Saturday, March 2, 2013

I objectify women, but at what cost?

Jacqui and me on an old tshirt (Detail) - 030213 - SideB

"Either intentionally or not, are we putting unrealistic, unwanted, and unfair roles onto women (or any objectified group) that do meet the objectified standard and also on those that do not (either by choice or chance)" - SideB
A few days ago I stumbled upon the online article "5 Ways Modern Men are Trained to Hate Women" by David Wong at Cracked.com.  I used a few lines from the article to illustrate a point on some of the potential harm of this objectification in a comment to previous post.

"From birth we're taught that we're owed a beautiful girl... So it's very frustrating, and I mean frustrating to the point of violence, when we don't get what we're owed. A contract has been broken.." - David Wong

Jacqui and me on a an old tshirt - 030213 - SideB
Mr. Wong's argument may seem a bit extreme and even facetious, but if you read the article, he does develop his rationale behind it.  In a section titled, "We're trained from birth to see you as decoration" he shared online statements about a female public figure, some of which are:

"Her face is so ugly you can smash it into some dough and make gorilla cookies."
"So fugly, I'd say 'don't even look'!!!"
"At least Medusa was modestly attractive by comparison."
"This person is disgusting and I would never trust 'it's' opinion on ANYTHING!"
The fact that this person is US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kegan raises an important question - regardless of politics, she is a strong legal professional that earned a seat on the highest court and why are we discrediting her on her appearance?  If her legal and political beliefs and backgrounds matched the holders of those statements, would she have been "hotter", or at least her appearance not even be mentioned?

In another example he exposes the vitriol thrown at Christina Aguilera due to her changes in weight by comparing it to comments that would be said about an overweight male celebrity.

"fuck her! I have a full-time job, go to grad school full-time, cook at home every night and still find time to get my ass to the gym. lazy ass fat bitch ..."
"Don't get me wrong -- if it's a male celebrity in the article, you'll get lots of people making fun of his fatness. If it's a female, you get anger.  She owes it to us to be pretty. That's the social contract as we've understood it from the time we were toddlers." - David Wong
Now it is time to take a breath and step back.  I am a firm believer in shades of grey (and not of the 50 shades either).  Not all men are like this.  I can't stand certain politicians that are female, but I don't go around saying "She is the (see statements above)".   Most guys I know wouldn't either.  I do know though that like most humans I will go back into my head and have a flash thought that may not be too far off of those hateful expressions.  These thoughts are almost knee-jerk reactions that I don't act on and try to dismiss quickly.  They are similar to those racist, religious, or other hateful thoughts that we pick up over a life time.  We don't believe them or try to deny them at a higher level of thought, but they flare into our conscious for a short moment before our rational mind squashes them.
 
Many of these issues are why I started my art series, IOW.  I wont speak for society, but by my creating the photos I do, am I worsening the problem, acknowledging a truth and exposing it to the light, or just being a human?

What say you on all this??

9 comments:

  1. Awesome post, Side B! I struggle with this much more than the accusations of exploitation. Everything I do is based on beauty and fantasy ... but what if those ideals in my work are contributing to an unrealistic expectation of all women? What if everyone I meet starts to expect me to actually BE that airbrushed, perky, sexualized version of me, 24/7? How many of us could meet that standard? How many disclaimers must I attach to my opus "Any resemblance to an actual functional woman are purely coincidental. Don't try this at home. Your mileage may vary." ?

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  2. As far as Mr. Wong - I think he has some anger management issues dealing with a warped sense of women.

    What comes to mind.
    I went to work in a factory after graduating from high school and worked with a guy in his 50's at the time. He went out with all kinds of women and this was his motto: There are no ugly women - some are just better looking than others.

    I heard a quote in a video recently - The reason Photoshop was invented is because reality sucks.

    We all filter beauty through our own set values, our own reality. Even then what actually is converted to triggering the hormones can be a totally different experience. When I was young if asked what I wanted my wife to be like. I said, thin, tall with long legs, long blond hair, small perky tits, small butt, blue eyes; it was a long useless list as it's not close to the woman that I fell in love with and have been married to for 38 years.

    What does that mean? It means I let my fantasy go and embraced the reality of my life. I wasn't going to get the Playboy or Penthouse centerfold I saw each month in my bed because she didn't really exist. The girls that came into the bars of Sault Saint Marie Michigan didn't have a mua to alter and improve their looks. There wasn't a lighting guru to light my bedroom to accentuate their best features when they got naked. There wasn't some specialist to take care of that zit on her ass that came into view when she lifted her legs exposing her intimate interior that turned me in a quivering erection that only saw a beautiful woman spread before me. Why do we overlook or accept flaws in real life? I think it's because she desires us as much as we desire her and she also is overlooking and accepting our flaws.

