Feminists, and those who simply know inequality when they see it, regularly point out that women continue to be objectified in movies, video games, and public life in general. But those interested in equality may be happy to learn that there’s a world where men are highly objectified too. Try reading some romantic fiction.
Actually, you don’t even need to read any romantic fiction. Just take a quick look at the current Amazon bestsellers in the Contemporary Romance category. Right now, seven out of the top 20 bestsellers have a hot guy with a six pack on the cover (this is subject to change as more novels about six packs become popular.)
Romantic fiction is insanely popular
A friend of mine makes his living from self-publishing Kindle books (his particular genre of choice is action/adventure, Indiana Jones-style). We were recently discussing the fact that some genres sell vastly more than others – and romantic fiction, it seems, does better than almost all of them.
Huge numbers of readers, the large majority of them female, consume these books and e-books ravenously.
Such is the demand, in fact, that there are plenty of self-published books available on Amazon which appear to amount to little more than a cover image of a hot male torso that introduces a semi-literate account of a lucky lady who finally got to lay a construction worker.
Quite a lot of the central characters (that is to say hundreds of them, in this massive market), also get to live their dream of getting nailed by a millionaire. Some of them end up marrying the millionaire, but this is far from essential.
How many sexual revolutions is enough?
So what’s the point of highlighting all this? It’s not to fan the flames of the tiresome “social justice warriors” vs “alt-right” debate about gender politics, and it’s certainly not to endorse an argument that often surfaces, on the conservative side of that debate, which says that the battle for female empowerment has gone too far and now it’s men who are oppressed and disadvantaged.
The point, really, is to highlight why it is that women are still objectified in highly prominent areas of public life: movies, video games and TV commercials.
They are more objectified than men are because men still largely control those areas of life. Not because men lust after women in a shallow sexual way more than is the case vice versa.
One would like to think men learned that women have lustful, imaginative sexuality some time during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, at the very latest. Sadly, it may be the case that many of us didn’t know it until Sex and the City told us in the 1990s.
Amazingly, widespread public discourse even expressed surprise when the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey revealed that even regular, everyday women want to read about adventurous sex while on their way to work on the subway.
But anyone knowledgeable of the modern romantic fiction market (which often blends seamlessly with the erotic fiction market), will have been well aware of that already.
It’s not a sin to admire smokin’ bodies
Love and sexual desire take all manner of forms. Sometimes men love men, sometimes women love women. Sometimes people have threesomes that involve new and rewarding experiences (although mostly they’re just awkward). Sometimes sex is not important and it’s personality that counts.
And sometimes – quite often, in fact – men want to think about women with long legs and giant breasts, and women want to think about alpha-male laborors with six packs who walk around in little more than a pair of oily jeans and a tool belt.
There wouldn’t be anything wrong with these elements of desire, if public coverage of them was balanced.
Currently, it is not. Men get their way in Hollywood, video games, TV shows and advertising. Women get their way in their little world of romantic and erotic fiction, and when that world occasionally enters the mainstream, a la Fifty Shades of Grey, people seem surprised about it.
Let’s face it, most of us have a side to our sexual desire that is only skin deep. Public life and mainstream entertainment just needs to accept the fact that “us” includes women, too.
Here’s to more video games about laborers. And that means hot laborers: sorry to body shame you, Mario and Luigi, but you don’t count.