Should your IRL boyfriend be jealous of your Tumblr boyfriend?

An image from the Tumblr 'Your Urban Outfitters Boyfriend".

An image from the Tumblr 'Your Urban Outfitters Boyfriend".

He’s ruggedly handsome, physically strong, sexually passionate, emotionally sensitive, effortlessly (perhaps even accidentally) stylish, naturally outdoorsy and of course, heavily airbrushed. Meet Your L.L. Bean Boyfriend (YLLBBF), the guy whose official selling point (aside from a sizeable wardrobe exclusively filled with L.L. Bean branded chinos, polo shirts and boat shoes) is that:

He will build you a table and then have sex with you on it.

Doesn’t get much hotter than that.

Mmhmm, it sure doesn’t - unless of course your ideal man-flavour is more likely to be seen getting up to mischief around town sporting skinny jeans and a ironic T-shirt than fashioning furniture out of wood he grew himself whilst wearing 50 shades of beige. If that’s the case, give Your Urban Outfitters Boyfriend (YUOBF) a go.

Advertisement

YLLBBF and YUOBF are just two of a proliferation of Tumblr sites dedicated to celebrating ‘the ideal man’ in his various guises, as realised when frisky female imaginations brush up against the likes of menswear catalogues, historical photographs, lycra-clad sportsmen, bearded indie songwriters and Ryan Gosling. A recent article for The Cut has documented the rise of these ideal boyfriend Tumblrs, exploring the rather oddly framed question of whether they represent “fantasy or fun” before concluding, quite obviously, that they’re both. But there’s much more going on than that, which is where it gets interesting.

Predictably, there were a few disgruntled comments under The Cuts article.

“Really?” one guy (who’s clearly never read a book, flipped through a magazine or watched a film before) asked, “What's a real guy supposed to do when he can't compete with the perfect delusion women like this create? I bet if we guys had perfect girlfriend sites, women would go out of their bleeping minds and say how sexist, blah, blah, blah men are.”

A better-read commenter suggested that Tumblr’s ideal boyfriends are just the hetero woman’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

If Feminist Ryan Gosling had weighed in, he might have posed a question along the lines of:

some text

And Feminist RyGos would have a point (as he always does): most of the men we see in ideal boyfriend Tumblrs conform to a standard of attractiveness that can only be described as wealthy, white and... well, conventionally manly. Regardless of whether you agree with the assertion that simply directing your desiring gaze towards a man is itself a feminist act, it’s possible that the online 'ideal man' fixation only reinforces a pre-existing system of desire that is still oppressive towards women.  

This brings us to the million dollar question: to what extent do these ‘ideal boyfriend’ sites accept and legitimise the masculine ideals they represent?

Before I dive into the answer, I think it’s important to draw some lines. Tumblr being an overwhelmingly visual medium, the network of blogs contains innumerable examples of pure unadulterated objectification - of both sexes - celebrating disembodied bits from the beard to the box gap (NSFW), and enjoying the hot mugs of criminals and celebs (just google “f**k yeah [insert celebrity name here]”).

What distinguishes the so-called ideal boyfriend sites from the rest of the drool-fodder on Tumblr is the way their creators appropriate images from particular sources - often commercial brands - and then add a snippet of story to match. It’s not just about what the guy in the picture looks like, it’s the fantasy the image evokes about the kind of man you’re looking at, and how a relationship with a man like that might look and feel in your wildest, silliest dreams.

The story is not just important because it adds context to an otherwise pretty boring (yes, even if smoking hot) image. It’s important because in the best examples, it elevates our fantasy to the level of farce and makes a mockery of the very ideals we admit to be drooling over.

Sure, these ‘boyfriends’ are two-dimensional fantasy objects, but unlike the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s wriggled her way from our screens into our psyches, we don’t kid ourselves into believing Mr L.L. Bean and his ilk are anything more than tools of consumerism, selling us clothes with a side of American Dream - even as we admit to being complicit in the dream-weaving.

Ideal boyfriends aren’t just a case of equal opportunity objectification, of reversing the gaze of desire and flipping it onto men, of wreaking our revenge for such crimes against women as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and post-Renaissance nudes. They don’t allow us to just accept, uncritically, the systems of desire that deem certain men attractive (and by implication, create rules about the types of women who deserve their attention). Rather, they present a complex and often hilarious critique of the systems that produce heterosexual desire and make subjects and objects of us all.

