It was this BuzzFeed post that inspired this article. While I cannot definitively say which of those 15 GIFs of a partly-naked, tanned and extremely ripped Channing Tatum I needed most in my life, it certainly set me thinking. Could I ever imagine BuzzFeed, or indeed any other 20s and 30s-orientated, broadly progressive website, publishing GIFs of scantily-clad women writhing in slow motion, surrounded by breathily lustful captions?
Hopefully not. In fact, I would guess that BuzzFeed and similar publications would outright condemn that kind of laddish perviness. And I can’t stress enough just how OK I am with that. But it is an interesting paradox, isn’t it? While much of the world continues to gradually declare crude objectification of women in popular culture unacceptable, the equivalent objectification of men seems to be not just acceptable, but actively encouraged. For instance, see this piece by BuzzFeed’s UK culture editor and former women’s editor at the Guardian.
Why is it that male lust is increasingly taboo, but that of women is celebrated? If we believe that treating women like objects is wrong, surely it must also follow that treating men like objects is equally bad? I would guess that some might answer that given there isn’t a long history of women oppressing and abusing men, publically objectifying men is harmless. But by that logic, we would have no right to object if a black person was racist to a white one.
The universal truth here, which our culture is only just about learning with regard to women, is that is not cool to lust after people and treat them as objects. In fact, I’d say it’s a sin. And if it is a sin for men to do it to women, it must also be a sin in reverse. Yet, even inside Christian culture, it is far from uncommon to hear women casually throwing around language about men that would be immediately condemned if aimed at women instead.
I remember walking down a beach with a number of Christian friends while they ogled the male lifeguard. No doubt if I had joined in by approving of how attractive his female colleague in a bikini was, they would have been shocked. And rightly so. Or I think about the time I sat in on a group of Christian girls breezily discussing how distracting it was when “hot” worship leaders were projected onto the big screens at some conference. It’s difficult to see how this is anything other than double standards.
It’s often thrown around in the Church that men are more visually-minded than women, hence they struggle more with things like porn and lust. That may well be true, but I worry that it has unintentionally given some women a free pass to indulge in the kind of objectification that their brothers in Christ tearfully confess to in accountability groups. Have we accidentally told a generation of women that it’s basically not an issue if they lust after men in their hearts?
I’ll be honest – part of my motivation in banging this drum is that ever-so-childish sentiment of ‘it’s not fair’. It doesn’t seem fair that we men have to constantly police our gaze and battle against gawking at beautiful women, while our sisters in Christ glibly partake of the very same forbidden fruit we are daily denying ourselves. But there’s a bigger issue here than just my juvenile sense of injustice.
I believe that Jesus tells us not to lust in Matthew 5:28 because it is destructive. It’s not just a pointless rule designed to test our faith, or to prepare us for monogamy. Bear in mind Jesus is ratcheting up the already fairly strict Old Testament rules on adultery. He does this because he knows that ogling others is bad for us, and bad for those we lust after. Lust is a cancer in our hearts, which God will one day strip away, but until then wants us to flee from it with all our might. And if that’s the case, we are failing women by not challenging the objectification of men. Even those, like Channing Tatum, it might be very difficult not to objectify.