thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

The Feminist’s Dilemma

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

Sarah S.

Today, Slate posted on article on “Hollywood’s New Beefcakes.” In it, authors and note that “Hollywood always likes to keep a few beefcakes around for use in its big action pictures and romances” and they grade the newest crop accordingly. (It’s worth clicking on the main link to the article to see their graphic, which includes hover-overs for each celebrity situated on top of what part of the cow they represent; I could not snag an image of it for this post.) Taylor Lautner, Twilight hunk, gets Rump Roast and grade of “C” for his “bland acting,” revealing him to be “just a rump, perhaps beef’s least flavorful cut.” Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, gets deemed grade “A” beef, Mock Tender, for being “more interested in subverting his hearthrob dreaminess than in perpetuating it.” Channing Tatum, Chris Pine, Jake Gyllenhall, Ryan Reynolds, and others also make the “cut.”


Here’s my dilemma: If someone did something similar comparing fresh, young starlets to cuts of beef (or any other food item) I would be appalled. All my feminist hairs would stand on end, inflamed with righteous indignation at this objectification of women, this reduction of women to only their bodies. It’s because of such responses that a magazine such as Slate would never publish that article. Why is it okay, then, to reduce these men to meat and not do the same for their female counterparts?

One response is that such an objectification of men subverts a patriarchal paradigm, putting men into a “feminized” position and claiming the traditionally male power of “the gaze” for (straight) women (and gay men). It’s okay because men still enjoy more power and privilege so cannot be problematically hurt by their alignment with beef.

One might counter, however, that such a reduction of any human being to solely their physical self is a problem. And we can see that it’s problem given the rising instances of male anorexia and other signs of body obsession in young men. No human should be viewed so reductively.

Someone else right now is rolling their eyes. Come on! they say, It’s funny! Moreover, celebrities, male or female, know what they’re signing up for when they get on the Hollywood merry-go-round. No one becomes a movie or television actor nowadays thinking they won’t be judged on their looks or that being hot is not a part of their job. Because being judged on one’s physical appearance is part of being a celebrity, none of these actors (or their female counterparts) has any right to complain.

What do the readers of Girls Like Giants have to say? Is it funny and lively celebrity commentary? An acceptable re-appropriation of male privilege? A troubling expansion of de-humanizing practices to men? All of the above? None of the above?

The root question, of course, is how to navigate our desire to look at beautiful people in an age dubbed “post-modern,” “post-racial,” “third wave feminist,” and so forth? I honestly don’t know how I feel about the Slate graphic. One part of me laughed, another part flinched. What say you?

  1. I’m unsurprised that this post hasn’t gotten any feedback, because I find this has been a major (and largely ignored) issue in the sex/gender community recently. I’m personally the kind of girl who can see the humor and the tastelessness in both instances (if there were both a male and female chart in this vein, that is), and I’m not typically sensitive to “objectification”, because (ironically) it’s not personal. They’re typically adult men and women who present themselves willingly to be photographed and admired/lusted after–although in this case the chart was made independent of the celebrities’ consent or knowledge.

    But it does present a dilemma to those people who ARE sensitive to these kinds of things. As you say, it would be unacceptable to see women portrayed in this way, but it is (understandably) funny to see it if it happens to men. And besides, men are privileged, so they can suck it up.

    But I think that’s the worst kind of mindset to have, because the belief that the objectification of men (even in a light, humorous way) is payment for their perceived privilege goes against everything that equality activists claim to hold dear. (Although I’ve definitely seen more than my share of hypocrisy there.)

    A group can’t have it both ways–if we’re going to utilize the sexuality/sensuality of a certain group as entertainment or as advertising fodder or whatever, we can’t discriminate: everyone is fair game. OR we stop doing it period.

    (By the way, not sure if you’re still looking for writers, but I do a mean Devil’s Advocate. :P)

  2. […] wrap Mike’s story in a moral opposition to objectification. As noted in my earlier post about Slate‘s beefcakes feature, we remain culturally ambivalent about the objectification of male bodies. Magic Mike declares such […]

  3. I know this is an older post by now, but it remains a relevant topic and it’s actually something I have to decide on myself as I’ve been offered to model in a male charity calendar. When asked I admit I jumped to the “double standard” argument at first, after being asked by a colleague of mine who’s a woman that claim to be a feminist.

    To the contrary the calendar supports a really good case, so I’m baffled.

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