We turn our gazes toward men and masculinity, and suddenly everyone feels safe again.
Consider The New Inquiry’s Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child, a response to the ongoing conversations around the French journal Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, which uses the body of the young-girl (not necessarily a cisgender young girl) as the central unit of late capitalism. The young woman, or the young-girl remains the focus of attention economies. However, the young-girl is both scapegoat and victim, embodiment of late capitalism and that which disrupts it. In their essay “Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child,” writers Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern dismantle Tiqqun‘s text, calling out the boyish critic as the actual enigma of our age — not the young-girl and her selfie-obsession. This man-child is the real cause of perpetuating bad behavior, both within the sphere of commodity culture and within the supposed radical left and bourgeois-left spheres of cultural production alike.
The writers note, however, that this man-child isn’t necessarily male-bodied. A possible convergence of the young-girl and the man-child might take place in the space of GIRLS:
“Lena Dunham may be living proof that the Man-Child is now equal opportunity. That is, the character she plays on Girls is. A real man-child would never get it together to get an HBO show. As we watch Hannah Horvath pull a splinter out of her ass, we wonder: Is this second-wave feminism? Or fourth? It is no accident that Judd Apatow wrote the scene. The mesh tank Dunham wears over bare tits is isomorphic with the dick joke.”
Dunham’s character may certainly embody a man-child, but she appears as a man-child in feminine attire, which could also be read as drag. And more importantly, is it possible to move beyond both the young-girl and the man-child through the embodiment of a certain effeminate masculinity?
Portraits of men wearing their girlfriends’ clothes by Spanish photographer Jon Uriarte come close. He suggests not a convergence of both the young-girl and man-child concepts as propagated by The New Inquiry and the original Tiqqun text, instead moving beyond into something that could actually equate to an adult-man. The men he photographs take a moment to pose for a male photographer (male gaze) while wearing their girlfriend’s clothes. In doing so, they willingly jeopardize their own masculinity. In this way, they “grow up,” becoming the adult-man who isn’t afraid to reveal his “feminine” side, albeit one lent to him by his girlfriend, in front of a male gaze. This type of work moves beyond an examination of masculine vulnerability as seen through the work of photographer Amy Elkins, whose gaze is still accepted as female-on-male.
Unfortunately, in Uriarte’s work the male subjects are also performing a type of temporal drag — these photographs are meant only for the moment, and their dressing up is, like a young-girl or man-child trying on a parent’s clothing when they’re away at work, something that only happens for a period of time, in a controlled, domestic environment. If these men left their homes and walked about in the world, they would most likely be berated for appearing as drag queens.
What makes Uriarte’s photographs work, however, is this moment of male vulnerability, which suggests that these men, too, are sensitive and able to access their feminine sides, both literally and metaphorically. The men he captures appear awkward, fragile, confused in clothes that probably fit tighter than what they’re used to. They must pose in ways that demand them to look pretty, beautiful, even doll-like. They become the young-girl, leaving their man-childishness behind; is this what makes an adult-man or at least the beginnings of one?