By Morgan Fisher
When I was in high school, I had a photomontage of shirtless Zac Efrons all over my room. I hadn’t thought much of it until recently, when I was looking through posters at Hastings, and found myself appalled at the number of posters of half-naked women on display there. Thoughts of “Why do men think this is okay?” and “I wouldn’t date a guy who had this in his room…” invaded my head. So when I came home and thought about my high school self, the hypocrisy hit me hard.
It’s offensive because it’s objectification. As women, we feel that if you have a picture of a bikini model up in your room, it’s because you like her figure and don’t have any interest in anything but the way she looks. We then take this to mean that if you only care about her looks, you only care about our looks.
Research exists to suggest that men do see scantily-clad women in photos as objects. A 2009 study concluded that when men look at these photos, their brain is stimulated in the same areas it is when handling and wielding tools. There’s a disconnect between person versus image.
I was unable, however, to find much research about if women perceive this differently. One study done concluded that women are better at perceiving men as people rather than objects, but the explanation of the study is confusing and seems to depend on a variety of other variables as well. I’ve seen just as many scantily-clad men on women’s walls as I have women on men’s walls, but I’ve never known a man to be offended at his objectification. I’m sure it’s not unheard of, but I wonder why it’s seemingly okay for one gender and not the other. This is not something that people tend to think about, and I think that it further perpetuates the inaccurate stereotype that feminists disregard men in their strive for equality.
Objectification of men does happen. It’s evident in the shirtless posters that cover teenage girls’ rooms. It’s present in movies like Magic Mike or in sexual comments (like this one from Kirsty Young) about celebrities. And it’s part of the double standard. Getting upset with a man for having a poster of a half-naked girl bending over to get a beer is pretty understandable, but if you have a mostly-nude Channing Tatum above your bed, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your attitude. If it had been a man rather than Kirsty Young making sexual comments about a celebrity, the media would’ve had a heyday with him. This is a twist on what we might consider to be the typical double standard, and it needs to be eliminated if we are ever going to be truly gender equal.
This also brings up the idea of objectification in terms of structuring masculinity. Not that this excuses it by any means, but men are often raised to believe that having scantily-clad women all over their rooms is a symbol of their manliness. It’s the legacy of past generations—we’re used to seeing women as objects and see no problem with looking at them. And women seem to be so used to being objectified that they often don’t see an issue with engaging in similar behaviors themselves.
Something else that bothers me is the societal paradox that allows heterosexual women to have pictures of women up in their rooms as well, but it’s rare to find a heterosexual man with a poster of a shirtless man in his bedroom. This is only further evidence of the gender divide. Women are permitted to be comfortable enough with their sexuality to appreciate other women’s figures, but men are perceived as “feminine” or “gay” if they appreciate another man’s physique. This probably has a great deal to do with our society’s ridiculous perception of that being “gay”. Whatever the reason, it’s hardly surprising considering the emphasis placed in our society on how men need to be “manly”. So how do we change this?
The road to gender equality is going to be, undoubtedly, a long and difficult one. There is not one specific course of action that will lead us there. The progress we’ve made is incredibly encouraging, and I’m thrilled to be able to live in the middle of it. But there are still so many grey areas. Is it acceptable to objectify scantily-clad women in photographs because men don’t perceive them as people? Is it acceptable so long as we are doing the same to men? It’s hard to figure out what is right in these situations. But I do know this: We have to get to a point where there are no double standards about scantily-clad posters, or creepy sexual comments, no matter who’s looking at or making them. We have to strive for equality in all areas, and when that day finally comes, this issue will, hopefully, be something of the past.