Dear Rob Lowe,
A little while back, you asked a question. We meant to answer it right away, it’s just that we Canadian women have been pretty tied up lately between the Blue Jays and fall television and our new Prime Minister, who is part of the reason that we’re writing, but we’ll get to him in a second. First, though, the question in question—one you posed during an interview with New York’s Vulture blog. Remember? You were talking about your TV show The Grinder and you commented that, “People go on and on about the objectification of women, and rightly so, but what about the objectification of men?”
On the surface, that’s not an unreasonable question and it’s certainly not an untimely one. Just a couple of days after your interview, another small-screen stud muffin—Tony Goldwyn, who plays the president on Scandal—joked about how often he and his equally cold-shower-worthy co-star Scott Foley have to doff their tops in front of the camera. This, Goldwyn explained, is in keeping with Shonda Rhimes’ golden rule: actresses can wear whatever they want, but the men on her shows should be prepared to gear down at any given moment.
Television isn’t the only place where male objectification—the rise of so-called “boyeurism”—has been one of 2015’s most demonstrable trends. We have witnessed grown women rush the box office to ogle X-rated man meat in movies like 50 Shades of Grey, Magic Mike XXL and Gone Girl (which hit theatres in 2014 but came to video in February—helloooooo pause button). We obsessed over Sam Smith’s “before” and “after” weight loss photos, swooned over Taylor Swift’s boyfriend in his tighty whities, and added “dad bod” to the cultural lexicon—a term that didn’t go over so well with a number of “meninists,” who fail to realize that pigs will soar over a frozen hell before a spare tire is considered desirable on a woman, but we digress…
Here in Canada, male objectification became a smoking hot topic following the election of Justin Trudeau, a leader who looks like he sprung forth from an après-ski party in a Tommy Hilfiger ad. Having acclimatized to Trudeau’s good looks some time ago, most Canadians voted based on his fitness to lead us, but the day after the Liberal victory, the international media was focused on fitness of a different sort: “Canada’s Hunky New Leader,” cried the New York Post, the “sexiest politician in the world,” declared the British Mirror, “I Want to Bone Justin Trudeau,” from Vice. Hashtags like #PILF and #DaddyTrudeau trended, while topless snaps of JT in his boxing days bounced around the internet like Justin Bieber’s peen pics the week previous. In short, the most powerful man in our nation was treated like he had just jumped out of a cake at a bachelor party. Presumably, Rob—as a man who once famously starred in a sex tape, and has been called pretty more times than a My Little Pony—you can relate.
— New York Post (@nypost) October 22, 2015
As Trudeau-mania escalated, Canadian journalist Elizabeth Renzetti noted on Twitter that, “If the new PM were a woman and legions were drooling over her, Twitter would break with the outrage.” Of course, she’s completely right, and she was far from the only one to voice this objection, but the thing is that this is not an apples-to-apples scenario.
When people discuss Justin Trudeau’s looks, what they’re saying is, Can you believe how hot the prime minister is?? and not, Can you believe that’s the prime minister?? The Conservative party’s attack ads that did their darnedest to equate Trudeau’s Disney Prince hair to an overall ineptitude, but that didn’t work. Maybe because there is no history of underlying assumption that suggests a guy can’t be hot and smart or accomplished or able to take care of himself. Being attractive can be an advantage, but it isn’t the central thing. Or, as Slate’s Amanda Hess put it in a piece about casting male World Cup players as sex objects: When we talk about a man in terms of his physicality—be it a soccer player or a world leader— “sexual objectification is the icing, not the cake.”
You know what your question is kind of like? Like when a six-year-old turns to his parents on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and slyly inquires, “What about Kid’s Day?” The answer, of course, is that every day is Kid’s Day, just as every day is a day where a man can assume that his appearance won’t be considered the most important thing about him. If he is a “hottie,” nobody will start rumours about who he might have slept with to earn his impressive job. He won’t wonder if his choice in footwear makes him seems powerful or unprofessional and his worth won’t be measured on a countdown clock to his “last f-ckable day.”
When we objectify women, we do so in the context of hundreds of years of second-class citizenship, which is a gentler way of saying abuse and discrimination and being told what we can do with our bodies. Anyone who reached the age of majority before the dawn of Facebook, likely has a great grandmother who wasn’t allowed to own property, a grandmother who wasn’t allowed to vote and a mom who could be legally raped by her husband (as Angelina Chapin pointed out in this Huffington Post piece, this law only changed 33 years ago!!!) These realities don’t change because a few hunks go topless on a primetime, though it’s possible that the boyeurism trend could actually be a good thing for everyone.
In the mid-’70s, the feminist film critic Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the “male gaze,” which basically means that that majority of mainstream entertainment and culture assumes the viewer of said culture to be a straight man. This is why a commercial for a hamburger chain might feature a female pop star gyrating against a fancy sports car. It stands to reason then, that when straight men become the sex objects, someone other than straight men get to be the subjects. (Woot!) When we change what we look at, what we’re really saying is that there is more than one perspective that matters, and that is a pretty big deal.
So you see Rob Lowe, it’s not a tit for tat thing. It’s not about disgruntled women thinking that it’s about time that men experienced the indignity of objectification. Rather, it’s that the times they are a changing. You know time—it’s that thing that your entire being seems to be impervious to. Seriously though, thanks for taking the time to read this. We would be happy to meet in person to discuss further. Preferably you will be topless and/or playing the sax from Saint Elmo’s Fire. Oh, come on, it’s a joke. As a confident, competent man in the 21st century (one who is probably out-earning some female co-star as we speak), we trust you can take it.