When we drool over soccer players' bodies, are those of us who critique the objectification of women's bodies being hypocrites? No. And here's why.
Mostly, our #shamelessobjectification posts celebrating soccer players' bodies — the abdominals, the thighs, the man-love, the thighs — are being met in the spirit in which they are intended: a fun, randy way to participate (one of many) in the global collective experience that is the World Cup. But there have been some understandable concerns with which I've got to disagree. Here's the gist:
If the World Cup featured women, and Gawker were to post Breast Moments as a way to laud legitimate feats of athleticism, we'd be pissed about the objectification. This is not any different.
Yeah, we'd be pissed about it. But it's not the same. Here's why:
1) Context matters.
In our current universe, men do not have trouble being taken seriously based on their looks or perceived sexiness, nor is their worth in society primarily judged by them. Our drooling over Benny Feilhaber isn't just a drop in the bucket — it also won't contribute to the overall oppression of men, soccer playing or otherwise. They will not be told their primary value is based on whether women want to fuck them. They will not be paid less on the dollar or subject to violence in representation or acts. They will not be treated like meat or chattel. Period.
2) These guys are healthy and at the peak of fitness.
The culture at large is celebrating these men's bodies for their skill, agility, and strength — achieved partly through genetic blessing, yes, but also through training and hard work. It's true that this is setting up an ideal that most men cannot and do not achieve, but as ideals go, one achieved through activity and, it seems, fun isn't so bad. And presumably no unhealthy starvation or surgical enhancements were involved.
3) At the World Cup and elsewhere, ogling knows no borders.
The other day, a reader remarked on a photo of a North Korean player that it was rare in Western culture to see an Asian man celebrated as being sexy. Other objects of our admiration have come from every continent. Even though they share certain body traits based on their training, these guys come in all colors and facial features and national origins—just as hotness does.
4) They're having fun doing what they love.
This needs little explanation. No sexyface, no corpse-like poses, just spontaneous shirt-shedding and teammate grabbing.
5) Women also like to look.
Everyone keeps telling us that women aren't visually stimulated and are cuddly balls of empathy and need a narrative. I suggest they check out some of the comment threads on #shamelessobjectification. There is something liberating about a woman expressing her pleasure in looking at a man's body as she sees fit.
That pleasure can make some people uncomfortable. One reader wrote about watching a match at the gym: "The men routinely spend their time ogling (and yes I do mean ogling, they make now bones about it) women in the fitness magazines. However these same men were distinctly uncomfortable and put out that we women were cheering and enjoying the Greek footballers taking off their shirts. Double standards? I think so." I do too.
True, we aren't covering the matches themselves, but that's just not our raison d'etre (nor do we have any die-hards on staff) but you're free to do so on #groupthink, or check out our friends at Kickette or Deadspin. We hear you on the respectful request for some gay-lady-friendly objectification. Let's talk at the Women's World Cup next year.
In the meantime, no matter who you're cheering for, I think this is something we can all get behind.
Earlier: Shameless Objectification
With special thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo, Benny Feilhaber, and every other guy on the pitch.