    It's like Miz B says – she deals in beauty and fantasy. While I don't really know her, through her comments I think the images posted here are something she does to express herself. It's something she does in front of a camera. It's a role she plays as a part of her life; it's not her “life”. It's not who she really is as a woman. I'm pretty sure Jacqui doesn't go around with her body wrapped in rope most of the time. She may even hate being tied up, may hate the thought of bondage. But as a model and artist she would put those personal thoughts away for a few hours to bring a vision, a thought, a feeling to reality. I feel the women that participate in photo shoots like this are not being exploited. They are not forced, not coerced, they are willing, they want to be there. They want to create with the photographer what they feel is art.

    I feel advertising is more demeaning and exploiting to woman by creating ideals that cannot be met. Images that look like reality, are portrayed as reality, but are difficult or impossible to really have.

    I think ever since man began to reproduce the human form in some way as art vs just a record of their existence it has been encompassed in bit of fantasy. I think we all have a fantasy or two lurking in the gray matter and art can help us play with them. We photoshop them into our imagination by looking at the images others create. I can take my mundane ordinary life and through a bit of art intensified fantasy; I can have a slave to do my bidding. I can wield a whip with precision. I can have a woman submit to all my desires by merely gazing into my baby blues. I can transpose myself into any situation I find desirable; be it nasty and degrading or loving and beautiful. Does this objectify women? Maybe, but I'll add to to Miz B's disclaimer list – No real women were harmed in this fantasy.

    As far as the images of yours I've been able to observe SideB: I think you are acknowledging a truth and exposing it to the light by just being a human.

    D.L. Wood

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  3. I concur with the notion that the advertisement industry probably promotes savagery towards women on par with that of human trafficking and forced sexual servitude of all sorts. The self-inflicted torture that models endure is inhumane and all for the sake of living up to an impossible standard of beauty along with making (and saving) money for the fashion industry (they save money on fabric since it doesn't take as much to make clothing for bodies that mimic skeletons).

    Like all subjects between the sexes, there are two sides to every coin. Men are brought up to think that they will marry the prom queen and knock her up with a football team's worth of kids whereas women grow up on the notion that they shall marry Mr. Tall, Dark, Handsome Prince Charming with a bank account big enough to live among the Top 0.5%.

    However, we cannot place the blame solely on Advertisements and Entertainment. They only sell what they know the public will (be gullible enough to) buy. As they cater to markets that exist, it is WE as humans that have breathed life into these markets that exist for them to cater to. After all, the pusher can't sell his product without a loyal consumer base of junkies.

    Another angle to approach this are those that think that they are "real" just because they let themselves go. This reminds me of an interesting encounter I once had with my best friend:

    After returning home from Europe to meet with family and friends, we were together in a McDonald's waiting for our order. He spotted a young lady also waiting for her order. He draws my attention to her. While he was virtually salivating over this girl he thought was "Fine as Hell", I found her mediocre at best. A bit put off by my indifference, my friend replied to me, "Sorry, but that's what REAL women look like.". Granted I may have been a tad spoiled by European women at the time, I told him that if THAT is what REAL women look like, then we just as well should strip them of the title of "the fairer sex". Just so you know, this girl was rather on the overweight side, but nothing a few laps around the block couldn't cure.

    The point is the unrealistic concept of beauty is brutal to those who will go so far to attain it, whereas just letting yourself go and calling yourself "real" is just plain slothful. Not saying that we shouldn't aim high for ourselves, but if you're going to be "real", then try being "Realistic".

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  4. Well stated! I think our vulnerability to marketing is predicated largely on the foundations our parents provide us for values and ability to think for ourselves. I am often approached by "concerned" {read this as code for nosey and judgmental} parents who are concerned about the people/atmostphere/images to which my sons are exposed. Let's be clear - my sons are early teens and they are not exposed to inappropriate sexual or violent images, least of starring me. But I don't cover their eyes in art galleries when the statues have nipples or penises either! They meet the models who come through our studio and they know that a lot of our work is not for their eyes. Ironically, many of the worried witch-hunters allow their pre-teens to play Call of Duty & watch Skinemax unsupervised, but I digress.

