While we touched upon the subject of male empowerment before, we never discussed it in detail. Also, our tone in sexy male armor posts shifts a lot between sarcasm and talking straight, so can I understand the confusion.
Let’s start with why BABD even posts examples of “empowered men”.
To us, the intent of showing men in skimpy/sexualized armor is satire through contrast. The “Women NEED to be sexy (read: show a lot of skin and do sultry poses)” mentality is so deeply ingrained in our culture that many just assume it to be the natural order of things, that “sexyness” is inherent part of the female gender. But not of the male one.
The “This is NOT a man!” reactions to the initial Mobius Final Fantasy protagonist design come from this line of thinking. Dudebros refuse to accept that men can be unironically sexualized.
Funnily, it’s often paired with the insistence that any shirtless man balances out all the scantily clad ladies. As long as he’s not too sexy, that is. Textbook doublethink.
With such widespread double standard, it takes reversing the scenario to highlight its inherent problem. The big picture gets clearer when the shoe is on the other foot.
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That’s why blogs/movements like @theliberationofmanfire, @thehawkeyeinitiative or @magicmeatweek were created. And why we post sexy male warriors every Friday. To make men empathize with women’s problem.
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As for the empowerment itself, we discussed before that both women and men can feel empowered in various ways, but media skews it strongly based on gender stereotypes: women in fiction usually draw power from being sexy, while men from being strong (and/or violent).
And while there’s slow shift towards giving women more varied representation, men (who have
very diverse presence) rarely get to be the overtly sexy characters. And those who are usually get to be the villains, which feeds into “evil is sexy” trope as well as to villain gay coding, both ugly concepts that should die.
We have yet to see genuine, non-incidental sexy male empowerment in mainstream media that doesn’t come off as some sort of mockery.
Also worth remembering that a lot of our commentary on sexy male armor is tongue-in-cheek parody of the kind of rhetoric we regularly receive in our ask box, in reblogs and in broad-spectrum posts that conflate us with other critics.
Because let be clear, if we tried to keep the “sexy male armor” tag stocked with images I came across naturally through my typical cishet male surfing, it wouldn’t happen every Friday or even every month.
But it seems we will never stop hearing that eighteen years ago a game with a villain in briefs was released, fourteen years ago a unpopular video game protagonist did a nudey run and sometimes they get funny feelings during the glimpses of male butt in spandex – so clearly the market is constantly over-saturated and it’s only fair every game have c-string clad warrior women in it.
Following @queerrussetpotato‘s article about false equivalence, let’s bring back this old post discussing “male empowerment”, how sexualized male characters tend to be perceived by the assumed video game/comics/etc. audience (read: cishet white dudes) and why do we regularly feature sexy male armor on BABD.
See also: this post which talks briefly about framing of male sexualization.