The Beauty of Strength

One of the many poverties of our society is the failure to eroticize the male body.  The idea of men as beautiful, of our bodies as appropriate objects for adornment, is sadly missing in a society which sees the male body as an instrument to accomplish its aims.  The twin pressures of Work and War enslave men and turn their bodies into machines.


These pressures are bound up in one of the principal biological differences between males and females – strength, of the muscular variety.  On average, males possess half again the upper body strength of females, with a lesser but still significant advantage in lower body strength.  This is not a matter of being different so much as it is being bigger.  But this trait has become a wedge between the sexes, with male violence precipitating a fear among women of men’s strength.


Of course, it’s not just women who have cause to fear the strength of men.  I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering the way my father used his strength to hurt me as a child, from casual slaps to more involved forms of corporal punishment.  It’s been a long time since I could perceive his touch as untainted with the fear those memories evoke.  But I can remember a time when I was free of that fear.  I have memories of being lifted onto his shoulders, of experiencing his strength as something I loved about him.  It’s that feeling that we need to recapture.  We need to see male strength as something wonderful and loving.  We need to break the link between strength and violence.


We also need to break the link between strength and work.  My friend LindaBeth has written many posts arguing that female sexuality belongs to women, and of course this is at the core of many feminist arguments for reproductive rights.  In a similar vein, I believe we need to understand male strength as belonging to the individual man, and not to society.  We need to end the idea of the male provider, of the man as the engine of society.  Men should have the freedom to choose how they use their strength, whether for the good of society in the hard labor of the construction trades, or for their own pleasure in athletics, or, as it may be, not at all.


A conception of strength that is not inextricably linked to violence and labor could provide a starting point for a new aesthetic of male beauty.  Such a conception would understand strength apart from hardness, and see a new beauty in the proportions of men’s body, which possess a harmony of their own.  A more just, loving society would free men to be beautiful.


~ by arkhilokhus on May 13, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Beauty of Strength”

  1. nice post.

    I think another important thing for refiguring masculinity and especially their eroticism it to not fear vulnerability. Even sexual images of men rely on the strength/power/stature tropes and shy away from male sexual vulnerability. Even the “sex acts” we attribute to “heterosexual sex” (all these terms are dubious of course, thus the scare quotes) emphasize activity and control. Straight men often freak out at the idea of anal stimulation for example, associating it with being “gay” (as if sex acts define sexuality) and being apprehensive about the potential vulnerable position it puts them in. Many women find this erotic for that very reason, turning the tables, even temporarily of activity and control. To your point, and in this way, sexuality taken outside of expectations for masculinity could ultimately be “liberating” for men and couples.

  2. Hi LindaBeth! Thanks for stopping by.

    That’s a great point about vulnerability. My feeling is that there are two things going on. The first is homophobia, expressing as a fear of being “gay” (or perceived as such). The second is the way men are socialized to sacrifice the ability to be vulnerable in order to serve and support others – family, a spouse, their country. On the other hand, I’ve read over and over that there are many more submissive men than dominant women, which suggests to me that perhaps many men yearn to be vulnerable.

    My experience, though (which is admittedly limited), is that some women react poorly to having the roles switched in the bedroom. My sense is that some women are deeply attached to their image of men as strong and active, dominant if not actively controlling, and the idea of a vulnerable man upsets them.

    On the other hand, with a woman who can accept taking control, as it were, being vulnerable with someone who is loving and gentle can be deeply affirming, not to mention a great way to build trust.

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