A growing Twitter phenomenon subverts the male gaze and creates a glimpse of equality for male-selfie-ogling women. Like this writer.
A bunch of pictures of strange men saved my day last week.
I wasn’t having an especially great day on Thursday, for no particular reason. I was weepy and sulky and low-energy in the manner of PMS-ing women everywhere, without even having the excuse of PMS. I was out of paper towels; my sheets needed to be washed; I had work to do; a friend with a broken foot had requested my help. I was too much of a sad sack to take care of any of this. Instead, I was lying around not reading a book with one hand and checking Twitter with the other, when the klaxon went up around my corner of the internet: “#DUDETIME IS BACK.”
#dudetime is the invention of Lily Benson, who posts to Twitter as @lil_mermaid, though for personal reasons her account is currently limited to approved followers only. In an article in the Daily Dot posted after a February #dudetime, Benson explained that she started the hashtag as a subversion of Lil B’s Twitter feature #girltime, in which the rapper retweets selfies from his female followers. Switching up the gender, Benson reasoned, would “provide a space for equal-opportunity objectification.”
The phrase “dude time” evokes some initial revulsion in people who are weary of the ubiquity of dude faces, dude voices, dude opinions. When I tweeted an excited “it’s #dudetime!” one of my friends responded “is there a time that’s not dudetime, because I want to live in that time.” But in practice, the parade of male faces in #dudetime is somehow so much less exhausting than the parade of male faces on TV, in movies, on mastheads, in “40 Under 40” lists. It is, in fact, invigorating. Over the course of #dudetime I stopped sniveling and started smiling. After it was over, I’m not kidding, I got up and did my laundry and bought paper towels and did some work. (I did not manage to help my friend until a few days later, but I did get him to post a #dudetime selfie that got faved like 40 times so it’s not like I did him NO favors.)
What is it about #dudetime that’s so damn appealing? There’s nothing new about people displaying themselves to the invisible audience of the internet. But the people are usually women, and—more importantly—the invisible audience is always men. Of course women look at pictures online, but because the male gaze dominates art and film and fashion, we assume that the default consumer of every image is a man. As Benson pointed out in her Daily Dot piece, #dudetime flips the standard gaze so men are on the receiving end, which is unusual for selfies, often the province of women, but certainly not unheard of. We see plenty of images of men. What’s really unusual about #dudetime is not that dudes are being ogled. It’s that for once, they’re not doing the ogling.
Even when it’s men on display for women’s ostensible pleasure, normally, the ultimate audience is male. Our punishing standards of attractiveness for women come from deeply ingrained subservience to the male gaze—but so do our comparatively forgiving standards for men. The muscle-bound male ideal is a vision of men’s idea of masculinity, not really an accurate picture of women’s desires. Scientific studies on what “women’s desires” really are tend to get bogged down in evolutionary psychology, so I did an informal and highly unscientific poll of my friends. A number of them mentioned height and broad shoulders, but other physical descriptors included “skinny,” “pretty eyes,” “left-handed,” “scruffy,” “freckles,” “looks like a girl,” “bearish,” “nice lips,” “gargoyle face,” and several requests for beards. Nobody mentioned a six-pack, except the person who said “Six-pack? Meh.” We are a broad and variable bunch, us man-liking ladies, but one thing many of us seem to agree on is that if the patriarchy likes ripped hairless chisel-faced men so much, it can date them.
#dudetime takes the simple pleasure of being looked at and admired, and isolates it from this tyrannical, all-seeing male eye. The audience is appreciative women for a change, not the patriarchal panopticon. In the wake of the celebrity photo hack, we need this more than ever. #dudetime is the opposite of this violation in every sense: The pictures are freely offered, intended for public consumption, and received in the spirit in which they’re given. A catastrophe like the photo theft springs from the perception that women must submit themselves to scrutiny—that a woman’s face and body and image are not ultimately private or under her control. A balm like #dudetime erases the grasping selfishness of the male gaze. Instead of stealing women’s images out of a misguided sense of ownership, men are offering their own, in a way that is playful and participatory.
That option isn’t available to women, not yet. There is too much history of violence, too many stringent rules for acceptable beauty, in general too much implied risk for women to be able to share our pictures without having it be at least a little fraught. But #dudetime’s switch-up—letting women control the evaluating gaze for a change—gives us a glimpse into how relations between straight men and women might work in a genuinely equal society. What if we could appraise each other kindly and openly, without the baggage of entitlement and abuse? What if we could regularly ask for and receive compliments without shame or obligation, in an environment where both the ogler and the ogled feel safe? For sex-positive women who like men, #dudetime is Utopia.
Keep an eye out for the next #dudetime. It doesn’t happen at regular intervals—more like whenever Benson has time to spend her lunch break RTing pictures, she says. But when it comes, it brings men at their best: generous, vulnerable, sometimes goofy, looking for approval but not trying to impress. And on an internet that still hasn’t stopped hating women, it’s an oasis.
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