Saturday, January 17, 2009

I, Object! or: Why it's okay to use sexy people in advertising

Every once in a while, one of the larger feminist blogs I read will have a "post pictures of hot guys!" post, and many women proceed to drool over all the hot guys in the post. However, inevitably someone will say, "Hey, you guys are using a double standard! You go on about objectifying women, but you're objectifying these men right now!" Sometimes this person is an MRA troll, but other times they're a truly concerned feminist. Hand-wringing and soul-searching commences as all the well-meaning feminists on the site wonder if they're being bad feminists for admiring some well-sculpted muscles.

I think the problem is that most feminists have, in their concern over the widespread sexism that advertising and other media perpetrates, failed to realize one crucial thing: it's not the objectification of women that's the problem, it's the objectification of only (or mostly) women that's the problem.

The very nature of photography, especially advertisements, leads to the inevitable objectification of the subject being photographed. When I take a picture of someone, it's impossible for that picture to portray the entirety of that person's complex, multi-layered, infinitely beautiful existence. It can only show how that person looked for one moment in time - it reduces that person to only their image; it inherently objectifies them.

Though objectification is inevitable, it's not always bad.* This may stem from my kinkiness, but I actually like being objectified sometimes. (Indeed, one of my fantasies is to literally be reduced to a piece of furniture (or, more specifically a sushi platter).) I'm actually flattered when someone checks me out at a party or in a bar or whatever - it reaffirms my belief that I'm a reasonably attractive person. Obviously, there are lines that, once crossed, I'm one unhappy lady. If someone starts leering instead of just looking, or making grody comments at me, that's not cool. But there's no harm in just a look once in a while - and god knows I do it often enough to men and women alike.

Now, the problem in advertising isn't that that people are objectified (and paid well for it), but that women are disproportionally objectified. The problem is that when people say "sex sells," they really mean "women's bodies sell" because that's the default image used to convey "sexiness." Having sex=women's bodies is, obviously, problematic because it ingrains the idea in people's minds that women's bodies are primarily there for sexual gratification.

The solution to this isn't to ban nudity in advertising or anything like that; the solution is to have sexy men appear in advertising just as much as sexy women do. That way "sexiness" becomes gender-neutral in the public psyche - and, what's more, it would acknowledge that women like to see pictures of semi-naked men. It'd also acknowledge the existence of gay men, and possibly even make the stereotypical heterosexual man a little less homophobic when he comes to the realization he can look at the picture of a hot man without turning gay. Obviously, there's still some advertising that's unexcusibly sexist, but I think we shouldn't immediately scream "sexism!" every time a hot woman appears in a commercial. Instead, we should demand an equally hot guy to appear in the next one.

*Unless someone is being objectified against their will, e.g. someone is staring at their butt/chest/crotch/whatever and making them uncomfortable. That quickly falls into the realm of harrassment and is definitely Not Cool.


Edgewalker said...
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Edgewalker said...

Though I agree with some of your minor points, I must strongly disagree with your main one.

"it's not the objectification of women that's the problem, it's the objectification of only (or mostly) women"

This is equivalent to saying that "The problem is that men aren't objectified enough." I do not think this lowest common denominator position works. It's hard to say without really looking at it in detail, but my observation is that the drift upward in the objectification of men has done very little to help women and has wreaked havoc with the body image of the American young man.