When you’re researching, all you think about is time. You must prioritise research over everything else. I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time for that. You promise yourself that when your research is finished, then you will have all the time in the world to do the things that you denied yourself.
And yet, the pointlessness of that research is apparent. That thing that I make sacrifices for is only going to be read by a handful of people. Indeed, when one tries to write for the majority and put research into terms that they will understand, one is told that one is going wrong. One must only focus on the small minority and their rarefied rules of research.
As I was thinking over the pointlessness of my life and the things in it, I made a little list in my head. I write poetry which no one reads except for myself. I make music which no one listens to apart from myself and my brother who collaborated with me on the album. I write fiction which no one reads apart from myself. I make pictures which no one looks at but myself.
The pointless thing that I will write about today, in this pointless blog which only a handful of people read (about 2,500 people in about two years) is the pointless regime of weight training that I impose upon myself. I will write about this pointless regime from an autobiographical angle which I wish to compare with some discourses about the bodies of women in comic books and supposedly feminist ideas about their representation.
When I was growing up, I had a naturally muscular physique. However, I got into weight training. There was a very clear motivation for my adoption of the weight training regime. At the time, there was a Hindi film actor called Salman Khan who was and is very popular with the masses. He was a body builder. Now, one day, when I was watching a film with Salman in it, my mother told me that every woman wants a man with muscles like Salman Khan and she told me that I should exercise like him, so that I could make a woman happy. In fact, in a slight digression, I will add that my mother actually nicknamed me Salman Khan.
The motivations for adopting weight training were therefore very clear. They were to fulfil the desire of a woman. Doubly so, for the desire stemmed from my mother and incorporated the desire of a future woman. When I did the weight training, which I find very boring and can only do while listening to music, I always had in mind the desire of a woman. I would submit my body and strength to her desire so that I could give her the form that she wanted. And even though I dislike weight training and refraining from eating foods that I desire, like beef burgers and sausages and bacon and chocolate and ice cream, I do refrain from eating them, because of what my mother told me. When I do my fifteen chin ups, forcing myself to do the last few, and push up the 90 kg barbell for chest exercises, I have to remind myself of my motivations, as there is pain.
Of course, having moved into adulthood, I find that the women in the United Kingdom only care for a muscular and athletic body when it belongs to someone rich and famous. Indeed, I have heard certain supposed feminists arguing that the muscular ideal is forced upon women by men and that they should be free to have their own desire for the male body according to their own likes. I have also noted the recent articles on a woman’s desire for the “dad bod”, plump and untrained. Apparently, a significant number of women actually prefer the body of the capitalist man, overfed and under-exercised (and old), with the host of associations that are made around it (doesn’t have a job of manual labour, is probably well to do, etc.).
I want to compare my little anecdote with a video I saw about the representation of women in comic books. Now, I often draw naked women as an amateur artist. I don’t see anything wrong with doing so. They represent female beauty to me and so I draw them. Yet the women commentators in that video were criticizing men for drawing sexually suggestive comic book heroines.
My first reaction on hearing this was disbelief. It is apparent that even men’s bodies are constructed as bodies of desire in these books, with the celebration of the athletic and muscular body. Similarly, the women’s bodies are the bodies of female athletes for the most part. Do I feel ashamed of finding the athletic female body desirable and attractive? No. Is there a good reason why I should be ashamed of doing so? No. Thus, when I look at the bodies of Jessica Ennis-Hill or Alison Felix or Daphne Schippers, it is with the eyes of desire.
However, I followed the arguments of the women in the comic book industry to hear what they were saying. For it is a fool that keeps to his own position and won’t listen to the arguments of another.
The first argument of the women was that they should be in charge of their own sexiness, instead of it being imposed by a man. Why should you be able to say what is sexy, they were saying to me, their opponent. My answer: sexiness is always a representation between two consenting adults which is negotiated between them. For you to impose your own ideals of sexiness on me is just as bad as me imposing them upon you. You assume that I am in the position of power to decide sexiness in a unilateral way. Is anyone free in such a unilateral way to impose an idea on someone? Isn’t this a simple and reductive way of looking at things? Perhaps as a man, I am in a position of greater power due to history and the nature of patriarchy, so the idea of sexiness is tainted and unfair. But then, how should sexiness work? We can’t entirely break with history, can we? There has to be an act of communication of sexiness between two consenting adults that relies on the history of the communication of that concept. The new renegotiation of sexiness has to follow older models: you can’t socially programme sexiness and impose it on people. They have to be able to both recognise and feel it. Just inputting a supposedly “original” woman’s take on it (you are not a genius and the idea of genius is itself suspect, since everything occurs in history) is not going to do the job, is it? Thus, there are problems with the idea that a woman should be in control of the idea of sexiness.
One can see that in the first argument of the women, that the man is an aesthetic tyrant in the patriarchal order. There is an implicit argument that the ideal sexualised body of the man is a form of slavery for a woman. Again, one notes that freedom, of an unrealistic sort, since it is completely divorced from history and the act of the body communicating between two bodies, the bodies of gender, is set against the body. For the women want to clothe their comic book heroines completely and not expose any of their flesh. They want to hide the body.
The second argument of the women, an argument that is never voiced, is that the body itself is a degraded and inferior form of representation. To give someone a body, especially a sexualised body, a body of desire, is to move into a degraded and inferior form of representation. Thus, the body can not be the site of desire as an ideal for women. This degradation of the body beautiful is immensely suspect. It appears to derive from a Christian morality that denigrates the body, for is it not the case that Adam and Eve first clothe themselves in the Bible when they find knowledge? Their first form of knowledge is shame of the naked body. Similarly, the supposed enlightened and supposedly knowing women aim to institutionalise the shame of the naked body. And the bodies they attack are not the athletic forms of the men. There is a Christian-originated and patriarchal misogyny directed at the woman’s body as a form of representation and an ideal. It is this body that has to be relentlessly covered over and hidden. However, the issue is not just about Christianity – that is merely an origin. That Christian hatred of the female form (note that the worship of the Father’s law must take place against the graven image, the feminised image), is translated into class terms. For the body of manual labour, the female athlete’s body, is to be denigrated. Manual work is for the slaves is the implicit argument, from the position of someone who works from her eyes and hands and has to pretend that it is a cultural work (I am referring to the female comic book artist). Manual work, is, of course, associated with the lower classes.
There are perhaps other arguments. As I mentioned at the outset of this little piece, time is always present in one’s mind. I have merely pointed out two which have struck me. I will not mention the significant omission of these white women’s critical voices – the lack of supporting ethnic diversity in the forms of the bodies of the comic book women (where are the Indian women in these pages, one wonders?). I will now contrast my little anecdote at the outset of this little piece with the voices of the women.
I trained my body for the desire of women as told to me by a woman. The women critics say they will not train their bodies for anyone, particularly not for a man. Thus there is the celebration of the lack of disciplining the body. I took consideration of the other as a desiring person with desires of their own. The women don’t take any consideration of the other as a desiring person and repudiate his desire and say that he must only desire what they say he must desire. I say that I am a body and base desire on the body. The women base their hiding of the body on familiarly misogynistic and patriarchal lines. I celebrate the bodies of women and the bodies of athletic men and women who undergo manual labour and work to build their bodies. The women denigrate the bodies of athletic persons associated with manual labour in clear class terms.
The conclusion is left to the reader.