Austin Gunter explains how the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies may not be purposeful objectification, but a result of a natural tendency on behalf of both men and women.
In her post, Much ado about Women’s Asses in the Olympics, Joanna Schroeder makes an interesting observation that Getty Images of Olympic athletes have an disproportionate number of close-ups of female booty than male booty. I’ll confess to you all right now that I read the article because Joanna’s tweet about her post had the words “Female Asses” in it. My male brain read those words and my male hands clicked on the link immediately. I took the linkbait, basically.
I’m a dude. Almost any dialogue about the female form is going to get my attention. I also happen to be an ass man. I’ll date a girl with a big butt and a flat chest, but I’ve never dated a girl with no butt and big boobs.
Now that we’ve gotten all the “Austin is a red-blooded, sexually-charged 20-Something” out of the way, let’s dig into the questions that Joanna asks in the post.
The first question is, “Why the hell does the media objectify women, but not men?”
Implicitly, anytime a woman asks “why is there a difference between how men and women are portrayed in the media?” I always feel like the discussion is going to revolve around “What the hell is wrong with us as a society that we behave this way???”
Why on earth do we disembody women but not men?
Surely this is something that only men do, right?
Actually, no. Men and women objectify women, and don’t objectify men the same way. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that men’s and women’s bodies are processed differently by both sexes equally. When presented with an image of a man, we rely on “global” cognitive processing to evaluate him. We see him as a whole. Both men and women process the male body the same way.
When presented with an image of a woman, both men and women’s brains process her with “local” cognitive processing. In other words, we look at women’s bodies one piece at a time. Start with the ass, move to the breasts, examine the crotch, let her legs and arms come into the picture, then get to her face. Maybe the order is different, but men aren’t to blame here. Women objectify one another as much as men do. Ever heard the saying that “Women don’t dress for men, they dress for other women?
Sarah Gervais, the study’s lead author says:
“‘We can’t just pin this on the men. Women are perceiving women this way, too,’ Gervais said. ‘It could be related to different motives. Men might be doing it because they’re interested in potential mates, while women may do it as more of a comparison with themselves. But what we do know is that they’re both doing it.’”
We already covered the fact that I’m a dude and I have a healthy appreciation for the female form. I’m not shy when I lavish my appreciation on a woman when I date her. My last serious girlfriend loved the way that I would take my time to appreciate her body. I would take my time and “appreciate” her, one bit at a time. She asked me many times, “Do you think I have a small chest?” (she didn’t), or “Do you think my butt is too big?” (it was perfect). She was objectifying herself every time she looked in the mirror.
Never once did we spend any time talking at length about my butt or my chest. Not once did I ask her if my shoulders were broad enough, or if my jaw was square enough. I didn’t spend time asking her if she liked how my ass looked. It just wasn’t something that I was thinking about. Honestly, I was way more interested in her body, and I think that she was too. Given the choice between discussing whether I had a nice ass or she had a nice ass, we always chose to talk about hers.
It’s too easy to play the blame game in this discussion and pin the responsibility on men for objectifying women. Or maybe we could pin the blame on women for being too self-absorbed in every little bit of their appearance.
I don’t want to place the blame. In my comments on the original piece, I asked why we couldn’t assume there is a positive reason that we, as men and women, as humans, as people behave in a particular fashion.
“I think a more interesting question isn’t, “What’s wrong with us that we think this way?” but instead, “What’s *right* about us that we’ve adapted to thinking this way?” There has to be a purpose, let’s honestly ask after it and give ourselves credit as humans with good intentions.”
Of course another commenter had to ask the question, “Are you sure we didn’t get brainwashed into this behavior?”
No, I don’t think we got brainwashed into this. On the contrary, I don’t think the media is actually working that hard to change how we think about things. They’re just after pageviews, so they’re pandering to our impulses. The media is just giving us visual junk food, and we’re rewarding their bad behavior with pageviews.
I’m not sure the person actually read the study that I posted, because they offer various evolutionary perspectives about why men and women both recognize women’s body parts quicker than men’s body parts.
