Is the fuss about Aidan Turner taking his top off and scything sexist or demeaning?

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Heida Reed suggested in an interview the other day she thought the attention that Aidan Turner’s looks were getting was sexist. But I disagree: pointing out that Aidan Turner with his top off is a pleasure to watch is not in itself sexist. Although, I suspect, it might be a little bit overwhelming for him as the collective ‘phwoar’ let out at the sight of him scything is the loudest since Colin Firth made his way out of the lake at Pemberley 25 years ago.

It is not sexist to appreciate beauty, or the aesthetics of someone and register it – what a dreadful world that would be if we weren’t allowed to do that! Finding somebody attractive and saying so is no crime. In itself.

What makes it sexist or demeaning is the context.

As someone buxom of bosom, I have had many experiences of men seeming conversing not with me but with my breasts. It can be amazingly sexist and crass and unacceptable (especially when it happens in the workplace). With an awful lot of men it has been clear that that is the extent of their interest; and their interest in what I’m saying is zero – that is sexist and demeaning to me. But it is not their appreciation of my boobs that is the sexist bit, it’s the ignorance of my brain, argument, wit, skills, personality, kindness, selfishness or whatever else conspires to make me who I am. Likewise, an obsession with Aidan Turner’s chest to the exclusion of anything else about him is ultimately demeaning to him. It ignores everything else that makes him who he is and indeed serves to objectify him. For sure, most people think he’s a fantastic actor too and he is but I think the media when they write on the topic of the Aidan Turner phenomenon do seem to focus on his sex appeal, finding it impossible not to use the picture of him having his abs touched up by the make up lady and that’s it. I think they are objectifying him. I’m not sure they do it because he’s a man though, but because he’s beautiful and sexy and whilst still not good, it’s technically not sexism (although I may be splitting hairs here).

The second measure of whether it’s unacceptable is to look at the impact either on himself of other men like him. So, is the current sexual objectification of Aidan Turner doing him and men in general harm, as the sexual objectification of women does them harm. Well, time will tell and it could end up being a problem in his career that he only gets offered two dimensional roles for good looking men with little creative content which means that his career booms while his looks are in place and then falters as he ages and his beauty fades. Oh wait, I forgot, men don’t get less attractive as they get older, do they? OK, let’s just suppose that his career is long and creatively barren rather than short and creatively barren! In any case, much of the commentariat reckons that the world/Hollywood is now his oyster and there are many, many examples of heavenly men who have also won critical acclaim for their work (George Clooney and not forgetting Colin Firth). On balance, apart from a little embarrassment, as long as he has a level head on him, I don’t think this current objectification will do him any harm.

So, does it hurt men in general to have one of their kind objectified. I think it may, in truth. Boys and young men are increasingly being targeted to look a specific way and I think it does damage to their personal mental health. More and more young boys are going on diets at an early age. Indeed one of my pet hates are the super heroes costumes so beloved of little boys (including my own) that are padded up to show muscle tone: why, for goodness sake? Muscle tone is an adult, sexually mature male thing to have – if we started putting padding to indicate mature breasts in Princess Elsa costumes then we would all be up in arms! It does harm to their mental health – it does not yet appear to be harming their ability to earn more than women for the same work and hold the vast majority of political and business leadership positions across the world – but harm to mental health is more than enough to make it undesirable activity.

I think sexual objectification is harmful to both genders. So, appreciate the aesthetic of Aidan Turner for sure (I do!) but not without appreciating the rest of what makes him human. As a private person it’s not for us to know if he is kind or selfish, funny or serious, argumentative or passive aggressive but what we can do is appreciate his skills as an actor.

I am soooo looking forward to the next series of Poldark and looking forward to watching Aidan Turner in it. In part because he is gorgeously sexy (although so is the character he plays which is why he’s had so much more of an impact than in his previous work) but also because he is a powerfully strong actor. I reckon if you do that then you are not objectifying or in any danger of being sexist however loud your ‘phwoar’ is!
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