Posts Tagged ‘objectification’

Coming up in London this week is an exhibition called The Naked Muse.  Pictures of naked men are usually of interest to me, so I thought I’d find out a bit more about it.

Full details of the exhibition, featuring black and white photos of men poets in the nuddy, and the calendar to go with it are available here:

As regular QRG -ites will know, I am a bit sceptical about projects that seek to ‘reverse’ the  objectification of women and men. Mainly because, influenced by the work of [redacted], I am aware that men, to use the technical term, are just as tarty as women these days, if not more so!

I have argued against the myth of the female gaze and taken the perspective,  that really, in metrosexual times, the gaze, (including the ‘gayze’) is polymorphously perverse. It will fix on anything or anyone, so long as they are hot.

HOWEVER! after recently previewing the American Man As Object  exhibition, quite critically I may add, I got talking to one of the women who runs it. Conversations with her  have persuaded me that in these metrosexy times, whilst men are the objects of many a picture, it is probably worth examining this subject matter closely. Because metrosexual imagery is often very bland and samey. To be considered ‘objects of desire’ men have to have big tits and nice hair and svelt figures – oh, pretty much like women then.

And, even in the 21st century, there are still not enough women working as photographers and film directors, making the images of men and women and people who identify as neither, that saturate our culture.

So back to the Naked Muse project.

The thing I like about it most is how it is questioning the gendered relationship between the ‘poet’ or ‘artist’  and the ‘muse’.  Historically, women have been muses, and sometimes quite famously, for artists and poets. Elizabeth Siddal is one of the most famous muses I know of. Here she poses as Ophelia for Millais:

Victoria Bennett, whose brainchild The Naked Muse is, commented on this complex dynamic. She said:
‘As a female poet, I have noticed over the years that male poets are often described in terms of being the romantic hero, dark, handsome, wild, notoriously philandering and accompanied by beautiful (young) female muses to “inspire” his creativity; the same “rule” does not apply to women. So, what if one is a female creator? If desire, and the object of desire and beauty are creative catalysts, then why do we not see that same poetic stereotype?
Instead, the woman poet tends to just have the “mad” bit stuck to her rather than bad or dangerous to know! What is the relationship between creator and muse? And what is the relationship between the observer and the object?’
This reminded me of a post by Elise Moore where she explored the construction of the woman artist figure as ‘witch’. It also made me think of the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, especially her series ‘The World’s Wife’. These poems take the artist/muse dynamic one step further and conjur up the inner lives of women who might, with a bit of imagination, have been connected to (in)famous men in history and mythology.
The Naked Muse then, is not just an exhibition and a calendar; it is also some real relationships between men and women which focus on art, creation, and objectification. As Victoria puts it:
‘I wanted to explore it I guess through a collaborative process, subvert that idea of the male poet, or artist and female muse. So, I approached women poets and photographers whom I respected and admired in terms of their creative work, with the loose theme of the male muse, to which they responded (some with poems already published, some with specially written ones for the calendar), and I approached women photographers whose work I felt explored the territory of the portrait, in all guises, and I approached male poets that I regarded as being quality poets, engaged in inspiring creative work and possessing “beauty”, and I partnered up these collaborations.
1 photographer, 1 poem, 1 male poet and let them have free expression within that response. I wanted to make sure that the male poets showed as deep and wide a range of beauty and the male body as the poems themselves, which is why they range in ages from 21 to 67. I also wanted to include a range of poets and photographers in terms of the writing and approaches, background and experience.’

I had the beginnings of a twitter argument last night, on a subject that is dear to my heart: Objectification.

@BigdaddyKeltik who is a trans man and a feminist said:


‘Objectifying women = rape culture’.



I find this view offensive, as a WOMAN! And Keltik is big on ‘calling out’ when someone says something offensive. Here I am. Calling him out.

First – if objectifying women is equal to and part of ‘rape culture’ how does objectifying men fit in?

Keltik has a lot of objectified images on his blogs. So his opposition to ‘objectification’ seems weak. Here are two, one of a woman one of a man:

Mark Simpson has written recently in The Guardian, in defence of men’s objectification, and throughout his metrosexual theorist career.

So men’s objectification is as important as women’s but feminists never mention it!


Second: Imposing the concept of ‘rape culture’ on me and all other people serves to ‘objectify’ us in a very bad way. Women are reduced to poor, helpless victims and men become nasty predators. I have written against the idea of rape culture at the good men project and other places.

