Friday, September 6, 2013

Gender Flipping is Funny, But Let's Not Get Ahead of Ourselves

I've seen a lot of excitement over the educational hilarity that is "gender flipping." For those who are too afraid to google this ( is a great, anonymous search engine), it basically involves taking advertisements, music videos, or really any visual media wherein women are blatantly sexualized, and replacing the women with men.

It's supposed to be great because it reveals gross inequalities between men and women in terms of who is more sexually exploited for the sake of marketing. What appears as hot and sexy to the "male gaze" (bet you didn't think you'd have to contend with that kind of outdated terminology since undergrad) is goofy, awkward, and wholly unattractive when the roles of gender are reversed.

I find nothing wrong with it, but I think its power as a tool in addressing the real problems of gender inequality is overrated. First and foremost, if you don't already perceive a wealth of gender inequality, specifically in terms of sexualization, I don't see how gender flipping can effectively make you more cognizant of the issue. If the viewer of the gender-flipping is, say, a twenty-something heterosexual male (or hell, even bisexual), his preconceived notions of women being sexy and men being goofy (when dressed up as sexy women) will not be challenged.

Sorry, just putting a man in a bikini doesn't change the fact that a woman has breasts, fuller hips and thighs, and is typically lacking a penis and scrotum. I realize simply pointing to a Calvin Klein ad, or any romance book in which Fabio graces the cover, does not compare to the saturated sexualization of women, but a more accurate "gender flipping" would be something less silly.

The silliness is supposed to be part of the point, that society has preconceived notions of what is and is not considered sexy. But I don't think (and I'd like to be proven wrong on this) that ALL of what is considered sexy is a fabrication. Otherwise, holy shit did I miss a LOT in biology (and, perhaps, sociology). There are fads and trends from the past, such as different types of thongs and short shorts, and once upon a time skinny was the new fat, but there has always been a sexual appetite based partially on appearance.

So, of course, society has different expectations for men and women as far as what is considered sexy. I think this has more to do with inherent biological differences between men and women than socially constructed inequalities. But I'm not citing any research, that's just my bullshit opinion. I didn't take women's studies (but I was a cheerleader for five years, for whatever the hell it's worth). I do believe men are more visually inclined in terms of what arouses them.

None of these are excuses for the over-objectification of women. Rather, these are reasons why gender-flipping can be nothing more than a conversation starter. But it's really only a conversation starter if you're interested in the topic of objectification and gender inequality to begin with. Otherwise, it's just goofy. And it's getting old.

So the broader point, I suppose, is that the aforementioned expectations are higher for women. Again, fair point. It's inarguable. Women are more frequently expected to possess a kind of sexiness (but also not to use that sexiness in any tangible way, lest they be considered a "slut"). It's unfair, and I knew this before gender-flipping got really popular.

I guess I'm just confused as to what I'm supposed to do next. I don't support the over-objectification of women, or anyone for that matter. But to exist in a capitalistic society means I must benefit from the inevitable objectification of human beings (as welders, singers, mining engineers, beet inspectors, butchers, delivery dudes, etc.). I think the issue is broader than any feminist fad can account for.

EDIT: And while gender-flipping is funny, as a kind-of-comedian, I have to say from experience that merely making someone laugh can only get you so far in terms of changing the way they think. It's funny, but it ain't that funny. 

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