VIDEO: Has male objectification gone too far?
In a society that’s objectified women to sell products and movie tickets since, well, the beginning of time, it seems like a step forward that men are finally starting to receive the same kind of sexualised treatment on our screens as their female counterparts. Or does it? Does the recent influx of topless men targeted at the female and gay gaze really signal a movement towards greater gender equality? Or are there some darker motivations at play behind the trend? Let’s take a look.
Firstly, what connects the majority of ‘male objectification’ scenes versus the ol’ ‘female objectification’ scenes we know and hate? Rather than boobs and bums, the focus is largely on abs and arms. In other words, muscles, and sources of physical strength. It’s been that way in backwards gender terms forever. Women are valued for their child-rearing lady lumps, and men are prized for their hunting and providing power. Nothing new. However, there is something a little interesting in how this affects the sexualised representations of men and women that we see in movies and on TV…
Remember Seth McFarlane’s hideously sexist Oscars song, ‘We Saw Your Boobs’? Announcing a list of women who had appeared topless for roles in movies, the song basically set out to name and shame, implying that females who had bared their bodies for the camera should be embarrassed that they had ever dared to behave in such a way, and should feel vulnerable that the whole world can now basically perve on them on demand. Meanwhile, what’s the response to male actors proudly flaunting their toned torsos, who are presented as the men guys want to be and girls want to be with?
Mostly peacocking around with confidence or languidly lounging in their own self-satisfaction, these guys aren’t made to feel any guilt or shame. They’ve worked hard to achieve their bulging bods. Society applauds them for broadcasting their sexuality, and holds them up as exemplary physical specimens to be put on display. In short, naked women are vulnerable and ready for exploitation, and naked men are finely tuned, self-made machines to be worshipped. As Magic Mike‘s Joe Manganiello so eloquently put it, “women are sex objects and men are success objects”. So how is this equal?
Another potentially harmful upshot of the rise of male objectification is the issue of body image. A number of the actors in our video montage below (Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Chris Evans) owe their careers to their abs, and have since gone on to score bigger roles based on their actual talents. Meanwhile, others continue to rely on their muscles for money (we’re looking at you, Zac Efron). But overall, the message is clear. Men who work out, diet, and achieve the impossible Adonis ideal are the ones who get the girl, get the high paying job, and basically get what they want in life. It applies to both the actors and the characters they play. So why am I going on about something we all know is a problem?
Basically, any situation where human beings are objectified is bad. The increasingly repeated images of guys working out, flexing in front of the mirror, and/or impressing girls by taking their shirts off, puts a pressure on men to reach unobtainable physical ideals (yes, male anorexia is a thing, y’all) and, in return, puts a pressure on women to keep up with them. We all remember the venomous backlash to Patrick Wilson’s cameo on Girls, where the Twitterverse protested that such an attractive man would never hook up with such an ‘unattractive’ girl as Lena Dunham. Yet nobody makes a peep when the roles are reversed (Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne in Bad Neighbours, Charlotte & Harry in Sex and the City, Homer & Marge Simpson)… Rather than taking the focus off female body pressures, male objectification only serves to exacerbate our obsession with appearances. Nobody should be objectified. This is not progress.
And while we’re at it, isn’t it kind of condescending to the intelligence of female and gay audiences to presume that this is what we’ve all been waiting for? You can just imagine the people who masterminded these male shirtless scenes sitting around a table and generously capitulating; ‘alright, let’s give them what they so sorely want’. Throw out a naked Channing Tatum and watch the hens’ feathers (and ticket sales) fly. When we see gratuitous shirtlessness from the men on our screens, chances are these are in lieu of any narrative sophistication. The implication is that the cheap thrill of seeing a muscly man is all women really want from a viewing experience. It’s the same as all those scenes where female characters are rendered weak at the knees by a man taking his shirt off. Even without clothing, the man is on top, and the woman is powerless. So we ask again, what was that about male objectification giving women ascendancy?
We could continue on about all the things wrong with male objectification, but chances are, the evil and manipulative trope will continue to bulge before our eyes. Zac Efron fans will see that the new Baywatch movie makes a big splash at the box office, Aidan Turner’s BAFTA TV Audience Award will keep his abs warm at night, and the video below will get thousands and thousands of views on YouTube. Sigh. What’s a girl to do?