I’m not a stereotype–the paradox of female representation

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In one of my classes the other day we talked about how to correctly represent women in advertising, the media… everywhere, really. While it’s easy to answer that question with “just the way we represent men,” that doesn’t solve anything. Personally, I don’t want to be objectified–I don’t want to feel like my body and my face and my outward appearance is being scrutinized rather than my character and the things I do, but there’s another element to that as well.

I’m a multi-faceted human being, as is everyone else in this world. Which means, while I don’t want to be portrayed as a sexual object, I don’t want to be portrayed as the sexless homebody either.

That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with asexuality–and no, that doesn’t mean like the plant. Asexuality is a completely valid orientation, but I am not asexual. I want to be shown that my sexuality is just as important to who I am as my intellect, as what I do for fun, as my passions. I am not the oversexed-succubus-vixen, dumb and distant, but I neither am I the polarized sex-phobic-cat-lady that is only interested in intellect and doesn’t own a mirror.

While these stereotypes differ depending on culture, race, class, etc., the two polars can be loosely described as the Good Virgin and the Bad Whore. And it’s always been that way. Look at the Bible–The Virgin Mary was the ultimate woman. She was the mother of the so-called savior, and abstained from sex her entire life. Then there is the representation of the prostitute, or the sinner. The one who has demons in her.

Honestly, it sounds much more fun to be the demon lady.

I care about what I look like and my sexuality is important. I also value my character, my schoolwork and pay attention to what’s going on inside my head. And that’s not some wild, crazy concept–women are multi-faceted and have many interests.

The solution to sexual objectification is not to remove my sexuality nor is it to make me out to be some hyper-intelligent android woman who rolls her eyes at the advances of any man. That’s ridiculous–women are humans, too, and we deserve the correct representation.

Young girls need to know that they have the freedom to care about what they look like and to pay attention to their sexuality. Stifling that important part of a person is both unhealthy and unrealistic.

Gay men are not accessories.

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In one of my first blogs, I discussed the ways in which we objectify men, often for the pleasure of straight women and to hold a certain type of masculinity on a pedestal. Now let’s talk about the objectification of gay men by straight women.

Recently I was headed out with a friend of mine and a girl we had met that day. The girl and us had a mutual friend, so I asked how they knew each other in order to spur conversation. She said they were from the same town before college, but what followed put me in a very sour mood.

Yeah, he’s my gay.

Um… what? Did I hear that right? He’s your gay? Your gay. Are you his “straight?” Because I’m confused.

Some suggest that straight women and gay men are natural allies, and both benefit extraordinarily from a relationship with each other. But we’ve all heard a straight woman, at some point in her life, say that she wants a “gay best friend.” Looking at the stereotypes of gay men, it seems like we’d all want a friend like that. First of all they’re a man, and men totally make the best friends, right? But they still act like enough of a woman that you can relate to them. And they love shopping and can always give you fashion tips. And they’ll go to a Lady Gaga concert with you. And you can be as sexual as you want around them, because they’re gay, and gay men are promiscuous. So no judgment.

Barf.

First of all, the pursuit of the ability to say, “I don’t like girls, all my friends are men, I’m drama-free!” is ridiculous and that needs to stop in itself. The next stereotype, which infuriates me, perpetuates the idea that gay men aren’t really men. We see it all the time. Cam and Mitchell of Modern Family even address the topic in one episode. Oh, you’re gay men in an exclusive relationship. Which of you is the man and which is the woman? Watch out, spoiler alert: both of them are.

Stereotypes hurt, and straight women should be making all attempts to halt their stereotyping of gay men, and halt their desperate search for a gay best friend. Wouldn’t it be nice if you picked your friends based on, you know, your compatibility instead of the status indicator of having a “gay best friend?”

Of course, oftentimes straight women don’t think about this. A gay best friend is ideal for a straight woman because it gives them insight into a man’s brain, it allows them to talk about sexual topics with a man without fear of tension or misunderstanding. Gay men often are able to understand women in ways that straight men may not. A friendship between a straight woman and a gay man can be a very healthy and successful one.

My advice to my fellow straight women is to not search so hard for a gay best friend. It’s demeaning and hurtful, reducing the man to his sexuality and to the stereotypes that he has most likely worked very hard to refute. Gay men are not an object to give you reassurance or status, just like you are not an object to give straight men sexual pleasure. Meet new people organically instead of trying to outdrink every man at the gay bar and asking them for advice on your outfit. Friendships should be based on equality and mutual respect, not on striving to make real some twisted teenage fantasy.

Equality to be Sexy: Women aren’t the only ones being sexualized

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Let’s mix it up and talk about the sexualization of men.

While yes, women are sexualized constantly by forces greater than them, and it’s important to take notice and remove this sexualization and focus on one body size, we’re making breakthroughs. Take the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, for example, which aims to help women of every size feel beautiful. And, well, we can actually argue the campaign is still hurtful, considering its implication that thin or petite women aren’t “real.” And where are my bald women at? But we can talk about that sometime later.

Sexualization of men, while it might not be in the public eye, is apparent once you start to take notice.

We can talk about video games all day long in terms of sexualization, but think about the nature of them; in general, two body types are present in video games. Women are tall with hour glass figures and men are built like Olympic wrestlers. One shape that heterosexual men find attractive across the board, another than heterosexual women find attractive across the board.

Both are examples of a sexualized gender. And no, they aren’t created equal; look at video game armor and clothes for men vs. for women. But think about it; society has told men that they want to look like muscled brutes with zero percent body fat and women want to look like Sofia Vergara. Video games reflect society’s highest standards, and men are pressured to look a certain way just like women are. Just because it’s hilarious, check out the greatest example of sexualization of both genders in TERA Online. We all look like succubus, amazon women and The Rock as Hercules, right?

Another wonderful example is the H&M commercial during the Super Bowl this year. Check it out below.

Who doesn’t want to watch David Beckham get totally naked while buff, bearded model Ricki Hall takes pictures of him? For more fun, check out the comments on that video.

ImageUmm. Yuck. Imagine if these comments were about women, made by men. I don’t think very many women would be happy, and these comments directly contrast the uplifting and “reclaiming sexy” comments on a Victoria’s Secret lingerie commercial. Is this because we haven’t seen an anti-sexualization of men movement like we have for women? Is it because we see men as being able to “take it?” Is it because of the ridiculous stereotype that men are always looking for sex and always want women to call them sexy?

Spoiler alert: it’s all three.

The second word in gender equality is equality. And that means equality for all genders, not just the one that has access to less privilege. We need to recognize objectification and correct that if we are to achieve that equality.