What a Poser! Why popular gender-swap memes are a joke

pinupswap3These gender-swap images have been making the rounds lately, but I wanted to take a quick look at while they’re so funny to us. Showing women posed the way women often are doesn’t really showcase the problems with objectification because it seems like a joke. I see how this is a really accessible way to discuss objectification, but it, in many ways, reinforces the gender dichotomy and hierarchy by seeing how comical it is to see men displayed the way we pose women.

The eighteenth century saw a lot of masquerade balls where men and women would dress in drag, but because of the context, it strengthened gender roles instate of subverting them.

pinupswap4Of course men are objectified for their looks, but it’s not in the same way, and not with the same implications as when women are. For one, it’s not as threatening to men because society and media value them for things other than their looks. (It’s usually money and power, which is also problematic because it reinforces the singular idea of masculinity in which men are only useful to the extent that they can provide monetary gain).  And when men are objectified for their looks, mainstream media depictions will show men being strong and powerful – their legs are hardly ever in the frame. The way society looks at men’s and women’s bodies are very different, and when they are showed side-by-side like this, of course it’s a joke.

We don’t see women posed in ways we usually pose men – because that would show women in too serious and powerful a way, and isn’t as funny. It follows the same way children play games as a kid – a girl can play games with predominantly boys without losing status as a girl, but a boy playing with girls would cause a lot of ridicule. The hierarchy prevails in all facets of life.

It’s great that we’re starting to see the problems of how we objectify women, but it’s still important to consider the ways we’re displaying people. It’s a joke for a man to dress like a woman, and so this campaign can only go so far.

pinupswap2

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No Punch Line in Sexual Exploitation

A new study from the Parent-Television Council’s campaign, “4 Every Girl” shows that sexually exploitative scenes on television are overwhelmingly more likely to focus on underage girls than with women. Of course the countless sexually exploitive scenes with adult women are a problem, but the way television uses young girls and exploits their bodies, often for humor, is abominable.  Audience-Laughing

PTC conducted an analysis of 328 episodes of prime-time television to determine the level of sexual exploitation of women and girls. I didn’t get more than a paragraph into the study when I found these astounding results:

1). The appearance of an underage female character in a scene increased the likelihood that the scene would include sexual exploitation; and 2) the appearance of an underage female character in a sexually exploitative scene increased the probability that the scene would be presented as humorous.

I think the second part of those results especially bears repeating: Having an underage girl in a sexually exploitive scene makes the scene far more likely to be presented as humorous. So now prime-time shows are not only sexualizing, harassing, and exploiting children, but it’s a joke! The study analyzes how television shows promote and trivialize sexual exploitation. The article explains that humor reinforces stereotypes; this point is so important because when something becomes a joke, it means it’s harmless. People won’t view sexual exploitation as a problem if they’re taught to laugh about it. I see the parallels here to using period TV shows to incorporate racism and sexism (et al.) as major comedic plot points. If we’re laughing about it, the problem must be over. We solved the sexism problem.

tv productionAnother hugely important point that I cannot help but take away is to look at the way the media portrays grown women as infantile and young girls as hyper-sexualized creatures. So let’s make the connection. Women are infantilized while girls are sexualized – these seemingly contradictory issues serve to reinforce patriarchal notions that women aren’t to be taken seriously.

And what are the immediate consequences here? Beyond the atrocious way women are treated as sex objects to be thrown away after first use, these images are so harmful to girls and women. PTC’s study cites, “The average age for minors entering prostitution is 13,” and “80% of female victims who experienced their first rape before the age of 25, almost half experienced the first rape before age 18 (30% between 11 – 17 years old and 12% at or before the age of 10).”  I don’t mean to throw a ton of statistics at everyone but these numbers are staggering.

The bottom line is that we sexualized girls and we infantilize women, which reinforces notions of control and sexuality in which men control women. I can’t believe I have to write this sentence, but we need to stop looking at child sexual exploitation as a joke.

Dude is so Wasted: Drinking to Reinforce Masculinity and Bro Culture

Bros Get Wasted; Girls Get Tipsy: Why Boozy Talk Matters, posted on NPR on July 10, 2013,  discusses a recent publication in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, picks apart the ways in which men and women in college are described while intoxicated. I was unable to access the full text of the article, so I am relying on NPR’s analysis and Alcoholism’s abstract for my insights.

A-little-TipsyNPR’s article begins by discussing the problem of students’ perceptions of other students’ drinking habits.  People tend to assume that everyone else is drinking more than they are – people tend to also assume the same about sex.  The article opens up for a discussion of the way people perceive levels of intoxication for men and women separately. The study in Alcoholism, “Gender Differences in Natural Language Factors of Subjective Intoxication in College Students: An Experimental Vignette Study” had 145 participants and examined the terms they used to describe the drunkenness of students.

Participants in the study read scenarios in which the characters were described in varying levels of intoxication. The student participants were asked to describe the character. Students overwhelmingly underestimated moderate drinking, quite possibly because students assume their peers are drinking much more than they are. Students also were far more likely to use words such as  “tipsy, buzzed, light-headed,” when describing even the most intoxicated woman. When describing men, on the other hand, students used, unsurprisingly, more harsh and strong words, such as “plastered” and “obliterated.”

Bro Party

The leader of the study, Ash Levitt, says that the “trashed and wasted” view of drinking men have leads to sometimes deadly consequences. When students assume everyone drinks more than them, and that men must drink significantly more than women, it creates a competition that inevitably ends badly.

The study concludes that college students are putting themselves at great risk, and highlights the threats to men. Studies such as these illustrate just one of many downsides to the singular view of masculinity we have. Men become much more likely to over-indulge if they feel their manhood, their sense of self, depends on them acting out and becoming belligerent. One commenter on NPR’s website mentioned the effect this has on consent for women – the commenter noted that if women are always described as “tipsy” than they can always be faulted for assault and rape.

I believe this is just another way that society perpetuates the dichotomy where men should not be held accountable for their actions but women are always in control. This viewpoint is an easy way to explain victim blaming and the “boys will be boys” attitude that gives men the freedom to avoid responsibility.

Bros Drinking

The type of behavior perpetuated by college drinking culture is a dangerous one for everyone. Students police each other to ensure their peers are in near-constant drinking contests, whether outright or implicitly. Creating this competition forces people to go far beyond their personal limits, and as the pressure is more intense for men to prove their masculinity, it makes them even more vulnerable to harm.  I took a screenshot of the google image search, “bros drinking,” and the first row of pictures shows men hypermasculinizing themselves and each other while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.