FOR STATING THE OBVIOUS, a recent study by two British universities analyzing images posted on TubeCrush over a period of three years is tough to top. TubeCrush is a website where people post pictures of men (“eye candy”) taken surreptitiously on the London Underground railway system. The researchers came to this astounding conclusion: “Muscles and money are qualities that straight women and gay men typically find attractive in men!” 1
The study was done by Coventry and Aberystwyth universities and was published as part of the Feminist Media Studies on the Taylor & Francis Online website with the post-modernly title, “He’s a total TubeCrush: post-feminist sensibility as intimate publics.” 2
The teaser for the abstract on the Taylor & Francis website is a hoot:
“In this paper, we analyze the website TubeCrush, where people post and share unsolicited photographs of ‘guy candy’ seen on the London Underground. We use TubeCrush as a case study to develop Berlant’s intimate publics as a lens for examining post-feminist sensibility and masculinity in the liminal space between home/work.
“Value is directed onto the bodies of men creating a visual economy of masculinity of whiteness, physical strength, and economic wealth.”
The paper responds to notions of reverse sexism and post-sexism used to make sense of women’s apparent objectification of men in the digital space, by asking instead where the value of such images lies.
We suggest that in TubeCrush, value is directed onto the bodies of particular men, creating a visual economy of post-feminist masculinity of whiteness, physical strength, and economic wealth. This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humor and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of urban hegemonic masculinity.” 3
The research by academics from Coventry and Aberystwyth University said that many photos particularly emphasized men’s muscular biceps, pecs, and chest—the body parts which suggest physical strength. 4
Chicks like eye candy, too!
This academic-oriented paper found its way into the popular media where I found it on the Newsweek website with the engagingly condescending title, “Men With Muscles and Money Are More Attractive to Straight Women and Gay Men—Showing Gender Roles Aren’t Progressing.”
“The photos and comments focused on the men’s biceps, pecs and chest as well as perceived sexual ability. Items that indicated wealth such as smart suits, watches and phones were emphasized.
Pictures showing other representations of masculinity, such as fatherhood, and more emotional and awkward-appearing men were far less frequent.”
Writer Sydney Pereirab noted that the posted photos of “guy candy” tended to be mostly white men, “despite London being a multicultural city.” From this, Ms Pereira drew the conclusion that “white, male privilege is still an attractive quality.”
I will bite my virtual tongue here and not respond with an ironical, “Duh.” And despite reading like satire, I couldn’t find any indication on the Newsweek site that it was anything but serious (sic) journalism.
The research by academics from Coventry and Aberystwyth University said that “white male privilege is still an attractive quality in men for many straight women and gay men.”
Toned gym-goers flashing flesh
In an article titled “Muscles and money” on the Coventry University’s website, lead researcher Adrienne Evans, from Centre for Postdigital Cultures, said:
“From smart-suited City workers to toned gym-goers flashing their flesh, the men featured in the photographs on TubeCrush show that as a culture we still celebrate masculinity in the form of money and muscle.
They are marking the middle-class, wealthy, mobile and sexually powerful male body, not as a political one as feminists intend it to be, but one that should be actively desired.
This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humour and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of men’s position in society. It’s a problem as because although it appears as though we have moved forward, our desires are still mostly about money and strength.”
Again, I bite my virtual tongue here and not type an ironical, “Duh.” Again, despite reading like satire, I couldn’t find any indication on the Coventry University site that it was anything but serious research.
This photo is apparently a rather extreme piece of an eye-candy man, as most of the TubeCrush photos I found on the Internet showed men wearing some sort of top. Admitting I’m now a senior citizen out of touch with what’s hot these days with younger gals, this photo reminds me of the homoerotic, fetishistically beefcake drawings of the legendary Tom of Finland.
Alternatives to TubeCrush
Exactly why should a “sexually powerful male body” not be actively desired by women? What does it matter? Hundreds of millions of non-wealthy, non-white men with sexually indifferent bodies (i.e., “normal joes”) love and are loved by hundreds of millions of women—some of whom are knockouts, some of whom are ugly as sin, most of whom are also normal.
But research is as research does and I eagerly await the follow-up article: “Women with Big Breasts and Long Legs Are More Attractive to Straight Men and Gay Women—Reaffirming Gender Roles Aren’t Progressing.”
Finally, let’s look again at the line I pulled out and highlighted as a pull-quote in the first section above: “We suggest that in TubeCrush, value is directed onto the bodies of particular men, creating a visual economy of post-feminist masculinity of whiteness, physical strength, and economic wealth.”
Okay? The name of the website is TubeCrush.
It’s about sexual fantasies, and for most human beings, such fantasies involve partners we’re never going to have.
Exactly why should a “sexually powerful male body” not be actively desired by women?
For example, I have used my crushes on Nicole Kidman and Marisa Tomei as the subject of several (hopefully humorous) essays here. While I may think that both of these beautiful, desirable, successful, wealthy women would benefit greatly by knowing me better, I am aware of the fact that I should not be holding my breath waiting for their calls.
That awareness does not stop my fantasizing.
Perhaps England needs a few alternatives to TubeCrush, and I have a few suggestions:
Surreptitious photos of loving fathers changing their infant’s diapers on the tube because baby couldn’t wait for the next stop.
Surreptitious photos of awkward-appearing men, with an emphasis on tall, skinny, asexual guys wearing Green Lantern or Flash tee-shirts on their way to the comic book store.
Surreptitious photos of old farts like me trying to surreptitiously stare at young women with big breasts and long legs . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: Much more famous in his time than Tom of Finland and perhaps equally influential were the drawings of Bill Ward, who contributed countless drawings of almost non-humanly statuesque women to comic books and men’s magazines from the 1940s into the ’80s!
1 This team probably could also uncover such arcane facts as Earth is round (more or less), the Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series, Elvis is dead, and there is a vast rightwing conspiracy taking control of the American government, court system, and police departments.
2 “Intimate publics”? Yes, there are people out there referring to a plural public.
3 To understand the 135 words in the three paragraphs above, one has to have the following:
• knowledge of Lauren Berlant’s intimate publics;
• the apparent death of feminism and that we are in a post-feminist era and that there is a “post-feminist sensibility” and a “post-feminist masculinity”;
• know what liminal means (“of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response”);
• know that, apparently, there are educated people in the world who didn’t know before reading the Coventry and Aberystwyth paper that women have been objectifying men ever since the world began and that many, many women find strong, wealthy, white men physically attractive; and
• know what “digital space” is outside of a computer. (Did I miss anything?)
4 The workouts required for those well-developed body parts may also connote an individual’s concern for his well-being and general health and may also signal his self-confidence—all traits that both sexes should find attractive.