Hey Girl: Objectifying Men Doesn’t Erase the Patriarchy
A new meme has hit the scene with Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as its muse. Ed O’Keefe in the Washington Post explained:
“Hey Girl, it’s Paul Ryan” is the latest Tumblr site to poke fun at a political figure. This time it’s the House Budget Committee chairman and his — how should we say this — “boy next door”/“cute nerd” demeanor.
I’d like to address the notion that inevitably comes after men in politics are objectified or noted for their appearance, i.e. “See—men are objectified too. It is not sexist to write about the clothing and physical appearance of women in politics.” When the media occasionally focuses on “attractive” men in politics, like Massachusetts senator Scott Brown posing nude for Cosmopolitan, it is easy to think that objectification of political figures is gender-blind.
However, objectification of this kind occurs in context. While some things have improved (women can now own property and vote) culturally at least we still live in a patriarchy. In a system where women continue to struggle to achieve full citizenship, their sexuality threatens their quest for autonomy. When women in politics are objectified, their power is diminished. When men in politics are objectified, their power remains intact.
When you take this into consideration, objectifying men in politics is not the same as objectifying women in politics. Not because men and women are inherently different, but because in a patriarchal system, the sexualization of an oppressed group functions differently from the sexualization of a group with power.
When the media and the public focus on “attractive” women in politics, noting that they are “young and fit” or have “sex appeal” (or when Sarah Palin sex dolls exist), they are taking away power from the women in question. Paul Ryan does not have to worry that a Tumblr based on his looks will diminish his political authority or personal autonomy. That is worth remembering.Published by Madeleine Gyory on 05/02/2012