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objectification of men – is there such a thing?

If there’s one thing that most heterosexual women can generally agree on, regardless of what their individual stances on feminism are, it’s that hearing men talk about female bodies is often an uncomfortable experience.

Whether it’s a bawdy conversation about what they find sexy, an offhand comment about a passing woman, or (most alarmingly) a direct comment on our own bodies, hearing female bodies being dissected and discussed can start a knee-jerk cringe reaction that often results in unhealthy self examination, and a reassessment of what men find attractive.

Of course, I’m generalising quite a bit here – many women probably enjoy getting this insight into the heterosexual male psyche, and many women are confident and comfortable with their bodies to the point where it really doesn’t matter what anyone believes they should look like. Not to mention the fact that men are hardly likely to have homogenous views on female bodies, and if the media has taught me anything, it’s that there is no ideal body type when it comes to what type of woman is considered attractive.

That said, though, it certainly makes me uncomfortable to hear women discussed entirely on their physical merits, or as sexual objects without a care for their personalities, or individual traits.

So it should naturally follow then that men would also find it uncomfortable to hear male bodies being objectified, and that generalizing about what is and isn’t attractive in a man would be distressing to some men. Right? Men have feelings too, eh?

Well, judging by some of the conversations I’ve been privy to lately, that is decidedly not the case – or at least, women like to think that men couldn’t care less.
It has occurred to me recently that women have little to no qualms about discussing men in objectifying terms, in much the same manner as you would expect 25-year-old guys at their local pub to chat about Blake Lively on a Saturday night.

I’ve heard women talk loudly about how they wished all men looked like John Hamm, how men should really work out because no one likes a chubby guy, and how short men are tragic because leaning down for a kiss is completely undesirable.

It stands to reason that if a group of men were discussing women in such a way, they would be considered rather sexist. I myself have told male friends off for talking about women as if they’re pieces of meat, and I know that it makes me personally uncomfortable sometimes when I consider just how little I look like Blake Lively, and how it would pain me if they were talking about my body so cavalierly.

So why are male bodies not afforded the same sensitivity?
I tried to discuss this with a friend of mine recently, and she disagreed quite strongly with my view. She claimed that, seeing as women have been the victims of objectification for centuries, and that female bodies are far more prone to criticism than male bodies, that the manner in which we discuss men is really irrelevant – basically, women were subjugated first, and so they really don’t owe men anything in terms of sensitivity.

I found it hard to understand her logic, mostly because I’m an equal rights feminist, in the sense that I really do believe in equal rights for both genders, and I like to believe that men and women are really not that strikingly different emotionally.

I think a large part of the reason why women assume that it’s okay to objectify men is because of the way masculinity is constructed in society. Men are treated as being more physically minded than women, less emotional, and also less insecure or self-conscious.

Some girls who I’ve spoken to about this have laughed and said that basically, most guys would love to hear that women were discussing their bodies, implying that men assume that only positive feedback could be given regarding their physical forms, or that to men any attention is good attention.

I find the double standard here to be quite troubling. My issue has never been with the objectification of women inherently, but rather the issue of objectification as a symptom of a general superficiality that pervades in society.

Do you think that this is an issue? Are women objectifying men? Bear in mind that I’m aware that culturally, women are subjected to a great deal more of objectification through mainstream media and popular culture, but is this perhaps becoming the case more so for men as well?

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11 thoughts on “objectification of men – is there such a thing?

  1. I took two ‘sexist’ ads into my Women’s Studies class with young women and a few young men to discuss. Overwhelmingly, the ads that were ‘sexist towards men’ were seen as comical in their table-turning, and fantasy-like.
    Rather than suggesting that ‘men should look like this’ both women and men in the class commented that these ads were more aspirational than degrading for men (ie ‘you could look like this if you tried’ rather than ‘other men look like this – why don’t you?’).
    I think we have a long way to go before images of men read in the same ways that they do for women. I agree with you Zoya that culturally, women’s bodies have been disected as open for criticism, while men’s bodies are privileged for what they can do (lift heavy things!).

