What constitutes a sexualized male character?
Not 'sexualized' in some ridiculous way that you don't actually find attractive, (like if you don't actually think Han Solo wearing Leia's gold bikini would be hot, don't put that) but in a way that you do find attractive... Remember: not merely "desirable" but 'sexualized'--like how a chick can be hot no matter what she's wearing, but if she's in a chainmail bikini and bending at the waist for no apparent reason, that's sexualized.
The answers have also been very interesting. I'm putting this here largely because Zack has requested that heterosexual men not respond in the comments to that post. Also, I want to look at the assumptions based around question.
Mandy's answers deserve special attention, I think:
Oh and....notice how all the characters I've listed are highly competent and skilled. They're the best at what they do or are special somehow, and it means they've really got most of their shit together. A man who can handle his sword or a man who can command a starship and defend himself in battle or a man you know just not to fuck with because it's made obvious by some action in whatever depiction of the character...That's just hot.
It's a fascinating insight. I also think it misses the question. Notice that everything Mandie discusses is who these men are. These are very much issues of soft being verbs. But when we say someone has been sexualized, that's a very strong action verb. In fact, when we see it used on blogs like “Go Make Me a Sandwich,” it seems very much an act of violation; male artists have done something heinous to their female subjects. Being sexualized has nothing to do with who these women are. It's something that is done to them, or that they do to themselves.
So what is the horrible thing that has been done to these women? The sexualized woman advertises that she is available for sex. Her costume and contortions highlight her physical attributes most associated in the heterosexual male mind with sex. Postures of submission or fear or challenge underscore the invitation. In the moment of sexualization, these women exist primarily, if not entirely, to gratify the lusts of heterosexual men.
Can we simply do the same things to men? Yes, so long as we assume the viewer is a gay man. Hence Nate's Gay Pride carnival:
Pride parades, leather bars, young men in v-necks smoking on street corners. Leather, chainmail, briefs, ass-less chaps, straps, studs, whatever. Muscular men wearing mesh shirts. Smaller boys in white briefs. Fat guys in leather pants and dog collars.
All of these advertise a man's availability for gay sex. How does a man advertise his availability for heterosexual sex with women?
Answer: he's breathing.
The general assumption in our culture is that any man who can still walk across the room is available for sex with women. Even those who can't walk across the room are assumed to want sex with women. Generally speaking, a man in the West has to go out of his way to advertise his unavailability for sex with wedding rings and priestly vestments.
In fact, sex from men for women is so available, social psychologists speak of it as having no value:
[S]ocial psychologists claim that men's sex has no value per se. In the world of prostitution you never see women paying men for sex. Men pay women for sex, men will pay men for sex, but women don't pay men for sex. You get a sense that she has something of value that he wants... Women can get sex whenever they want. Post it on Craigslist and you can have it within the hour.
Our culture not only has no real way for a man to signal that he is available for sex, it has trouble conceiving of a need for one. Lacking these signals, and all the cultural baggage that would go with them, you simply can't sexualize a man in the same way that you can a woman.
Does this mean that we can't sexualize men for heterosexual women at all? No! For, while a woman might be able to have all the sex she wants, not all sex is valued equally. A man's availability for sex might be taken for granted, but his ability to deliver sex that she wants is not.
More on that next time…