A funny thing happened on the way to the reality show. A recent episode of MTV’s ongoing docuseries True Life featured Derec, a 22-year-old college baseball player with a unique complaint: Derec absolutely hates the size of his butt. Gifted with a generous posterior, Derec has also found the ample size of his glutes to be a curse, making him the target of catcalling and unwanted attention, including “grabbing, slapping, and name-calling.”
In a post for Gawker, the site’s Rich Juzwiak explains:
As he tells a hypnotist he visits to help him cope, he doesn’t like the lack of control he feels in these situations of non-consensual grab-ass. “All I want is the respect of my peers and to wear a normal pair of pants,” he says while swimsuit shopping.
On top of his difficulty finding pants in his size (solidarity, sister), Derec expresses that his main concern is being able to work in an office environment due to the junk in his trunk. To some, that angst might seem comical, but female programmer Elizabeth Bentivegna knows that struggle all too well. In April, a Facebook post from Bentivegna went viral, in which she wrote that she was denied for a job because of her “unprofessional attire.” The recruiter told her that it “looked more like [she] was about to go clubbing than go to an interview.”
However, the issue was not Bentivegna’s attire, which consisted of a black t-shirt, a red skater skirt, and a cardigan, but her shape. Elizabeth Bentivegna has curves, and in her post, she jokes that her shirt showed “a little booby but what shirt isn’t [sic] on me.” As Forbes’ Jenna Boudreau explains, women with large breasts in the workplace often struggle for respect from their colleagues; Debrahlee Lorenzana filed suit against CitiGroup, claiming that she was canned for being “too good looking.” Boudreau writes, “Despite trying to hide her curves with turtlenecks, she says she was reprimanded for appearing too sexy.”
What’s interesting about Derec’s case, though, is not just that he’s concerned about the respect of his colleagues but also of his peers. While we’re living in a big booty renaissance for women—with Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” becoming ubiquitous keister anthems in 2014—men have yet to have their Jennifer Lopez moment. Captain America’s butt is so heroic it has its own Tumblr, while other (very NSFW) accounts likewise celebrate the male booty, from “Bubble Butts and the Men Who Possess Them” to “Beefy Ass Butt,” but there remains an odd whiff of cultural panic around men’s asses.
Showcasing the male backside has a long history in art and sculpture, where the Greeks chiseled their gods with rock hard glutes to match their ethereally perfect bodies, but they were considered objects of religious worship and aesthetic deification, rather than an ode to sex itself. Sex was merely incidental. Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, which famously features David’s package as well as his naked behind, was meant to celebrate his victory in battle, after the slaying of Goliath. He wasn’t a pin-up; he was a war hero.
The Greeks chiseled their gods with rock hard glutes to match their ethereally perfect bodies, but they were considered objects of religious worship and aesthetic deification.
Indeed, the male object is a relatively new phenomenon. For decades, the Bond films treated us to the wonders of Ursula Andress and Halle Berry slowly emerging from a pool of water, but it wasn’t until 2006’s Casino Royale that Albert Broccoli’s iconic series recognized that audiences might want to look at Bond the same way. In the promotional materials for Skyfall, the 2012 film didn’t tease the T&A of a new female ingenue, instead teasing Daniel Craig’s backside in a skimpy wet swimsuit. It was all about that Bond.
While Craig embraced the attention his assets attracted, the case of Derec shows that’s not universally true. In 2013, photographs of Jon Hamm’s “considerable length,” as EL James might say, visible through the actor’s trousers went viral, and the actor lashed out at the media tongue-wagging. “They’re called privates for a reason. I’m wearing pants, for fuck’s sake,” the Mad Men actor told Rolling Stone. “When people feel the freedom to create Tumblr accounts about my cock, I feel like that wasn’t part of the deal.”
Hamm’s comments seem to critique the loss of privacy in the Internet age, but as Slate’s Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out in a response, that wasn’t what was really on his mind. “Jon Hamm’s being treated like an actress,” Rosenberg wrote. “And he hates it.”
