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?