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Recently I had a (civilised) argument with someone about a certain site that in many people’s opinion sexually objectifies women (it doesn’t matter what site it is, there are tons that do it anyway). Many people tend to talk a lot about how this and that sexually objectifies women these days. I think this is wonderful as this tends to trigger interesting debates and perhaps brings the subject more into focus. However, I feel like there is a need to widen this idea as I see more and more sexual objectification of men as well. Perhaps some of you would think that’s equality finally, but I think it’s equally bad. I mean, if one gender is miserable, swimming in stereotypes, should we help fix the problem or should we all give a hand at making the other gender equally miserable too?
There are many ways to conceptualize this objectification of men, but I feel like I can only illustrate how I feel through advertising, since I have been happily studying it last semester. The course changed my view of things, which was a very naive one before, and made me realise the problem is more complex than pointing at things and saying “it’s wrong to do that”. My post will only include some examples that I feel are worth posting, but there are many others I don’t have the courage to post online as they often include nudity or extreme content. I am not cherry-picking my examples, but be warned that it will be an image-heavy post (images that might offend some of you).
Let’s talk about sexual objectification. It “happens” when a person is depicted as an object of desire (sexual) and stops being looked at as a person with a personality, opinions, likes and dislikes. Advertising plays with this idea a lot because if the person is in the background, the item that they are trying to sell “suddenly shines”. It shines because of a incredibly fit and sexy body that consumers are attracted to and often unconsciously feel like they are purchasing together with the product. If one buys Calvin Klein underwear they not only buy the item itself, but a small part of a whole concept that Calvin Klein is. Judging by their adverts this concept includes men that are fit, attractive, intelligent, social, and successful. All that in a pair if underwear— the magic of advertising. The same, of course, goes for women. The most notorious adverts where the model is objectified are the ones where only the body is showing, without the head of the person. It was done a lot to women, and now it is done to men. Entire billboards of a semi naked men, heads outside the picture, selling different products are scattered throughout cities.
Generally, women are mostly put in passive or domestic roles, where they are even parodied or sexualized. But things, as I said, are changing and women are now put in a different category, that of the dominatrix, the sex kitten (that according to post-feminist theorists doesn’t necessary objectifies but empowers). If the Dolce and Gabbana notorious advert of a woman being dominated by several men started a wave of protests, let’s all imagine if the genders were reversed. If a man was showed dominated by women would it still have the same effect? Perhaps not, because historically patriarchy dominated and dominates, and it would be seen as a humorous advert even. But many adverts are doing it and I have yet to hear the yells of outcry and disgust, because it’s all silent from where I’m listening. The next adverts are all Dolce & Gabbana, all representing different situations where a group of people (often one gender) dominates one person. The first one was criticised because it instigates at violence against women.The others? Not at that extent.
Is it fair to say that media only bothers writing about the cases where women are being stereotyped, sexually objectified, or represented in offensive manners? I’m not sure. What I can honestly say is that the media is dominated by this type of discourse while remaining silent to what happens in the bigger picture. Have webecome so used to sexual objectification that we approach it “by default”? Every time we see a billboard objectifying a woman we shake our heads and say that it’s so wrong, but when we see a man being objectified we think it’s funny?
There are more and more studies on how men are being portrayed in the media, in a different way than in the past, which makes me believe that there is an issue indeed. Sexual objectification is wrong any way you look at it. For every woman that finds it empowering there is another that is being put down because of the stereotypes that are enforced. For every men that gains from this depiction of a powerful male there is one that can’t reach these standards and is under immense pressure. So let’s look at the bigger picture here and admit that this is no longer a women’s only problem, and it’s slowly making its way outside. Men are equally objectified, and there is an increase of this practice in children’s advertising, which is shocking and should be regulated very strictly).
Sex sells. Always did, and maybe it always will. Perhaps it’s too late to change our ways, but never too late to acknowledge them and start from there.