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I am a performance artist and style icon, a wannabe and a mightneverbe. I am 28 and on the cusp of reality. I am currently fucking up masculinity and redefining music. i believe that the music video is the perfect cultural form.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Men and Mirrors

Narcissism has never been considered a properly male characteristic despite Narcissus being the alpha male, the hetero-hunk so handsome he fell for his own reflection. Ancient Greek/Roman culture has given us lots of words and icons to describe men in physical and aesthetic terms (Adonis, narcissus, athlete, ‘Greek god’) , yet men just aren’t allowed to obsess over their appearance.

Compared to women’s toilets, men’s are utilitarian cubby holes where you are lucky to get a wizened bar of soap. So male vanity is a little less taboo than it was during the Victorian hangover of last century- it is still deeply uncomfortable to be caught gazing into the mirror by another man.

What makes a good toilet:
(1) Soft natural lighting
(2) Large heavy duty mirrors that don’t warp your reflection
(3) Dry floors
(4) Dry toilet seats
(5) Dryers that actually dry your hand
(6) Air con

I am a mirror connoiseur, and I demand that men get the same opportunity to be vain as women do. It's only fair. For gender equality to work, men must be subjected to the critical gaze too, and be told when they are scrubbing up well in public, I hope to banish the days when husbands had money and wives had beauty. What's the point of (body) fascism if it doesn't apply to everyone?

So, here’s my list of good mirrors in Sheffield:

  1. Downstairs toilet in Sheffield Hallam University Union (it’s the only place worth going there)

  2. Razor Stiletto toilets @DQ toilets

And Bad Mirrors:

  1. Showroom Bar toilets

  2. All charity shop mirrors: (especially Bluebell Wood in town and St. Luke's on Ecclesall Road)

  3. Halifax mirror wall near Town Hall (shudder)

  4. H&M 360 degree fitting rooms (unless you're having a really good day)
Feel free to add to or contest these...

In public toilets I look in a mirror for as long as I am alone: as soon as a cublicle door opens or someone comes in, I rush out of the door.
But what would happen if I stayed there, messing with my hair? Maybe nothing, maybe a muttered “faggot”, maybe a snigger or unspoken disgust. In a Foulcauldian sense (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish) I police myself: by imagining that other people would do something to stop me, I stop myself. This is how institutions of power (and gender is one) work, it’s a way to behave that we learn through education, themedia and social interaction. But I'm not being all conspiracy theorist about this, it's a trusim that CCTV makes social control easier, and it's is just another version of peer pressure that stops me from getting caught looking in a mirror.
But a few (usually gay) places allow men to blatantly check themselves out, but these are special places where majority masculinity is suspended or even ridiculed. In Razor Stiletto (RIP) you could take a break from being butch to fight for a place at the mirrors. The pressure there was not to stop looking but to be the best looking, to allow your reflection to pay homage to your beauty in true Narcissus stylee. In most pubs and bars, the reaction is more like to be "perfumed ponce"

I don't think that men can never have that communal mirror gazing that women do: we haven't grown up as sisters sharing our secret beauty rituals, and so we can't allow any man to see the vulnerable and hidden ways that we make ourselves presentable.


cultistofvertigo said...

Oh masculinity, what a joke you are.

Have you ever read Maddox's book? Alphabet of Manliness? It's awesome. This post feels like the opposite of the D and U chapters of that book. D being "Dump" and U being "Urinal Etiquette."

Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and I've had a few reluctant and awkward conversations with drunk people in a bathroom.

Also, I don't know where you are that messing with your hair is considered faggy, but I'll sometimes use the mirror to reapply lipstick and no one ever gives me any beef. Because Houston is more open minded than... what? England?

I'm an american, I don't know where Sheffield is.

vienna famous said...

I've not heard of that book, sounds like I should check it out. Yeah I think Sheffield, England is a bit too provincial and small minded- it's close to Manchester, heard of that? I don't know how big Houston is, but it's probably twice the size of Sheffield and the bigger the city, the more tolerant people are of weirdness...

cultistofvertigo said...

Manchester, that's where Joy Division is from!


I read a comment on some youtube video of a mtf transexual ranting about how she was getting weird remarks from some gay dudes at a gay bar that said, in all caps, of, that she should move to Houston, because that's a really tolerant city.

And it's like, if this is what a youtube commenter who can't find the caps lock key says, then has this just been common knowledge the whole time, and my rosy ideals of how accepting of "issues" that are so trivial to everyone I've ever known are actually considered unnaturally easy going in the rest of the world?

I'd really hate to think that San Francisco is less tomgirl friendly than Houston, Texas, is all I'm saying.

That, and I'm well aware there are still crazy people. We're doing this shoot for school, and we had to drive out to a little suburb called Alvin... they still have confederate flags out there.

Creepy, but this is on the periphery of civilization. You'll never meet these people in real life.