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?

Why Emma Watson’s ‘Provocative’ Photo is Still a Feminist Act

When I first heard about the controversy regarding Emma Watson and her ‘provocative’ photo, bearing her stomach and parts of her breasts, I decided to stay out of it. My initial reaction was a very general ‘that’s a silly thing to get offended about’, and I had faith in humanity that this would just blow over and it wouldn’t be a deal in a couple of days.

Except the controversy is still here. People are still talking about it. And I have to say, I don’t understand why.

The argument that I’ve heard people offer is that Emma Watson is very outspoken about being a feminist, and that posing with parts of her torso exposed contradicts this statement. You can’t be a feminist and have boobs. Everybody knows that. Feminists are all conventionally unattractive women who dress head-to-toe in men’s business suits, and the moment she puts on a skirt or some lipstick, she immediately loses her status as a feminist.

Except that that very clearly isn’t true. And the manner in which people have responded to Emma Watson’s photograph just proves to me how much we need feminism.

Because, first of all, there is nothing inherently sexual about Emma Watson’s photograph. You can see parts of her breasts and her stomach, but besides that, she is standing tall with her arms crossed delicately before herself. The only reason why the photograph has been deemed sexual at all is because parts of a woman’s body are exposed – and that is a problem.

Because, honestly, what about a woman’s stomach and breasts is sexual, besides the fact that society has deemed them so? Why can’t Emma Watson be taken seriously as a feminist while simultaneously having breasts attached to her body?

And even if the photographs were completely sexual, even if she was lounging on a bed with a come-hither look in her eye and a pout on her lip, could she not still believe in equality? Want to be taken seriously as an individual? How is it that one photograph can so completely define who a woman is one hundred percent of the time?

This is our society’s problem – more than the fact that Emma Watson happens to have tits. We fail to see women as complex individuals. We have been taught to see them in the terms of stereotypes – a woman is either an unliberated whore or an ugly and completely asexual feminist. Any crossover between the two stereotypes completely baffles our mind and we don’t know how to understand it.

Because here’s the thing – women have sexuality. Even feminist women feel desire, have wants and needs of their own (unless they’re asexual), and that is perfectly fine. That’s more than fine – that’s human. And women should be allowed to express their sexuality in any way that they feel comfortable with, whether that mean that they take topless photographs and release them publicly or dress head-to-toe in a man’s business suit. As long as she is doing it because she wants to do it and it makes her feel comfortable and liberated, then that’s alright. That’s a completely feminist act and she should feel no shame for it.

Being a feminist does not mean that you have to limit yourself to being one thing. Being a feminist means that you can be free, that you can do what you want and what makes you happy, that you don’t have to bend exclusively to a man’s whim. That’s what being a feminist means.

Or, if nothing else, being a feminist at least means that you shouldn’t be publicly shamed for having tits.

Why Women Are Not ‘Asking’ To Be Objectified

Though we may not have personally experienced it, I think many of us have at least witnessed the objectification of female bodies – particularly of nude or sexualized ones.

Perhaps you’ve seen a friend on social media post a sexy photo, one with her cleavage as the clear focal point, or where she’s wearing very little clothing for whatever reason (maybe it’s for an event, or maybe that’s just what she felt like wearing for this photograph), and you can’t help but notice a disturbing trend in the comments section. A trend of her male friends making very sexualized comments toward her. Some of these men are just there to drool over her, making the typical “nice legs, honey” comments. Some of these men make it clear that they’ve already imagined her in situations that she may not have even wanted to be in, saying “there are so many things I’d like to do to you”. And while you may not see it directly, it may not come to you as a surprise when I say that some of these men have privately messaged her explicitly sexual comments, invitations, or dick pics as a result of this photograph that she publicly shared.

Because when a women represents herself as a sexual being, too many men see that as an invitation to began treating her as a sexual object, one whose humanity can be entirely drained away to serve only the purpose of their gratification.

