Gavan Reilly's Portfolio writings, ramblings, mumblings

Where have all the boys gone?

As postering in UCD is slowly suffocated by the drive for political correctness, Gavan Reilly asks why it’s only women who complain of being objectified.

The past years in UCD have seen greater influence of female equality groups, fussing over imagery objectifying women as the sexual playthings of a male-orientated society. Demonstrations against the UCD heat of Miss University two years ago – the only heat to attract any clamour – are exemplary of the role the women’s movement has carved for itself in attacking objective portrayal of women on campus.

While there are strong arguments to be made in its favour, there is one abhorrent aspect of the argument against suggestive posters. Some suggest that while posters depicting men in similarly evocative poses would be equally censored, the fact that such posters don’t exist indicates how the problem of sexual abstraction is exclusive to women.

The issues of sexual objectivity and body image are inextricable – a case often put by those arguing for tighter control on what students are presented with while walking the Belfield concourse. Why should women, they argue, be confronted with sexually provocative poses of their contemporaries and have their own bodily insecurities confronted on such a regular basis? Their debate is certainly a reasonable one.

However, there lies a fatal flaw to this reasoning. It seems to be the opinion of these people – who, let us not forget, represent the female equality movement and not merely the gender equality lobby – that it is only females who have needless hangups about their outward appearance and who worry themselves sick (sadly too literally) about the shapes and states of their bodies. The portrayal of women as a sexually loose, universally flaunty group within society is a stereotype that lobby groups fight to quash – but in doing so, these groups fall ultimately indulge in the same sexist rubbish they strive to eliminate.

_MG_5981The argument perpetuated by equality groups is that men simply aren’t subject to the same type of objectification as women are. This is either extreme naivety or a bare-faced lie: in advance of Freshers’ Week, a CTN recruitment poster, placed around campus simultaneous to the B&L and LawSoc posters later censored by the University, featured a male CTN presenter, six-pack and all, entirely naked – but for a branded television covering his private parts. Unlike the latter posters, though, no complaints were made against CTN, for either of two reasons – one, there was nobody on campus that found the poster offensive or incursive on healthy body image for men; or two, that nobody cared enough to report it. The poster remained largely anonymous, seemingly not registering on the moral compass of the PC police.

Try to picture for a moment, in your own mind, a group of women at 10pm on a Saturday evening. What are they doing? What are they wearing? Are they wearing skimpy clothing, in a pub or bedroom getting ready to go out for the night? Now picture a group of men, the same age as the women, at 8pm on a Wednesday night. What are they doing? Likely wearing football jerseys in a pub or a living room, pint glass in hand, watching the Champions League. Both are reasonable images to have, but unlike the parallel image held against men, a prejudicial view of women is apparently rife for targeting, while men, it would appear, are believed to be as one-dimensional as the stereotype suggests.

This is selectively true at best. Men have body image problems too; it is foolish and offensive to assume otherwise. Not all women spend their Saturday evenings dressing provocatively, preparing for sexual conquest; not all men swap alcoholic banter every time there’s football on a midweek evening. Stereotypes may not be earned without a degree of merit, but nonetheless it is considered prejudicial to apply them universally.

Why then do we have an attitude in UCD that women are universally up in arms about the prominence of sexually gratifying images of their kin on society posters? Either the women’s movement, chief cranks in the debate, have the unequivocal support of the female population – quite obviously not the case – or they wish to endorse another stereotype: that women are frail, helpless creatures incapable of defence against an oppressive, masculine society. Anointing themselves as soldiers of equality, intent on destroying the right of a woman to dress or act as she pleases, achieves nothing – and muffles the ability of their sisters to do as they please: a status any equality movement strives towards.

Sexual objectification is not, and has never been, a female-only phenomenon. The difference is that there exists a women’s lobby assuming they represent the feelings of society at large, when this quite apparently isn’t the case. Let’s face facts. For every young woman who wishes her stomach were flatter, longing for the type of body that appears in men’s magazines, there’s a young man who wishes he had the chiselled jaw and leaner stomach needed to be featured in a women’s gossip mag. Men are under same peer pressure to conform to physical stereotype as women do; they just decline to share their concerns with their peers, or to become ambassadors for the embrace of a rounder gut.

Either men need to form lobby groups as their female peers have done, or female lobby groups need to take a step back and realise how their petty mothering is destroying the rights of the sisterhood to do as they wish. The choice is one that UCD, and wider society, should waste no time in making.