I like Gawker. I mean, for the most part. Back when I was more into video game news Kotaku was one of my go-to sites, and I inevitably return to general science fiction and fantasy site io9 every Thursday to see if Rob Bricken has updated his weekly Q&A feature “Postal Apocalypse”. When things are going particularly slowly at work I even pop over to Kitchenette for “Behind Closed Ovens” to be regaled by tales of those who work in the restaurant industry. That of course leads me to the larger site Kitchenette is a part of, and probably the most reviled part of the Gawker network: Jezebel.
Of course, marketing yourself as a feminist blog in any way, shape, or form is sure to bring out a lot of angry, irrational, unsurprisingly male voices your way, but such is life. I’ve never particularly been bothered by anything on the site, but I’m only ever directed over there when one of their bigger stories is featured on io9. It wasn’t until just last week that a friend of mine linked me to the following feature that I even spent more than a couple of minutes clicking around Jezebel [click the image to be linked directly to the post itself]:
Which initially delighted me, primarily because I found out that a poster of a tatted-up Republican Presidential nominee Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz was so very, very real. “Would U?” is described upfront as being “an academic forum in which [Ellie Shechet shares her] gross crush of the week and ask if you, too, would bang that person” and includes a roundtable between Jezebel staff which I found mildly amusing, though by the time I made it to the bottom and the poll, which I’ve embedded below, I felt more than a little bit uncomfortable.
The reason for my discomfort did and does not have anything to do with the notion of debating whether or not to hypothetically have sexual relations with someone. MFK is hands-down one of my favourite games and one that I play with 100% seriousness. No, what led to my unease was reading through other entries and imagining if the genders were reversed.
I should probably mention at this point that I’ve covered sexual double standards before, highlighting in particular our culture’s praise of How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney Stinson while damning equally-promiscuous women at the same time. In general my opinion is that men and women should be treated equally [a brave and shocking stance, I realize] across the board. It doesn’t stop there, either, as I would also prefer if the actions of both heterosexuals and homosexuals were judged in a similar fashion. All of that being said, I’m no stranger to the context in which “Would U?” exists-
Let’s be real here, everyone, there are spaces across the internet where this exact same thing is already happening, albeit with men judging women based on their sexual desirability. You know this and I know this, and neither of us need to dig too deep or too far to find them. In general we all live in a society where women are appraised for their aesthetic beauty over most other qualities and that is terrible. Given that setting it only makes sense that “flipping the script” might be effective for the sake of humour, and to spotlight the slowly improving hellscape we inhabit.
Hyperbole aside, an issue is how difficult this can be to actually execute. Of the 101 blog posts that I wrote last year my favourite of the bunch covered two female artists, Ingrid Michaelson and Jennifer Lopez, who tried to do exactly that in their respective music videos [to varying levels of ineffectiveness].It also begs the question of whether or not there are diminishing returns when it comes to doing so. Yes, at this point in time the tables are significantly skewed in men’s favour when it comes to objectifying the opposite gender, but how far do we have to head in the opposite direction before it becomes, to use a fairly strong word, harmful? On that same note, is there a point? When there’s such a huge imbalance would we have to undergo decades of annual [male] Swimsuit Editions appearing in Cosmo to even begin tipping the scales?
The problem I see when defending “Would U?” is that any such arguments can inevitably be used in favour of men doing the same with women. Say that this is all “just for fun” and invariably that will be co-opted by various parties, throwing back accusations of hypocrisy when complaints arise. Even taking the side of satire is troubling, like when they ask if you would order a little Vaughn were it on the menu [once again, click the image if you’d like to be linked to the full post]-
The big issue with Vaughn being that he has some stupid ideas about keeping guns on school grounds and the affirmative action. It’s celebrity versus despicable opinions; we’re being asked to think more deeply about our own morals than we would otherwise have to! Except that he’s also described as a “prime slab of aging libertarian man meat”, at which point I’m forced to once again imagine the genders being flipped. I mean, here’s a comparable example, I think:
Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory is supposedly “not anti-vaccine”, but has been surrounded by a bevy of accusations surrounding her actual stance on vaccinations. At bare minimum she remains a part of the Holistic Moms Network which includes notable anti-vaccine advocates high in its ranks. The point is, this opinion is unappealing to many. Also [while I do not personally think she is unattractive] she doesn’t line up with the media’s standards of aesthetic beauty! The question remains!
It feels wrong, doesn’t it? And if so, should it? I couldn’t even bring myself to make any actual specific comments about Biyalik’s appearance because, well, I don’t want to, but there’s certainly no similar hesitation made with Cruz, Bieber, Paul Brown, CEO of Arby’s, etc. Are we really okay with making a game of whether or not we would bang these assortment of random guys?
Once more, I acknowledge the culture and context these exist in, as well as the comedy behind them, a facet of entertainment I care quite a bit about. It’s just difficult for me to not view Would U? as being hypocritical in a way. Or maybe the Jezebel staff would be just fine with a similar feature that asked readers whether or not they would get down with the titular Wendy of the popular fast food chain [instead of the new Hamburglar] or old rich White person Jacqueline Mars [instead of Richard Branson]. I mean, they 100% might, I’m not about to put words in anyone’s mouths.
In all honesty, I chose the title of this blog post because it’s eye-catching and possibly even incitive, but the truth is that I don’t think “Would U?” is actually sexist. Having staff writer Bobby Finger as one of their occasional panelists certainly offsets that, but in general it’s all a little too tongue-in-cheek to take seriously.
That being said it forces me, and hopefully many more, to think about the imbalances between the two sexes in our society, and what it means to treat one the way we’ve treated the other for so long. Is equality really the goal, and should it be in all cases? There’s much more to be said about objectification than I have time and room for at the end of this post, but maybe not every way we portray and think about women should be extended to men. Maybe we should just scale back on that for all parties.
That’s just my opinion, anyway. But if you had to choose between one or the other, would you?