Last night, I stumbled upon the latest “Man of the Year” issues of GQ and posted this arrangement of the 5 different covers to the Sex with Timaree Facebook page with the caption “One of these things is not like the others.”
People’s reactions varied from cute (“There’s a black guy in pretty sweet glasses?”) to enraged (“I cannot express how much this pisses me off.”) with some variations on the sentiment that “yeah, it’s obviously sexist but well… what’d you expect?”
And another commentator perfectly captured why this is something we ought to discuss:
“No one dragged Lana there to pose against her will. I just don’t see a problem here. Isn’t it bad enough that the politicians are trying to control her body by law, now her fellow women are trying to do the same?”
And if the objection people had were simply “women being naked is inherently bad” then this commentator would be spot on. It would be a really hypocritical position to take: that women should be empowered, but that they still can’t just go around doing…. whatever.
So, to clarify, let’s put out what we, as sex-positive adults share as values:
- We believe nudity is a natural state and not inherently shameful, degrading or immoral
- We believe all adults have the right to determine when and how they use their bodies, including when and how they display it, assuming they don’t infringe on the rights of others.
- We believe a person can be viewed as sexy and sexual without being diminished in the respect they deserve as a person
So what it is about these covers that prompts controversy, or at least a little more thought?
That this cover implies a man is best glamorized as a powerful-looking person wearing garb that accentuates their stature as a person of influence and a woman is best glamorized as a sexual object wearing accessories that are pretty but not at all utilitarian.
That we don’t want to see men’s bodies or that seeing men’s bodies would diminish their respectability in some way. That, irrespective of artistic talent, the highest achievement to which a woman can aspire is to be beautiful.
That a man can be successful, charming, impressive and sexy at any age or body type, but a woman still must fit into a very specific type of attractive in order to warrant attention from men, no matter what she does with her career.
Why do we pose men and women differently?
Just before the Olympics, ESPN’s Body Issue came out featuring naked athletes and they -almost- nailed it. Amazing, strong bodies were showcased and we could all marvel at the elegant results of years of hard work. But the male athletes were all pictured doing active things that emphasizes the utility of their strength. The females were more often shown in passive poses that emphasized their beauty. And we’re not talking about frail dolls who couldn’t have easily been holding kickass poses or shown in action that glorified the powerful athleticism that brought them to the Olympics. Sure, women have more bits that need to be covered, but put some creativity into it. And considering it’s the Body Issue, you’d think it would be less emphatic that parts of the body are objectionable intrinsically.
How do you know if something is sexually objectifying?
Being seen as sexy isn’t always bad. Being naked isn’t intrinsically degrading. So what is the difference between showcasing sexy people and turning them into objects? Ms Magazine asks 7 questions about an image that clarify what purpose a person serves in it and whether they are, in fact, being portrayed as a person or as an object. Definitely click the link to learn more and see examples.
1) Does the image show only part(s) of a sexualized person’s body?
2) Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object?
3) Does the image show sexualized persons as interchangeable?
4) Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized person who can’t consent?
5) Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person?
6) Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity that can be bought and sold?
7) Does the image treat a sexualized person’s body as a canvas?
And here’s the interesting thing: you don’t have to hit all of these to be objectifying.
Back to Lana. I wanna see more Lana.
Ok then. That’s interesting.
In one image she is not wearing anything revealing, she is just clinging to a man and staring at the camera. In several others she is wearing lingerie, with her hand covering her vulva. In two images she is standing happily in front of a crowd wearing a lovely gown with what is essentially a bra and transparent top.
I just want to add that I think the photo shoot is lovely, that Lana is lovely and I hope she had a great time shooting. This is simply to, once again, emphasize that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being sexual, being viewed as sexually attractive or posing in a provocative way.
More importantly, what was John Slattery wearing? I LOVE him on Mad Men.
So, in contrast, how was actor John Slattery (who has shown his bare butt cheeks on TV before) depicted when he was featured by GQ earlier this year?
Same for UK singer Robbie Williams who has previously shown he’s fine with getting down to his bare essentials? Yep.
And comedian James Corden is cool with droppin trou for the sake of comedy.
But GQ didn’t want to see them glamorized that way. Only Lana.
But it’s a MEN’S magazine!
Yes, thank you. GQ makes no secret of its target demographic or its very specific use for women. For decades, talented and brilliant women have posed as mewling kittens for this particular periodical, all entirely of their own volition, no doubt.
So again, if the women are doing this willingly, why does anybody have a problem? If we’re fine with nudity, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that this but one more insipid example of how men are portrayed as real actual people and who can be taken seriously (and in this case) no matter their age, race or body shape but women can only hope to succeed if they squeeze into the tiny, narrow little corridor of acceptability that includes looking a certain way, falling within an age range and being willing to prance around wearing lingerie for the amusement of men.
That, my friends, is lame. It’s great for men! Look, we have a man of color and a man of size and a man in his 50s on the cover of a major magazine, depicted as sexy and appealing! That’s fucking awesome! That’s great news for every man of color and man of size and man in his 50s to know that you can be successful, desirable and awesome. What’s not awesome is that for every female of color, female of size and female past the age of 35, this is not so much the case. You can be on the next issue of More, maybe. And when reporters ask you stupid idiot moron sexist questions because you are a woman, you can do your best not to roll your eyes . That’s just as good, right?
So what’s the answer?
It’s not censorship. It’s not shit talking Lana or any other famous woman. It’s not turning men into objects or fitting them into a narrow box of attractive either. It’s about examining the value of a broader variety of people.
Shit, GQ has been around since 1931 but didn’t have an African American dude on the cover until 1979. But then they started being more inclusive and instead of ruining the glossiness of its awesome, it expanded the number of awesome options. Let’s do the same with women. Let’s see women as something more than pretty. Let’s see pretty as more than thin and white. Let’s see what’s out there and celebrate it all!