Objectification: no ifs, no butts
The power of the media to shape people’s perceptions of sexuality and gender dynamics are becoming ever more influential. Can we legitimately claim that all forms of sexual representation have an adverse affect on these perceptions?
The ‘Motion against the Objectification of Women Students’ proposing to ban “lads mags” and nude sports calendars on campus in an attempt to overcome objectification is a flawed strategy. The censoring of a select band of magazines on campus does nothing to overcome a wider social concern. This poses the question, is the motion to ban the “lads mag” from the shelves of Union stores likely to overlook some vital points?
Firstly, why stop at “lads mags”? The power of sexual representation in advertising found in Cosmo, Vogue, GQ and any other glossy magazine found on our shelves objectifies the human body to the same extent as material in a “lads mag”. Objectification of the human body is not confined to the pages of “lads mags” and to ban all magazines would be consistent yet nonsensical when a more edifying tactic could be utilised.
The debate on the motion is also in danger of failing to acknowledge an equally important phenomenon. This is the increasing occurrence in the media to idealise and objectify the male body whilst propagating a “correct” form of macho “hetero-masculinity”.
Since the highly sexualised CK advertising campaign of the 1980s the “female gaze” has been an emerging concept in advertising literature. Alongside this, the feminist technique of role reversal has been used to support the claim that men too are often depicted as eroticised objects of desire devoid of personality, intelligence or morals.
Take the new Emporio Armani advertising campaign featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, his toned body, and more specifically his abs, clearly the focus of the campaign. In a culture where breasts have come to be the measure of the woman, abs are becoming the measure of the man. Both are the sacred sexual signifier and objects of desire for both sexes. In this instance, both men and women are the gazers.
Another point the proposal missed is that, in the age of new found sexual subjectivity and increased sexual agency, not all female sexual representations and expressions of nudity objectify and oppress women. Laura Kipnis, a pro-porn feminist, notes the importance of acknowledging levels of discomfort among women, but at the same time that “not all women do feel violated or offended” by explicit sexual representations or expressions of nudity.
Simply, not all women believe sexual images to be an expression of male dominance rather sometimes an expression of female independence and power, of sorts, over men.
My fourth point is on the importance of context. To put the nude charity sports calendars under the banner of objectification that the proposal defines as occurring when one is “judged or represented, not as human beings with intelligence, morals and personality, but as bodies displayed for the pleasure of the viewer” assumes any person taking part has no intelligence, morals, personality or indeed sexual agency.
Lucy Colbeck, calendar model and previous women’s rugby team captain said, “No student is ever obliged to take part; it’s their own choice. When it comes to exposure of the female body, I think the calendars are actually refreshingly non-conformist and non-airbrushed”.
It appears the proposal has not thought through different contexts in which sexual representation and nudity are judged. For the purposes of fundraising, with willing participants, presented in a non-conformist fashion, does this really class as sexual objectification?
The motion currently being proposed seems to not only choose to ignore the increasing objectification and idealisation of the male body in magazines but also to pay no attention to the opinion that sexual representation and expressions of nudity do not automatically equal objectification or other negative responses. Not only this but in the proposals definition of objectification is seems to marginalise, demean and patronise the choices, presumably voluntary, of those people, who take part in nude calendars and nude photo-shoots. Banning of magazines and nude calendars on campus will not help eradicate objectification, male or female, but give the impression that students’ principles are being dictated by the Union.
Legitimising some forms of sexual representation whilst de-legitimising others will not overcome objectification when a more constructive and educational based approach could be taken. Considering this and in order to be consistent, technically, all magazines should be banned from campus. To me this seems to be a quick fix initiative when a more considered solution could be thought out with a little more time.