The latest movie trailer to turn heads is Magic Mike, which is about a male stripper looking for true love.
Starring a mostly shirtless Channing Tatum, the movie makes us wonder if our culture is beginning to objectify men as it already objectifies women.
While it’s true that Hollywood is objectifying men, male objectification is different from female objectification. Both are inherently degrading, but we treat the objectified human differently based on their gender. While female objectification reduces a woman’s power in Hollywood movies, male objectification continues to worship the male.
We shouldn't objectify any human being. Reducing any person to a commodity without sentience or feeling for mere sexual pleasure is wrong. That said, female objectification in movies tends to be worse than it is for men. In Love and Other Drugs, Anne Hathaway is naked for much of the movie. The point is that despite her character’s tough words and seeming empowered sexuality, she’s incredibly weak -- and not just because she’s physically ill. She’s subject to the formula of one successful female screenwriter. As actress and writer Anna Faris said, “To make a woman adorable ... You have to defeat her at the beginning. It’s a conscious thing I do – abuse and break her, strip her of her dignity, and then she gets to live out our fantasies and have fun. It’s as simple as making the girl cry, fifteen minutes into the movie. Relatability is based upon vulnerability, which creates likability.” If women are not simply peripheral eye-candy without any personalities in movies, they often deal with not only requisite boob shots, but overall weaker roles. While there are definitely exceptions, movies tend to objectify their women in a way that makes them less powerful.
Male objectification does not reduce men in the same way, but rather continues to empower them. Although Tatum is a stripper in Magic Mike, he’s still portrayed as powerful -- “he has money” and screaming girl fans; he dances physically elevated on stage and pushes a woman against a wall. He doesn't perform embarrassing acts in women’s laps, and I imagine that if he does it will be used as a joke that reflects Tatum’s comfort with his masculinity. Magic Mike is not in the same position of weakness as a female actress of character.
In the eyes of the audience, the difference is that women don’t use hot actors as mere objects for sexual pleasure. Actors are still humanized as tender, loving men in leading roles, whereas actresses, on the whole, have little to no personality and roles defined by their relation to men. Bigger male screentime may explain why women tend to treat male characters more like human beings -- focusing on both physical and emotional appeal -- while men usually like actresses for their physical features only. More obviously, women tend to drool in a teenage-girl way that inherently empowers the male object. Men, on the other hand, tend not to scream like fangirls, instead grinning self-satisfied, and enjoying the gaze. In a spatial sense, it feels we look up to objectified men but look down on objectified women.
Is stripping men down even objectification? A study by Psychological Science suggests that our minds objectify women but not men. Participants recognize sexualized images of women upside-down, just like objects, but could not recognize sexualized images of men upside-down; thus, we recognize women as we recognize objects, but not men. We may think we objectify both, but it seems we still tend to objectify women only.
It’s true that some women show off their physiques proudly. But Hollywood is disproportionately male-dominated and male-oriented, taking little female perspective into account in general. It’s also true that men suffer from real-life issues of body image and self-esteem. We must address these serious issues, but this is no reason to deny that we treat Tatum very differently than Hathaway, or any other female actor. Male objectification exists, but it still empowers men in a way that female objectification does not.