In fact, I was conflicted enough to pause mid-chomp on my roasted almonds and mumble, “Well, this is delightfully problematic.”
The facts are these -- on February 1st, any and all articles or videos by or featuring men in technology should be shared accompanied by a qualifying comment about their appearance. Why do this? Because, as the idea’s originator Leigh Alexander points out, this is the norm everyday for women who work in tech.
OK. Theoretically, I get it. The formula -- using humor to draw attention to an issue with weight and hopefully makes folks re-evaluate it -- is a particular favorite of mine. The issue in this instance? The concept of the gendered compliment (or, as the case may be, insult) which has long plagued women in technology and other fields.
But this is the Internet. And stuff like this doesn’t tend to go over very well here. Nor is it really effective, not when it comes to pointing out the disparity in the way men and women treat each other professionally. It’s just not the right medium for this sort of tack.
I’m not advocating a cessation of all humor (stat!), just this particular approach in this particular sphere. Because the Internet, for all its wonders, also breeds folks like actual misandrists and men’s rights activists who fall upon threads like these and in no short order fill them with comments that are the woooorst, and zap your argument of its power.
My friend Alex writes a lot about feminism on the web, and for whatever reason, an article she wrote attracted an onslaught of vitriol from men’s rights activists. It was so prolific and prolonged that when I asked her what effects she thought “Objectify a Man in Tech Day” would have upon said group, her response was immediate, “An awful one. It just encourages bad behavior and breaks down any attempt at a real dialogue -- I would prefer that men’s rights activists just fall in a pit with true misandrists and be forced to look at that one gif of Ursula cackling for all time.” (Hell is other people’s gifs.)
This isn’t to say I don’t understand the need to highlight the problem -- to slyly retaliate. I can take honest criticism (thanks, grad school!) and I’ve even gotten pretty good at vicious, pointless retorts to the stuff I put out into the world -- computers make the worst people the bravest people.
But the one sort of response I still can’t get down with are those that combine the two. These are the sort of comments where the writer tries to convey some very often salient point, but then caps off the whole thing with a remark about my looks or my gender. It makes my inner She-Hulk want to smash.
Or rather, go full on Shakespeare with it, disguise my gender, start my career over as a man, live that way for many years, and finally reveal my true identity and boobs -- proving my point once and for all, and breaking the heart of the affable single woman in my apartment building, while nicely resolving the sexual tension between myself and the surly editor of the small town newspaper I’ve been writing for.
This isn’t a possibility. I mean, I guess it still is, but since I’ve detailed my entire plan (...sexual fantasy...?) here, you guys would be pretty much on to me from go, requiring me to do loads more legwork than I originally anticipated and I’ll be real, I do not have the energy for that level of scheming -- it’s Thursday, you know?
In spite of all my qualms, I appreciate the need to point out the absurdity and double standard of how we criticize the genders, especially in fields dominated by one or the other. But if the goal is to point out the danger of what we’re doing when we reduce another person to a part rather than their sum total, we’ve got to really underline the absurdity for the humorous take to work. Here are five other ways to remind everyone that objectification is dumb:
1. Objectify Famous Fictional Characters
While you’re essentially setting a trap for yourself to turn the tables on the dudes and call a real life one honey-pot, almost no can be offended if you pause while reading "Wuthering Heights" to be all, “Daaaayum Heathcliff, you’re a pretty good schemer for a pretty boy.”
2. Objectify Your Pets
Nothing beats hurling gendered insults at your pets to prove a point. The next time I have a dinner party, I plan on recounting how my cat -- previously thought to be male -- is in fact, female. I will pet said cat and loudly announce, “Of course we should have known -- he’s a TERRIBLE driver.”
3. Objectify Your Meals
While enjoying your kale chips or a plate of rapidly cooling meatloaf, why not tell the chips you’re impressed at their crispiness since most kale you’ve met spends all of its time staring at itself in the mirror. Consider telling the meatloaf that it’s not fat-fat, it’s skinny-fat. Then take photos of it.*
4. Objectify the Weather
It’s bitterly cold in New York right now. When I leave my desk to go get lunch, I plan on shivering and hunching into the arctic breeze, all the while sneering, “Why don’t you go back to the mall where you belong?”
5. Objectify Yourself
A personal favorite. The next time you forget your keys, or drop your brand new unlimited monthly metro card onto the tracks, pat yourself on the ass and say, “It’s a good thing you’ve got your looks,” then look to the nearest stranger and be all, “Amiright?” but with your eyes, not out loud.
Do you support the idea of objectifying dudes to prove a point about the evils of objectification? Do you think doing that is riddled with problems? How do you combat being discounted -- even nominally -- because of your gender? Can you believe that my cat is a girl? Should I start call him her? That will be hard to do, guys.
* Ha ha. Call back.