I find Sociological Images to be a really interesting blog (though I don’t usually find the comments particularly worthwhile), and I’ve been meaning to write about this older post of theirs for a while.
It’s a series of ads that show completely naked men with fully-clothed women, a complete reversal of the usual trope. My initial response wasn’t actually too pleased, since it’s no good if we close the gender gap by pulling men down; when I talk about “equality” I’m not talking about dealing with equal amounts of shit, I’m talking about eliminating the shit. So a step towards objectifying men’s bodies too struck me as being a step in the wrong direction.
However, the more I looked at them, the less it looked like any kind of change from the norm at all. This picture in particular held my attention (possible NSFW; no bits, but a lot of naked man):
I mean, in theory it’s a total reversal– he’s quite definitely naked, and in a sexualized way, and she’s got on bulky clothes that don’t even give a hint as to what her body looks like. But there’s something in the way he’s sexualized. He’s strong and solid and in control. He’s not vulnerable in his nakedness. He’s not really “naked” at all, more like “nude” or “unclothed.” Whereas the woman is doing every infantilizing thing in the book– the silly grin, touching her face, touching her hair, standing on one leg, holding on to him, hair obscuring her face… that adds up to a kind of sexualization as well, to me. Certainly it’s the woman who looks vulnerable, here, regardless of the clothes.
The facts have changed, but it’s still the dynamic of strong, in-control man and childlike, submissive woman. Which, you know, not so good. You can dress sexism up however you like, but it’s still nothing but ugly.