Third: How does objectification prove ‘rape culture’ exists? As another person from twitter commented by email:

‘He [Keltik] is confusing causal links. In so-called rape culture, women would be objects, but if women are objects it doesn’t mean that we have/it leads to so-called rape culture. If it has been raining, the floor will be wet but if the floor is wet it doesn’t mean it has been raining – someone could’ve thrown a bucket of water out’.


Maybe as a trans man Keltik feels able to disassociate himself from those nasty predatory ‘men’. And also from those poor helpless victims ‘women’. But I can’t. And I feel upset and judged by his words.


If Keltik respects Mark Simpson then I hope he at least reads Simpson’s Guardian article before he rushes to accuse men of ‘objectifying’ women alone. Some men are homos for a start! And, as Simpson writes, metrosexuality is all about men objectifying themselves and each other


I sent the above comments in an email to Simpson, Keltik and others. Following my email Mark responded to a comment on his blog, from regular QRG reader, Tim, about David Beckham’s now infamous superbowl ad. Mark said:

‘Amer­i­can fem­i­nists have sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that male objec­ti­fi­ca­tion doesn’t exist. Or if it does it is in no way com­pa­ra­ble to female objec­ti­fi­ca­tion because, er, it’s not about women. Even if it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how a human being could be more (will­ingly) objec­ti­fied and com­mod­i­fied than David Beckham.’


Here are some posts by  me on men, women and objectification:


‘Miss Representation is a new documentary about the relationship between the representation of women in the media and political office’

The trailer, which includes some ‘expert’ women talking to camera and some young women in group interview situations, as well as some clips from news programming, is very clear in its message. These quotes sum it up pretty well:

‘There is no appreciation of women intellectuals- it is all about the body not about the brain’.

‘If what gets put out there that determines our consciousness is made by men, we are not going to make any progress’.

‘The media treats women like shit’.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.

I may get accused of being a stuck record, but – what about the men? Is it just women who are presented as sex objects on TV? No. Is it just women who are portrayed as stupid, or useless in the media? No. Is it just women who have trouble achieving their ambitions in politics? No.

So there are three main things wrong with this video:

1) It suggests a causal relationship between women’s ‘objectification’ and gender inequalities that affect women negatively.

2) It ignores men’s objectification in the media

3) It denies the complex ways in which people are ‘held back’ in terms of careers and political representation.

One of our regular commenters, typhonblue, asked me recently to identify the link between metrosexuality and the ‘gender wars’ – or the arguments between feminists and non-feminists.

I think this Miss Representation documentary is a good example of how metrosexuality proves feminism wrong. Because metrosexuality shows men to be just as much used as sex objects in culture as women, and these days, maybe even more so. As Mark Simpson has pointed out, even the mainstream media has cottoned onto men’s objectification. So if men are objectified just as much as women, then feminism’s claims that women are the  ‘victims’ of the male gaze, and of men’s (hetero) predatory sexuality is obviously wrong.

Take a look at this promo for a US drama ‘Heart of Dixie’. Posing as a PSA about climate change, it is actually a PSA about metrosexual men’s love of being objects of desire.

Feminism misrepresents gendered bodies in culture and what they signify.

Can you have beautiful buff boy fatigue?

Beautiful, buff, hairless chest, pretty young white boy fatigue?

Beautiful, buff, hairless chest, a hint of sensitivity in the expression, pretty young white boy fatigue?

Beautiful buff, hairless chest, a hint of sensitivity in the expression, homogenous homoerotics pretty young white boy fatigue?

Beautiful buff, hairless chest, a hint of sensitivity in the expression, homogenous homoerotics, perfectly coiffed, designer stubble, pretty young white boy fatigue?

Because I do.

h/t @homo_superior

I am going to show my age here, but I remember this grafitti. It could be that the photo was in a feminist journal/book, a few years after the actual ad came out so I may not be quite as old as that Fiat Palio. But this is definitely a snapshot of the 1970s feminism I do remember from my childhood.

The text of the ad reads: ‘if it were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched’. This is quite clever objectifying language. The car is an ‘it’ but in anthropomorphising it into a ‘lady’, the ‘object’ of the sentence remains, so the woman is presented as an ‘it’.

The graffiti in response says: ‘if this lady was a car she’d run you down’.

