The “Sex Sells” Myth

“I will lose my mind if I hear the “sex sells” fallacy one more time. Sex does not sell. If sex sold, we would see penises where we see boobs. Naked men would be on everything that naked women are on.” – Source

But that’s not the case, is it?

If sex really sold, we would see the same amount of objectification of men and women in every aspect of our lives but that’s not really the case. I’m not denying that the portrayal of men in media isn’t problematic because it certainly is. Body dissatisfaction, depression and eating disorders are on the rise for men, as much as it is for women.  But if you take a close look at how men are being portrayed, they’re mostly in positions that exude power, authority and confidence. In the case of women however, we’re either turned into objects themselves, along with whatever object the ad is selling or we’re depicted in vulnerable, submissive positions. Female objectification and male objectification are very different things, solely because men, in the larger scheme of things, are not so systemically and narrowly reduced to their physical/sexual attributes.

A women’s studies class at the University of Saskatchewan decided to flip the switch and produced a video of images that reverse and play against traditional advertising tropes. But here’s the thing – when you attempt to replace female bodies with male bodies you don’t really objectify men in the same way. This is because our culture’s gaze is so inherently male and so the male body isn’t able to be manipulated, sexualized and victimized in the same way female bodies are. Indeed, the tropes of female body-as-prop are so well-worn, such a part of our cultural landscape, that simply changing up the bodies in the images isn’t enough to actually threaten the male form. In fact,  they’re funny. Because that’s how we culturally interpret a man in a “woman’s role.” It’s comedy.

In reality, the male gaze isn’t purely “male” – it’s something that women have interpolated and now own, too. We are just as critical and questioning of female bodies – if not more! – than men are. And upsetting the female-as-object paradigm in media images is only part of the answer. It’s equally critical that we show female bodies in stronger, more powerful archetypes, too.

And to end this post with a little chuckle, I give you this:

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“I have a daughter who’s 10 and we walked past a billboard the other day advertising a TV programme. There was a row of men in suits and a woman in a thong. My daughter said, “Why is it like that? It’s to sell it, isn’t it?” She knows that already. I said, “Yes, it’s a shame a young woman would want to be portrayed in that way,” and she said, “But it’s her choice, isn’t it? Nobody made her do that.” So how do you explain the Gramscian concept of hegemony to a 10 year old? If the culture is so all pervasive that you can’t think outside of it, how are you making genuine choices?”

– Monica Ali

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