Are men objectified as much as women? Does it matter? Read on for Halimah Manan’s verdict.
The objectification of women has been a well-documented phenomenon by feminists in recent years. From Everyday Sexism, a website where people post personal experiences, to feminist magazines such as Bitch and Ms., there are plenty of discussions of the way the female body is objectified.
However, when Natalie Dormer, Game of Thrones actress, told Radio Times that television sometimes opens up both men and women to equal scrutiny, it raised the questions: have we come to a point in time where men are objectified as much as women? If so, in which ways? Has it brought about, as Chris Pratt suggested, equality? Or is it a way for people to undermine the persistent institutional problem of objectification, particularly in other, non-sexual ways, more often levelled at people of colour? And, focusing on Game of Thrones, are men and women really equally objectified?
Before we can get to the point of this article, it’s important to clarify what I mean by ‘objectified’. As far as the dictionary definition goes, to objectify is to ‘degrade to the state of a mere object’. By far, this issue is also present in clothes and perfume advertisements (American Apparel springs to mind) but TV shows are guilty of it too.
An example of objectification in a perfume advert.
An objectification of this kind occurs when characters, or their plotlines (romantic, sexual, or otherwise), solely exist for the motivation of another character, or for the audience’s gratification. Overwhelmingly, these characters tend to be people of colour. Case in point is arguably Oliver, played by How To Get Away With Murder’s Conrad Ricamora who is half-Filipino, as he mostly exists to be Connor’s love interest. Equally, in The 100, three of the main characters who are tortured (Raven, Bellamy and Lincoln) and one who suffers a meaningless death (RIP Wells!) are people of colour, whose pain is used to motivate other, usually white, characters.
What about Game of Thrones?
Of course, there’s plenty of objectification elsewhere, some of which occur in Game of Thrones (contrary to Dormer’s implication that her projects are equally objectifying). In the case of white characters, this has been predominantly a sexual objectification. From a dishonest portrayal of Osha’s (Natalia Tena) naked body in season 1 with a distinct lack of hair, to unnecessary and gratuitous rape scenes diverting from the book, to season 5’s questionable plotline (plus another unnecessary rape scene) for Sansa, it’s hard to believe Natalie Dormer. Particularly when you realise the camera focused on Theon, emphasising that the plotline was more for his benefit than for any character development (as if rape could possibly ever pass as a device for development) of Sansa’s.
In fact, along with The Mary Sue, Lee-Ying, a second-year student at Kings College London, stopped watching Game of Thrones after Sansa’s questionable scene. “I didn’t watch on til the end of the season,” she said, “after Sansa’s rape because I was tired of having to see sexual violence against women all of the time…”
“People have argued that Sansa’s arc … has been used to further Theon’s redemption arc. It feels like she’s already gone through enough; there was no reason to put her through more, especially as it diverges from the book…”
These cases certainly make Matthew Macfadyen’s outrage at the objectification of Aidan Turner’s Poldark look tame. After all, what’s a questionable six-pack to the repeated use of gratuitous portrayals of sexual violence perpetrated against women?
Does it matter?
However, while these examples may suggest that women are objectified more than men, in more overt and obvious ways, the question posed by this article has been somewhat misleading; to compare objectification is reductive. Rather, it’s necessary to acknowledge that objectification manifests itself in different ways and is damaging for men and women, though to varying degrees. Even so, to say that one is more pressing a concern than the other would be unfair and untrue; feminists have long campaigned against both.
So, while there is no doubt that Natalie Dormer is right about the objectification of men, the statement has become polarising. You need only glance at this Telegraph article to get a taste of the worst side of this assertion. The acknowledgement of men’s objectification does not reduce the institutional problem of objectification posed against women and perpetuated in TV, even if television does allow more diversity than films.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say that men are objectified as much as women while sexual violence continues to be used as a plot device in critically-acclaimed shows, like Game of Thrones. Regardless, both forms are damaging and should be held in similar regards as to their consequences rather than compete for attention.