Sex ed

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

Newsflash! Women are often objectified in mainstream media!

Well, if you’ve been anywhere besides under a rock during the 20th and 21st centuries, the above statement shouldn’t come as a shock. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take notice when the tendency to present young women as sex objects instead of three-dimensional human beings rears its ugly head.

Especially when it happens on sacred ground – Glee-ground, that is.

Last week, the November issue of the men’s lifestyle magazine GQ featured three stars of that pop culture FOX phenom known as Glee on its cover and in a photo spread inside the issue. Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron and Lea Michele are shown in various high school locations, such as a classroom, locker room and library. While Montieth wears polo shirts and sweaters, Michele and Agron wear skimpy lingerie, knee socks and schoolgirl skirts. The women pose suggestively, hanging on Montieth seductively in several shots, and Michele even sits on a bench in one photo with her legs spread apart.

It’s not difficult to see what photographer Terry Richardson was going for with this shoot. The actors are clearly playing off their high school counterparts, trading their teenage awkwardness for sex appeal. Truth be told, it’s probably the only way the stars of Glee could be portrayed in GQ that wouldn’t make its male readers pass the issue by on a newsstand shelf while rolling their eyes at “that kids’ show about musicals.”

Yet therein lies the problem. The only way the editors of GQ could market the talented, fresh-faced stars of television’s hottest show to men was to turn Michele and Agron into sex kittens.

It’s disturbing enough that there are so few strong, independent females on television today, but to feel the need to take two of them and reduce them to stereotypical sex symbols just so men will be interested in them is just sad. And if you need proof that GQ’s strategy did indeed attract the desired attention, just look at the numbers: A typical GQ feature gets 2.5 million hits on the GQ website in its first week. The Glee spread got 33 million.

Lauren Ilano, a junior women and gender studies and psychology double major, said the photos reflect a long tradition of women being looked at in a sexual nature by dominant men.

“The one shot where [Monteith] has a baseball bat shows his dominance and the violence in that shot maintained his masculinity because posing for shots is a pretty feminine act,” Ilano said. “Girls are supposed to be looked at while men are usually the ones doing the looking.”

Ilano pointed out that Michele and Agron’s “innocence” in the pictures also heightens the sexual fantasy. “The portrayal of the women as kind of dumb makes it easier for them to be seen as only sexual bodies,” she said.

It’s admittedly idealistic to expect a men’s magazine to counteract centuries-old traditions of human relations. GQ was only doing what it tries to do every month – sell magazines – and its editors shouldn’t be faulted for capitalizing on what sells today.

But we, the consumers, should be ashamed that in the year 2010 we are still more likely to pick up a magazine, watch a film or tune into a TV show every week if the women in it are sexy or risqué. Lea Michele and Dianna Agron are pretty enough without dressing them up to look like strippers. Doing so only perpetuates the tradition of believing that a woman is only worth paying attention to if she looks like she’d be hot in bed.

The GQ photo shoot isn’t the only example of the objectification of women in the media, but one can always dream that it’ll be the last.

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