The Objectification of Men

Recently, Suistudio launched the campaign #NOTDRESSINGMEN in order to advertise their line of business suits created for women. The images that have been released for this campaign are, in some ways, fairly standard for this sort of product: two people, one dressed head-to-toe in a suit and standing in a position of power and domination, the other posed provocatively, their identity meaningless, their body completely on display. Now, this is an image that we have seen before – many, many times, in fact. Yet, there is one thing about this campaign that not only makes it different, but has caused plenty of controversy, and that is the fact that a woman is placed in a position of power, while a male model is the one being sexualized and objectified.

There are many who have taken to social media to show their disagreement with this campaign, despite the fact that these images are not entirely new. In fact, it is nearly common for us to see the genders reversed. In many advertisements, women are depicted as sexual objects, to the point where we barely even think about it anymore. We’re used to the images of big-breasted women with their heads tipped back and their lips parted. All the time, we see men standing squarely facing the camera, their stances strong, their jaws locked, their power confirmed. This is the language of our media, and we speak it fluently.

But at the same time, the majority of comments that I have seen disagreeing with the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign have not been upset with it because it dares to reverse the gender roles; rather, they disagree with it because they know that this is an injustice that society already does to women all the time, and they don’t think that it’s right to spread this injustice to men as well.

As one Instagram commenter said, “If it was the other way around with the woman on the couch and man above her, feminist groups would jump and criticise. This double standard needs to end.”

Some people have accused this campaign of “making feminism look bad”, turning it into a movement of women who merely want to dominate and control men, rather than being about equal rights. And is this what the campaign is doing? Are these images trying to destroy the patriarchy and replace it with a matriarchy?

Well, the way I see it, my opinion on this campaign rests heavily on the campaign’s intent.

On the one hand, it is very possible that the commenters are correct, and the purpose of this campaign is not necessarily to challenge anything, but rather, to use the accepted language of our media to convey the age-old message, but with the genders swapped. And, in fact, many of the images do seem to be indicating that.

The reason why we often see men standing firm and square-jawed, staring directly at the camera, is because the image is very clearly trying to convey a message, and that message is very connected with gender: he is strong. He is capable. He can do whatever he needs to do, and he can do it without wrinkling his suit or breaking an expression. It just so happens, all of these tend to be masculine traits, and I don’t think that’s incidental. Similarly, when we see women lounging out over objects without much of anything on, that too is meant to convey a message: she is passive, but sexually available. When we see women compared to or used in place of objects, then that is the ultimate passivity: she isn’t even a person, she’s just a thing, waiting around to be used by whoever shows up and wants her.

So when we see the same poses used but the genders reversed, the messages don’t really change, although the gender roles might be challenged. But, still, the photographer is relying on a specific language, one that the viewer will undeniably be familiar with, to convey a message. And the message really isn’t okay. End of day, whether it’s a man or a woman being objectified, the message is that they aren’t really a person. They’re a sexy object, a thing that can be used and disposed of. And not only that, but in both cases, a specific language is being used to convey the message of ‘sexy’ as well; only one body type is displayed, because the viewer will automatically connect that body type to sex appeal. And when that happens, then that dismisses all other body types as being even potentially accepted by society.

So, essentially, if the intent behind this campaign was to rely upon a harmful language that feminism is, in fact, trying to combat, all so that they could convey to their presumably female audience that this company’s suits will make them powerful and alluring to men, then that is not okay.

But there is one other possible intent that this campaign might have, one that I am more comfortable with accepting: the intent to challenge the majority of media.

As I have mentioned, advertisers have made use of sexualizing and objectifying women for decades in order to make their product look somehow superior, and one thing that I think many commenters are forgetting when they show their distaste for the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign is that it is only one campaign. It is not an entire industry, meaning that women are not quite at the precipice of taking over the world quite yet. And, more than that, campaigns that rely on switching societal roles are released all the time with the intent of showing just how unfair our society really is.

For example, in 2004, the Disability Rights Commission released a short film called “Talk”, which follows an able-bodied man who suddenly wakes up in a world designed for the new majority, people with disabilities. Another short film, entitled “Love Is All You Need”, takes place in a world where homosexuality is the norm, and heterosexuality is looked down upon as “weird” and “unnatural”.

There are many issues in our society that are sometimes difficult for us to wrap our heads around – not because we never experience them, but because we experience them everyday. They are normal to us, so we don’t even second-guess them. And the purpose of media like “Talk” and “Love Is All You Need” is to try to point out just how wrong our society is. It forces able-bodied people to imagine, not what it would be like to be disabled, but what it would be like to live with the stigma of disability. It forces heterosexual people to imagine what it would be like if they couldn’t safely take their partners home to meet their parents, or hold hands with them in public.

