Some people are up in arms about Aidan Turner’s abs but we need to look at the context, says Prudence Wade.
When I heard the latest uproar around Poldark, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
Here it is in a nutshell – the new series of the swashbuckling Cornish period drama has started, and in preparation, the BBC has released a picture of star Aidan Turner without a shirt.
People are up in arms over the "double standards" of society, complaining that we’re not OK with the objectification of women, and yet we’re more than happy to ogle Turner’s chest.
Double standards on the BBC concerning sexism. What a shock.— Phil Davis (@ferretd69) 1 June 2018
Turner’s torso is all over news websites, social media and newspapers.
And, just a few years after all the public pressure to scrap Page 3 of The Sun after 45 years, some argue leching at Turner is no better, and that there would be uproar if there was collective ogling at a scantily-clad female actress emerging from the water.
That may be true but that argument forgets how many near-naked, perfectly-formed women we see on our screens every day, and how many of their roles exist purely to be attractive to a male character (or a male audience), and how deeply damaging that is in a society that already values women less than men.
Turner’s photo has been likened to the iconic shot of Daniel Craig as James Bond in blue Speedos. But it’s worth remembering that such sexualisation of male actors is still a rarity – especially in comparison with the amount of female flesh on show.
The Bond franchise is a good example of this – such a strong emphasis has been put on women’s bodies as opposed to their characters. One is literally called Pussy Galore.
The treatment of women has been getting slowly better as we become more aware of how damaging hypersexualisation can be. So is it OK for men to be lusted after? Many people think it’s not, but I’m not so sure.
Seeing women objectified so frequently and frivolously arguably tells men that sex is theirs to take, and this contribution to rape culture is one of the most damaging outcomes of how women are often portrayed on film and TV. But I can’t see the same happening to men – society has conditioned us too far the other way.
In fact, I’d argue that calling out the BBC, or anyone else, for having "double-standards" and criticising women for enjoying Turner’s torso actually fits perfectly into these structures of misogyny. I’m not saying that everyone who was offended by the picture was male, but it’s got to be said that the majority of people I’ve seen making disgruntled noises on Twitter are men.
Is this not sexist? If it was a 20 something female model, there would be an outcry about sexist British tabloids. I bet there isn't a single complaint: and yes, I could never look that good!!— John Knight (@ancientrockgod) 1 June 2018
Maybe the issue isn’t that a man is being leched at, but that it’s women who are doing the leching.
Historically, men dictate women’s relationship with sex. For so long women were expected to be virginal before marriage and then obedient wives, and some would argue that narrative still exists.
All the while the media, TV and film hypersexualise women’s bodies – all for male, not female, pleasure. So for many, actually seeing women looking at someone in a sexual way (even if it’s simply thinking Turner’s abs are "a bit of alright") is a shock.
Women aren’t ‘supposed’ to be lascivious – but it’s what is expected of men.
This isn’t the first time the argument of "double-standards" has been raised – indeed, Turner found himself at the centre of it back in 2015 when the BBC released another shirtless picture of him. He told Newsbeat at the time: "I don’t know why the BBC are releasing photos of it. It’s a bit strange." However, he recently said he doesn’t mind that the fans love looking at his chest, joking that they should "go for it".
[In response to a recent article in the Radio Times magazine, Turner said: "I've never felt objectified. I think sometimes other people want to feel that for you, which can be quite a strange thing.
"But personally I haven't."]
Another male heartthrob doesn’t have such a light-hearted stance on the matter. In 2015, Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harington told Page Six: "To always be put on a pedestal as a hunk is slightly demeaning."
He added: "Well, it’s not just men that can be inappropriate sexually; women can be as well.
"I’m in a successful TV show in a kind of leading man way and it can sometimes feel like your art is being put to one side for your sex appeal. And I don’t like that."
Sure, I can sort of see his point. Sort of. But as callous as it might seem, I have little to no sympathy for Harington. Women have been treated like sexual objects for centuries – when females are objectified, men are asserting their dominance in an already patriarchal society, continuing this systematic oppression.
When women look at a male torso, the same power play doesn’t happen – because we aren’t the dominant sex in society. Not only this, but there just aren’t the same societal pressures on men to look a certain way. I’m not saying these pressures don’t exist – they just aren’t as acute as the expectations on women, so it’s not as damaging.
How to shut down someone who denounces feminism because "it's not fair for women to objectify men if men can't do the same cos 'that's not equality' " @GuiltFemPod @DeborahFW yaas 💃🏻🙌🏻 pic.twitter.com/k35AXFaSPY— Jos (@joscanavan) 24 April 2018
So no, I really don’t think that objectifying men on TV is a double-standard, nor is it sexist. Saying so completely ignores the centuries of oppression women have endured – when society truly is fair (ie. no misogyny, gender pay gap, rape culture etc), then it might be different.
In the meantime, women should be allowed to look at Turner’s torso with wild abandon. Think of it as an incredibly insubstantial form of reparation – but I’ll take what we can get.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