If you think of France as an ageing hotbed of revolution, a place once governed by a president who married a supermodel and a home to a populous that defies the odds by making sense of casual chic, you might also want to add to this list an image of the male nude.
An exhibition on show in Paris at the Musee d'Orsay, Masculine/Masculine, is all about giving its citizenry an opportunity to walk through the front doors of the major museum and look at naked men. From photographs, to beautifully creepy self-portraits by Egon Schiele, to David LaChapelle's celebrity shots (cue Eminem holding a piece of dynamite as if it's his penis) alongside more traditional sculptures.
For a city so intimately acquainted with radical uprisings, it's a little surprising to think that a few penises and bare buttocks might raise eyebrows, but it was these eyebrows that the curators were thinking about when they chose their subject.
As one of the museum's curators, Xavier Rey, explained in an interview: "The paradox is that we think we live in a very liberated society but the male nude still troubles people." Another of the exhibition's curators and head of the museum, Guy Cogeval, discussed the standard reaction he sees from the public when they find themselves in front of a picture of a naked man instead of a more typical female nude: "In general most men and women look away and they're embarrassed by the male nude. That's something I've noticed for a long time."
The Musee d'Orsay's website warns people that some of them might find the content shocking and that they should consider leaving the kids at home.
Of course certain male nudes have always been a big deal in the art world. Michaelangelo's statue of David is one of the most famous works to be found from any era and there's no disputing his gender or state of undress.
But with a few celebrated exceptions, what we've resolved on more generally as a society is an approach to the depiction of male and female bodies that's totally one-sided. A painting of a naked woman is the norm, a beautiful piece of art that both men and women are supposed to admire, whereas a painting of a naked man is far less easily found, and when it is there it's more likely to be seen as homoerotic. Ironically, the male gaze even controls images of undressed men because – so the story goes – women can't possibly be as interested in sex as men.
A bunch of female comedians recently launched a more comical line of attack on how HBO sees male versus female beauty. Their target was the way the network chooses to show women's bodies without paying a similar amount of attention to that of the dudes. They released a hilariously titled video to make their point – "HBO should show dongs".
The four American comedians had a go at True Blood, The Sop-ranos, Hung, Board-walk Empire and Deadwood for what they say are their obvious double standards, but the main culprit is Game of Thrones. It's currently on repeat on Foxtel in case you need a refresher; no series has ever worked so many gratuitous breasts into a storyline without bothering to even the score by showing as much of the men of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
When it comes to movies, the situation is much the same. Sex scenes have a history of being oriented around the curves of a woman's body – she shows her breasts if it's permitted in her contract and probably more – while the man exposes nothing more interesting than a buff chest if it's a Hollywood film and the option of an average body if it's a French film.
We're so used to a culture that sizes women up on the basis of how they look that it happens almost without us thinking about it. It's just the way things are. The gender swapping currently on show at the Musee d'Orsay is evidence of just that.
Emma Young is a regular contributor to theage.com.au/comment