And there are some people who don’t really see this as a problem. They see the posting of photos like this, or a woman dressing in even-just-slightly revealing clothing, and they say “well, if she didn’t want this kind of attention, then she shouldn’t have done that in the first place”. Personally, I disagree with this statement, however, and for a couple of reasons:

1) It ignores the fact that, maybe, she didn’t dress or act this way for men.

Whenever people see a woman presenting themselves as a sexual being, they always seem to assume that she’s doing it specifically for the purposes of the entire community of straight men, which feeds into this vicious cycle that I’m talking about. She’s doing this for men, therefore it’s alright for men to talk to her however they want or send her whatever pictures they feel comfortable.

But women don’t necessarily have to have had men in mind to take a sexy photo or dress a specific way.

Maybe she just got a new outfit that she’s pleased with, and she wanted to show it off.

Maybe she feels like she looks particularly pretty in that photograph.

Maybe representing herself in a sexualized manner makes her feel confident and powerful.

Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with men at large – maybe she just wanted to wear that outfit today. Which makes catcalling, dick pics, and objectification completely unwarranted when you think about it that way. Imagine trying to show off a nice, new shirt that you bought, and the only responses you get are obvious come-ons and sexual advances from everyone, including people who you might not have even wanted to think about you that way.

And even if she is intentionally representing herself as a sexual being, that is only because many women are sexual beings. Women have desires and attractions, and if they feel comfortable expressing that in a public setting, then they should feel safe to do so without being hounded by men who only want to tell her the ways that she can gratify them.

A woman isn’t ‘inviting’ anything by the way she dresses. She isn’t an object who exists only for your pleasure – she is a human being who should be considered as much more complex and varied than that.

2) Sexual objectification doesn’t just happen to women who are dressing or acting sexual.

The best example that I can think of that’s been on many people’s minds lately is breastfeeding. A woman’s breasts are not, inherently, sexual objects. They are a part of her body, and sometimes, they can be used to feed small children. But many breastfeeding mothers have been forced into shame and seclusion directly because a part of their body that they cannot help having has been deemed sexual by other people.

I have heard from people who fear what might happen if a child walks by and witnesses a woman feeding her baby in a public space, as though the sight of a breast is a fearful thing that might contaminate the young and pure of heart. But at the end of the day, it is just a breast, just a part of the human body, and no child who sees one will be worse (or better) off for it. The only reason why people think of it as a dangerous and sexual thing is because they’ve decided that it’s a dangerous and sexual thing.

The same thing is true for essentially all nudity. Nude photography, for example, is something that we’ve often been taught to view as fearful or inherently sexual. If one poses nude, then they are forced to take into consideration things like what people at work will think if they ever find out, or what their children will think if they ever stumble upon the pictures. But, a) nude photography does not inherently have to be sexual, and if you want evidence of that, I urge you to look up some of the late great Leonard Nimoy’s work. Some of it is just celebrating the beauty that is the human form, and b) even if it is sexual, so what? Many of us are sexual beings, and what’s so wrong with that? What about that is so fearful? I mean, yes, there are certain people in our lives who we may not want knowing that side of us, but if someone feels comfortable expressing it, then they should be allowed to without fear of being stripped of their humanity in the eyes of others because of it.

So I know that the question many men will be asking at this point is, “What is the appropriate way to respond then?” and, truth be told, I don’t know if I can entirely give a blanket answer to this question, because a lot of it has to do with the individual – particularly, it depends on your relationship with the person as well as the setting. All that I can really say is that, if you are considering making a sexual comment toward someone, you need to take a second beforehand to ask yourself, is this warranted? Is my relationship to this person one where I am totally justified in responding to them in this manner, and is their behaviour suggesting that a sexual response is proper? A lot of this is something that is going to require judgement on your part, because it’s difficult to broadly describe in which scenarios its appropriate and in which it isn’t. After all, treating a woman as a sexual being, with her own sexual agency, is not a bad thing. It only becomes twisted and ugly when you treat her as a sexual object, with the expectation that she exists for and should be flattered by your pleasure.

