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On the double standard and why I perv at shirtless videogame characters - Tactical Ninja

Dec. 5th, 2013

09:24 am - On the double standard and why I perv at shirtless videogame characters

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I like to look at nice bodies. All nice bodies, but I have a preference for men. I'm not above perving at a nice shirtless man pic, and I'm not ashamed to admit that some of the pics I perv at are of fictional characters.

I also admit that my desktop background at home is a slideshow selection of my favourite pictures of fictional men, some of whom are depicted shirtless or near-naked. I'm not all that keen on looking at cocks so there's none of that. YMMV.


The thing is, I also have a feminist objection to the objectification of women in media - the way women are presented in various states of undress and sexualised for the sake of 'the male gaze.' Yesterday when I was confronted with a Twitter post from someone who I otherwise like, that had a picture of Miley Cyrus on the wrecking ball, only with the wrecking ball removed so it was basically her in her undies, and a caption saying "Every man should have this at the top of his Christmas tree" I unfollowed the guy.

And when I mentioned this to Dr Wheel, he pointed out that I look at objectified pictures of men, and talk about looking at objectified pictures of men, as if that's ok.

And he's right, I do. So, am I a hypocrite for saying objectifying women is bad, while objectifying men myself?

Here is my thinking on this so far:

I'm probably not alone in my interest in looking at nice bodies. I'm pretty sure people of all genders like to look at the bodies of their preferred gender.

In doing so, there is probably a certain amount of objectification going on, and likely a fair amount of sexualisation if the preference is for semi-naked or naked pictures.

So if I'm right about that, then it's relatively normal to sexualise and objectify the bodies of others for one's own viewing pleasure.

If that's the case, then why do I see it as ok for me (and other women) to do this to men, but not ok for men to do this to women?

The answer, I think, is found somewhere in the idea of a structural power imbalance. I actually have no problem with the idea of men looking at pictures of women and finding them attractive. However, historically it has been men who held the power to decide which pictures were presented for mass consumption, and therefore to decide who was objectified and sexualised. And because it was mostly men, they catered to the tastes of men by presenting women's bodies in this way.

Aside here: I saw an idea the other day, which went along the lines that "Sex sells" is pure unadulterated bullshit. Fact is, if sex sold, there'd be as many scantily-clad men in advertising as there are scantily-clad women, and there'd be as many cocks as breasts on Page 3. What is being sold is an idealised and misogynistic vision of 'the perfect woman'. To men.

Anyway, because of the ongoing power of men to present women's bodies to other men for consumption, it has become ingrained in our culture as a Thing. One doesn't have to be very observant to notice that in music videos, video games, advertising and general entertainment, women are generally wearing less clothing and are presented as more sexual than men are. And this has flowed into general society too - walking down the street, who's wearing the least? Etc.

But, times are changing. More and more women are in positions of power, making those decisions about whose bodies get presented to us as sex objects and whose don't. Still not many, not at the very top. But slowly, the idea that marketing to women using men's bodies isn't such a bad idea is creeping in. See also: "I'm on a horse" dude. Is it Old Spice he's selling? I can't remember. Although, I remember the ad.

Dr Wheel pointed out about that ad, that while it does use a man's body to sell a product to women, it's also presented as a joke. He thinks that it's perhaps because if it were presented as real, men would feel threatened. I can't speak to that because I'm so inured to women's bodies being used seriously in this way that any threat I might feel from that is purely abstract. However, it's true that being sold this vision of The Perfect Woman all the time does create an atmosphere of competition between women, and also does pretty nasty things to some women's heads. See also: anorexia.

So if it's true that the presentation of bodies as sex objects for consumption is harmful, is the increasing acceptance of men's bodies as a vehicle for objectification actually a good thing?

And this takes me back to the original question. Why is it ok for me to perv on men's bodies in the media, yet I get offended by women's bodies being presented for perving? Or, I don't like women being objectified, so is it ok for me to like objectifying men?

