Stilettos’ Fifty Shades special got me pondering about objectification. Most people thought the film objectified the female character, but not the male one. There were probably more lingering shots of Anastasia’s body than Christian’s, but I think it’s fair to say that as much flesh was seen of each. There was certainly some excitement at the brief shot of ‘side-peen’ (I learnt a new word!) and possibly discontent in some quarters that we didn’t get to see the member in all its glory. So, being unconvinced about the charge of objectification, or at least gendered objectification, I thought I had better check out what objectification actually means. A definition was developed by Nussbaum in 1975, and, to paraphrase, it means treating a person as if they were an object - there is a focus on their physical being whilst the things that make them human – thoughts, opinions, feelings, agency – are disregarded.
Shortly after this, there was a bit of a furore about the rather lovely Aidan Turner and the response of us womenfolk to such loveliness (I am not referring to the complaints about his scything technique!) I just have to include the now-famous shot of Aidan’s Poldark scything shirt-less.
The question was asked: ‘is it right for women to be making comments like “If I was a cat I would purr...I could look at him all day” and “If Poldark gets any hotter we'll have to call the fire brigade”?’ One of the show’s female co-stars thought this reverse sexism, objectification.
I think the sexism claim is pretty easy to dispute, the definition of sexism being: “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination…on the basis of sex”. I don’t believe that anyone was making any judgments about Aidan’s abilities or anything else on the basis of his appearance, so I don’t think sexism was at play. But let’s think about the objectification claim.
I contend that there is no real objectification going on or, if it is, it is not problematic; objectification is damaging when it is achieved through or in conjunction with unequal power. Whilst some might like to get their hands on his body, Aidan is unlikely to have to succumb to their will. And I think that in most cases no-one would want to force him to do something he didn’t want to do – even if they could – we want to be wanted, to be desired. I also think that it is a fantasy – the obsession is with the character of Poldark as played by Aidan rather than Aidan himself (after all, who had heard of him before). Which leads me onto my second claim: like Mr. D’Arcy, it isn’t just his physical appearance that gets the pulse racing; it is the combination of appearance and the character being played – passionate, smart, strong, fighting for his people against the power of the well-heeled in poverty-stricken Cornwall. Of course, I could well be wrong...
Furore number 2: Worcester girl complains to police after wolf-whistle. Now, I suspect there was indeed a lot more to the story than a wolf-whistle, and I don’t condone harassment for a second, so let’s think about the general and not the specific. Is there a problem with wolf-whistling? How is it intended and how is it interpreted? Is it a note of appreciation, and is this okay since it is based on physical appearance alone? Or is it something more sinister? I suspect that most builders do it because it’s they way it’s always been, it breaks up the day a bit, and they have a bit of banter between them. In general, I don’t have a problem with it; in fact, it’s nice to know that even though I’m getting older I’m not yet invisible. But then I thought – how do female builders feel about this – does it make them feel awkward, excluded? Maybe the real issue here is, why are most builders men, and how much does the bloke-culture contribute to preventing women from breaking into the profession?
Finally, I have an admission. Last summer I was cycling with the St. John’s Cycling Club’s over 75s; specifically, behind an over-80, in Lycra cycling shorts (note that nothing is worn under cycling shorts) with a hole in them. Now…my eye was caught for a little too long…
…by a young builder with his shirt off and an impressive physique, and I was thus in danger of running into said 80+ cyclist. If I were able, I would have whistled in admiration!!
Next time I’ll expand on objectification in the workplace. To give you a taster, this is apparently a post from the Facebook page of a well-respected and influential male scientist at a major conference:
“My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain? No offense to anyone.”