The push for gender equality is one that benefits all of society, regardless of gender. Countless people have fought, bled and cried to break down the idea that a woman is nothing more than an object of pleasure. While this movement has and will continue to require the passion of both genders to succeed, it has been mainly women who have advanced the cause of feminism. So why do some in the movement engage in behavior that contradicts this message of equality among the sexes?
I’m referring specifically to the objectification of men, an often overlooked behavior of some women that harms the notion of gender equality and is strictly anti-feminist in nature.
Now you might be thinking that I’m overreacting to society’s current common tendencies to sexualize everything, but the objectification of men is similarly present and reinforced in mass media, even if it’s not as recognized amidst the patriarchal structure of social power. Take Buzzfeed’s coverage of a Harry Potter-themed male model shoot as an example, where the first half of the article is devoted to simply making lustful comments about the pictures. This is the same site that has argued that people should stop referring to women as females because it’s “rude and weird”. This phenomenon can also be seen the Huffington Post’s coverage of Channing Tatum’s merman role in the movie Splash and Cosmopolitan’s coverage of Chris Hemsworth’s family.
Let’s be clear: objectifying anyone is not okay. Men may hold a dominant role in the gender relationship and society, but that doesn’t make it any more okay to sexualize and objectify them as women too often are. Men still face expectations because of their gender. Men still have body issues of their own. Contributing to objectification of men harms the drive for equality of all genders, unless of course you consider it okay for both genders to be objectified, in which case we will have to respectfully disagree.
Now, some may downplay the issue of the sexualization of males and argue that the objectification of men isn’t treated the same way because of their power in the gender dynamic. That’s a fair point, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging.
In fact, because men’s gender issues aren’t discussed nearly as much as women’s (which is fair, when you hold the power in a relationship, you have less to gain from challenging the status quo), the psychological effects of said issues often go undetected. According to the American Psychological Association, men are far less likely than women to talk openly about their own issues or seek help for serious problems. Societally, this trend leads itself to far higher suicide rates among men and depression in thousands of men going undetected annually.
Whether this is because of social stigma against men seeking treatment for psychological issues or because of the pressure of gender expectations, I can’t say. It’s likely a combination of those and other factors. Regardless, men’s gender issues aren’t something that can be explained away, and behaviors that contribute to unhealthy expectations for any gender should not be deemed acceptable.
Objectification of any gender contributes to normalizing this behavior in society, regardless of the gender of the person objectifying another or the gender of the person being objectified. Men still have body issues related to cultural norms which objectification contributes to, even if it isn’t discussed or taken as seriously, and sexualizing them in the same deplorable manner that we sexualize women sends the message that doing so is okay.
Feminism is about the equality of all genders. While the focus of the movement remains (rightly) on advancing the cause of women, we must be careful to not engage in behavior that objectifies or diminishes the status of any gender. Men hold the power in the gender dynamic right now, but our gender issues are just as valid as women’s. We will advance the cause of feminism together to lead to a more equitable tomorrow, but to do so, we must avoid toxic behavior in lockstep today.