Frankly, I think it's ok for anyone to enjoy objectifying anyone's body as an individual, especially when it's happening only inside your head and doesn't affect the way you treat them as a person. The problem occurs when it becomes:

a) A culture-wide trend of dehumanising people for the sake of that objectification
b) The major way in which those people are presented, to the detriment of their personhood as a group.

So my conclusion from that is that the problem with women being presented in this way vs men, is that for women, the damage has already been done, and we have had to fight (and are gaining more and more traction these days I have to say) to have our existence as people acknowledged outside our presentation as sex objects for the consumption of the male gaze. For men, they are still seen as people first. Even when I'm objectifying Cullen on Tumblr, I'm still thinking quite hard about what it would be like to be him.

There are some who would say that men are presented as providers first, and that they have had to fight to be seen as people too, but in a different way. I would argue that 'provider' is still an action-based label, which acknowledges personhood and agency much more fully than 'sex object'. This does not detract from the fact that it's still a limiting label with serious negative consequences.


I guess the bottom line is that there's no harm in my perving on fictional and non-fictional characters with their shirts off, just the same as there's no harm in a man liking to look at boobs. But we need to be careful that we don't allow that to become harmful by assuming that 'sex object' is the most important label we can apply to a whole gender.



Or am I just rationalising so I can get away with applying a double standard?

Comments:

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From:jenny_evergreen
Date:December 4th, 2013 08:36 pm (UTC)
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I have had similar issues, only with the bonus of liking women, too. I LIKE sex objects. I don't know, in a couple hundred years when people are equal, if it will turn out to be harmful, but I'll be dead then, so...I advocate for the objectification of men and focus on having a wider variety of more realistic women being objectified, while reminding people that it's not ALL women are for. It might be the wrong call, but, as battles go, it's lower on my list than some other stuff (I work pretty hard against racism, for example), so I kind of let it go.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
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I totally get letting things go and having to prioritise your battles. If we all prioritiese INJUSTICE as our battle, we'd do nothing else and still gain no traction. Yay for different people fighting different battles! ;-)
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:December 4th, 2013 08:55 pm (UTC)
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One thing I found frustrating while at university was that women in my circle of friends would defend trashy magazines, and the way the magazines splash semi-naked women throughout them (and celebrities having relationship trouble). These were people that were reasonably aware of the issues, yet they chose to support these media outlets in using the "sex sells" angle. One excuse was, "I like looking at the fashion". They didn't directly defend the nakedness, but they kept buying the magazines and supporting that paradigm.

For women I'm not sure the sex sells dogma is necessarily the exact inverse, e.g. sexualising men, it's about manipulating women into comparing themselves to other women (at least in the context of these magazines). I guess this is in large part due to how society has been set up over hundreds of years, but many of these magazines are primarily run by women too... so one question is, if there is a segment of women who want these things is it wrong for them to have access to them? Things like magazines only keep being produced so long as they have an audience and make money. If that dries up, then they'll change. But not before.

And if people have choice to have magazines and media full of hot men instead, while still having the existing media with their bias around, is that better?

(I have no answers, just musing)
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
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On the first question, I agree that continuing to support the paradigm seems hypocritical, and certainly I don't buy those magazines or even read them. But that is only since I became aware of the issues with them. However, if I were to be completely non-hypocritical I would not be able to have much entertainment at all. Like, if I only played videogames that represented women in the way I think women should be represented, my choices would be very limited. So there's a certain amount of compromising standards going on. Not sure if that counts as hypocritical or not, but I believe it's possible to enjoy media while also acknowledging its problematic sides.

And you're right, there is a market for those magazines. It's a chicken-egg question really - do some young women enjoy these things and the market is simply being filled by the media, or does the media create them market through conditioning young women to enjoy these things? I lean towards the second because as you point out, this is a societal paradigm of hundreds of years - the starting point is lost in history.

Meanwhile, I think it's perfectly fine for a young woman (or man)to enjoy fashion and celebrity gossip even though I don't, but it becomes a problem when it's expected that that's what she'll enjoy because she is a woman.

