The Plight of the Double-Standard in the Sexualization of Political Figures and Media Representation

This blog entry by Christy Ferguson, Instructor in English and Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, brings us our first installment in our Women’s History Month blog series on Gender, Sexualization, and the Media.

When typing the name of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into a search engine, what would you expect to find? Topics about his policies? A speech, maybe? Certainly, one does not expect to find this:

“Everyone is Extremely Thirsty for Young Justin Trudeau” –Marie Claire via Yahoo News

“Young Justin Trudeau Pictures Have Been Discovered and the Internet is Freaking Out” –Yahoo Style

 “Will Justin Trudeau Ever Pose Nude? Young, Shirtless Photos of Liberal Canadian PM Prompt Hopes and Hoaxes” –International Business Times

“The internet is losing its collective mind over Justin Trudeau’s Butt.” –Marie Claire

In political media, we have become accustomed to witnessing the continued sexualization of women who dare to climb the governmental ladder. With constant focus on their clothing choices, bodies, families, and marriages, women in politics have faced a myriad of sexism in the media as they fought their way to positions of power.

Until recently, the media’s sexualization of male politicians had rarely reached such a state of embarrassment. However, over the past few weeks, photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been circling the internet with an extreme focus on his good looks. With much of the focus specifically on his backside, people all over the world are ogling the PM instead of focusing on his politics.

Trudeau butt

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: On the left, we see an innocuous photo of Justin Trudeau in dark slacks, a white shirt, and a button down tie. It is taken from the right side of his body. He is in profile, with his right leg forward slightly, perhaps resting on the crossbar of a chair leg. The righthand photo is zoomed in on his muscular backside. In a class sign of objectifying images, Trudeau is now headless and the focus is a single body part. (Photo Credit: Yahoo Image Search via lostateminor.com)

Of course, the discussion of the attractiveness of a man in office isn’t completely nonexistent. Crushes on former presidents JFK and Barrack Obama continue to surface in conversations across the nation. However, headlines regarding male politicians don’t typically flaunt a half-dressed, barely legal teenager’s old social media photos claiming how “thirsty” people are for his form.

Trudeau teenager

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: This is a photo of a teenaged Justin Trudeau. He is standing, wearing a pair of jeans with a belt, a sleevless plaid buttondown shirt that is entirely unbuttoned showing his chest and belly, which have clearly defined muscles. Behind him are too sitting persons wearing shorts and sandles with pale skin. Trudeau, by contrast, has light brown skin. (Photo Credit: Marie Claire via Twitter)

So, what’s the issue? Shouldn’t we, as feminists, be grateful that for once, the media is sexualizing a man in politics the same way they do every woman who has ever run for office? Not hardly. The way to equality is not through the degradation of men. It is through the elevation of women. Double-standards have been detrimental to the work of women for centuries. However, when the tables are turned, men in these positions tend to be elevated by the work of sexualization. Whereas women in politics who face the same treatment are disparaged and their careers put in jeopardy. Why is that, you wonder?

This is systemic sexism. The idea that any focus on women should be from a standpoint of whether she is pleasing to eye, yet controlled enough not to be sexual in any way, has been ingrained in our societal structure for centuries. Women must be both sexual and maternal, but neither is truly acceptable. In certain careers, women are expected to push through the expectation to look or act a certain way to get ahead, only to have those exact expectations used against them to keep them from certain levels of success and power. This is seen constantly in the political arena, where women must fight much harder to earn those positions of power. Men, on the other hand, can look any way they wish, with no true concern about what kind of parent or husband they may be, no one tells them to smile and their careers carry on unscathed.

In the case of PM Trudeau, the comments about his backside and questions about the possibility of a nude photoshoot have not damaged his credibly or career standing in the slightest. If anything, it has given him more positive press and made him more well-known and respected than ever before.

As feminists, we have an obligation to identify and eradicate this type of behavior in the media despite the sex or gender of the person being sexualized. We must expose the double-standard that exists in media exploitation of political figures and fight for equality and substance in reporting the true issues at hand.  We should not celebrate the degradation of men to further our own cause, because it does just the opposite.

 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Plight of the Double-Standard in the Sexualization of Political Figures and Media Representation

  1. Charlie Cook

    Well said!!! *clap*

  2. Brandace Cloud

    Such a double standard we live in. Thank you for fighting loudly to make it known.

  3. This column at Raw Story makes a similar point starting with an interesting case: what happens to Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Potter films; Bell in the new Beauty & the Beast) when she is depicted topless, compared with what happens to Mark Wahlberg or Vladimir Putin? https://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/emma-watsons-nearly-topless-photo-raises-questions-about-feminist-hypocrisy/

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