Why Gender-Swapping Objectification Doesn't Work

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
For all intents and purposes, Baywatch is summer 2017's quintessential movie: It's a reboot, which we're so hot for right now, it stars The Rock, who might, uh, be president, and it's feminist — well, apparently. In an interview with Glamour, star Priyanka Chopra defended the movie, saying the adaptation is payback for the decidedly un-feminist TV show. "Let me just say, the boys are just as objectified," she promises.
It's no secret that our society is accustomed to objectifying women. We see boobs in ads for burgers, of all things. It's not jarring to see the female anatomy splashed across a billboard — it's just tired. On paper, equally objectifying men and women sounds like a simple solution to that whole sexism problem.
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You might have seen this in action on the Baywatch movie posters, which display a floatie and two beach balls positioned to look just like a penis. For a brand that's so well known for its slow-motion shots of breasts, the poster makes a definitive statement: It's 2017, and in 2017 it's just as much about the dudes.

It's a hard job, but there's a pair that can do it. Look out for our NEW trailer Wednesday! #BeBaywatch #Bayday

A post shared by Baywatch Movie (@baywatchmovie) on

Here's the thing, and why I think this poster doesn't land the way the movie hoped — hasn't it always been about the dudes? Sure, we've swapped one set of genitals for another, but like the boys in middle school who would draw crude penises on random pages in my notebook for me to find later, or the man on the subway who whips it out when he thinks women aren't looking, or the explicit pictures that arrive after you accidentally add the wrong person on Snapchat, I don't think this was done for me. You can't just swap out the body part that's being objectified and expect it to be the same, because male and female bodies have different connotations — especially in Hollywood.
Hollywood is a notoriously male-dominated industry, with few women speaking in front of the camera and even less behind it. If a production promises male objectification, it's most likely being done by and for an audience of men.
Let's take a look at Magic Mike, another Hollywood favorite that people laud as feminist because it puts male bodies in the spotlight. The 2012 film starring Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer follows the intense but lucrative lives of male strippers through an awe-inspiring and occasionally goofy lens. Yes, we see abs, and butts, and bulges, but we also get personalities and backstories. We get nuanced characters with their own quirks and motivations. And this is good! Nobody should be depicted as just a piece of genitalia (which, it turns out, the movie does do with a female character later on in the plot). But there's a huge difference between this:
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And this scene from Cheap Thrills:
Both involve strippers, both objectify the bodies, but one body is being cheered and the other is being violated — guess which is which. In Cheap Thrills, this female stripper is not being celebrated, she's not treated like royalty, she's not even a person. In Magic Mike, men take their clothes off and they are gods, because men are creating the movie, and they know men will be watching. Men are the ones choosing what goes on a the poster, and if it's a penis, it's because that was their choice.
Plus, because men have been the ones driving the car since objectification was invented, male objectification comes with a power that female objectification does not. If these two clips reveal one thing, it's that female objectification is all about what you can do to it and male objectification is what it will do to you.
Which is why, to be honest, I'm good! I know what a penis can do to me. I get told it in internet comments and abruptly on dating apps and even by our president. I don't need to go to a movie that subconsciously reminds me of something a man on the street probably already told me without permission on the way there.
And so when the posters for Baywatch were revealed, there was no "Finally!" or "Nice ;)" or any kind of empowering moment. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another dick pic I didn't mean to see.
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