Eye candy #1 works out at lunch time every day through the week. He has long girlish hair, a ripped upper body, and a tendency to look at himself in the mirror. Who can blame him? He is pretty hot though he might want to try gazing into a full-length mirror to see that his lower body requires as much attention as his man-sized guns. Newsflash to straight/bi guys: all the straight/bi potentially single women I know like men who have big legs and butts. The hot tamale almost lost her mind when Olympic speed skating was televised. Numero uno eye candy often trains with male friends, giving them tips and this makes me like him.
Eye candy #2 is a gym regular but he works out sporadically, alone, sometimes in the morning and sometimes at lunch. Almost always on Saturday mornings. I imagine that he is employed by the provincial government. He is tall with one of those short mohawk haircuts, lots of tattoos, and might be something of a bad ass. Or else he is impersonating an MMA fighter, which is a little tired but which I admit to liking in a ‘fantasy that I will not share’ kind of way. Just to be clear: I prefer the lust-worthy Puck over Finn on Glee. Finn is a milquetoast. Back to the eye candy I noticed second: Despite his appearance, he is polite and tidy in the free weight area, suggesting that he actually has a mild manner in addition to his lovely torso region.
Eye candy #3 seems to work out less and less these days. I am a little disappointed in him. He appears to be eastern European, with a very nice body, thick dark hair, and geeky glasses, a somewhat perfect combination. He often talks on his cell phone while strutting around the free weight area and might be something of a dick. Definitely still on my list though, especially after I saw him carrying his gym clothes in a plastic grocery bag. Some women might not like that but I found it adorable. It made me want to buy him proper socks and cook him borscht. I have to fight such tendencies all the time.
I do not want to flirt with any of these men. I do not want to talk to them. I do not want to meet them at a hotel room for a sweaty hour of delayed regret. I only want to look at them. And look for them. First of all it gives me something to do during my 2-3-hour 5-6-days-per-week work outs. (If I saw this sentence in the MA thesis of one of my students, I would write ‘hyphen abuse!’ in red pen. I am also officially opposed to the use of brackets, which I consider a sign of intellectual laziness). Secondly, observing men is part of my Feminist Figure Girl project and has recently been sanctioned by the ethics board. That’s right: I get paid a salary to stare at hot men at the gym. Genius or villain? You be the judge.
But wait, before you write an outraged letter to the editor (and I should note that my study is not funded by any local, provincial or federal source, part of the reason why I can lazily use brackets), I should tell you that I look at ALL men, not just the hot ones. So it is a good and thorough research method that avoids bias. I even look at those octogenarians who are in amazingly good shape, their ages revealed only by a plethora of moles, furry gray chest and back hair, and sagging elbow skin. Their man parts probably don’t work anymore, but I am not interested in that side of things. These elderly gentlemen think that I want them and regularly greet me and say goodbye, as if we were friends. Sorry Bob, or Bill, or Hal, or whatever you said your name was, I am not ogling you. I am in fact undertaking an ethically and intellectually valid analysis of the performance of masculinity in an unidentified gym setting. So there.
I am interested in the politics of visuality–the idea that seeing is an historically and culturally specific act–and space at the gym. In addition to other issues, I am considering how men (straight, bi, trans, gay, whatever) interact at the gym. How are they allowed to display themselves, gaze at others, touch the bodies of other men? I have observed that apparently macho bodybuilders often take care of each other in a way that breaks my heart, and also makes me jealous. They encourage each other and ensure that their man-friends do not hurt themselves while doing bench presses. I love it when large muscular men reach up to grab a chin-up bar or complete a shoulder press, and reveal a vulnerable strip of flesh between the top of their pants and the bottom of their shirts. I am compelled by the accidentally soft side of male bodybuilding.
I am a big fan of male friendship. I think that I have a rather manly attitude towards friendship in general: mine tend to be based more on doing things together than on talking, and are informed by an enduring and fierce kind of loyalty. I would do anything for my friends, male or female. If they happened to kill someone for example, I would help them escape and bury the body, no questions asked. Except if they killed another one of my friends and then I would be faced with a moral quandry. Fingers crossed.
I recently read a book called “Self-Made Man” by Norah Vincent, a lesbian who disguised herself as a man for a year, and then joined a bowling league, dated women (that sounded horrible), lived in an all-male monastery, and even went on one of those ‘let’s beat on drums and cry about our daddies’ group encounters. She’s got balls to do that. I was astonished, however, that Vincent expressed surprise when she discovered how much male friends care about and support each other. What kind of men, if any, had she been hanging out with? Or have I simply been lucky to have wonderful men in my life? Well at least those since I turned 20. Plus my male friends in highschool. Shout out to them.
Yes I know that I am generalizing, that there are different kinds of men, and different kinds of masculinities. That masculinity is inherently unstable and unachievable blah blah blah. Why would I even bother saying that male bodybuilders recognize that the unimpressive penis does not justify male privilege and thus attempt to transform their entire bodies into a tumescent phallus. Etcetera.
I have done a certain amount of comparison, noticing how men behaved in the Parisian gym I joined this June. They were not shy about touching each other. Or about busting a move. I wrote the story below as part of a series called ‘Encounters with French Masculinities’:
After spending the day reading an early eighteenth-century medical treatise about tape worms at the Bibliothèque nationale, I headed to the Club Med Gym near my apartment, signing up for a month-long membership. This maze-like gym is quite modern, with a swimming pool, various saunas—I couldn’t help but notice that nudity is presumably required in them—group exercise rooms, cardio equipment, and weight training areas. There is even a room surrounded by opaque glass called “Silhouette,” filled with weight machines identified by large pink signs as specifically designed for women. Oh, I thought, this must be the ladies only area, just like at my gym back home. I went in to do some chest presses, and noticed that what appeared to be a slender man was there, working his and/or her abductors. How nice that s/he feels comfortable working out with the rest of us ladies, I generously allowed. But then three muscled males entered the room, and proceeded to do chin ups in sequence. After completing a set, one of the young men felt inspired to dance around the room, shaking his ass in a provocative fashion. He was not performing for us girls, though, but rather for his buddies, perhaps as a kind of encouragement to work it harder on the lady machines. In any case, I was transfixed.
To all those who think that I have written too much about men I say, ‘well just wait for my book to come out.’ And of course I will also be writing about women, especially the kick ass kind that pump iron.