 

Be Perfectly Imperfect

There’s a lot of pressure in our society nowadays to be absolutely, completely flawless.

You see it in the discussion of physical appearance most predominately. It’s pretty much common knowledge nowadays that the women who appear on the covers of our magazines, our models and our celebrities, even our athletes, are photoshopped to the point that they no longer really look like themselves. With the use of a computer program, we slim and tuck and pull and peel, until women are made thinner than is physically possible, taller and paler and longer-legged than they actually are. And that’s only what photoshop is capable of – let alone hours of make-up and lighting and a knowledge of what camera angles are the most flattering.

In our movies, too, people are represented as looking almost unrealistically beautiful – most predominately in our movies targeting teenagers, it seems. We fill fictional high schools with clear skin and buff bods, with girls who know exactly what to do with make-up and boys who have clearly dedicated countless hours in the gym despite having school work and friends and family and other teenage-related problems to deal with. We take arguably the group of people in our society who are most image-conscious, who are most concerned with looking flawless and attractive, and we ask them, point-blank, “why don’t you look like this?”

And the funny thing about this is, we make our models and actresses and singers look so perfect that, to some extent, we almost make them look boring. They all fall into a fairly standard, fairly limited definition of what beautiful is. All thin and symmetrical and clear-skinned and predominately white. And don’t get me wrong, if you fall into that definition, I’m not trying to say anything against you – you are beautiful, and you deserve to feel beautiful. But when that’s all that we ever see in our society, day in and day out, it tends to get a little bit old.

Where are the beautiful people with pimples?

The boys and girls with body fat?

The towering, Amazonian women, and the men who are totally socially acceptable in all their shortness?

Where are the stretch marks, the belly rolls, the moles and freckles and scars? I don’t see them – not even on the secondary characters, or the characters who actually need them. Remember the 2013 adaption of Carrie? The one that cast Chloe Grace Moretz in a role that is often represented as being outside of the traditional definition of beauty, and yet nobody, not the director or make-up artists or costume designers, made any attempt to make her any less than physically flawless.

The only time that we ever see anyone being represented as less than flawless in our society is if someone is making a statement on it. Acne exists only in advertising for products to remove it. Body fat is present when a character is meant to be unattractive, or otherwise unappealing. And men can only be short and skinny if they themselves are somehow stunted in their masculinity.

This isn’t the only way that our society emphasizes perfection, however. People are often expected to present themselves as emotionally flawless, as well.

People can’t be weak. They can’t look at their problems and be struck by fear at the thought of them, because that’s cowardice or stupidity or some other similar lie. People need to put up a sort of front, appear like they can do anything and everything without once being bothered by it. And the strange thing about that is that it isn’t true. Most people, especially when they’re just starting out in life or in an adventure, are terrified. They just learn to work through the fear. The fear is not the problem – our refusal to accept that that fear is present is the problem. We don’t talk about it, because we don’t want to admit that we have it. We don’t want to appear less than perfect.

We refuse to wear certain clothes or do certain activities because we’re afraid that we’ll look ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’. We refuse to practice certain talents because we afraid that we ‘aren’t very good at it’. But the only way to get good at something is to practice it often, to work through that initial stage of imperfection, and at the end of the day, what does it matter if you look silly? Embrace it! Be flawed! And, who knows, maybe by allowing yourself to be more open and less afraid, you’ll learn something new about yourself. You’ll grow as a person when you are no longer so concerned about fitting into the narrow definition of ‘perfection’.

Perfection is boring. Perfection is a narrow definition of what you should be, set forth by someone who isn’t you, who has never met you, and who doesn’t understand the brilliant and wonderful person that they are stifling in the process. So what does it matter if you look silly, or if you don’t see aspects of yourself represented in the media? Be you, assert your flaws, and force the world around you to accept you for all that you are.

Rock What You Got!

