Joanna Schroeder explores the claim that female athletes are more likely to be objectified in photographs than male athletes.
There is a pretty brilliant article about women’s asses all over Facebook right now by a fella named Nate Jones from the news site Metro.
More specifically, it’s about the plethora of photographs featuring female beach volleyball players’ asses that can be found in Getty Images. The issue Jones raises is not over the fact that the photos include the player’s awesomely fit bottoms, it’s that the photos are of their awesomely fit bottoms. No faces, or even feet. Just booty.
Then Jones takes a bunch of photos of male athletes and does something clever to show us how ridiculous this whole thing is: he crops them so they’re just booty (and sausage) shots. You should see it, it’s really funny.
But Jones doesn’t really get to the heart of the inequity. I mean, taking a photo of Kobe’s back side and cropping it so it’s just his ass doesn’t explain whether there actually are more disembodied ass shots of women, or whether the outfits on the women’s beach volleyball players are making simple descriptive photos seem sexualized.
My first argument to our Editor-in-Chief, Noah Brand (who sent me the article) was to say, “the only reason there are so many ass shots is because the articles are talking about the new changes in uniform! The photos make sense, they aren’t objectifying, because the body is the subject of the article.” In case you haven’t noticed, my modus operandi in writing about gender is to take whatever the feminists are saying and make an argument against it, just to see if the theory holds water. Most of the time I agree, sometimes I do not (See Melissa Stetten and Louis CK).
So, in a deeply unscientific manner, I conducted a personal experiment: I did a photo search in Google for “women’s Olympic beach volleyball photos” and came upon some ass-y shots. I mean, some seriously ass-y shots. And almost none of the connected articles mentioned the change in uniform…
Most ass-only shots featured a favorite composition where the one teammate is giving play numbers to her partner. They do this behind their butts, so it make sense that the photograph would be ass-y, right?
Here are 2 of approximately 10 nearly identical photos I found (featuring a whole “Around the World in 80 Asses” array of different beautiful booties):
So being as male volleyball players give the same signals to their partners, you’d think there would be some just like this, featuring men’s be-hinds, right? They just wouldn’t seem as salacious because there isn’t as much flesh showing with men in their volleyball uniforms of shorts and sleeveless tee shirts.
And yes, there are! Oh wait, I should say “Yes there IS!” because I could only find one butt-and-hands photo when I searched “Men’s Olympic beach volleyball photos”. Only one disembodied male volleyball ass photo! And it’s not even that exciting, because there isn’t a fleshy pair of cheeks hanging out. Just this Canadian dude’s hands. Nice as the hands are, even I prefer the top photos.
But how about in men’s diving? Watching men’s water sports the last few days, I’ve been struck by how much flesh I’ve seen.
That photo above leaves very little to the imagination, but they’re still not disembodied. That is to say, the fact that they’re nearly nude is secondary to the fact that they’re athletes doing something totally insanely amazing. And you can see their faces. If you followed the sport, you could probably identify who these two young men are.
I continued my search for disembodied male asses in major news stories… My next Google search entry: “Men’s Olympic Diving Butts”.
Here’s all I got:
That’s pretty graphic! But the guy STILL has an identity! What does it take to get a little equality in the photographic objectification department?
After way too much time looking a photos of well-toned athletes I’m left with the realization that it’s true that in mainstream media we are way more likely to turn female athletes into disembodied flesh for our pleasure than we are with men’s. As much as women (and others) are falling over themselves over Ryan Lochte, (so much so that Jez’s Erin Gloria Ryan wrote an entire article about how despite his hotness, Lochte is apparently a fratty douchebag) the dude still gets to keep his face!
What do you guys think? Why the big difference in how women’s beach volleyball players are portrayed as opposed to men’s beach volleyball? Is it the fact that we see so much more flesh on the ladies and we’re simply drawn to it, as the human animals that we are (both men and women)? Does the half-naked ass make for a better photo than the entirely-clothed ass, artistically?
How about the swimmers and divers? How come they’re essentially never shown without faces?
Or are people simply making too much of a little cheek?
For more Olympics, check out Shawn Maxam’s Men of Color Challenging Olympic Stereotypes
Lead photo: Dave Martin/AP