    So a few years back we hosted an end of summer campout for all the boys' friends in our backyard. Inevitably, someone pulled out a Victoria's Secret catalog they had snitched from their mom. I hung back pretending not to notice - curious to see where this rite of passage would go. While many of their friends oooh'd and ahhhh'd, my sons seemed unimpressed. Finally, my older boys announced "Dude - you know she doesn't REALLY look like that, right? When she wakes up in the morning, she looks like my mom!" **OUCH** but **YAY!!** Two teen boys who understand the difference between fantasy and reality, marketing and real people. So you tell me - which children are being indoctrinated to objectify women ... those exposed to art and real women, both nude and clothed ... or those scandalized by the hint of an undergarment with no sense that the models they see are the mom next door, the babysitter down the street, or the cashier at the grocery store - just well lit and photoshopped? In Europe, there are naked women in the Praktiker ads for showers (think German Home Depot), and both genders nude in art & sculpture on nearly every block. In America, God forbid our children even know what is in their own pants. Yet if you compare the attitudes toward women and the prevalence of sexual violence, America is positively Neandertal ... coincidence?

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    1. Yes, when it comes to American culture it seems like one is more likely to get away with exposing children to violence rather than sex. To my knowledge, one can actually be charged for owning more than 6 sex toys, but its totally okay to walk the streets with some heat strapped to your waist. Its totally alright to read anything from Tom Clancy, but heaven forbid that a child gets caught with a copy of 50 Shades or even a VS catalog for that matter LOL... that seems fair to you? Hell, by the time they hit their teens, they have a better idea of how guerrilla terrorists lock and load AK-47s before they know the basics of sexual relations. I hope my son masters proper treatment of women to the point where when he fucks a girl, they call him the "Sun Tzu" of sexual strategy... such high hopes for our children right?

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  5. I appreciate everyones' comments. I disagree with a few and nod in agreement with most.

    One point I think we need to consider is how much we disregard women just because they don't meet an ideal standard. In the article I mentioned, the author looked at online comments about Justice Kegan. The top scoring comments belittled her appearance and made that the only value she could hold. Forget about the years of study, practice, and hard work she put in to be where she is because she has little worth since she does not meet physical expectations.

    My personal dilema with creating this type of art is that am I reinforcing a culture that only appreciates a small part of what a person is, her looks. Are we just dismissing amazing women (and those attributes that make them amazing) just because they may have extra pounds, a wrinkle here and there, or some other "flaw". Must we only judge a woman by how "fuckable" they are and dismiss them if they miss the mark? Do only the "hot" deserve sex?

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    1. I face this with both genders and on both sides of the lens. Do men HAVE to be tall dark and handsome to be sexy? Is abs the standard of sex appeal? I want to look my very best in front of the camera and I'm not ashamed to photoshop, but c'mon - I'm a 42 year old successful business woman ... don't I have an obligation to represent more than just silky skin, perky breasts, and a wicked smirk? Do men feel the same pressures to remain desirable or is their value judged less physically and more in terms of their success as a provider?

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  6. I think a woman is beautiful when she knows, accepts (not a good word but can't think of a better one, help me out here Miz B)and is confident in who she is.

    I think that is the key - who she is. As photographers I'm sure you can see the difference in models that have confidence in themselves, know who they are and have good self esteem vs those that don't. We as viewers can usually pick them out. It shows; maybe it's that "something" extra that comes across in an image.

    In this conversation we are "looking" at the surface of a woman and I think you have to say that is what we men objectify. There is so much more to make a truly "Beautiful" woman. How many beautiful women can't rub two thoughts together? Can't carry a conversation beyond - Hi my name is Pretty Thing. Luckily there is so much more to being beautiful than what is reflected in the sunlight. Yet it takes a personal interaction to find that part, the real part of being beautiful. I think this woman is hard to objectify in real life: no matter what kind of picture you take of her.

    Miz B your son's take on the reality of a woman is good and I hope he keeps it. I hope he comes to appreciate both sides of a woman. The part that gets up looking like my mom and the part all you women do to help us turn you into our objects of fantasy and desire. His comment about the morning reminds me of that old bar joke - I never went to bed with an ugly woman - but I have woken up with a few. But for you - I'm thinking this mom, even on a, didn't get much sleep, bedhead, I need a cup of coffee bad morning, is a far cry from ugly. lol

    D.L. Wood



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    1. I absolutely agree, D.L. ... the "it" factor in sex appeal for both genders is definitely embracing of self and projection of personality. I prefer not to work with Barbie Doll models ... perfection that is one dimensional is so boring and stiff. My favorite models are the ones who don't consider themselves model material - not in a self-deprecating way, but because they have so much more going on that they feel good about than just their appearance. To me, it's a rush to be able to take a "regular" person and bring out the best in them ... to show the world what makes them so sexy in my eyes! ~Miz B

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