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Objectification: no ifs, no butts

Is the objectification of men (as above) in any way comparable to that of women in the ever popular lads-mags? (Photo: Armani.com)

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Well written and well said, Matthew! I’m a feminist, a Classics student and… gasp!…a burlesque dancer. I don’t feel like my performances represent me as lacking “intelligence, morals and personality”. Rather, I get to express myself creatively and look the society that objectifies me directly in the eye, telling them to fuck their assumptions. Likewise, many of the girls I dance with are also in uni. They spend their spare time at rehearsals reading Proust or memorizing the Latin subjunctive. Are they representing themselves as lacking in intelligence or personality when they participate in promotional photoshoots?

    These prohibitionists seem to be in favour of maintaining a sort of virgin/whore dichotomy and suggesting that appreciating a woman’s body is necessarily an act of imposition. Likewise, it seems like they’re totally forgetting the power women can derive from exhibition, from owning the object of desire and from saying “look, don’t touch”.

    I’m not even going to get into the heterosexism of this motion, either. Obviously the assumption is that only straight men feel sexual energies that involve objectification. Has any insight on the lesbian or queer male gaze been taken into account before this ridiculous censorship idea was put up for discussion?

    Reply
  2. Oh dear at the pseudo-intellectual “Katie”. She feels that by claiming to be a feminist this gives her the right to comment with absolute nonsense, evidently.

    To compare the objectification of women which we see daily all over the place with that of men is absolutely ridiculous. I’m at work now so unable to post at length on this but hope to later – but for now, just count how many examples of female objectification we see daily (lads mags, Page 3 in The Sun, even now charities featuring women objectified to further their cause – see the recent Autism Trust campaign). That’s not to mention the attitudes these promote amongst boys and young men, as well as the negative body image and huge problems it causes girls and young women. It makes me laugh when misogynists try to defend it as being “a show of female independence”. Even if the woman in question IS choosing to objectify herself, she and those defending her do not take into account the impact her doing so has on so many girls and young women who then suffer being objectified and judged against her. Have a look at the statistics for depression amongst girls, eating disorders, negative body image, etc, and how many girls aspire to be nothing more than “topless models” or “lap dancers” – what a waste.

    Therefore a woman who claims to be showing her independence and power by “owning the object of desire” as Katie puts it is being incredibly selfish – and not considering any of this. If Katie actually did some research, she may begin to realise the truth of what the objectification of women does to girls growing up. It doesn’t matter whether “the girls” she “dances with” are at university or not – they’re doing nothing but promoting and aiding a misogynist culture which suggests women should be valued as nothing more than a sum of their body parts. In fact, as supposedly “educated” young women, it’s even more of a shame that they would choose to add to this.

    This is not the kind of world I want my female friends to have to live in and I am happy to call myself a pro-feminist male.

    Reply
  3. Such a refreshing change to read an article close to my heart. As a masculist, I get really annoyed by the fact that feminists are not able to acknowledge any concern that applies to a man even if its a similar issue to theirs. To me, that proves that feminists prefer the notion of soul victimhood.

    As for male objectification it is one of the most blatant issues conveniently ignored by feminists who fail to correlate the link between male nudity in popular media and objectification. Like violence towards men, male nudity in soaps, on TV and in films is trivialised as a by product of being male. The viewer does not link his nudity to sexual desire or that he is under any kind of threat. (Of course checking how women treat male strippers proves the opposite)

    Indeed, this double standard can be seen in the way that female nudity is protected and censored on UK TV whereas male nudity can be seen on TV at junctions around tea time and indeed on C4 (UK) a male strip by a group of men who lost weight on Richard and Judy’s chat show. The guys did the full monty to a group of people (including at least one child) and a side profile glimpsed at the end of the programme. Following a complaint to Ofcom they advised that nudity wasn’t illegal in TV. So whilst there is that lack of regard for such matters there is really no hope that any views on male objectification will ever be taken seriously. No we are left with the female notion that ‘we have seen it all before’ empowers them to trivialise and take ownership of the male nude in some kind of smug way.

    Reply

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