The Objectification of Men in the Media and that Great Big Feminist Sigh
So, in the last few weeks or so, I have seen a few articles along the lines of this one – covering male actors, like Pedro Pascal, and other media personalities who have taken issue with how they have been treated by fans and the industry in terms of sexualization and objectification.
It’s a really interesting topic to see come under more mainstream scrutiny – and, sincerely, one that I’m sad to see has to be discussed at all. Being treated like a sex object, whether that comes in the form of endless focus on sex appeal or actual sexual assault as described by Paul Mescal in the above article – is a foul, dehumanizing thing, and I’m genuinely sorry that anyone has to go through it.
But it’s a point of discussion that I so often see met with an eye-roll from people at large, and, honestly, feminist commentators in particular. When Kit Harrington talked a few years ago about his discomfort with his treatment as the male sex symbol du jour, it was met with outright derision in a lot of high-profile places online. “He’s a sex symbol – get over it,” Patricia Clarkson said to the Guardian when asked for comment on it. I’ve seen articles like the one above met with similar responses, a shift to the focus of women’s issues instead.
And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get where that reaction comes from. Whenever I see these kinds of articles, it’s hard not to think well, if we covered every instance where a woman was treated this way by the public, there’d be a new article every hour. It’s hard not to think about how sexual abuse and assault in Hollywood and other media industries and the world at large has been aimed, in the majority, at women and girls. It’s hard not to remember the way objectification impacts women every day, in almost all aspects of life, in a way it simply does not for men.
But the truth is, it’s desperately unhelpful for me to sit there, dragging on my imaginary cigarette, do a great big feminist sigh, and shake my head wearily while I say you don’t know how good you’ve got it, sweetheart, to the men who are dealing with this. I am far from what-about-the-men-ing these issues, but viewing men’s struggles with this treatment as something dwarfed by women’s experiences helps nobody. When it comes to objectification and the dehumanization that comes with overt and constant sexualization, women having it Very Very Bad Much of the Time is not improved nor disproved by men having it Very Very Bad Some of the Time.
So, why is it, then, that we don’t see reporting consumerate to the statistics we have about men, women, and sexual assault? I honestly think, as horrible as it is to say, it’s because these kind of conversations are still something of a novelty when it comes to mainstream media – and a novelty is always going to make for a more attractive article. Movements like YesAllWomen have helped create a vital and much-needed space and a conversation around this treatment when it comes to women, especially in the media, but movements allowing men the same space are far less mainstream, if they exist at all. When it comes to men’s issues regarding sexual assault and abuse, too, the narrative is still one that very much downplays their issues – while these kinds of articles might have become more common in recent years, they’re still often met with a kind of dismissive eye-roll that is the far other end of the scale of the way male rape victims are so often brushed off.
Yes, I understand – and have even felt – the frustration at seeing these issues reported as consistently and with as much seriousness as they have been compared to those of women, but when it comes down to it, it’s because they’re still anomalies. Making space for men to talk about these issues is vital to create a conversation that acknowledges the way objectification and sexual dehumanization can impact us, irrespective of gender. Brushing off these complaints and this pain as lesser than someone else;;s when it comes up in the media does nothing but give victims more reason to keep their mouths shut about what they’ve experienced, and we should really be doing all we can to give them a voice. They deserve it.
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