I am not a professional model. I do not get paid for getting my picture taken, but ever since I was fourteen years old, I have been modelling recreationally. Growing up, my mother had plenty of friends who were professional photographers (being a model herself, whose photos have been published in magazines), and this gave me plenty of opportunities to get in front of the camera in my pretty costumes and just have fun.

Fourteen was the perfect age to start doing this, too, because it meant that, all throughout high school, I was never really all too self-conscious about my appearance. I mean, sure, I had some pretty bad acne, and I wasn’t a size zero at the time or anything like that, but whenever I started feeling low, all I needed was a good photo session with a talented photographer, and the next thing I knew, I’d be receiving airbrushed photographs of myself where I always looked stunning.

I knew that it wasn’t always reality, sure, but even still, it made me feel good. It helped me to see myself from an objective, foreign perspective. When I looked at those photographs, I wasn’t looking at myself in the mirror, picking apart my every flaw and imperfection. I was looking at a beautiful woman, and then realizing that that woman was actually me! It made me realize the value of make-up and costumes and confidence, because when I felt pretty, I felt happy, and that happiness made its way into other aspects of my life – more important aspects, like my confidence in my school work, and my socializing, and my art.

Maybe the whole concept is problematic, from a feminist stand-point, but we live in a problematic society. And the way I see it, if there is something in this world that is capable of boosting your confidence, then what’s wrong with it? Especially when there are so many things around us – things like the media, and our peers – who try to tear our confidence down because they can sell us more products or feel better about themselves when we’re weak and vulnerable.

But here’s the thing – I started modelling when I was fourteen years old, and the photographers that I worked with were friends of my mother, so very rarely were the photographs all too sexualized. But there are many women in our society who feel most beautiful when they are sexualized. You see it often on Facebook – women, adults and teenagers alike, who photograph themselves with their own cleavage as the focal point, or in an outfit that you know was deliberately picked out to show off as much skin as possible. My photographer friends, too, post photos all the time of women in lingerie or, at times, completely nude. So what about these women?

I mean, on the one hand, an argument can be made that they are even more problematic than I am. All I am doing is taking my confidence from my own physical beauty, as the patriarchy has taught me to do from the time I was young. But these women are specifically dressing themselves up (or down) for the male gaze, right? They are deliberately objectifying themselves. Right?

Well, believe it or not, I disagree.

I mean, I understand where this argument comes from, and I won’t deny that there may be some problematic aspects to it, but in the exact same way that there are problematic aspects to what I do.

Because these women, really, are doing nothing more than what I do. They are capturing images of themselves where they personally feel beautiful. And these women just happen to feel beautiful with cleavage, or lingerie, or completely naked – whether they felt beautiful that way before they took the picture, or they simply think that they look beautiful when they look at the picture later. Either way, it’s a confidence boost, something that will make them feel happier in the long run, and that will find its way into other aspects of their life. Whether you agree with what they’re wearing or not wearing doesn’t matter – you can at least admit that these women deserve to feel confident and beautiful. And if that is what it takes for them to feel that way, then more power to them!

Is there something problematic about women taking their confidence from their physical beauty? Maybe. But regardless, we live in a society where that is still reinforced. How many of us today grew up being complimented on our beauty, or picked apart because we didn’t look the way that other people thought we should? Whether we like it or not, beauty is still an important factor to many people. It isn’t the most important trait we have, not by a long shot, but it’s still something that we think about, something that can make us feel more or less confident as a person in the long run.

And the thing is – every woman can feel beautiful, because every woman is beautiful, regardless of whether or not we fit into the standard definition. The difference is in what we’re all comfortable with. Some women feel most beautiful naked. Some feel most beautiful covered up. Some feel more beautiful within some sort of middle ground. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you come to feel beautiful – all that matters is that you do.

So, ladies (and, I’m sorry to have ignored you through most of this post, gentlemen) – feel free to present yourself any which way you want! Beauty isn’t the only method that has the potential to increase your confidence, but it is one, and it’s a simple method too. Because all you need to do to achieve it is find what makes you comfortable, whatever that might mean, and go with it.