But what does his chest hair MEAN?

On 8/19, a posting about the novelty song “Harry’s Jockstrap” from 50+ years ago — a jock that’s pale blue, suggesting that Harry is a fairy:

Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap
It’s pale blue, it’s pale blue
They say that he’s a fairy. But Harry is so hairy
So are you, so are you

… [The verse] suggests that Harry’s hairiness shows that he couldn’t be queer, presumably because, the singer believes, significant body hair is a sign of masculinity, and that’s incompatible with homosexuality. The whole thing is silly beyond belief; the world is rich in hairy fairies … Though I do understand that hairiness as a litmus for straightness is a widely held folk belief, a consequence of the powerful folk theory that homosexuality is literally sexual inversion, so that gay men are, by definition, feminine, in fact a species of female.

So far, some folk associations; there will be more:

— 1 a man’s wearing pale blue clothing (or, more generally, pastel clothing), especially underwear, especially a jockstrap, INDICATES homosexuality

— 2 heavy body hair on a man, especially on the chest, INDICATES high masculinity, which in turn INDICATES heterosexuality

Note: each association should be attributed to some set or sets of people who hold this belief — though in many cases, I have no idea who those people might be. In just a moment, however, such attributions will become important.

A comment on my “Harry’s Jockstrap” posting by Robert Coren, about:

Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, which contains a bit of dialogue between minor characters addressing the association of hairiness with virility (and fertility) [virility in NOAD: [connoting] strength, energy, and a strong sex drive; manliness]

Busman’s Honeymoon: A Love Story with Detective Interruptions (1937) by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893 – 1957), with protagonists Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (and with Lord Peter’s manservant Bunter a constant presence). In my (much-worn) American (hardback) edition, p. 66: Lord Peter appears, naked, at his bedroom window the day after his wedding to Harriet, and there encounters the cleaning lady, Martha Ruddle; Harriet to Peter, Peter’s response, and then Mrs. Ruddle to Mrs. Hodges:

(#1) Totally irrelevant note: can you spot the feature that tells us this is from an American edition of the book?

Some British class comedy here, the gentry vs. the working class.

The first part of Ruddle’s indictment skewers the thoughtless immodesty of the gentry, with an implied dig at those who do no real work (in her eyes), but are indolent and effete. (NOAD: adj. effete: (of a person) [a] affected, overrefined, and ineffectual: effete trendies from art college. [b] no longer capable of effective action: the authority of an effete aristocracy began to dwindle. — note the reference to an effete aristocracy)

The second part of Ruddle’s indictment has to do with Lord Peter’s smooth, hairless chest, which Ruddle takes to be characteristic of the gentry, and to be a sign of low masculinity:

— 3a male members of the gentry, and more generally the elite, ARE TYPICALLY smooth-bodied; 3b working-class men ARE TYPICALLY hairy-bodied

— 4 (cf. 2 above) smoothness on a man’s body, especially on the chest, INDICATES low masculinity / virility, which in turn SUGGESTS homosexuality

The social class thing. Ruddle, a British working-class woman, seems to hold to both 3a and 3b and to believe that, via 2 and 4, they deprecate the gentry — as effete ponces — and celebrate the working class — as the sturdy and virile salt of the earth.

Quite strikingly, in my experience, a fair number of the privileged classes in the US and the UK seem to agree with Mrs. Ruddle on 3a and 3b, but assign valuations in pretty much the opposite fashion to her: valuing smooth male bodies as refined and attractive, finding hairy bodies to be “disgusting” or “crude” (actual overheard judgments; I’ve gotten to do a lot of class mixing in my life) or judging hairy men to be “no more than wild animals”. The wild-animal slur — which comes with concomitant attributions of dangerousness, dirtiness, and the like — is even more likely if the hairy men are swarthy and otherwise appear to be, oh, Arabs or Jews or Turks or north Indians. So there’s a whole buffet of prejudices being served up here. (East Asians and sub-Saharan Africans, in their home lands, or in their diasporas, seem not to get any smoothness credits from white folks in the US and UK — but of course among themselves, their own prejudice is likely to be reversed. (When I lived and taught for a while in China, I discovered the Chinese stereotype of American men: they are big-nosed, hairy, and smelly; alas, I was an embodiment of the whole stereotype.)

Now, there is certainly a big racioethnic dimension to male hairiness, but the class thing is puzzling. I have no idea whether there actually is a correlation between social class and hairiness among white folks (is there any research?), and if there is, what mechanism would have given rise to it. (Mate selection by women would be an obvious mechanism: if your social group values hairiness, then women find it desirable in their mates, and if your social group values smoothness, then women find that desirable in their mates. But then women might simply look for mates who resemble their fathers in significant characteristics.) I also wonder to what extent the impression that men from the privileged classes are smoother-bodied is the result of grooming practices (in depilation schemes) or hairy men’s concealing their state.

