Can You Really Reverse Gender Stereotypes In Media?

A women’s studies class at the University of Saskatchewan made this provocative video which questions commonly perpetuated stereotypes about gender in media. Pointing out that women are often in a subjugated position — turned into objects themselves, along with whatever object they’re supposedly selling, placed in prone, sexually provocative poses — the video connects violent images in the media with their real-life consequences. From the beginning of advertising, there have been ads that have capitalized on female sexuality, gender stereotypes and violence against women. (Seriously, some of these ads would make even Pete Campbell blush.) While it’s tough to say just how much advertising is responsible, it’s pretty clear that violence against women is rampant and more women than ever are going to extreme lengths to pursue a “perfect” body. And even men are not immune — as the video notes, media images have been linked to a recent increase in depression among men, too.

To challenge the standard gender-repressive images most advertising continually puts women and men into, the University of Sasketchewan class decided to flip the switch, producing images that reverse and play against traditional advertising tropes. Instead of a woman with her head placed next to a shoe with the text “keep her where she belongs” (presumably under your thumb), the class made a parody image, featuring a shirtless man laying prone next to a drill, emblazoned with the phrase “Keep him where he belongs.”

Over and over, the class created images that attempt to question why it’s acceptable to use women’s bodies — often headless, or in violent scenarios, or completely lacking subjectivity — to sell everything from motor oil, energy drinks and cars, to kitchen appliances and clothing. But here’s the thing — when you attempt to replace female bodies with male bodies you don’t really objectify men in the same way. Because our culture’s gaze is so inherently male, the male body isn’t able to be manipulated, sexualized and victimized in the same way female bodies are. Indeed, the tropes of female body-as-prop are so well-worn, such a part of our cultural landscape, that simply changing up the bodies in the images isn’t enough to actually threaten the male form. Take a look at some of the video’s gender reversals. They’re not threatening, sexy or dangerous. They’re funny. Because that’s how we culturally interpret a man in a “woman’s role.” It’s comedy.

In reality, the male gaze isn’t purely “male” — it’s something that women have interpolated and now own, too. We are just as critical and questioning of female bodies — if not more! — than men are. And upsetting the female-as-object paradigm in media images is only part of the answer. It’s equally critical that we show female bodies in stronger, more powerful archetypes, too. [YouTube]

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