Whether men can be objectified by women is a question that’s been mulled over by many — and the answer isn’t a straightforward one. Games of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer has recently put in her tuppence worth pointing out that men are objectified just as much as women, in the world of showbiz at least.
“My personal experience has been to work on phenomenal jobs in which the men are objectified as much as the women,” Natalie told the Radio Times. “Actors suffer from it, too. Wasn’t there a thing about Aidan Turner in Poldark? It’s a visual medium so to a certain extent you get judged on the way you look. We’re not just talking about being slim here. We’re talking about character actors with big eyes getting typecast in the ‘friend’ role. It’s not just about bed-ability: it’s about your physicality more generally.”
The 33-year-old actress, who will soon be appearing in BBC2’s 18th-century drama The Scandalous Lady, has a point about Poldark. While Aidan Turner was a huge hit as Captain Ross Poldark in the BBC saga, much of the press coverage — not to mention social media adoration — has focused on his looks rather than his acting skills. Even a Twitter Q&A session got out of control when Turner was quizzed endlessly about his looks and little else.
Turner as Poldark isn’t the only buff guy appearing regularly in the mainstream media without his top on. Recent cinematic hits sending women across the world into a frenzy were Magic Mike XXL, starring Channing Tatum (and his abs) as a male stripper and, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey. (The overriding impression of my personal Fifty Shades experience was that I had been dropped into the middle of a bizarre and rather intimidating hen do, surrounded by women who whooped and drooled and practically dropped their knickers every time Jamie Dornan flashed even the smallest amount of flesh.)
In this sense it’s true to say that male objectification is all around us. And men don’t really seem bothered by it. In fact they probably secretly love it. Women (and some men) want them, other men want to be them.
If we consider objectification to be seeing people as no more than their physical appearance, and what that can offer us on a sexual basis, then there’s no doubt that men are objectified by women. And of course many women have relationships with men that are no more than sex, with no concern or desire for anything deeper.
Is it possible that the reason men don’t complain about being objectified is that they’ve never experienced it to the extent that women have? Being objectified now and again is hardly the same as dealing with consistent, institutionalised objectification, which goes so much deeper than just sexual objectification. Nobody can deny that centuries worth of oppression, domination and misogyny form the background to this issue.
The majority of children’s books feature more male characters than female ones. The same goes for kids’ TV shows. Most films tell the stories of men, with women cast in peripheral roles. Even in everyday conversation male language prevails. In all areas of life women are seen from the outside, from the point of view of men.
So while we can accept and admit that women objectify men too this shouldn’t take our attention away from a far more serious problem: that society continues to tell us that women are objects, not subjects.