However, if there’s a demographic that, like Craig, has wholeheartedly embraced the glory of boy booty, it’s gay men. Although butts fared low in a survey conducted about the physical trait gay men look for most in a partner (clocking in at only 7 percent), a 2014 post from Queerty celebrate the joys of pygophilia. The site’s Graham Gremore writes:
Bubble butts have long been a desirable trait. In fact, when tightly packed into jeans, they often translate into free drinks at the bar, lots of bad pickup lines, and some serious grab-ass as the night wears on. An ample arse on Manhunt often elicits messages of “nice butt, man,” or “hot ass, dude,” and other more explicit enthusiasms.
The reason gay men’s butts are sexualized in the same way that their female counterparts’ backsides are should be self-explanatory: In both cases, they are the site of penetration and intercourse. Scientific research suggests that heterosexual men are biologically conditioned to enjoy prodigious fannies because of its role in mating and procreation. What’s a woman going to do with all that junk? Provide for healthy offspring, as this line of thinking goes.
In an interview with Men’s Health, Dr. David Buss explains:
You’re drawn to a woman’s heinie for the same reason you’re attracted to her breasts, hips, and a little waist: because those traits would have been indicators of fertility to your ancient ancestors.
Man evolved to seek out women who could procreate. … If a woman has a full tush, that’s a signal to your primitive brain that she’s probably carrying enough fat to become pregnant, he says. And if her bum is perky and round, that means she’s probably young—which, in caveman days, would make her a good candidate to carry your cavechild.
Devoid of its role in progenation or sexual intercourse (aside from pegging), the straight male big booty is sometimes viewed as a “waste” or undesirable from female partners?primarily because of the butt’s association with femininity. In a memorable episode of UPN’s Girlfriends, Tracee Ellis Ross’ Joan is panic-stricken to discover that a male suitor has more going on back there than she expected and screams theatrically when his ample tush is revealed. His character is, thus, referred to as “Girly Hip Marcus.”
This strange brew of homophobia, gender panic, and body shaming is succinctly summed up by a Whisper post, its message brandished over a photo of Kim Kardashian. “Straight guys with big butts?” the photo asks. “They are gay.”
However, things are slowly changing for men blessed with prominent buns. After photos of Nick Jonas recreating Mark Wahlberg’s iconic Calvin Klein ad went viral last year, the Huffington Post’s Noah Michelson argued that the best part of Jonas’ shoot wasn’t what he was packing in the front but what he was hiding in the back: a gorgeously hairy ass. It was fitting that this was for a spread in the magazine Flaunt, because that’s what was so refreshing about seeing Jonas show off his goods. He was utterly unapologetic.
Although the photos were accused of gay baiting, that ignores the fact that the former Jonas Brother’s female fans lapped up the photos as much as his gay audience did. After all, the women of America aren’t blind.
The best part of Jonas’ shoot wasn’t what he was packing in the front but what he was hiding in the back: a gorgeously hairy ass.
While it’s too small a sample size to say much about all women (and sexual tastes are too varied to generalize anyway), a 2009 poll from AskMen found something that really shouldn’t be all that surprising: Women like butts just as much as guys do. The website quizzed 100 women on their sexual preferences and found that a nice butt was the most desired physical trait in a male partner.
The problem isn’t that women don’t enjoy men’s cabooses but that we simply haven’t bothered to ask. A simple Google search on the topic of why men like women with big butts racks up over 10 million hits, but a similar search for women pulls up half of the number of results—and most of those are still articles about men’s sexual preferences that pop up erroneously. In fact, it’s actively difficult to find a serious study on the subject.
Why isn’t popular science interested in women’s sexual tastes—or men’s bodies, for that matter? That’s a difficult query, but it’s one worth investigating. For men like Derec, the problem isn’t their behind—it’s the limits of sex and body positivity in a culture that still hasn’t hasn’t learned to ask the right questions. No one should shame Derec for feeling negatively about his body (we’ve all been there), but I bet if you polled 100 women, they’d say he has nothing to apologize for.
Nico Lang is the Opinion Editor for the Daily Dot.
Screengrab via NickJonasVEVO/YouTube