When Men Became Sex Objects

Posted on: July 5th, 2018 by Jason Jacobs

Until the 1980s, mainstream culture and advertising often cast women as sex objects, and framed their images to appeal to the male gaze. Historically, men in advertisements were represented as figures of authoritative masculinity (such as the Marlboro Man), but rarely sexualized.

Calvin Klein 1982

All this changed in 1982, with a striking new underwear campaign by Calvin Klein. Bruce Weber’s photograph of Olympic athlete Tom Hintnaus, leaning back seductively in his white underwear, appeared in magazines, on bus stops, and a billboard towering over Times Square. American Photographer magazine called it one of “10 Pictures That Changed America,” declaring “for the first time (men) were sold as sexual objects not breadwinners or authority figures.” The New York TimesHerbert Muschamp observed that “men assume the passive role once assigned almost exclusively to women,” which he saw as “a force for change in relations between the sexes.”

Subsequent Calvin Klein campaigns showcased the buff bodies of Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Marky Mark, while Weber’s homoerotic images spread through advertising—most notably the rebranding of Abercrombie & Fitch in the ‘90s. Today the term “hunkvertising” describes how muscular men sell everything from soap to salad dressing.

As with women, such imagery impacts how men feel about themselves. A 2016 market research survey saw that 50% of men prioritized being in shape over relationships and work promotions, while 17% admitted to feeling self-conscious in comparing themselves to male models. The survey suggests: "Whilst this holds a level of aspiration for some men, for many more it has resulted in feelings of inadequacy.”

Jack Wetherall and Will Brittain in "Skintight." Photo by Joan Marcus.

Skintight is playing at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre through August 26, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, Skintight

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