Matters of taste. But what do (straight) women want? For that matter, what do gay men want? It seems that every so often a magazine undertakes a “survey” to answer these questions; either someone goes around asking people, or they ask readers to send in their answers to a questionnaire. Absolutely worthless as research, but these explorations do seem to produce pretty similar results: women prefer smooth guys, queers prefer hairy guys — but the preferences aren’t very strong. And it’s easy to find hairy guys who are heartthrob magnets for women and smooth guys who perform this function for gay men.

Which (continuing in this tabloid pleasures vein) brings me to Alec Baldwin. An equal-opportunity heartthrob. I came across Baldwin at the top of a hot hairy celebrity list, which came to me in a search that yielded a number of bare-chested photos of the man. From Gaylaxy Magazine (an Indian magazine of gay culture), “23 Male Celebs Whose Man Rugs Have Stolen Many Hearts Away – Let’s Begin Drooling And Fangirling!” by Rohan Noronha on 9/23/15 (this is best if read in a gay-exuberant Indian English):

…  I get lost drooling over the manly-macho looks of a confident man baring his manly rugs – his chest hair!

… I once had tryst with a hairy guy, and guess what, while he stripped down to his bare essentials and I grabbed the rest out with gusto – he still stood there with his man rug all wired and willing to be explored. His man-scent emanating from them made me wild.

(Note: one of the function of the coarser body hair on men is to trap sweat and broadcast its man-scent.)

Noronha’s list starts with

(#2) “Alec Baldwin: Any doubts the man is super hot and probably a man rug who could keep you warm all through the winters – we hardly have winters [in Kolkata], but then who needs a reason to snuggle up to this hotty daddy!”

and including a sizable collection of Indian celebrities.

Cultural-semantic oppositions and the associations. From earlier postings of mine.

From my 5/29/21 posting “The hairy and the smooth”, explicitly about the oppositions hairy – smooth and raw – refined; but also also about the oppositions gay – straight and macho – effeminate

[image] #1 Cellblock 13 Atlas line harness and jockstrap in black: the model’s posture, his gestures, and his facial expression are all satisfyingly packed with allusions to art, both high art and popular art (the soft porn of cheesecake and beefcake) — so surprisingly refined

Meanwhile, the model’s body is smooth — very muscular, strongly masculine, and quite smooth. The harness and jock are fetishwear black, but they’re mostly constructed from elastic straps; they’re notably comfortable rather than aggressively tough.

[image] #2 ad copy:] Get party ready with the DJX Trough Collection. This stand-alone elastic harness squares off the chest to create a defined masculine look. Pair with the matching socks, jockstrap and shorts for the ultimate party look.

Meanwhile, the model’s body is hairy — very muscular, strongly masculine, and notably hairy, in contrast to the body in #1. The presentation of his body shares with that in #1 what I’ve called the overhand arm position, a soft porn pitsntits presentation. And both models are displaying prominent earrings, presumably to convey to their primarily gay male audience that these guys are macho, but definitely gay.

Jacob and Esau. Now the text for today, from Genesis chapter 27 (KJV):

11And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man

From my posting of 7/13/20, “Turkish turquoise”, about swimwear from the Elia company, set in a fantasy version of RGT (Romania Greece Turkey):

… — the men’s bodies 2. Yusuf and Alexandru not only have swimmer’s bodies, those bodies are also utterly smooth and hairless. This despite the fact that a stereotype of men from RGT is that they are hot but mostly on the hairy side. (There is, of course, considerable variation on this dimension: smooth men from RGT are not rare.) … (Again, a personal note: like Esau, and unlike Jacob, who was a smooth man, I am a hairy man. It’s an Alpine thing.)

From my 8/10/20 posting “The pleasures of role reversal”, about the opposition mature – boyish (Priapus – Apollo, Zeus – Ganymede):

From my 1/28/20 posting“Humongous tops Adonis”:

The Adonis style of beauty is the Apollonian: the ideal type of Boyish Masculinity, as opposed to the ideal type of Mature Masculinity — an opposition sometimes cast as Apollo vs. Priapus (or Dionysus / Bacchus). Apollo smells like fresh herbs, or sandalwood; Priapus smells like musky sex sweat.

… a parallel story, of the beautiful youth Ganymede, taken carnally by the powerfully priapic Zeus. From my 4/15/16 posting“Ganymede on the fly”:

On AZBlogX, some images from the Ganymede series on Priapus of Milet’s blog, showing (a version of) the youth Ganymede’s encounter with the God Zeus, told as an elaborate story in photographic images. Very accomplished stuff, also wonderfully erotic.

The conventional script is of the twink (young, innocent, boyish in build, small, smooth, beautiful, effete) taken by the macho man (older, experienced, hairy, muscular, big, aggressive, butch, tough).

All of this is obviously tinged by a reinscription of feminine vs. masculine in male-male terms.