I think there's merit in equality of representation, but I also think it's well-argued that equality isn't the be-all and end-all of the solution. Since objectification and dehumanisation is problematic, simply doing that to men the way it's been done to women isn't going to fix things. It's an improvement on the status quo in terms of equal representation though...

(i have no answers either)
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From:bekitty
Date:December 4th, 2013 09:06 pm (UTC)
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There's a blogger called Flavia Dzodan who said something I'm quite fond of quoting: "My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!"

Basically, with intersectionality you take things like personhood, race, class, poverty level, disability status, neurodiversity, gender identity, sexual identity, and any other stuctural power imbalances into account when you talk about social injustice.

So for example, if you were to talk about objectification of women, then you take into account that there are also issues of body policing, weight politics, racism (women of colour have historically been dehumanised and objectified more often and to a greater extent than white women), transmisogyny (trans women have generally come in for more than their fair share of objectification), classism (think People of Walmart)..... the list goes on.

And yeah, you're absolutely right that men generally don't get objectified to the same kind of dehumanising level that women do on a routine basis. It's like street harassment. Straight men don't usually do it to other men, because they know that if they subjected men to that kind of thing they'd get punched. Because it's NOT A COMPLIMENT.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
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Actually I'm not keen on that quote. I'm not keen on any pithy soundbite that dismisses something as bullshit in that way.

Intersectionality is important and it's important to acknowledge it. This can be done either explicitly (by making statements) or implicitly (by behaviour and use of language for example). And I can point it out where I see it. However, it's also true that as a thin, white, cis, able-bodied, mostly-hetero woman, I am not in a position to speak about issues of race, fat, gender identity, ability, or sexuality with any real authority. All I can do is acknowledge them and do my best to highlight them where I can.

There are also times when one must choose a specific point to focus on in order to address that in detail, and that by its very nature can exclude the number of extra paragraphs that are required to address the many issues of intersectionality that could be talked about. As you point out in your third paragraph.

And in terms of social justice on the internet, I've found that avoiding identity politics by prioritising the issues that I can speak with authority on, while attempting to ensure my own behaviour and language acknowledges intersectionality, works best for getting my point across.

That does not make my feminism bullshit.
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From:myrrhmade
Date:December 4th, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
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Whoa. Those (admittedly nice) boobs have a helluva lot of shading on them.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
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Indeed! And, apropos of that, yesterday while shopping for Christmas books I came across this:



My original plan for today was to take the piss out of it. But then I realised that I couldn't. However, in terms of equal-opportunity airbrushing, check out those abs! ;-D

Edited at 2013-12-04 09:49 pm (UTC)
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From:jaelle_n_gilla
Date:December 4th, 2013 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Hm, I hope you don't mind me saying that but I think power imbalance is a rather bad excuse here. If the bullies at school always bullied you and suddenly you catch one of them alone in a dark alley, is it ok to bully him back because of power balance? What I'm saying is, either it's a bad thing, or it's not. Finished.

Personally I don't mind naked bodies. I find female bodies more beautiful and male more interesting, and I like looking at both, so no shame here. I don't think a beautiful body in itself is objectifying. And while I find Miley Cyrus on a wracking ball rather tasteless, the comment to "have her on a xmas tree" is even more so and would lilkely have be unfriend the person as well. Not for objectifying but for turning something that is supposedly beautiful into something har-har-dirty. Because it's not. It would be the same if I said all women should hang some "real balls" from their xmas trees (and I've heard that comment). It's disgusting, and hurtful, and reduces something male to something laughable.

That would be more my line of reasoning. Which usually gets me into trouble for not closing shoulders with the feminists. Oh well.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC)
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Of course I don't mind. All non-abusive opinions are welcome here, even if I don't personally agree with them. ;-)

Meanwhile, I understand and agree with your reasoning on the Miley Cyrus thing. And rather than seeing it as not closing shoulders with feminism, I see it as a pretty feminist thing to say.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:December 4th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)
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(This is offered as observation rather than any kind of argument or in comparison with women etc.) As a guy, from say the 1980s to now, I have noticed a massive change in the amount of and type of presentation of dudes without shirts across all media, and the implicit societal ideal being forced on us. Maybe this is just a product of hypermediation and an increase in imagery, maybe it is just a general shift in how much flesh you can get away with showing now.
(Another example of the shift: Jeff Goldblum commenting on the casting for some movie he was in during the 80s as "Whoa, you have abs? You've got the part!" Whereas today actors need to be ripped to get in the door.)
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 10:32 pm (UTC)
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That'd be The Fly then. It was certainly the first movie I noticed him in as anything other than 'that guy with the mouth'.

*ahem*

I don't see that as an argument at all, I've noticed the same thing - in fact, that is the crux of the question that was raised at the start of my post. Prior to about the 80s, it just wasn't an issue because there was virtually no manflesh in the media.

Whether it's a sign of increasing equality or of something else, the fact is it's definitely a thing, and the way we view it is I guess what I'm trying to talk about here. Is it a good thing because it shows an increasing catering to women? Or a bad thing because it objectifies men and two wrongs don't make a right? Or is it just a thing and we should all go and think about the global food distribution issue instead because it's more important?
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From:fbhjr
Date:December 4th, 2013 11:11 pm (UTC)
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I think the dehumanizing is a big part of the issue. Institutionally this has happened far more to women. So, it's a bigger problem.

On a wider note, humans in general are programed to look at each other and evaluate the other person on any number of levels. That goes well beyond the gender of the viewer or viewed person.
So, I don't think people can help looking and liking or disliking what they see.
It is how they act on those things that becomes a problem.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2013 11:14 pm (UTC)
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Which would explain why yesterday when I was looking for non-fiction books in a book sale, my eye kept being drawn to the romances (which I don't read), because they all had shirtless men on the cover.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. ;-)
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From:pythia
Date:December 5th, 2013 04:18 am (UTC)
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Also, most pictures of men, even naked sexytime pictures of men, are made by and for men. It's pretty hard to find manporn that is aimed at WOMEN and not at gay guys. So in essence, even men are being objectified for and by the male gaze, rather than for and by women.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 5th, 2013 04:29 am (UTC)
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Perhaps in mainstream, commercial situations this may be the case, but I think the rise of the internet has seen an explosion of material about men, made by and for women. For example, fanfiction. I find it vaguely weird that it seems to be mostly M/M slash, but whole theses have been written about why that is. And a lot of the manflesh I look at is created by women and posted to sites like DeviantArt and Tumblr. So I think we're gaining ground there.
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From:ms_hecubus
Date:December 5th, 2013 05:51 am (UTC)
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Have you seen the documentary Busting Out? It is not completely focused on just this issue, but it does have a lot of discussion about breasts and how they are used in the media. It talks about how the western world has raised breasts to an almost cult like status. It changed a lot of how I view the way female bodies are presented in the media.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 5th, 2013 07:17 pm (UTC)
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I haven't. But I do feel resentment at the double standard where men are 'allowed' to take their shirt off and I'm somehow not.
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From:spotsofcolour
Date:December 5th, 2013 10:34 am (UTC)
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I suppose there's also a deeper issue, which you touched on, about the power balance which can be summarised thusly:

When men are displayed as sex objectives, and portrayed in a sexual way, they do not lose respect in society, nor are their opinions or beliefs given any less weight.

The same is not true for women. When women are objectified or displayed in that way, there is a certain level of judgement also there, words bandied around like 'slut' etc, and also there is an implication that by removing her clothes, a woman is not to be taken seriously.

This is a societal issue, rather than just a marketing issue.

Equally, there are differing levels of titillation - a shirtless man is seen as less offensive or sexual than a shirtless woman. Whilst breasts aren't genitalia, they're treated in a similar manner by society by and large. There's an 'excitement' to breasts that there isn't to a male chest, as demonstrated by the use of the ample cleavage in that advertisement, and that's partly because whilst men are able to walk around topless whenever, society judges a woman who exposes too much of her chest.


Does that make sense, or have I just written nonsense?
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From:ivonava
Date:December 5th, 2013 12:19 pm (UTC)
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I have a confession. I had a screensaver of Orlando Bloom as Legolas captioned "Fine bit of elf"

I think you make perfect sense. My first feeling on reading Tat's post was surely there is no harm in objectifying men, because clearly the odd perv will make no difference to their status in society. It feels more like levelling the score, just long overdue. Yes, it's wrong, but no it isn't, because surely admiring a body is pretty simple pleasure in life? </p>

I've tried to write a better response and keep tying myself in knots.

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From:malchienne
Date:December 5th, 2013 02:51 pm (UTC)
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aren't we talking about something that Kant could help us out with? is stealing okay? it might be not too bad, who cares? what if EVERYONE stole? societal collapse, right? Is liking sex and the image of people we find sexy okay? Sure. Is it okay if it's systemically disseminated? maybe not. (not sure if I'm using kant right here.) If we levelled the playing field and women and men were equally objectified in terms the amount of nekkid bods - would society be okay?

It might be. But the current nature of the objectification is skewed towards largely unobtainable ideals and that is harmful to people's self-concept and to their concept of what and who is sexy. I'm someone who did modeling - at one point I had the big boobs, thin(nish)frame that fits the mold of what is being called ideal. Except I didn't really, too wide, too hippy and I did lousy things to get closer to where it seemed people wanted me to be.

I didn't get work acting partially because I was too tall (maybe also because I wasn't good). I got actively objectified by people who thought me trying to get acting work was about me using my body to do it. because I had it. I'm not blaming the world or media for all that, I did a fair amount of harm to myself in various ways that was my own doing, but certainly how I was (and to degree continue to be) treated is partially about the larger social context. not just of women being objectified but of the trendy nature of that limited range of acceptable bodies and what it means you are if you have or don't have one.

Can you look at bodies you like and not be a hypocrite? Sure. Are you adding to the power of the people that use it to our collective deficit? Yours to answer.

I like looking at nice bods too, but not always six packs, a nice hockey or soccer player is fantastic. I don't get upset my husband likes to look at girls, but I'd prefer if he wasn't actively "whistling" because the tone and the projection of objectification, the trumpeting of it has a cumulative effect on the commons.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 5th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
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I confess I'm not all that familiar with Kant, but yeah, I think the personal/societal split is quite important here, because personhood gets lost somewhere in the transition.

Meanwhile, whistling is generally viewed as street harrassment, because even if intended as a compliment it's also an expression of the power to judge and express that judgement on another person who has historically been unable to reciprocate. He really shouldn't do it. Many women are not flattered, but creeped out by it.

Having said that, I don't think there's any harm in looking, and yes, I do it too. ;-D
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From:c_maxx
Date:December 6th, 2013 12:27 am (UTC)
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Could it possibly be a question of balance of power?

If the balance of power, or empowerment, is similar on each side- either societally or in the immediate venue, then the issue of- oppression- is not such a matter of concern?

Or in the case of pictorial media, the desire to oppress?
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From:tatjna
Date:December 6th, 2013 12:29 am (UTC)
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Yep, that's pretty much my argument in a nutshell.
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From:adam_0oo
Date:December 6th, 2013 01:36 am (UTC)
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100 percent agree with your two points, and oddly have heard them both mentioned in the past 24 hours.

Last night I was watching the documentary After Porn Ends and someone mentioned the "why porn is bad for women" in that it makes women only the physical, you end up thinking of them only as bodies and what they can do for you.

Secondly, as mentioned here (about racism, but basically the same argument) that for it to be a double standard, your actions and power and representation as a female would have to be exactly the same as men now AND for hundreds of years before this.
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From:pundigrion
Date:December 13th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
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I'll make a side comment here mostly. I think there is a great deal of difference between liking to look at pictures of pretty people for self-enjoyment and "Every man should have this at the top of his Christmas tree".

I see no big harm in thinking "Nice biceps!", but that is different than demanding that all men/women should have nice biceps, eh? His quote is problematic in the sheer expectation level, not just the objectification. It's like guys who think the women owes it to them to put out just because he bought them dinner/a drink.
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