Where Are All the Naked Men?

July 31, 2014


Don’t get too excited. There will be zero naked men involved in this post…

Are you familiar with the Free the Nipple (link NSFW) campaign? In a nutshell, it’s a movement that seeks to end the stigma around women’s bodies by liberating the nipple from the shirts, bras, breastfeeding covers, and general censorship that have made it a source of shame and hyper-sexualization.

Why should men get to run around topless everywhere from yoga class to the beach to mowing their own front lawns, while women are expected to cover up? As Violet Rose points out, “It is illegal for women to go topless in most cities, yet you can buy a magazine of a woman without her top on at any 7-11 store. So, you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts, in America.”


These are valid points; points I whole-heartedly support. But here is what concerns me: While I think Free the Nipple is a message worth supporting, I’m not convinced that making the nipple even more ubiquitous (i.e., letting it loose on Instagram) would succeed in helping normalize its presence.

I mean, do you watch HBO? Turn on basically any of their most popular programs, and it’s plain to see: the nipple is as free as a herd of feral cats. Yes, these are typically nipples of the hyper-sexualized variety. But I am shouting another, louder question: Where are all the naked men?

Last night, I was watching the first season of “True Detective” (more accurately, the boyfriend was watching it while I was getting increasingly annoyed by its presence) in which all of the female characters are either prostitutes or exist for the sole purpose of removing their clothes. Yes, I concede that it has a compelling plot. Yes, I appreciate the quality of the writing. But this doesn’t change the fact that it’s like a well-scripted equivalent of playing Grand Theft Auto*.

(*In case you’re uninitiated, it’s a video game where you drive a virtual car around and occasionally run over prostitutes.)

Far too often, contemporary dramas leave me feeling like I’ve stumbled into a college Halloween party: the men look like all sorts of things, while the women are different variations on sexy. Yet “True Detective” is one of the best/worst examples of testosterone television I’ve ever seen. The two title characters spend all their efforts hunting a perverted killer who treats women like fetishistic objects, while all the women — dead or alive — are portrayed as…fetishistic objects. There’s not a compelling or inspiring lady to be found.

Behold, stills from the glorious opening sequence! Men: have faces, do stuff. Women: have boobs and butts.


To be clear: I’m not anti-nudity. I wish it was natural and normal. I’m simply offended by the blatant inequality in the nudity we see.

What if the tables were turned? How hilariously, glaringly different would that look?

Imagine, if you will…

A show in which women solve crimes, fend off monsters, run the government or otherwise have complex, interesting lives, and men just… remove their clothing. Painfully slowly and in very bright light. Naturally, said men must be young, fit, attractive, and unnaturally well-endowed.

The actors would have some options, though: they could be type-cast as Channing Tatum-esque dancer types, gigolos, sniveling husbands, and sometimes — if they’re really good actors or the offspring of some high-level executive — they’d get cast in other roles, too. They might get to play the son of a major character or maybe even — I smell an Emmy nomination — a scorned husband seeking revenge!

I was talking with my friend last night, and she said this:

“You know just how unequal it is when you’re watching a movie and ONE peen appears and my husband actually covered his eyes and said it was making him uncomfortable. I was like, ‘Are you kidding?? I have to look at perfect naked women ALL THE TIME. Can you imagine how I feel?'”

I suspect that the answer is no. How could he realistically imagine it? No matter how sensitive or open-minded or progressive the man, it would be hard to fully empathize with something they’ve never experienced.

So… maybe we should change that.

I know this isn’t a novel argument. But must my hypothetical children grow up in a world where boobs are essential to every plot line and penii remain shrouded in mystery, like some rare and precious lilly that blooms but once a year?

mens vs womens magazines

There is nothing I’d like more than to end the stigma surrounding female bodies. But I’m rallying for a level playing field — both on the sidewalk and on our screens. If I — and all the daughters of the world — have to confront shame and awkwardness, stereotypes and sexualization — then everyone should have to. Because maybe that’s the only way to even things out.

If anyone wants to fund an amazing production, where the women are complex and the men are exposed — I mean, celebrated — you know where to find me.

warwick rowers

(Top photo of Capri in the 1940s; Miley Cyrus photo via here; True Detective via HBO; bottom photo via the Warwick Rowers)

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  • I loved this (and came back to read it twice). It’s so true, and reminds me of the time my mom and I were watching Sex and the City (the movie) and there’s a peen shot that’s like, half a second. we kept rewinding and trying to pause on it because we couldn’t really believe it.

