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The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private

Shock waves riveted the Mattel, Inc., boardroom in 1961 when female executives suggested that Barbie's boy-toy, Ken--in keeping with Barbie's own physiognomy--ought to be a little more anatomically correct. No one was suggesting 1.25-inch-to-1-inch-scale plastic genitalia, mind you, just a modest groin bulge. But male execs at the toy company were scandalized; the suggested modifications did not make Ken more "authentic" in their eyes--they made him pornographic. My, how things have changed. In The Male Body, Susan Bordo (who snagged a Pulitzer nomination for 1993's Unbearable Weight) offers a frank, sprightly, and, yes, educational look at the male nude as an index to attitudes about sexuality in the broth of media and pop culture in which, like it or not, we all stew. While the Greeks were unafraid to celebrate masculine beauty, men have been strangely sexless throughout most of Western history--until Hollywood rediscovered the male body when Marlon Brando first shed his T-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire. It's only been in the '90s, however, that the male image has gone so far as to reclaim its penis. From de facto censorship to near idolatry, has ever an organ made such a journey in one brief decade? But it's not the penis alone that makes a man a man; perhaps, Bordo concludes, it's time for us to rethink our metaphors of manhood. --Patrizia DiLucchio

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