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"Hot Dudes Reading" Can't Rewrite The Male Gaze

Emily Mae Czachor |
March 5, 2015 | 4:54 p.m. PST

Senior Culture Editor

"I'm sure he's reading a collection of post-war Russian short stories, but really thinking of how he made love to his French girlfriend this morning and the gluten free toast they shared after." (Instagram/@HotDudesReading)
"I'm sure he's reading a collection of post-war Russian short stories, but really thinking of how he made love to his French girlfriend this morning and the gluten free toast they shared after." (Instagram/@HotDudesReading)
Instagram is swiftly debunking traditional archetypes of masculinity and male attractiveness. The influx of recent male-centric IG accounts and hashtags suggests that not all women necessarily want their men clad in a muscle tee, lifting weights or tossing back a beer. On the contrary, upwards of 400 thousand women using the social media app have revealed that they find their men the most ravishing with a book in hand.

The Instagram handle that put forth this literary revelation is appropriately named Hot Dudes Reading. Although the account was created slightly over one month ago and only features 30 photographs, it has already garnered significant media attention and a dedicated following. The account name pretty accurately embodies the gist of its content: anonymous women (presumably) take pseudo-stalker cell-phone snapshots of men they find attractive reading on the New York City subway trains. There must be something formidable about the combination of scarves, facial hair and French novellas, because each photo inspires swooning captions like: "Sigh. This Clark Kent look-alike seems to have just flown in from Krypton to spend some QT on the F Train with us mere mortals. I may have to pretend to faint so he’ll catch me."

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With nearly half a million followers and coverage by national news organizations like Time Magazine and The NY Times voicing support, hot dudes who read have become a trendy new fashion statement. The account has prompted a hashtag of the same name as well as another that's currently being circulated on Twitter, #readingissexy.

Though it seems many mainstream web outlets are championing Hot Dudes Reading, some argue that, while this bookworm craze marks a development toward valuing intellect over blind physical appeal, the men in the photos are being objectified. While perhaps the nature of the photos supports aspects of both arguments, the #readingissexy movement does present a stark contrast between the way in which women objectify men and the way men objectify women.

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The objectification statement bears validity in that, yes, these photos were taken without the knowledge or consent of the men featured, and the leading descriptor "hot," fairly evidently refers to the men's physical appearance. However, unlike an assortment of recently publicized instances showcasing male objectification of women, the stealthy photographers behind Hot Dudes Reading are not catcalling men on the street or spewing demeaning remarks. Quite the opposite: the focus here is clearly not on the men's body types or musculature, but rather on their smarts. Although perhaps part of the draw is physical looks (objectively, they're all "hot dudes"), it is the content of their character that is fantasized in the captions - and their imagined characters are gentle, kind and thoughtful. One fawning caption reads: "he looks like a man with goals. I bet his mother is so proud. In fact, he’s probably on his way to see her now. #futureinlaws."

And the hot dudes with a proclivity toward literature are just one example of this growing trend. Another popular instagram account, Dilfs of Disneyland, smilarly romanticizes men's sensitive sides, only featuring attractive dads caring for their young children during a trip to one of the Disneyland theme parks. If these men are being objectified, its not their bodies that are regarded as objects, but rather their minds, their passions and their sense of parental responsibility.

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On the other hand, social media accounts, magazines, blogs etc. that feature women reading, teaching, working or parenting do not paint such figures in a romantically or sexually appealing light - they are respected, maybe, but certainly not glorified. And importantly, any variation of such images would not likely appear on a media outlet geared toward the male gaze. The words "sexy" and "hot" when referring to photos of women, either by men or for men, generally surface alongside images of cleavage, hips, thighs or a combination of uncovered body parts. If photos exist of markedly "sexy" women reading - and the photos did not originate from a "girl power" publication - then they're probably pornographic images (see: search results for "hot girls reading" on Google).

So while Hot Dudes Reading has generated some criticism, it's clear that there's still a disparity between what we consider to be "objectification" of men versus women. That is, until men are tripping over themselves in pursuit of the girl at the end of the train car with her nose buried in a copy of "The Bell Jar." 
Reach Senior Culture Editor Emily Mae Czachor here.



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