    • Thanks, Joy! 🙂 Isn’t it crazy how the lone peen shot sticks in one’s memory forever? Such a rare sight…

  • I liked True Detective, it was a brilliant, well acted and executed show but …

    it was massively sexist. Some of the scenes made me angry, e.g., the scene on the lounge with a fully clothed Woody Harrelson and his (v. hot and v. young) completely naked mistress. I felt so uncomfortable watching this but didn’t want to go into some rant about it and watch my very kind husband yet again not understand where I’m coming from. Popular culture is insidious.

    This is probably why I prefer British TV crime dramas – strong female leads and everyone looks pleasingly ordinary .. I’m not averse to eye candy, it has it’s place but lately it’s everything.

    Thanks for this post and sorry for my rambling! I feel somewhat vindicated that someone out there feels the same way 🙂

  • SO i just discovered your blog today (clicked thru from CoJ) and am enjoying discovering your voice! I have this thought ALL.The.TIME. Exhibit A – album covers with men in suits and women in bikinis. Why are men always covered up and women half naked? Or naked?

  • I couldn’t agree more with you on this Caroline, we would live in a different culture if men were revealed the way females are. I just found your blog today and the byline alone made my day, as I’m sure Martha does let one rip from time to time. In a time where the online image of most is glossy and intimidating, I am LOVING your wit and honesty. Thanks. 🙂

  • Carmen Barajas,

    I’m so glad I found this post. Because yeah, exactly what you said!

    Also, I want to agree with the other reader that mentioned British crime dramas.
    I recently watched the first season of The Fall and felt really excited/happy about how they portrayed the female lead character. I haven’t seen anything like that here.

  • Just saw this post in your sidebar and I LOVE IT.

    I was coerced into going to see 50 Shades of Grey with a group of girls on Valentine’s Day. I had never read it, but obviously knew what to expect. When my boyfriend asked how it was after I said, “Well, it was about sex so naturally I had to look at a girl’s boobs the whole time, and her butt sometimes too.” The fact that 50 Shades doesn’t show a single penis shot only further proves your point!

  • Hi, this must be one of the topics that I and my girlfriends return to time after time (few glasses of wine). Yes, and boys (should probably start calling them men) usually don’t understand. But, what I wanted to contribute, is that a couple of years back there was an exhibit about naked male bodies (paintings/photos). I was reluctant to go as it was mainly marketed as “Oh, poor man are upstaged by female nudes”, but it actually explained the transition from male nudes to naked female bodies in visual arts quite well. Basically, for the longest time male form was preferred because women bodies were associated with sin and impurity (sex, lust, childbirth and so on). This view stemmed from religion as for many centuries it heavily influenced the daily life, worldview and also the arts- themes picked for paintings and, of couse, patrons who paid for them and painters themselves. So when painters (mostly men, of course) started to paint female nudes it was quite revolutionary (a bit like free the nipple, ha). Unfortunately though, the nudes in paintings also changed: if previously it was just a gorgeous body doing important things, being a hero etc, suddenly it was a lady lounging naked (for example, Boucher was quite scandalous). Then during the 20th century there was a bit of a revival through photography with some more sensual depictions of male bodies and (one of the best known photographers, of course, being Mapplethorpe). This again was scandalous because of objectification of male bodies and link to LGBT community. So many problems with all of this. Anyway, probably I haven’t said anything new and so sorry for any mistakes (not my native language). I hear you like proper grammar. 🙂

  • And because my last comment wasn’t long enough (sorry) and I am an awful human being, of course I bought a whole lot of postcards with naked men at the museum giftshop to use them as birthday cards for my girlfriends. Don’t judge.

  • I love this! Sooooo true. Just found your blog via Instagram (via cup of Jo insta) and absolutely loving it. Keeping it real and it is very awesome and so refreshing. Keep up the great work. X

  • Thank you for this!! I always felt suspicious of the free the nipple campaign because while of course I also am all for removing the stigma around women’s bodies, I felt that too many of its supporters were just a bunch of men wanting to enjoy the show and “celebrate” women’s bodies, rather than people who honestly wanted to cultivate a more equal approach/playing field to male and female bodies in the public sphere. You so very eloquently put into words all the weird feelings I had about FTN, and well, pop culture and the media in general. THANK YOU!!!

  • BetaOptics,

    I myself am a straight young man and personally I wouldn’t mind if media would show more male nudity. To me it seems only fair game. What I found surprising and confusing about your boyfriends reaction to seeing a penis is that you’d think men are used to seeing them trough porn and it would not bother them at all.

    What is it that it is all of a sudden shocking? Guilt? Shame? Dirty?