And, maybe, the intent behind the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign is not to create a new norm, but rather, to force us to question the old one, to make us realize that the over-sexualizing and objectification of women is wrong by forcing us to see it from a new perspective. And, I mean, while I said that there was plenty of evidence in the photographs to suggest the other intention, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest this as well. The photographs, after all, are overly sexual, and overly objectifying, even going so far as to intentionally remove the man’s face from the images, as though to completely remove his identity and force the viewer to look at him only as an object – a body without a soul.

Now, what the company’s actual intent was is difficult to decipher. They have not made any attempt to comment either way, although Suistudio has confessed to intending controversy. Besides that, I suppose that the viewer can merely take what they want from the campaign: are they a frightening image of a new sort of objectification, or an isolated incident intending only to make us question our past and present?

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Dear Ten Year Old Me

Dear Ten Year Old Me:

Hi! How are you doing? Stupid question, sorry; I know how you’re doing. You’re ten years old, still relatively new to your school, and you don’t really have much for friends. Most of the kids your age make fun of you because they think you’re weird, and so you spend your recesses playing with your little sister instead. I get it. I remember.

So I guess I’m writing to tell you that things are going to change. A lot is going to change, in fact.

Eventually, you are going to make friends. No, not a lot of them, but some, and the ones that you make are going to be good ones. They’re going to be kind and funny, and they’re going to introduce you to a lot of new and amazing things. Life is going to get better for you, I promise.

And those parts of you that everyone dismisses as ‘strange’ and ‘unlikeable’ now? They’re the things that are going to make you special someday: your imagination, your enthusiasm, your passion. Don’t give up on them. Don’t allow them to chip away at your uniqueness and shape you into something more acceptable, more palatable. Because someday, you’re going to need your strangeness so that you can stand out, so that you can say something new that might actually help someone. The world needs strange people, even if it isn’t always accepting of them.

Over the next few years, you’re going to be told a lot of things, ten year old me. You’re going to be told what the proper way to act is, what the proper way to live your life is, and you’re going to need the confidence to know when to take them seriously or not. There is no one proper way to live your life, and teachers don’t always understand that, but you’re going to learn it someday. You’re going to come to see that there are no simple steps to a fulfilling life; you just need to figure it out along the way, and the only surefire step that will keep you from a fulfilling life is giving up parts of yourself. Teachers will encourage you to do that. They’ll tell you that parts of you are wrong, that you need to learn to be more practical, more focused on making money than anything else, and although this is a lot of weight to put on your tiny shoulders, you are going to need the strength to stand up to them and say “no”.

Oh, ten year old me, there are so many things that I want to warn you about, and so many things that I can’t wait for you to experience. But if I could give you another piece of advice, it would be just this: talk.

When you’re sixteen years old, someone is going to break your heart, and you’re going to have a hard time getting over it because that someone is going to be of your own gender, making you feel like you have no one to talk to about it. But you do. It won’t always be obvious, but you have a fantastic support network around you that want to help you through things exactly like this. You’re going to learn that when you’re eighteen, and you lose a year of your life wallowing in depression, and the only way that you’re going to figure out how to pull yourself out of it is by reaching out to someone – is by talking.

The way you feel is not wrong, ten year old me. It’s just another part of you. And when you stop forcing yourself to feel ashamed of it, you’re going to realize that. You’re going to have a much easier time managing it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time stressed over the future for the next little while, but don’t bother. It will all work itself out. Things will fall into place the way that they are supposed to, just so long as you trust yourself and allow yourself to be who you truly are.

Much love,

An older version of you that still has so much left to learn herself.

 

Why It’s Okay To Be Disliked

There was a point in my life where I’m not sure that I had a solid personality.

I was what people said I was. If I said one thing and another person disagreed with me, I’d retract my statement to somehow force it to agree with theirs. If someone wanted me to do something that I really didn’t want to, I’d do it anyway, or risk feeling extremely guilty for letting them down. And if another person wanted to say, sleep in the comfortable, cozy bed, then I would be the first person to say that I was totally fine with sleeping on the floor so that they could.

I lived this way for several years, and I told myself that I was right by doing it. I was being selfless and kind. I was sacrificing my comfort for the comfort of others. The way that I saw it, this was the way that you had to live in order to be a moral human being.

Looking back on it now, however, I think that I should reveal what was actually motivating my actions back then: I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be accepted and loved, and the only way that I could think to do that was to let them get whatever they wanted. If I thought that someone wouldn’t like a smart woman, then I was stupid. If I thought that someone wanted me quiet and docile, then I was quiet and docile. It was no big thing. It was just what they wanted.