  2. If someone has dressed to get attention in a pub then its not a problem for either gender as it is what they want. The problem is when looks become a factor in situations that they shouldn’t be. Something that has disturbed me, as a guy of average looks but some scaring, is the trend in reality shows of judges and crowds chanting for men to take their shirts off. Something that I am quite touchy about.
    It is partially my own body image that makes me leery of this but also that these shows are based around the opinion of the audience. So if a man does refuse then he has lost the crowd, which in something like x factor charisma is supposed to be one of the main factors.
    Channel 10 are also guilty of this with George Negus being replaced by a younger more attractive man after a lot of women gave their support for the younger man FOR being attractive. This is ironic considering some of the opinions I have heard him say on the Project.
    I have found that it is one of many situations that women have disappointed me. I have grown up hearing that men in power exercise that power in ways that override the wishes of other, often this is men objectifying women. Yet it turns out we are starting to see that when the gender roles are reversed women are often quite to objectify men, I had expected better. The excuse of ‘it happened for ages’ is exasperating to say the least. I would have thought that if someone knew what it was like to be objectified they would then go out their way not to make the same mistakes when the roles are reversed.

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  4. It was Queen Elanor of Aquitaine in the 1100-1200?s who invented the idea of romance,and interject the concept of female objectification into stories like “King Aurthur and the Knights of the Round Table.” These ideas of the female being this unattainable objects of adoration was created by a spoiled rich woman who wasn’t sexually satisfied with her husband, had an affair, divorced her husband, and tried to hook up with her new hubby who was apparently much better in bed; along with her rich spoiled female friends she is the one who combined the chivalric code [having nothing to do with love and every thing to do with honor and servitude to the ladies of the lord's] with images of the men she and her friends desired. Within a library Eleanor create for women and only women, she and her friends are the ones who constructed these concepts though a series of poems, novels, and converted tales. She also decided that women where not only equal to men, but better then men. Before Elanor romance was not even a concept or word. Romance is a word that went though many transitions before it came to mean what it does today. Before Eleanor the majority of male female interaction was ether non formal or formal, but very black and white in that way. They had affairs yes, they formed bonds yes, but when it came to marriage, it was about survival. Men and women both where forced to wed a stranger, not just women,this in not a plight women suffered alone. Nether gender role was particularly fetching in these days, While men seemed to have more control over things, they their value was also based off of that level of control or influence. So the only privilege the male role had, was in men who where already privileged. We didn’t live in America back then, and men where not allowed to complain or argue about what they where expected to do and how who they where to become. If any one actually looks at male history they find it full of stories where a son wants nothing more then to defy his mother or father and follow his dreams. Any one who looks at history and sees only female oppression in gender roles, that person is very ignorant and narrow minded. I speak from experience when I say, having you value and work being based off of what your able to do and how successful your are, is a terrifying and isolating experience. This intimidating experience is a double standard supported even by women who call themselves feminists.

    Before Eleanor Relationships had no real definition unless one conformed to a specif religouse or cultural norm. Relationship outside of culture was not popularized, so if it happen is isn’t well known other then affairs and such. Those relationships that did exist, where not often trivialized, or glorified through popular works as no no precise definition of romance exist until Eleanor of Aquitaine began it evolution into what is now called “Romance.”

    Have you seen the covers of romance novels written, bought,and read by women? What do you think those things just began to surface recently are you that dense? You want to talk about unrealistic expectation/fantasies of physical appearance? You need look no further then any piece of male photography sold to women in women’s products.

    We all know exactly why women spend so much time on their looks. We all know exactly why so many women dig Transsexuals and cross dressers for fun and fashion. We all know why the most judgement people when it come to female beauty are other women. There is a reason women ask us if you they fat in everything. There is a reason an overwhelming amount of women read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

    It because women like feeling attractive and special, they just dont like hearing about other women being attractive, because then they aren’t feeling so special. It’s called Jealousy! This is why the same women who complain about being objectified are hypocritically making great effort to have men be attracted to them, and if they don’t, its usually because such an attempt is a lost cause to them and they know it. So they just bitterly hate the women who have got what they will never have, yet instead of hating the women who they relate to, they decide to blame the men for being attracted to those women. It has more to do with female jealousy and female insecurities then anything at all.

    I have worked as the only male on several female dominated staff’s and women have no shame in objectifying men, no shame at all! Furthermore, women are the worst when it comes to making fun of people and they way they look, i cannot count how many decent looking men have been trashed by my co-workers after the walk by.

