Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Off-topic: The Olympics, and the summer of male objectification

We're told that this is the "summer of objectification," specifically, male objectification, where it's acceptable for women to ogle male flesh. A lot of women seem to be openly embracing male abs and bulges without apology, but the usual suspects are trying to rationalize it all, insisting that this kind of "objectification" is not the same as the kind men practice when the genders are reversed. Are these writers being honest with themselves?

Let's back up a minute first. Remember Karen Owen's "Fuck List"? Owen, a Duke University student, prepared a report on the sexual prowess of her college athlete sex partners that was as dispassionate as a newspaper's feature piece rating the local pizza joints. Throughout the report, Owen evinced an obsession with the male organ of copulation. Under her “Physical Attractiveness” criteria, she included "penile structures” and size -- "points were determined based on the length and girth of the Subject’s hardware,” she declared. In fact, every male "subject" (talk about objectification) was rated, in part, on his appendage: "He is enormous,” she gushed about one. About another: ”I was actually rendered speechless. . . . I wasn’t even sure what to do with the situation at hand (erm, mouth?).” Another was “huge”; another was “very well equipped”; and another was “packing some decently sized hardware.” But she wrote of one hapless young man: “Wait. . . . Was that his dick? No, it couldn’t be.”

Owen took a lot of heat because she likes dick, a lot. One female writer wrote: “What rotten luck that the first true daughter of sex-positive feminism would have an erotic proclivity for serving every kind of male need, no matter how mundane or humiliating . . . ." 

Hey, the "fuck list" was a little (or a lot) weird, but at least Ms. Owen was honest about what she likes.

Remember a few years ago, when feminist icon Germaine Greer did a television special in the UK about the beauty of boys, as opposed to physically mature men? The broadcast featured a full frontal nude 18-year-old male model who posed while Greer waxed poetic about -- better sit down for this -- young male sperm. “There are many ways in which a boy is an ideal fantasy partner for a woman,” she clucked in her most professorial voice. “Any woman of taste would have a boy for a lover rather than a man. He’s easier to manage. His sperm flows like tap water, which happens to be a biological fact. And quicker recovery time and all that kind of thing. More rewarding in all sorts of ways. Conversation might be a bit lacking, but then, who does it for conversation?” 

Greer creeps me out, but at least she's honest about what she likes.

Or remember when Peter Shaffer's hit play "Equus" was revived in London a few years back, starring then-17-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, and there was a huge buzz because of Harry Potter's nude scene? Opening night female theater-goers couldn't hide their enthusiasm. "Oh my goodness..." a female reporter squeaked. "He's quite something."  Her female friend gushed, "Isn't he just?" She added: "And surprisingly hirsute, if I might say...crikey, just look at that six-pack. And chest. And tummy...Wow! Who'd have thought it?"

Paying Broadway-type prices to gawk at a 17-year-old's genitalia does kind of break the creeped-out meter, but at least those women were honest about what they like. And, besides, all they did was look. 

This week, a 44-year-old female ex-teacher named Kristle Vandever was in the news for doing something more than just looking. Vandever had her teaching license revoked for having sexual relations with her male students. That's not terribly unusual today, sadly, but what's different about this story is Vandever's candor. She flat-out admitted in an email, "I just can't help wanting these hot young boys . . . ."

Whoa!  Ms. Vandever should be behind bars, but at least she's honest about what she likes, even if it is sick and depraved.

The summer of 2012 has brought at least two major mainstream occasions to openly objectify male flesh. The first was a film about male strippers called Magic Mike. Two "curious feminists" went to see it, and here is what one wrote: "The almost entirely female audience lapped up every second, myself included. Catcalls, hooting laughter and orders to ‘Take it off!’ were refreshingly shameless and surprisingly frequent. It did not matter that we were experiencing Joe Manganiello’s buttocks through the filter of a movie screen . . .." She added: ". . . if nothing else, the runaway success of Magic Mike and its sold-out showings all over the country prove that women are hungry for an opportunity to ogle the shiny pecks of Hollywood’s finest." And: "Hopefully, this will be the first in a long line of films allowing women to have their turn objectifying their male counterparts."

It was refreshing that the writer didn't try to justify her desires as politically correct or as anything other than what they were.

Lindsay Gellman, writing for Huffington Post, summed it up. She admitted that she "totally" enjoyed "frame after frame of Channing Tatum's impossibly-defined abs and hip bones."  But then she said what really can't be denied: "Let's admit to ourselves that ogling the cast of Magic Mike isn't politically correct. It's sexist."

Ms. Gellman was just being honest. 

Aside from Magic Mike, the second mainstream occasion for women to celebrate male flesh was the Big One, the Olympics. Never has so much flesh -- female and male -- been displayed for so many people as in these London games. 

Cosmopolitan saluted the new-found acceptability of ogling young men by running a feature called Match the Olympic Bulge, where readers were supposed to look at a male Olympian's "package" and guess the identity of its owner.

Cosmo is anything but progressive, but at least it didn't try to rationalize as politically correct its close-up of the crotch of a 20-year-old diver wrapped in a Speedo so tight it left nothing to the imagination.

In Britain, the hometown Olympic favorite is an 18-year-old diver named Tom Daley -- unbelievably, making his second Olympic appearance despite his youth. Tom looks like the proverbial boy next door and has a legion of female adolescent fans, not to mention older ones, too, who seem to like the fact that Tom is nearly naked all the time. A thirtysomething journalist from Los Angeles gushed to a British reporter. “Who is this guy? He is totally adorable!” Emma Santoni, a 26-year-old chemist was asked what she liked about this barely legal teen cavorting about in the tiniest of swim trunks. "Are you kidding?"  she said. "Have you seen him lately?" A BBC film sounded like it was written by Germaine Greer when it suggested that we should "simply enjoy young Tom while it lasts."  (Seriously?) Another female writer said this: "Daley is clearly adorable, but when my first instinct is to breastfeed him in the most non-sexual of ways, there should be a 'Virgin Alarm' warning to all of you to take 15 steps off of a platform diving board and directly into an ice cube bath."

At least they are honest about their desires. And that, dear readers, is more than can be said for some other writers.
In Fem Pop, Alex Cranz came back from seeing Magic Mike and decided there was a big difference between objectifying women and objectifying men: "A male exotic dancer is meant to be objectified as well, but here’s a key difference in how they’re portrayed versus how every female exotic dancer ever has been portrayed. When a male dancer is on that stage? He is in control. He owns the room. The women sway to his beat. He chooses who to dance with and he manipulates her."  Get it? No?  Cranz tries again: "These guys maintain their power while they dance. They hold onto the privilege that has been afforded them . . . ."

Could have fooled me. My guess is male strippers do what they do because it sells -- and that they'd gladly ditch the "privilege that has been afforded them" if a more demeaning style of stripping would bring more customers in the door.

Ah, but Zoe Williams knows why objectification is OK during the Olympics: "Why isn't it offensive, the slavering? Because of the almost pitch-perfect balance of men and women. Usually, when people go on about attributes, they are female . . . . If the gazing . . . falls equally upon everybody, you have to think that maybe there is no ulterior motive." 

Get it? It's OK so long as both genders do it. Men can only get a free pass about their own "objectifying" if women happen to do it at the same time.

If you fail to see the logic behind that rationale, you're not alone. 

For my money, the woman who should be behind bars for sexual relations with children, Kristle Vandever, is more honest than these features writers trying to manufacture politically correct reasons for their ogling. Vandever said bluntly: "I just can't help wanting these hot young boys . . . ." 

Tom Daley and fellow Olympians, looking like they're acting in a porno film.