Image credit - Marina Besfamilnaia

The Male Gaze (and the male straights) 

By Tom Gilbert

Incels, Andrew Tate and Huel ‘Mac n Cheeze’ – who is this all actually for?

Male beauty is big business. Whether it’s a £95 body hair razor named ‘THE LAWN MOWER 4.0’ (all-caps included) or ‘Powerful Yoghurt’ with it’s new and improved ‘Dairy For Men’ line, the global market for men’s Beauty and Personal Care (BPC) was valued at 202.6 billion dollars last year, and is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 8% until 2030. But what is male beauty? Unsurprisingly, it depends who you ask.  

Generally, in some parts of Europe and the US, the answer will fall under vastly different camps depending on whether you ask men or women. Take figures like Timothee Chalamet, Damiano David (the lead singer of Eurovision winners MANESKIN) and Harry Styles. These men are a far cry from the ‘gym-bro’, ultra-masculine, archetype of male beauty often found on the covers of GQ and Men’s Health Magazine. Yet all three have become widely celebrated sex symbols amongst their predominantly female and queer fan bases.

Male orientated publications like GQ may feature this brand of male celebrity once in a while, but only as a routine pause from their regular rotation of muscle-men.

Now, this is not to say that sexuality is simple and straightforward enough to fit along rigid gendered expectations of beauty. There are no hard and fast rules for sexuality. Variation, whether it be cultural, gendered, sexual or aesthetic, is everywhere. However, there is, I feel, a certain difference in the way American and European men and women generally conceive of male beauty. Underlying this difference is a familiar suspect, but one that is often envisioned looking in a different direction. That is, the “male gaze”.

The concept of the male gaze first reared its head in the 1970s in the film theory of critics John Berger and Laura Mulvey and was originally used to describe a sense of masculine objectivity in film and TV. The argument goes that what is presented in mainstream media as female ideals and aspirations are actually those of men. Early depictions of Bond girls, Wonder Woman and the entire female cast of Fast and Furious, were not written with women in mind, so say proponents of the view.

Outside of the context of film, the term has gained popularity as a kind of calling card for all oppressive patriarchal beauty standards levelled against women. Sizeism, passivity and slut-shaming can all be traced back to the ubiquity of male gaze. Meanwhile, our understanding of the “female gaze” has come to represent the inverse: a reclamation of norms and ideals from the grips of male fantasy. 

But where does this leave male beauty standards? Intuitively, heterosexual (het) male beauty standards would be, for the most part, defined and dictated by het women. A lot of het men certainly seem to think so. There are entire sub-communities both on and offline of men hating and wishing violence upon women for supposedly creating impossible to meet male beauty standards. “It’s over” is now the unofficial slogan of Incels, self-described involuntarily celibate men who turn to radical misogyny in the face of rigid and unattainable standards of beauty (seemingly, in their eyes, equally unattainable standards simply don’t exist for women).

Some men have been able to successfully build entire platforms and businesses on telling other men what women want. Andrew Tate originally styled himself as a self-help guru for young men looking to be more attractive to women. Students of his “Hustler’s University” learn valuable life skills around the virtues of toxic masculinity, picking up girls and “escaping the matrix”.

As a queer man, the kind of intense archetypal masculinity and heavily toned physique peddled by het male figures such as Andrew Tate, resonate strongly with the beauty standards within parts of the queer male community which place special value on masculinity and glorify athletic body types. Why? Because these standards aren’t actually dictated by het women, but in fact by the male gaze.  

That het male beauty standards are actually dictated by, and are in a sense, for other men is no doubt a controversial claim (especially, I imagine, for someone like Andrew Tate). However, acknowledgement of the difference in male beauty under the male gaze compared to the female gaze is resurfacing in popular discourse.

Take the 2020 viral hit, “Ranking Men By Attractiveness” from self-branded social-experiment youtube channel Jubilee. The video, raking in over 4.5 million views and 128k likes, pits groups of women and men together to rank five men in a line based on attractiveness. While the men place one man at the front for “looking like Vin Diesel”, the same man is sent straight to the back of the line by the women. The viral success of such content, coupled with the slew of confused and outraged men bemoaning the ‘female gaze’ on Tik Tok, suggests an awareness of the male objectivity underlying our beauty standards is creeping its way back into the popular consciousness.

This awareness should be celebrated, though be it cautiously.  In an ideal world, the recognition of the male gaze in the formation of male beauty standards would encourage groups like incels to swing in the opposite direction away from misogyny. They could perhaps find an understanding or sense of compassion that women face the same kind of beauty standards, if not even more impossible to achieve, and even more obligatory (I did say an ideal world).  

Perhaps more attainable, in this current day of ‘War Paint’ (makeup for men) and Barbie (2023), is a recognition of male beauty as constructed under the male gaze opening up interesting and necessary dialogue. Is the rise in male cosmetics and androgynous clothing a sign of the male gaze in decline, or is it a ‘trend’, limited to a small privileged demographic? Do queer relationships escape the male gaze fully and meaningfully? Where do trans and non-binary people find themselves in the midst of the gaze? All interesting avenues that only open up once we acknowledge that the male gaze truly sees all.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments