Equal Opportunities Objectification

Quick post, because I’m still in the middle of marking.

You’ve probably see the Vanity Fair cover of Caitlyn Jenner, but if not, here’s an article describing both it, and the story. It’s ‘celebratory’, in the parlance of Vanity Fair, which does, after all, make its business out of celebrating the performance of femininity. And, you might ask, what’s wrong with that?

I see no particular reason why Jenner shouldn’t celebrate however she chooses, nor am I naive enough to imagine Vanity Fair is suddenly going to start interrogating the male gaze, commissioning editorials on the problem of compulsory femininity, or even choosing a cover star who represents anything but a very, very, very narrow image of what ‘beauty’ looks like.

What I do have a problem with, is the response I keep seeing, over and over, from women responding to this, women whose views I know reasonably well. ‘Ooh, she’s so hot!’ ‘Wow, sexy picture!’

These responses are trying to sound supportive. They are a way of telegraphing to each other, to the world, that we’re supporting this person’s choice to be however they want to be. And that sounds lovely, right? Just as, initially, it sounded lovely to me when people posted supportive comments about a young women with Down’s Syndrome modelling, and when people talked about how ‘fit’ Helen Mirren looked on the red carpet, and …

No, I realised, it didn’t sound supportive. It sounded patronising. It sounded as if the speakers didn’t want to admit they were applying a different standard to these women, talking about their bodies as they’d never talk about the body of your average Vanity Fair cover star.

It is perfectly within Jenner’s rights to show off her body however she pleases, and perfectly within VF‘s to commercialise that. But if we, as feminists, would normally critique an image that is objectifying, that prescribes a narrow version of what women should look like, then we should continue to do that. To apply a different standard here may look to some like a supportive gesture, but it’s isn’t. And it certainly isn’t feminism.

Note: You’re going to love me, but comments are closed on this one.