10 Responses to “But what does his chest hair MEAN?”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I’m glad you were able to find the passage. Looking at it, the only US-pointing feature I can spot is the period in “Mrs.”, but I’m not certain that its absence is universal in British usage.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The duck comes down and awards you the Sharp-Eyes Cup! American orthographic abbreviations, in general, have a period at the end. But British editorial practice (quite generally, in my experience) uses a period in titles only if it stands for letters omitted at the end of the word (Prof. Rev. Pres.), and omits it otherwise (Dr St Mr Mrs).

  2. J. B. Levin Says:

    I had not spotted the “Mrs.”, but I do recognize it now that it has been pointed out. I saw something else, but I don’t know if it’s particularly British, or just an old style: The quotation marks for primary quotes here are American standard double quotes (single quotes reserved for quotes within a quotation). When I have seen single quotation marks used for the top-level quotations, I believe it has always been a British book (but what edition I could not swear to), and/or a rather old book.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Ah, the duck comes down again! This time for a usage practice I wasn’t aware of. From one source:

      In America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the general rule is that double quotes are used to denote direct speech. Single quotes are used to enclose a quote within a quote, a quote within a headline, or a title within a quote.

      In the UK, whether to use single or double quotes to mark direct speech depends on editorial style, but both are acceptable.

      So: the double quotes above are US standard, but they might have been in the British original. I guess your Sharp-Eyes Cup is just a dram or so smaller than Robert’s.

  3. Stewart Kramer Says:

    “Ly-doh” as phonetic spelling seems surprising. That’s the only way I’d heard the word, in UK TV shows. The public swimming pools are named after a famous Venetian beach island, Lido, and most dictionaries only give a pronunciation as in Italian. On a cruise ship with a lido deck, I was motivated to look this up.

    These days, Wiktionary says that Ly-doh is more common, but the first “real” dictionary with both pronunciations I could find (on onelook.com) was this:
    noun [ C ] mainly UK
    UK /ˈliː.dəʊ/ /ˈlaɪ.dəʊ/ US /ˈliː.doʊ/
    plural lidos

    a public swimming pool that is outside, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun, or do water sports

    The first pronunciation (with /aɪ/) is more common, but the second more closely imitates the Italian pronunciation.

    • J. B. Levin Says:

      Until now, my only experience with the term “Lido” was from the old TV series “The Love Boat”, which had common reference to the “Lido deck”; but straining my memory I cannot recall at all which pronunciation was used by the characters. But yesterday in an old “NCIS” rerun I had on, the Jimmy Palmer character referred to that deck in that show in one of his lame attempts at humor, and he used the Italian-like pronunciation. So I believe the “Love Boat” used that version as well. (In my own limited experience with a cruise ship, in 2019, I don’t recall any reference to a “Lido deck” though there was a deck with an open-air swimming pool.)

      [BTW: I also am old enough to have immediately understood the “duck comes down” reference.]

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      [To Stewart Kramer] This is fairly complicated, but the crucial thing is an English spelling-to-sound rule (for “long I”), that says that the letter I in an accented syllable is pronounced /aj/ when *in the spelling* it’s in the environment __ CV (where C is a single consonant-letter and V is a vowel-letter).

      This predicts that the letter I is pronounced /aj/ in Midol and Lidocaine and also in tide, where the final vowel-letter E is “silent” (but still serves to predict /aj/ for the earlier letter I).

      The long-I rule is in competition with the general principle that a word borrowed from another language is pronounced with (a nativized version of) the sounds in that language. So an accented vowel with a pronunciation close to English /i/ is borrowed with that pronunciation. This applies to lots of languages (but especially French, Italian, and Spanish) and lots of borrowed words (but especially proper nouns). So English borrowed proper names Gino Frida Tito Riga, all with /i/.

      First complication. Speakers who don’t have experience with the pronunciations in another language but have seen the spelling will of course use the long-I rule. This is surely what’s going on with the working-class British speakers with /lájdo/ for Lido. And in the US, it’s what gives us Lima /lájmə/ (borrowed “by eye”, via spellings in books) Ohio but Lima /límə/ Peru (borrowed by ear).

      Second complication. Borrowing from Classical Latin and Greek is pretty much entirely by eye. So it’s Dido /dájdo/ (and Aeneas), not /dído/.

      Third complication. British speakers of the upperish classes are inclined to use the I-rule in borrowings (esp. from French, Italian, and Spanish) because, to put it in its starkest terms, anything would be better than sounding like those damn frogs; that is, out of avoidance of Frenchness. As a result, even educated upper-middle class British speakers, who perfectly well know better, might opt for /lájdo/ rather than /lído/ (even if they sometimes go there on holiday).

      In any case, I suspect the frequency of /aj/ pronunciations for Lido in the UK (not the US) is the result of lumping two different sources together.

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