Massive billboards, the front page of endless magazines, all across social media, again and again we see the objectification of female bodies. The reduction of our corporeal vessels to airbrushed, photo-shopped fallacies, used to sell deodorant. It’s maddening. Young girls are growing up surrounded by messages that their appearance is all they will be valued for.
But it isn’t women alone, whose value is betrayed by these false representations. These same billboards, magazines and adverts so often feature topless men, baring muscles and six packs, wearing ties and fixing cars: tough, strong, relentless. These things are often active, and seen widely as positive, but what kind of expectations are they dictating for boys and men in our society?
In the last 25 years, there has been a noticeable rise in young men experiencing body dissatisfaction. With so much focus placed on the lean muscular physique men must adhere to, this is unsurprising. The health risks associated with this are severe, with males making up a quarter of people suffering with an eating disorder. Furthermore an estimated 3 percent of adolescent boys in Australia use muscle-enhancing drugs, demonstrating a widespread obsession with body building in this age group. It is not only the images of male bodies presented to us, but also the cultural expectation that men and boys must be ‘in control’ that plays a part in strict and oftentimes unhealthy meal and exercise plans, now commonplace among young male adolescents in Australia.
If men are not pictured topless and in their muscular prime, they are often instead depicted as paradigms of corporate success. A Google image search of ‘GQ covers featuring men’ will eventuate in vast results featuring successful men – wearing suits. The same search, but replacing the final word with ‘women’, eventuates in results featuring mostly naked females in sexualized positions. The latter has obvious and tragic consequences – enabling a culture that sees women as commodities, and worth nothing more than their bodies. However, it is important to look at the ramifications of such vehement expectations of success placed on men. These images of victory so often carry connotations of a self-focused and persistent pursuit of power, leaving no space for emotion or compassion. It is a widely known fact that 76% of suicides in Australia are committed by men, and that men are far less likely to seek help when faced with difficulty in life. The way men are socialized to focus on success beyond all else plays a major role in this, a clear consequence of our propensity to assign rigid roles and expectations based on gender.
However, vastly different expectations of masculinity are present on Facebook pages such as ‘Yeah the Boys’. This is a Melbourne based page with over 300,000 likes, that satirises masculine aspects of Australian’s youth culture. It focuses on themes such as “smashing VBs” and “fighting in the KFC parking lot”, citing violence and alcoholism as two cornerstones of manhood. While this page is intended to be humorous, it has had an effect in creating expectations for young men, and the behaviors they should be taking part in to ‘fit’ in youth culture as a male. Sadly, the very things males experience as ‘markers’ of social dominance, also create long-term health risks. Males aged 15-24 are the most likely victims of violent crime, whilst males are also far more likely to experience problems associated with alcoholism.
And so why is it so often inferred that ‘gender equality’ is an ideal belonging only to women, and that only women should be joining the fight for? The root causes of inequalities stems from how differently we are socialized based on our gender, and both females and males face the consequences.