Right?

Well, in retrospect, no. What I wanted was for people to like me, but what I was actually communicating to them was that they mattered more than I did. They could get whatever they wanted from me and so they took advantage of that, and why wouldn’t they? They had every opportunity to.

And more than that, I was forgetting something very important during all of this: in order for someone to like me, they needed to know me. And that wasn’t going to happen if whoever I was was changing depending on the situation. Sometimes I believed in one thing, sometimes another. Sometimes I liked this, sometimes I liked that. And if someone did manage to pinpoint a specific persona on me, who could say that that person was actually me?

We get so caught up with being liked that sometimes, we forget that it might actually be better to be disliked. And I’m not talking about being disliked by everyone. I’m not talking about being rude or disregarding someone else’s feelings. What I’m talking about is standing up for what you believe in, for what you know to be right, and maybe making some enemies along the way simply because other people don’t agree with you.

And here’s the thing: whatever you believe in, whether it be something political or the mere fact that you deserve to be treated as a person and an equal, there is always going to be someone who disagrees with you. Not everyone, hopefully, but someone. And that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree with you. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your choice, and that you stood by what you believe.

And, furthermore, the people who make a difference in the world aren’t always the most well-liked people. They make a difference because they say something new and they refuse to back down from it, and that will always be met with some resistance. I know that many of the people who made big differences in my life were not necessarily people that I liked at the time, and that was because they challenged me. They took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow – which might not have been what I wanted, but it was what I needed.

That is what the world needs – people that force it to grow. People who don’t care about being liked, but are not cruel in the process. People who are in tune with themselves and their emotions enough to know what they believe in, and who are strong enough to stand by it. And while it might not necessarily be easy to become one of these people, it is worthwhile. Because once you become a person who doesn’t care about being liked first and foremost, then you get to know yourself better. You might even come to like the person who you are. No longer is there all of this clutter about what you should be and what you should believe; you are just you, in all of your messiness and your flaws, and the relationships that you do make will be stronger for it. People will know you then. They might not always agree with you, but they will know you, and that is so much more valuable.

Why Positive Thinking is Important

The idea of being positive is not always an easy one.

For people who are clinically depressed, for example, it can seem damn near impossible. Depression is a disease, quite literally – it creeps into your brain and infects it with negative thoughts, stealing away your motivation. Telling a person with depression to ‘just think positive’, and that will make their depression go away, is not as simple as all that. Depression doesn’t just go away because you tell it to.

And more than that, even if you aren’t clinically depressed, negative thoughts can become a pattern, a rut that you fall into, and the only way out of it is a steep, laborious climb. Every time something happens, you assume the worst, over, and over, and over, until it just becomes automatic. Of course the worst is going to happen. That’s what it does. That’s what you assume, every time.

But that being said, just because positive thoughts are difficult to think, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. In fact, quite the opposite: we need to try.

Many of us have heard of the experiment involving two plants: both of which are kept in the same environment, watered the same, treated the same, except that one plant is spoken to with negative words, and the other plant is spoken to with positive words. The plant that is praised grows tall and strong and beautiful, while the plant that is insulted grows stunted and ugly. There is no doubt that words have an immense amount of power; the words that people speak to us, the words that we use toward ourselves. Words have the power to shape our own self-image, the way that others see us. If we say that we are stupid and ugly, then it doesn’t matter if it is true or not; we believe it’s true, and that makes it true. So doesn’t it make sense to say that our thoughts hold the same power? Our thoughts hold the power to shape the world as we know it?

The world is neither good nor bad; it exists with aspects of both, and to each individual person, it becomes characterized by the way that we see it. If we see war, death, division, famine, hatred, then of course the world is a negative place – how could it be anything but? If we see love, joy, peace, innocence, hope, then the world is a positive place. It all depends on what we choose to focus on. And as much as it can be dangerous to accept naiveté and ignore the negative aspects of life, it is also very dangerous to dwell solely on that negative. If we dwell solely on the negative, we become like that plant – twisted and ugly, not necessarily externally but internally. We make ourselves depressed. We strip ourselves of our will to fight, our motivation. We take from ourselves things that we need to live our lives in a full and fulfilling way.

