts -  one Doonan takes for granted - comes from a fairly obvious source: the breasts under consideration are - unspoken rule - those of thin women. No doubt there are bra-purchasers headed for the triple-Es who got that way naturally, but - and this is the unstated if not entirely unreasonable assumption - these women are overweight, over 22, and thus not about to meet the standards of either high fashion or lowest-common-denominator that-which-men-find-hot.

The piece - which is probably more offensive to gay men than it is to large-breasted women - ends up eliciting yet a new level of misogyny. Rather than standing up for their right to like what they like, regardless of what a man who's not even attracted to any women thinks they ought to, straight men start weighing in on how large breasts, in their opinion, do not stand the test of time, and it's important to choose a wife on the basis of what will or won't sag. (Have these people not been to a beach? Everything on everybody eventually sags.) Then there are of course the kind of men who think that to be sophisticated and upper-class, they must express a preference for brunettes over blondes, flat-chested over curvaceous. A few women pipe in to mention that it's wildly obnoxious to discuss whether various naturally-occurring physical features are or are not in this season. But they, we must remember, are humorless females, unable to see that Simon Doonan is in fact medically incapable of removing his tongue from his delightfully British cheek.


OK, so two updates. One is that I think the way to banish the "tongue-in-cheek" defense for that which is gratuitously offensive and not even funny (even to people who like "South Park" and other genuinely funny but not-PC entities, etc., etc.) is to replace "tongue-in-cheek" with "head-up-ass." As in, "You're obviously missing that this column calling black people lazy, Jewish people cheap, was intended to be head-up-ass."

The other is that in the comments below, David Schraub points us to a lovely Kate Harding post, inspired by a Jessica Valenti tweet, that reveals that I was not alone in approaching the piece wondering how it would fly, so to speak, if women went about declaring small male anatomy the height of chic. But I still think the relevant comparison would be if there were an industry thought to be 'run by lesbians,' where lesbians - that is, women unaffected by the anatomy in question - were indeed well-represented, that sought to glorify modest endowment, and not in the name of making everyone feel OK about themselves, but rather of making the well-endowed feel crude and déclassé, as if they weren't merely formed like that, but had stuffed a large, phallic vegetable down their pants.


David Schraub said...

If all of this would seem about as relevant as if a lesbian were to offer up praise to men with small penises....

Ask and ye shall receive (okay, so Harding's straight, but the sentiment is right).

Micha said...

What a classy guy.

Physical attributes are viewed as something that gives or denies women power in our present society. Which is why commenting on physical appearance is a way for some men and women to diminish the power of other women, or gain power for themselves, which is what Noonan does.

The sources or absence of power for males in our society is not as tied to physical attributes, although men are still also measured on athletic/muscular body. But in general the measure of male power, or lack thereof, in our society has more to do with skills: athletic, money, fame, confidence, costume. (Which is not to say women are not judged on skills and behavior too as well as their bodies). This might be considered more fair, since it has more to do with what a person does than the way they are naturally. But the line between the two is not always clear cut.

It could also be argued that society -- which is still more male dominated -- does more to dis-empower women than it does men, at least as far as media is concerned. It is much more blatant. I would say this is true to a degree, since men also experience a sense of dis-empowerment in our society, even if it less apparent from a media point of view and less blatant. Society is more sympathetic to dis-empowered men than women, but only to a point.

A similar thing to what you mention above might be the recent nerd-chick, age of the geek -- which has recently made nerds fashionable. But I'm not sure to what degree this analogy works. For one, the source of the shift seems to be more male centered, and male nerds seem to benefit more from the change in fashion. Secondly, men who are not nerds don't seem to lose anything because of the fashion shift. It's not like non-nerds are pressured to artificially make themselves nerds, or feel bad about not being nerds because nerds became more acceptable.

In total it is hard to sympathize with people who make it their business to dis-empower other people.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for the pointer. From the Slate comments, it appears that many had this response independently. It is, I suppose, the natural response, once "endowment" in the anatomical sense is at stake.


The only defense for Doonan is that he's not being serious. Which would maybe work, if he'd written something that was, you know, funny. It was instead just incredibly clichéd and predictable.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano said...

Hahahaha! "Head-up-ass"!!! So using that.

I was aghast at that Slate piece. I get the idea of fashions changing to emphasize certain assets of women (like the idea that in wartime we prefer more voluptuous women, which didn't really go over so well with our most recent war but I like the theory...). But this is just saying that bodies can become unfashionable--I suppose it's more honest, in a way, but still, ugh.

By the way, am loving your blog and insights!