The Sorta Beard

I thought I’d have some fun this Friday morning and post something in The Gaze category, where I talk about how women look at men.

Gerry ButlerWe’re so used to the Male Gaze in movies and TV — meaning that the viewer is assumed to be male and therefore women on the screen are portrayed that way — that if we keep showing the flipside maybe the common way of doing things will balance out eventually. Plus, I’ve read articles for years portraying men as very visual creatures and tacking the reason for all the female skin all over the media on that. The same articles often explain that women are just not visual creatures, and say this is why women can be attracted to older men and why men are not attracted to older women.

Anecdotally I think these assumptions are untrue. I can point to my recent post on the James Marsden interview where he said that older woman can be sexy, and my other posts in The Gaze category have shown that women do ogle men. Women are indeed visual creatures, maybe not to the extent that men are, but we shouldn’t discount it altogether.

What does this have to do with facial hair? Cultural writer Brian Appleyard just posted the article ” Stubble? Beard? What Is It?” on his blog about how he dislikes what I call the “sorta beard,” short-cropped facial hair that doesn’t quite qualify as a full-on beard. Appleyard is not a facial hair fan:

“The result, gentlemen, is that you end up looking as scruffy and suspect. . . and you just can’t wear a suit when your chin’s in that state, not without looking like The Defendant.”

Eric DaneSome of the commenters disagreed, but no one really cited any examples of how this look can work well by defining the chin and, like bangs, accentuating the eyes. Two cases in point: Gerard Butler and Eric Dane, both of which sport sorta-beards and look good doing it. Appreciating facial hair is partly a generational thing and, of course, partly personal preference. I find it interesting how we as a society try to accentuate gender differences by having women remove nearly all body hair, but then we don’t continue that idea by finding male facial hair “manly.” Maybe if we were more comfortable with overt testosterone markers like facial hair, then we wouldn’t be so apt to infantilize women into being hairless.

I’m not saying that clean-shaven men aren’t sexy, they are, but Tom Selleck, often considered to be one of the sexiest men alive, doesn’t look as good without the mustache and it’s all about his eyes. They’re a great feature, but they just don’t have the same visual impact without the mustache.

The same thing is true of Gerard Butler, who has sported quite a range of facial hair from being clean-shaven in the movie Shattered to the Leonidas’ Moses-beard in 300. So you’ve probably by now realized that I picked that scruffy photo of James Marsden deliberately. Facial hair doesn’t work for every guy, just like every hairstyle doesn’t for all men and women, but if Gerard Butler and Eric “McSteamy” Dane’s fanbases are any indication, a whole lot of women disagree with Appleyard.