So as much as thinking positively is not always easy, it is something that we need to do. It is not something that is dependant on our situation, not something that time will eventually give to us. We will not stumble upon it when all the planets align and our life becomes perfect, because that will never happen. Your life will never be perfect, but all of our troubles, whether they be great or small, will seem easier to deal with when we teach ourselves to think positively, because that is what we need to do. Positive thinking is something that we need to train ourselves to do, even if we do it gradually. Even if it takes us years to get into the habit. Start by recognizing when your thoughts are unnecessarily negative and telling yourself something positive instead, even if you don’t believe it at first. Because eventually, if you do it enough, you might start to believe it. And eventually, the positive thoughts might even become automatic. Maybe not immediately, maybe not for a long while and with some difficulty, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we try.

Why I Cut My Hair

Women tend to have a strange relationship with their hair.

We’ve all heard the jokes about women going into the hairdresser’s and asking for a trim, and then being horrified when a bit more is cut off than they intended. And as much as it is a joke, it is also a sign of the strong attachment that women have to their long locks.

And trust me, I’ve been there – I get the fear that comes with having long hair. The conviction that your long hair is somehow tied in with your beauty. The belief that cutting it just a little too much will change everything about your appearance because hair can effect everything about your face. I remember feeling that way, back before I cut my hair short.

Perhaps the reason that so many women experience this attachment to their hair is because society itself tends to have a strange relationship with their hair. The majority of beautiful women that you see in the media, from fictional characters to actresses to singers, have long, beautiful locks. There are many men who are rather vocal about their opinion that they “like women with long hair” or think that “women with long hair are more beautiful.” Even from an early age, any girl growing up watching Disney princess movies will see that not only do ten out of eleven official princesses have long hair, but their hair is a focal point, something that symbolizes their personality and what they are going through. Pocahontas is seen with her beautiful, long black hair flowing gracefully around her face. Ariel’s vibrant red hair makes her different and more eye-catching than any other women in her movie; it sets her apart from her seven sisters. And when Mulan cuts her hair, it is only so that she can pass as a man.

A woman’s long hair is connected to her femininity and her beauty, and it is through this message that women are dissuaded from cutting their hair, resulting in this aforementioned strange relationship that women have with their hair. Meanwhile, short hair is connected to masculinity and mental breakdowns – for example, the way in which the media responded to Britney Spears shaving off her long, blonde, beautiful hair.

But personally speaking, although I experienced this attachment to my hair, I also sort of coveted short hair from a young age. I remember reading a series of teen books when I was young that had on its cover a woman with a bright green pixie cut, and I decided that I wanted to look like her when I grew up. I loved Sinead O’Connor’s shaved head, P!nk’s blonde faux hawk. The only thing that kept me from pursuing this look was society’s claim that I needed long hair to be pretty and feminine.

And then, when I was eighteen years old, after I graduated high school and left town to begin university in the city, I decided to chop my locks.

It was a decision that I made to reflect the change in my life, but cutting my hair became sort of an addiction over time. I started with a bob, but I moved through pixie cuts, faux hawks, Mohawks, shaved sides. I discovered that I looked good with short hair and I wanted to try it all out, to see if what all I could get away with. For the most part, the responses that I got were all positive as well. Some people didn’t like my hair, telling me that it really changed my whole appearance and made me look less soft, less beautiful, but they were a vast minority. Now, it isn’t rare for people to even stop me in the street or at the mall to tell me that they love my hair – and I do too. I was never very good at styling my hair when it was long, but now I need to put in half the effort to make it look twice as good.

And it seems that, ever since I cut my hair, more and more women in the media have been doing it too. When I was growing up, my inspirations were reduced primarily to the ones I have already named, but since then, we have seen Katy Perry cut her hair, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose, etc., etc. Long hair is no longer the only option for looking beautiful, and people are beginning to realize that.

But although I initially cut my hair because I thought it looked beautiful, there was something else about it that I didn’t quite expect but discovered fairly quickly; just how freeing it feels.

When you have short hair, it isn’t because you’re trying to conform to any beauty standard. You don’t even have it because you care if other people think you’re pretty. You have short hair because you want short hair, because you like it. Short hair is about you, not anyone else.

And to return to my discussion of Disney princesses and how they represent short hair, there is actually one princess who accurately represents what short hair is like: Rapunzel. Throughout the whole film, her hair is long because someone else covets it, because someone else wants her hair to be long. Near the end of the film, however, her hair is cut, and through the action, she is freed from the oppressive influence of that person in her life. She no longer needs to live for them; she can be free, make decisions for herself, do what she wishes. And maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that cutting your hair makes you any freer than a woman who keeps her long hair (and nor am I trying to say that any woman who has long hair is at all a prisoner), but it does represent how short hair can make you feel.

Short hair is fun. Short hair is free. And short hair does not at all make you any less beautiful or feminine.