I’m not a scientist, and I’m not interested in providing a scientific basis for why we behave this way. But I do believe that, as a general rule, we have good intentions guiding our behavior. I think that as a species, we have done a great job of adapting to our environment, and to one another. Let’s actually assume that men and women treat each other differently because we are different, and deserve special treatment that honors our differences, physically and otherwise.
In this instance, I think it’s probably as simple as evaluating a woman’s fertility. Men and women both have reason to do this. And if the (reductive) evolutionary goal is to pass our good genes along to the next generation and have healthy, happy children, then a woman’s fertility is going to play a powerful role in the shaping of human history.
That doesn’t mean that women begin and end with their fertility and their physical attractiveness. But it does mean that we need to give ourselves a fucking break and not rage when the media gives us what our brains are programmed to look for. Blogs, including this one, are designed around pageviews, and they’re going to do everything they can to generate pageviews. Pageviews = ad revenue.
If women’s asses generate more clicks then men’s asses, that’s a response to our natural human tendencies, not the other way around.
I grew up feeling shame whenever I wanted to look at a girl in school. Girls were working hard to look beautiful, but as guys we weren’t supposed to notice. There is a difference between appreciating beauty and being distracted by it, and most of the time, I think that men and women have a sincere appreciation for a woman’s beauty. It’s clear that as a whole, women’s bodies are more beautiful than men’s bodies. The success of Playboy compared with the failure of Playgirl is an obvious example.
We don’t look at men’s and women’s bodies in the same way, and that’s because they are different in a million ways. The implicit concern is always about equality, but equality means “the same treatment,” but that’s not appropriate when women are different from men. And I also don’t think that the opposite of “equality” is “oppression.” The opposite of equality is treating people according to who they are as individuals, which means appreciating their beauty as unique.
When I told my girlfriend that I loved her ass, or I thought that her breasts were perfect, I wasn’t about to share those same sentiments with any other woman that I knew.
As a man, I don’t want to feel shame or guilt for this. I don’t want to feel the need to justify being a man, or how I look at women’s bodies to appreciate them. I don’t think it’s fair for guys shoulder the blame for something that both sexes do.
But let’s be clear that we don’t have to objectify women or men in the media to appreciate their beauty. Playboy isn’t the zenith of appreciating a woman’s beauty. And her beauty isn’t the grand total of her value either. Women are complicated, man. They confuse the hell out of me. I love women, but I’m not saying that I understand them. I don’t think that women understand women sometimes.
We don’t have to objectify men in order to appreciate their beauty, either.
At the end of the day, who we are as men and women affects how we are treated. That includes how we look, how we think, the tone of our voice, whether we smile a lot, or if we talk a lot or a little.
That said, let’s not get up in arms about women’s bodies vs. men’s bodies. Women are absolutely beautiful, and I’m in favor of celebrating that all day long. My idea of a perfect afternoon involves closed blinds, cellphones turned off, and the opportunity to bask in the beautiful glow of a woman who I am in love with. I could spend hours and hours going over every last inch, getting lost a thousand times along the way. I’ve never run into problems when I wanted to appreciate a woman’s body that way.
Let’s give ourselves a break when a blog wants to give us the vending machine version of loving a woman’s beauty. They’re pandering to the very things that make us human. It’s our responsibility to recognize that pictures of a woman’s ass don’t compare to the real thing. The pictures should serve us as a reminder of the beauty that always surrounds us. The beauty that walks and talks and disagrees with us, telling us that we’re dumb, and asking us if we think their butt is too big.
It’s female beauty that we can all agree is superior to male beauty. Doesn’t it say a lot when the photo of a woman’s butt is superior to the whole of a man’s body?
I’d say we’ve got our priorities straight. And if the woman on the other end of Lolo Jones’ butt happens to read this, she should write her phone number in the comments so I can call her. We share a lot of the same values, and just like any other woman, it starts with an awesome booty, but that beauty knows no bounds and would take a lifetime for me to really fully appreciate.
I’m no different from any other guy. I want the opportunity to appreciate a women, one bit at a time, for the rest of my life.
Also Read: Much Ado About Olympic Women’s Asses by Joanna Schroeder