I thought the graffiti was funny when I saw it as a kid. But then I was a girl trained in the art of feminist ‘humour’. My Mum’s friend had a badge with that statement ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ on. I probably laughed at the time. Now I just think ‘you what?’

But, after discussing TubeCrush in the last post and the way men’s objectification has arguably taken over women’s in our culture, I remembered this ad and the angry graffiti scrawled on it.

Suddenly I find the feminist retort: ‘if this lady was a car she’d run you down’ a bit chilling. It’s a naff sexist allusion to pinching an attractive woman’s bum, which contributes to that annoying thing where cars and ships and other vehicles are feminised as ‘she’, as men’s ‘playthings’.

But the response is suggesting that a woman who is the butt of sexist humour would  ‘run you down’ in a car. A violent image that suggests the anger feminist women were expressing all over my life in the 1970s. An anger that I was taught was righteous, and based on centuries of oppression by men. So I barely noticed it here.

Maybe I am being too critical. Maybe it is just a clever play on words, to match the clever play on words used by the admen. But it is worth remembering that in the 1970s, some feminists were also involved in activities such as burning down Sex Shops,  reading the SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) and taking seriously the ‘eugenics’ advocated by women such as Mary Daly:

What Is Enlightenment (Susan Bridle): Which brings us to another question I wanted to ask you. Sally Miller Gearhart, in her article “The FutureIf There Is OneIs Female” writes: “At least three further requirements supplement the strategies of environmentalists if we were to create and preserve a less violent world. 1) Every culture must begin to affirm the female future. 2) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture. 3) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race.” What do you think about this statement?

Mary Daly: I think it’s not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.

If it were a lady it’d get its bottom pinched. If it were a man, it might be castrated (or worse)!

Tube Crush   seems so inevitable, I am kind of surprised it didn’t happen sooner. The website, set up recently by a group of friends (men and women), is a new online hit. People are asked to send in photos of hot men they have spotted on London’s Underground system, that they have taken surreptitiously on their mobiles. The sexy specimens are then uploaded onto the site and rated by visitors. It is a graphic reminder of a fact all urban dwellers have known since the dawn of time: people check each other out on public transport!

But TubeCrush (which is a nice play on words, as you often get quite literally crushed on London’s tube) has received some criticism. Mainly it seems, from, you guessed it, the liberal and feminist media.

Sunny Hundal , writing in The Guardian, said:

‘Erm, is it just me or if this site was about women, would people be getting arrested right about now?’

He goes on to point out how TubeCrush involves men having their photos taken without their permission (or indeed their knowledge), with the sole purpose of providing randoms on the internet with material to ‘perve’ over as he terms it. Commenters on twitter and on the cif thread in question referred to TubeCrush as ‘an invasion of privacy’, a form of ‘harassment’ and even ‘stalking’. Some questioned its legality, citing the  DataProtectionAct 1998.

The main feminist argument against TubeCrush can be summed up by this blogger, My Crippled Eagle:

‘If a woman takes a picture of a man on a train and he sees her, one or both will be embarassed but very few men would feel threatened by such behaviour.

If, however, a man takes a picture of a woman on a train and she sees him, immediately she has to think about the possible dangers of the situation. Is this guy a creep? Is he a potential rapist? Is he going to follow up the action with some verbal or physical harassment?

The odds are that this guy isn’t a rapist, but if you’re in a room with 100 glasses of water, 1 of which is poisoned, the odds don’t really hold much comfort. The risk that the worst-case will happen is still scary, however slim the possibility’.

Sidestepping for a moment that old chestnut ‘all men are potential rapists” meme from feminism of old, I think the feminists are protesting too much. I don’t think they really care that these photos may contravene the Data Protection Act, or that men may feel harassed. I never heard a feminist stand up for men as a group before. I don’t think they have been galvanised into action by TubeCrush. No, I think the real reason this has pissed off feminists, is they feel left out.

It has taken an honest male blogger to allude to this sense of disappointment that may come, not from having your photo taken on the tube journey to work, but from not having your photo taken on the tube journey to work:

‘The thing that hurt most of all about TubeCrush -that made me want to hurl my laptop across the room in self-righteous fury- was that I wasn’t on it!

And he predicts a depressing future for the no-hopers who don’t make the TubeCrush grade:

‘the longer this website exists, the worse it will become for these unsexy saps. Each day, more and more buff geezers will adorn the page of Tubecrush while the same losers will be continually overlooked.  They will endure a daily routine of slumping glumly into their seats while cameras flash all around them- but never at them’.

