Warning: This article may be a bit controversial, and contains mild movie spoilers.
So I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy on Sunday. It was a good movie; great characters, fast-paced plot, a liberal sprinkling of jokes – the kind where the kids interpret one thing and the adults another – and just the right amount of swearing to seem natural.
But there was something that bugged me. There’s a scene where, after the Guardians have been arrested but before they band together for a common cause, they’re being processed in prison. This involves being stripped of their belongings, sprayed with red stuff, and dispatched into the prison dressed in the regulation yellow top and trousers. Now, during this sequence, Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, is shown bare-chested, dripping wet, gazing moodily into the distance. This scene goes on for several seconds, and was spoken of by many as a highlight of the film’s trailer.
The fact that this scene is in the film doesn’t bother me – what does bother me, however, is that a relatively similar scene from the trailer, featuring a topless (and green) Zoe Saldana gazing coyly backward over her shoulder, was axed from the final cut for being too sexually evocative.
Why is a shot of a topless woman, even keeping the most ‘offensive’ part hidden from the camera, considered too risqué, but a topless man is fine?
It’s a double standard, and I don’t like it. Since this was brought to my attention (by my fiancé, actually), I’ve noticed similar events everywhere. There are friends on my Facebook feed (who shall remain anonymous), who one minute are spouting all the virtues of feminism, equality, and respect for women, and then the next are drooling over the glistening abs of the hero from the latest movie franchise. When did this become a thing? Why is it considered to be sexist objectification when a woman is exposed onscreen or in a photo, whether naked, scantily clad or somewhere in between, but not a man? These are the questions that plagued me in the taxi ride home from the cinema last weekend.
Once I really started to think about it, I realised there were a lot more incidents of this than I’d first thought. Take, for example, the spate of superhero movies that have been released in recent years – muscle-bound men in skintight costumes that leave very little to the imagination. Topless, strapping, super-soldier characters deliberately designed to be at their physical peak (I’m looking at you, Cap). Superman, the übermensch, literally meant to be the figure that everybody else aspires to be. Physical perfection, lantern jaws, smouldering gazes, bulging biceps…the list goes on. And if there’s a love interest involved, so much the better, because these heroes always get the girl.
People say that women are portrayed unrealistically in today’s media. They are demonstrating unnatural standards that impressionable young girls believe are absolutely necessary, and older women feel are something they can never achieve. But what about the men? How do you think they feel when confronted with the perfectly sculpted six-packs of underwear models, for example, with their smoothed tanned skin and not a trace of a beer belly in sight? I’m not saying that the comments on the portrayal of women are wrong, not by a long shot, but maybe it’s also time we started thinking about the portrayal of men too, or even just the portrayal of people.
I’m all for the idea of women and men having equal opportunities and rights, and being treated with the same amount of respect, but sometimes it feels like it’s heading too far in the other direction. We’ve gone from one extreme to another – moving away from the patriarchal values of decades gone by, we seem to have bypassed equality somehow, and instead reached a point where some women and feminist groups feel that if something has no visible representation of women, even if there is no call for it, then it’s automatically sexist. Take another interest of mine; videogames. A few months back there was a debate surrounding the latest game in the Assassin’s Creed series, after Ubisoft, the makers of the game, had promised a female protagonist and then failed to deliver. The trailer was released, with all four playable characters being male, and the internet went berserk.
I can understand the outrage and disappointment to a certain degree, given that Ubisoft didn’t manage to deliver what they said they would. They had their reasons – it wasn’t a question of ethics or philosophy, but rather a concern regarding the additional workload – although they maybe could have handled it better. What I didn’t understand was the supposed ‘need’ for there to be a female protagonist in the first place. It is by no means a new issue, but plenty of other popular videogame franchises have managed to achieve massive amounts of success without female protagonists. The Portal games, for example, featured a mute female protagonist named Chell, and even the villain GLaDOS was female, but you didn’t hear any men complaining. They liked the game for what it was. And yet, some women are crying out that it’s unfair if they are not represented, when there is no need for them to be.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d personally much rather have a well-rounded, well-thought out character to play, regardless of gender, rather than a female character shoehorned in for the sake of appeasing people. I don’t like this sense of entitlement that seems to be emerging nowadays; in wanting to be treated the same as everybody else, certain women (not all, I should point out, but some) seem to be demanding special treatment because of their gender, and even in some cases subjecting men to the same behaviour that they themselves want to get rid of. It’s difficult to find a good way to phrase it, because for me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what I can say is that it definitely seems counter-intuitive.
I believe in equality between the genders, I really do. I am also not a particularly religious person, but I do believe in treating other people like you would like to be treated. This, I feel, extends towards the issue of gender equality and women’s rights; if you want to be treated the same as men, then it only seems fair that you don’t subject them to the same behaviour that you find derogatory. It’s as simple as that.