Or as Feminist Ryan Gosling might put it:

some text

21 comments

  • Men have no reason to be jealous of 'Tumblr boyfriends' in the same way women shouldn't be jealous when their man watches pornography. I mean they are both about fantasy/escape.

    Commenter
    Lazy Jesus
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 9:16AM
    • True. I agree totally. Reminds me of the time I drove past St.George Leagues Club to see women queued up out the door and around 800m down the highway (and to be polite, rabble would be the best word to describe their behaviour). Man Power had a show on. If that had been a queue of men waiting for a strip show can you imagine what the feminists would say about them?

      Jenny, cheating is cheating. Watching porn is watching porn. you can wrap it any way you want.

      Can your next article be "why women should not worry if their husbands have an internet porn girlfriend?"

      Commenter
      Ship
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 1:58PM
  • It's hilarious to watch tumblr feminists try to intellectualize their harmless escapist fantasies as if they're some revolutionary rebellion against the patriarchy. Tumblr boyfriends are about as subversive as Fabio covers on Mills and Boon novels.

    By the way, there's absolutely nothing wrong with fantasizing about conventionally handsome men, unless of course you spend a lot of your free time hating on men who fantasize about conventionally attractive women, then you're just being hypocritical.

    Commenter
    James Hill
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 9:27AM
    • That has to be the most convoluted, twisted set of "logic" I've ever seen to justify looking at people you find attractive. Just look at the guys. We (every guy I've ever spoken to, at least) don't care.

      Commenter
      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:10AM
      • What you're obviously missing here Tim is that when men look at photos of women on the internet they are objectifying and dehumanising them, whereas when women look at these sorts of Tumblrs it it intellectual and empowering for all concerned. Or some such rubbish...

        I'm with you, I personally, and no guy I know really cares if their wife/partner/girlfriend looks at pictures of guys online. Mostly because we don't really care that much but also partly because we realise it would be massively hypocritical to complain about women doing it and then do it ourselves no matter what intellectual justification we tried to use for it. Oh wait...

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        July 16, 2013, 11:16AM
      • I dunno

        The boys in the photo at the top look like a bunch of scrawny 14 year olds

        I find that disturbing

        Commenter
        Bender
        Date and time
        July 16, 2013, 1:43PM
    • Is this what's making news these days? What strange lives some people must have.

      Commenter
      Bushranger
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:14AM
      • It's interesting.
        I do think that women and men have different methods of being attracted to another person.
        In short, I think men are less interested in personality than women.
        This is obviously a massive generalisation, but overall women seem to like to create a back story for their fantasy. The guy isn't just good looking, they give the object of their desire all kinds of different personality traits and abilities.
        Whereas most guys I would say just think about the physical. They just imagine different physical attributes for the most part, rather than different personality traits.
        This makes it seem that men are objectifying women, but really, it's just projecting desire in basically the same way, but with different criteria for what constitutes attractiveness.
        In the same way that women invent an archetype of a man to desire, so do men.
        And the thing about the "ideal man" of a woman's fantasy is that he couldn't possibly exist, and even more important, he is just as objectified. Because he exists only to satisfy the women. He is just a projection of her desire, and has no goals or desires which she hasn't granted him in her imagination to satisfy her own ideal of what a desirable man is.

        It's really no different to a man staring at a picture in Hustler. It's just satisfying a sexual desire by fantasizing.
        And the point of my long rambling speech? There's nothing wrong with men and women desiring what they like. As long as you don't hurt anyone, your sexual fantasies and the way that you act them out, or imagine them, is your own business.

        Commenter
        Jon
        Date and time
        July 16, 2013, 10:27AM
        • Pretty well put actually.

          Commenter
          Mick
          Date and time
          July 16, 2013, 1:29PM
      • I dunno...I just think ideal boyfriend tumblrs seem like something you should grow out of before you're 20. LIke putting posters of your teen idols on your bedroom wall.

        Commenter
        JEM
        Location
        Melb
        Date and time
        July 16, 2013, 10:39AM

        More comments

        Comments are now closed