Of Boys and Men, Male Objectification
Here at No More Page 3 we talk a lot about objectification, sexual objectification in particular and the societal effects of this.
Sexual objectification in the media is hugely gender-biased, 95% of it according to a study on changes to Rolling Stone magazine, being of women.
We need only pay attention for a moment to adverts, billboards, newspapers, magazines, music videos etc. etc. and we see image upon image of half naked females, sometimes whole, sometimes divided into parts; sometimes human, sometimes mimicking objects. Everywhere we look, women’s bodies are being used to sell things and decorate things and…well….generally remind us all that women are first and foremost decorative sexual objects for men’s pleasure.
With this in mind, for some of us there is a natural snort and a tendency to say “Ha!” at any mention of objectification of men in the media and to be fair there is good reason for that.
Male objectification is by no means as prolific as objectification of women, it is rarely, if ever, as sexual and it doesn’t come with the weight of hundreds of years of oppression or the knowledge of the threat of violence (sexual or otherwise) that comes from reducing women to something other than human.
Just in terms of our campaign, clearly there is no male page 3 equivalent, yet No More Page 3 supporters are all too often reminded by those objecting to the cause, of features such as the diet coke man or “torso of the week”. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that many of us react with annoyance at yet another attempt to say “what about the menz”.
However, if we take just a small step back, if we use the analytical view of the world facilitated by our feminist awakenings. If we step for a moment into the shoes of young men, we can begin to see that whilst there is nowhere near as much of it and the effects may be somewhat different, there is in fact a real problem in terms of the way men are presented in some media.
I went to the cinema a year ago with my partner to see the latest James Bond. I found the film good in places but also profoundly disturbing in terms of the throw-away way it treated the focal female character. She had no bodily integrity and her life and sexuality were stamped on in an instant. Another thing however that I found annoying throughout the film was the shot upon shot of a ripple-abbed Daniel Craig who was never, it seemed, in possession of a shirt. Whilst he looked very nice and I have never thought myself to be in any way a prude, it just seemed massively gratuitous. James Bond had to be hard, emotionless, constantly half-naked and buff and I found it a distraction and unnecessary.
The issue is one of stereotypes – for every 10 women presented as passive and infantilised there will be a ripple- torsoed man looking macho, aggressive and ready for action. For every pinned down woman looking like she is about to be a victim of sexual violence there will be 2-4 men looking ready to act upon that woman in an aggressive manner. (See e.g. Dolce and Gabanna advert here *Trigger warning*)
The passive, vulnerable, child-like, ‘ready to be taken advantage of’ and certainly rarely in any way powerful female is matched, if perhaps to a smaller degree, with images of men looking angry, aggressive, active, none-thinking and rarely sensitive or gentle. We talk a lot about the effect these stereotypical images have on both boys’ and girls’ views of women’s roles but what do the men in these pictures teach boys about what they should aspire to be and how to behave? With all of these images, what is projected is an idealised body type that is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for most of us to achieve.
It is for this reason that No More Page 3 is in support of a campaign started by Daniel Farr.
Daniel describes that he “started campaigning about male body image after years of being unhappy and complaining about the images of perfect bodies men, like women, now face.”
His action was inspired by the No More Page 3 campaign and its wealth of brilliant supporters and he is a supporter himself.
“I decided to support NMP3, because I feel women should be more respected in the media and society and having pictures of topless ladies in a national newspaper doesn’t to help achieve this.”
After reading about the effects of objectification of women Daniel took some time to consider how men are affected by the images they see of other men around them. He was also encouraged by Warwick University psychologist David Giles who has studies the phenomenon of “athletica nervosa”.
Here are a few words from Daniel himself –
I had always been chubby but it didn’t bother me until adverts started showing men with perfect bodies which made me feel horrible about my body. I decided to lose weight so I began running and going to the gym every day. After several months I lost three stone, but I continued to run and do sit ups every day as I was obsessed with getting a six pack. I started getting too thin and friends and family became concerned about my weight. They managed to convince me to stop exercising excessively and now, thankfully, I have settled at a healthy and comfortable weight.
There is a male body crisis in the UK with according to Joseph Stashko in an article last year for the NewStatesman said perhaps 1-4 of the 1.6m Britons with eating disorders being male, and a 2013 survey by The Association of Teachers and Lectures found that 51% of their 693 members thought that boys had low self-esteem about their bodies: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21864312
Daniel has set up a campaign called “Healthy not Perfect” and a petition on Change.org asking Toby Wiseman the editor of Men’s Health magazine UK to show more diverse body types in the hope this will promote a more diverse image amongst men and boys and lead society to question the impossible ideal it is increasingly setting its young men.
As a campaigner for NMP3 and a mother of a teenage son I feel this is an important campaign. Whilst we are doing all we can to redress the issue of inequality in media representation of women it is important to remember that we are doing this for our sons as much as we are for our daughters.
I want my son to learn that women are thinking, feeling people who come in all different forms or beauty, diverse shapes and sizes. That we are powerful and not passive in our relationships and that he should respect us all. But I also want him to see men portrayed for all they are, that they don’t have to be impossibly muscular or large in size, they don’t have to be aggressive and macho. I want him to see diverse images of manhood that reflect the great men I know and love who show sensitivity and strength of character and sometimes vulnerability.
I am campaigning hard to reduce the sexually objectifying images in our daily wallpaper but I don’t for a minute want them replaced with aggressively stereotyped muscle men.
In short, wouldn’t it be nice if we just showed all humans as being exactly that – Human.
You can sign Daniel’s petition here