Sometimes things that are revolutionary don't seem like that big of a deal. They seem like nothing special or just tongue-in-cheek enough to be more humorous than important social commentary, or just another cool thing on the internet. But who cares — even if something is all those things at once, it can still be important, funny, and sexy at the same time, even as it raises questions — har — about how we think about sexy photos and female desire.
Vice recently posted a fashion spread today called "Groin Gazing." It features a series of photos by Claire Milbrath with styling by Mila Franovic, and the photos are framed tight on the clothed junk for your viewing pleasure. The models are identified by the type of guy they depict, such as "The Boyfriend" or "The Artist" or "The Businessman," and even "The Boy Next Door." And taken together, they are also exactly the sorts of men, anonymous, real, and imagined that a woman (or man) might lust after in her/his day to day just being out in the world, from:
The Basketball Player (pictured above)
to The Skater
to The Handyman
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to The Logger
Er, am now wondering why I don't see more loggers on my way to get coffee. Anyway! I think it's all just great. The beauty of it is that the spread can function on multiple levels — 1.) it's a bunch of dudes' clothed boners. 2.) They are depicted as types, with no heads or faces, as women are often shot in spreads ("dismembered") 3.) The effect is a powerful one: It wordlessly comments on how women are shot while also upending a lot of assumptions about what hetero women want, like, enjoy, think about, when it comes to men and images.
In other words, it's an unapologetic zoom-in on a dick, just like you might see it in the real world, give or take some oomph. I realize that showcasing female desire is not new, it's creeping into ads and commercials more than ever. The idea that women don't care about seeing men naked or sexualized is a myth slowly being undone by research that points again and again to the fact that women are not less visual than men or less sexual, and possibly, they are more so. But research and arguments are one thing — a series of boners in a fashion spread is quite another. It is an argument settler to end all arguments. Boner: check.
I have to concede it felt a little illicit looking at these photos — it's not quite pornographic, but it's not quite a shirtless dude on a billboard, either, and it's not erotica per se. It's actually something in the middle of all that, and in a way, it's superior. But what makes it remarkable is that it, for a moment, you can indulge what it would actually be like if most of the photographs you saw in advertising or fashion were meant to cater to your desire. Not your desire to be more beautiful, or thinner, or more glamorous, but simply your desire for the opposite sex. This is something men take for granted. This is something women must overlook when watching popular TV shows and movies (*cough*gameofthrones*cough*truedetective*cough) that purport to be for everyone, and then instantly betray that when it's time to show naked bodies, which are largely female, and which are nearly always and only filmed for an assumed hetero male viewer.
But back to the boners: After I got over the novelty of it, I had to wonder: What if these sorts of photos were the norm? What if we stopped perpetuating the myth in advertising and art that men are more visual? What if women's appetites for sex were catered to just as much as men's? What if this was a common spread you saw in women's magazines growing up? How would that have changed your feelings about your own lust, your own sexual appetite, your own attraction?
Regardless, the response seems to be overwhelmingly positive. Some reactions on Twitter:
So rock on Claire Milbrath. More of this, please.