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Glee – putting the G into GQ

Recently, some cast members of Fox TV show, Glee have posed for racy photographs for GQ magazine. For the assumedly very few who don’t know, Glee is a comedy/drama set in an American high school. The characters in the ‘glee club’ are often unpopular so they use the club to find friends, and presumably find themselves, through overly pitch-corrected song and dance numbers. And, of course, like most American teen dramas, the actors who play the teen characters are far from being teenagers themselves.

Indeed, the two actors that posed for GQ, Lea Michele (who plays Rachel Berry) and Dianna Agron (who plays Quinn Fabray), are both 24 years old.

The GQ photo spread in question portrays these women scantily clad in their Glee-style high school setting (and interestingly, the male star featured –Cory Monteith – is fully clothed through the entire shoot). There are pictures of Lea Michele acting as Rachel sucking on a lollipop outside her locker and another of her in a changing room not fully changed. There are also pictures of Dianna Argon as Quinn in a barely-there cheerleading outfit and of the two women in the library in their underwear, and several draped over their (fully clothed) male co-star. The pictures clearly channel the stereotype of the sexualised high-school girl.

Media watchdog and parenting groups in the US argue that the pictures ‘border on paedophilia’.  According to Buzzle.com, director of communications for the Parent’s Television Council says, ‘All of these are really encouraging and promoting a mindset that it is OK to fantasize about teenage girls in this way.’

As the actors involved are clearly adults and are post-pubescent, the problem is not so much with paedophilia. As GQ editor-in-chief, Jim Neison comments in an ABC report, such groups ‘should learn to divide reality from fantasy.’ The point is that the actors are not teenagers and therefore there is nothing morally reprehensible about features of this kind.

However, Neilson’s argument is not without problems. Yes, the pictures are not examples of paedophilia, but they are examples of how certain magazines infantilise women in order to make them appear sexy.

Infantilisation is when you deny someone of their maturity. You also deny them of their voice, their ability to be an agent in their own life. Not only is an infantilised woman easily dominated, she is obedient and is an object, there to carry out the desires and fantasies of men. It’s like portraying women as little girls so that they are easier to control and are sexier.

Surely it is the womens’ choice as to whether or not they would like to pose in this manner as they are consenting adults. However, aside from the aesthetic problems I personally have with the pictures (I find them trashy rather than sexy) they were not themselves. That is, they weren’t successful, intelligent and strong women, they were portraying obedient, infantilised girls who sort of looked like them.

There is no problem in being sexy, but in that sexiness should be a degree of power, and it should highlight one’s individuality. By infantalising themselves in this manner they’ve lost this level of control and as a result have become objects, selling the image of youth and being a teenager and being obedient to the desires of men. It is not a show of individuality, but a highly stylised image and a particular type of fantasy that erases whatever individuality they do have. This is an objectification of girls and women because these actresses are fulfilling a fantasy and becoming objects rather than selling their personality – their talents, their tenacity and their experience.

In relation to the media hype surrounding the photographs, Dianna Argon wrote on her blog that ‘these photos do not represent who [she is]’. She also mentioned that she didn’t like the idea of the ‘school girl photo shoot’ in the first place. This shows that by doing the shoot, she wasn’t fulfilling her own wishes and she wasn’t fully empowered. She has no ownership over this portrayal of her body. Rather, she was fulfilling the wishes of the male readers of GQ.

Sexy or sexist? What do you think of the GQ photo shoot?

(Image Credit)

4 thoughts on “Glee – putting the G into GQ

  1. I dislike Terry Richardson vehemently. I dislike the power this photographer seems to have in the fashion world. His photo shoots aren’t even original — oversaturated, infantalised, sexist, porn-y schlock. They don’t make me think, they don’t make me admire, they don’t even evoke disgust or any visceral feeling. The most I can summon up in regards to his work is “Oh. Him.” Now, him as a PERSON, I can summon up PLENTY of feeling. How is it a person is allowed to get away with all of the disgusting stuff he does? Why is he being protected by the fashion world? Ugh.

  2. I think the idea that sexiness should have a degree of power is as problematic as thinking that sexiness shouldn’t be disempowering. Those actresses presumably make a lot of money being sexy and posing like they want nothing in the world but to be fucked. Some people think that is sexiness as empowering.

    The only way sexiness can be defined as powerful, as I can figure, is that someone wants you or wants to be you. Which in many ways disempowers someone else.

    We need to think a lot harder about the sexy=powerful equation. For example, when a man is in a position of power in a sexual depiction and the woman is submissive, this is bad power. But if we reverse that and the woman has the power in the sexual relation, it’s good? Is the problem that in the first image the man isn’t sexy?

    Anyway, just food for thought. I think one of the whole problems is the idea that the way women get, lose, find, feel power is in being sexy. This is generally not how men are depicted or thought of as having power – unless they are movie stars.

  3. Sonya – I do agree. When I was researching this blog post, I did come across Terry Richardson’s website. I don’t think he’s a bad photographer as such, but some of the photos just seem revolting, these glee shots included.

    Rachel- I’m not really sure where I stand, as you’ve pointed out, it’s complicated. I personally make a distinction between being sexy as oneself – giving people a glimpse of things like personality, talent, power, etc. versus playing to a hyper-sexulised, immature, ready-for-male-domination image that has nothing to do with who you are, whether it’s in the name of sexiness or really anything else. I think that women shouldn’t feel pressured to be anything other than themselves and it concerns me a little when Diana Argon admitted that not only did she not really like the idea for the shoot very much, she didn’t feel it represented her.

    You’re definitely right in complicating the sexiness=power equation though, and I think that the only way to navigate it is to do whatever seems right with you. Of course, most of us will never end up in a spread like this anyway, but it’s worth thinking about how you may agree, disagree or be neutral about certain images of women.

    On a related note, I read this article recently: http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2010/10/25/feminist_photoshoot/
    on how the writer was posing for a photoshoot for an article about ‘new feminists’ and how many of the women were in clothes they wouldn’t usually wear (apart from Target flats) and worried about how they looked (their hair, etc.). It begs the question: can any commercial photoshoot be feminist? I don’t think that make-up and dressing up and worrying about looking your best is inherently anti-feminist, but still, it’s hardly promoting an image of who these women are and what they really care about.

  4. Great article Erin.

    One thing that I feel has largely been overlooked, however, is that all the media hyper is (most likely) the EXACT response that the producers of Glee were looking for. It’s important to draw attention to instances in the media that are inappropriate, but I imagine that they knew it would gather a lot of negative feedback/outcry/etc and thus, promote the show.

    The fact that the male in the shoot was fully clothed is only symptomatic of a greater issue, given that GQ is a men’s magazine and accordingly isn’t going to feature barely-clad men (although women’s magazines often seem to do features with naked or near-naked women in an effort to promote different body shapes and sizes, it is always the photos of topless men that aim to elicit a sexual reaction in readers), but I really like that you’ve drawn attention to infantilisation and Dianna Argon’s comments.

    Rachel’s comment is also really poignant. I think this is something many women struggle with at some point; realising that, at present, your appearance and sexuality can net you rewards, but taking advantage of that is not what you want to be valued for. But presumably men would do so if such opportunities were available to them? But then again, they’ve been raised into a patriarchal society and thus wouldn’t see it as degrading.

    I find it to be a relentless internal discussion and like you Erin, I’m not really sure where I stand. Although media outlets like lip are an alternative to mainstream media, we nonetheless are part of the media and have to just go with its workings (to some extent) in order to reach a level where we can catalyse and promote more widespread change.

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