    Male objectification too place at least in the 1200 when it was largely popularized, and was likely around long before then. It is not less common arguably it is more common in light of commonly used terms use by women such as a “Real Man.” This is nothing new ether and for you to think it is shows how incredibly narrow minded and how influenced you are by the sexist lies of radical feminism.

    • I agree with your premise and you start with some interesting information, but I have to note that jealousy and insecurity are obviously not just natural “women things”. Women would not be jealous or insecure if men weren’t such sexually driven creatures. Anyone can become jealous or insecure if there is a sign that their partner is somehow attracted to another person in any way shape or form. And often men are not all that discrete about checking out women. But I’m not sure there’s a place for blame in that either. I think it all comes down to nature vs. nurture and how much nature is responsible for each genders (or persons) natural sex drive vs. how much nurture is responsible for the way we view it and put it out there as individuals. Considering the fact that its been going back and forth for many centuries and still has not changed to tremendously, I cant help but think that it’s a very natural process. Like you said, men are bigger and stronger and therefore get praised for the physical work we can do and the results of our labour. Makes sense! It’s been our bargaining chip to attract a woman for many years. And men are very sex orientated (as are many women obviously) but we (men, and especially in my experience) are simple and narrow-minded / one task orientated in nature, while women tend to think more critically about absolutely everything, and therefore acknowledge our sex driven mannerism and often use it as a bargaining chip of their own. So its both genders faults and no ones fault really. It’s a natural process. But in todays advanced, modern and technological society, natural gender roles and relationships are becoming irrelevant. Women are working just as much as men in most westernized countries, there are millions of jobs that don’t depend on a mans strength to get done and men are having a difficult time finding a way to keep a women’s interest. Our super male sex drive on the other hand, has brought pornography and objectification of women in media and advertising to our fingertips at any time or place, desensitizing us to recognize a women’s other features, while making it harder for women to keep a mans attention. In our modern times it is, and always has been a constant striving for both heterosexual males and females to be more appealing to the opposite sex. We all want the same things; security, good jeans for our children,

      • continued: – companionship, intimacy, etc… I think men and women just often differ in the priority of these goals and utilize different but naturally gender specific strategies to achieve these goals. great article!! (This response is in response to Tom’s response. :)

  5. I just want to say that women absolutely I objectify men. I agree with those who stated that women are hypocritical who claim to that they are objectified by men, because we look at a woman’s shape or her looks, and form thoughts are opinions about them and how we treat them to some extent. Not that its right but it happens. That being said, Women objectify men all the time, an in some ways it’s worse for men, because it’s not just our physical appearance that’s judged. We are judged by our wealth, i.e. the car we drive, the job we have, our credit score, and our earning potential.) I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had and overheard with women degrading a man because of things like this. Now I know the women are going to rally and say things like, “All women aren’t that way.” and “Those women are just golddiggers” and ” you just haven’t met the right woman” etc. Yeah, Yeah, I’ve heard it all before. I’m stand a solid 5′ 6″ and just for that reason alone, I’ve been put down by women, (extremely attractive, attractive, average, so so, and even unattractive women) more times than I care to remember. They weren’t interested in my personality, intelligence, or anything about me that had nothing to do with appearance. So yes women do objectify men. I think that the real difference between the two genders is how the objectification is done. Men tend be more verbal, and physical in our response to feminine attributes. Women most times will keep what they’re thinking to themselves or other women, at least until some guy who doesn’t quite make the cut, approaches them.

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  7. The point to make is not cultural but ideological. One of feminism’s cardinal rules, beginning with the mid-1960′s, was that objectification is wrong in principle. Whether or not some tool is happy being objectified or not is not the point. You could always find black men to play Stepinfetchits and black women to play Aunt Jemima. The army of the unemployed guarantees that this is true.
    As far as victimhood goes, in Europe and the United States, how many young men;’s young bodies were objectified far worse than by ogling, but by exploding shells and bullets, with almost, with a few exceptions like Emma Goldman, with full collective female approval. It probably is a relief to be a second-class citizen because of your abs than because you are cannon fodder so that women can pay less for gasoline and smart shoes.

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