Some people are shade on the side of ugly, whilst others are disarmingly attractive. The attractive among you will be familiar with the casual stares, the whistles, and the unsubtle assessments which are meant as flattery. For years I just accepted my treatment at the hands of passing women in the supermarket. I have overheard groups of girls score my stomach, casually appraising it for its firmness, size, and shape. To be the owner of a beer gut is to be subjected to daily objectification. The proliferation of paunch-related imagery on television, in newspapers and in advertising has left me wondering if all women see when I stroll down the street is my Shatner-esque abdomen.
It is easy, if you have never been objectified, to discard the notion of objectification as one which exists as a particular make of victimhood. When you consider the publication of images of topless women in a newspaper to be little more than poor taste, it is a simple step to convince yourself that you could choose to be offended, or to merely spend your 40p elsewhere. You could choose to tape your two 20p coins to someone else’s copy and save a small fraction of a woman’s modesty, or put down a deposit on a first class stamp so that you could raise the issue with your MP. These are the consumer choices open to the man with a few silver coins in his pocket who is largely unaffected by such images.
As a man who is not Henry Cavill, I am almost never unwillingly objectified. It has happened so few times that each incident is unpleasantly memorable. The time a stranger’s hand found its way onto my upper thigh whilst I was sitting reading a novel at a bar, the time a group of older women conducted a conversation about my looks in front of me as I grinned and felt a little sick, these are rare moments when a man might gain a small insight into the sharp end of the unwanted attention women receive. This unwanted attention is documented compellingly in this video for the #shoutingback campaign.
We continue to struggle with a coherent answer to what a liberal society considers harmful and exploitative, when contrasted with healthy and robust arguments for a permissive approach to the celebration of the human form. One man’s compliment is another woman’s unwanted harassment. One commentator’s natural gravitas is a reader’s health warning. The outcome of our negotiations is unlikely to be dictated by the human frailties of the most scarred veterans of the intersectionality wars, nor by scholars of the Karl Lagerfeld school of indomitable arrogance. In conducting these negotiations men would do well to accept their relative lack of exposure to the downsides.
Whatever the future holds, it had better not involve women publicly commenting upon my looks, or doing any of the sorts of things that men are now routinely doing to women. Only in such a fresh hell might men fully appreciate the force and purpose of campaigns like the one against the Sun’s page three. Watching women talk about their experiences for the #shoutingback campaign, it is impossible to ignore the disparity between my experience and those of women who have suffered the inhibiting attentions of men treating women as objects. Our own comparable experiences are disquieting, but infrequent. Until the verandah above the toyshop becomes next season’s sexiest physical feature, I and millions of others like me will remain immune to the problems caused by objectification. Call it a gut instinct, but I suspect this skews both male perception of the problems, and the debate itself.
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