I think this blogger gets to the nub of the reasons for TubeCrush’s popularity – and controversy. It is about ‘metrosexual’ men’s desire to be desired.  Despite how some articles have presented the site as ‘by and for women’ looking at men, the homo-erotics of TubeCrush cannot be ignored. The captions that go with the uploaded photos show that men as well as women take the pics and send them in:

‘Is it me or is it getting hot in here? Watch out because Jon2198 came down with a highly infectious bout of yellow fever after encountering this handsome chap on his way to work…’

‘Thanks for sending us the latest up and coming talent from the pole -dancing scene, Gareth’.

As you all must know by now, our resident gayzer on the male form, Mark Simpson, has been telling us, repeatedly, that men are enjoying their relatively newfound place infront of the world’s cameras. And they don’t want to lose it. David Beckham and other footballers have competed for attention from gay ‘sporno’ fans, for example, French rugby players queue up to feature on the Dieu de Stade calendars, and Mikey The Situation Sorrentino generously offers his GTL tits and abs for everyone’s visual pleasure.

Women have long expressed their ambivalence or downright hostility to the ways they are objectified in visual culture. Forty years of feminism has left women feeling it is somehow wrong to enjoy being the subjects of men’s oppressive ‘gaze’. And yet, now that we are surrounded by images of men’s bodies, in sporno, in advertising, in ‘gay’ pornography, in sites such as tumblr’s ‘hot guys reading books’ and ‘fuckyeahbeards’, women seem a little bit resentful that they are no longer the centre of everyone’s attention.

I can’t prove it. But I get the distinct impression that there is some kind of weird correlation, between the increased feminist campaigns against ‘street harassment’ and ‘objectification’ of women, and the ‘pornification’ of culture, and the fact that actually, it is men, not women, who are the chief objectified commodities these days. If feminism were a woman, I think she’d be a slightly dowdy lady in her middle age, complaining, as some older women do, of how she has now been rendered ‘invisible’ in society.

There are suggestions that TubeCrush may become a dating site. Or at least have the option for people to hook up with men in the photos if they agree. But I hope this doesn’t happen. The thing I like about the site at the moment, is the way it occupies that undefined space between gay ‘porn’ or gay websites, totty for women, and the increasing number of ways in which men take pleasure at looking at each other, and themselves.  This is another reason why it is causing some people anxiety I believe. I have written before about just how resistant feminist women in particular are, to the idea that there is no clear boundary between ‘gay’ porn and ‘porn for women’.  That there is no ‘male gaze’ or ‘female gaze’. And that, if only they would open their eyes, they would see that men are crying out to be looked upon by anyone and everyone.  If TubeCrush was a dating site, the ‘gaze’ and the subjects would be split into defined categories: ‘gay men’, ‘straight men’ ‘women’…which would spoil all our fun and inhibit people I think. As Mark Simpson has suggested, ‘homo-erotics’ can be most exciting, when they are not classed as ‘gay’. Especially for non-gay men!

I am fascinated by how a small website set up by friends has caused or at least represented so clearly, this collision between conflicting interests and perspectives over ‘objectification’.
TubeCrush has crushed a few myths and dented a few egos. Long may it continue to do so!

I have been involved in a discussion about objectification, with feminists at the blog cited above.

The feminist blogger has presented the subject as being about objectification of women, particularly in advertising. I have tried to open up the debate to consider the objectification of men in visual culture, as well.  Some of the mainly women feminist commenters have resisted my arguments, but others have taken them on board.

You can read the discussion yourselves. But I was looking for some more images and I found the one I have posted here. I often find models in fashion and other adverts to be corpse-like. It is almost as if advertisers have finally given up pretending they are living things and present them as the commodities they are. Or is it that culture is dead itself, so nobody would recognise a human actor anymore anyway? I don’t know. But this image stood out because the woman is in a dominant pose and active, and it is the man who looks like he could be dead. And as if she might have killed him?

Anyway, of all the comments on the post about objectification in advertising I found this one the most apt, from a man (I think):

‘Think of the French Connection campaign which had dull-witted young hipsters parading around town with the misspelled word fuck emblazoned on their chests. Controversy! Defiance of accepted norms! They just lap this stuff up…

I don’t think the advertising industry or the people who staff it hate women, or love women any more than they hate or love anybody or anything. They’re just supremely indifferent to anything other than the bottom line.’