Thankfully, we're not actually going to objectify male tech writers — not that we seem to know how, anyways
So, Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day has been called off, and while I've seen some good discussion over it I'm generally glad. The biggest reasons, as Leigh Alexander has explained, are obvious. It'd be easy to miss the intended point, or to use it as an excuse to attack gay men, trans* men and women, and men who generally don't look like people think they should. There are real problems for women in tech, but marginalizing other people to make things better for ourselves is deeply wrong. Even outside that, there's another thing that started bothering me in the leadup last week. Virtually all the "objectification" I saw really said one thing: it’s ridiculous for women to find men sexy.
Part of the reason #Objectify was called off was because that was the best way it could go: genuinely trying to make our male counterparts feel harassed or belittled would be a horrible thing that I’d want no part of. But the idea crops up again and again, in everything from BlackBerry ads (the "scantily clad man failing to be hot" joke is pretty standard) to overtly feminist takes on Escheresque female poses in comics. I tolerate the former and unabashedly love the latter, including Jim Hines’ hilarious sci-fi fiction covers. While it’s not hard to point out the contrivedness of the male gaze, though, the results tend to imply that women looking at men in an equivalent way is all but impossible. That’s why it works as comedy: it’s absurd and incongruous and therefore funny.
I guess my problem is twofold. The first is that it tells straight men it’s not worth trying to be attractive, and that they never could be anyways. The opposite could go poorly as well, creating a version of the same narrow standard women get, but telling one party in a relationship that their looks (whether conventionally handsome or not) should be ignored is as ridiculous as telling the other that their looks are the only thing that matters. The second is that when we make a joke of the idea that women might want men in ways that are anything from inconvenient to threatening, we say — as we have so many times before — that women aren’t to be taken seriously.
It’s the same logic that’s behind catfights as humor (after all, they’re only women, they can’t really hurt each other) or jokes about women sexually harassing men. Men rightly complain that they’ll be laughed at if they feel violated or hurt by a woman, and part of the reason is because we seem to have trouble thinking of women’s actions as all that important. While you could say that’s because men present a much more credible physical threat, I don’t think most women whose ideas are ignored because of their looks think they’re in physical danger. If anything, it annoys me — when it happens, which thankfully is pretty rarely in the scheme of things right now — because it reminds me that men’s desire is allowed to define women’s lives while women’s is shrugged off as nonexistent or insignificant.
I’m not saying I want women to be creepy. I’m saying I want it to be conceivable for women to be called out as creepy, and to have a real script for attraction that doesn’t assume we’re only interested in men’s wallets and job titles, fulfilling someone else’s fantasies, and asexually fawning over Ryan Gosling from afar like teenagers over pop stars. Objectification isn’t the same as a female gaze, but it’s strange to see both played for laughs in projects meant to empower women.
This probably isn't an airtight argument, and like many other people have said, there were far bigger potential problems with #Objectify. There were also real issues for it to tackle, which fortunately have been talked over in the past week. But, well, throw this on the pile.