TV Dinners, Game Developers, and Female Objectification

strong female characters

There’s that moment, and I’ve gotten pretty used to it, when you’re watching TV or you’re at a party or a club or you’re listening to a comedian, and you have a sudden realization: Oh. They’re not talking to me anymore. Sometimes it’s a little thing, and sometimes it’s not, but we’ve all been there—knowing, with certainty, that the tone has shifted from one of universal nature, to one that addresses solely the heterosexual male contingent of the audience. This is evidenced by the way that women are being represented, employed, talked about.

My “they’re-not-talking-to-me” senses were triggered by the most inane, the most ridiculous thing the other night—a Hot Pocket commercial—but maybe because of too much stress, maybe because of not enough sleep, I subsequently flew into a rage.

The gist: A really, really plain-looking guy and a hottified girl (makeup, voluminous hair, perpetual narrow-eyed come-hither expression, tight shirt, slinky walk) enter a room and approach a second plain-looking guy, who is holding a somewhat phallic-looking Hot Pocket, which the girl proceeds to put in her mouth in a fairly suggestive way as the guys look on, wide-eyed.

Then I flew into a rage.

That’s a slight exaggeration.

I just suddenly felt, I don’t know—fed up? “They’re just putting shit into the world,” I raved at my poor boyfriend. “Shit!” Besides for giving vent to my need to curse, I guess what I meant by that was: something extraneous, with a wholesale negative impact. This Hot Pocket commercial wasn’t doing anything that Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s for you East Coasters) campaigns hadn’t done before, and better/worse/horrifyingly worse. Paris Hilton writhing around in a bikini, washing a car and stuffing a burger in her face. Miss Turkey strutting down a pier holding (what else) a turkey burger, with the camera squarely focused on her ass.

I’ve hated Carl’s Jr. commercials for a long time.

But those are really only the most egregious, honest, overt, self-conscious examples. Women’s bodies are regularly put on display as if that will please, titillate, enhance the experience of the average viewer. No matter how random the product. No matter how wide the audience.

Recently, at a game developers’ conference in San Francisco, outrage was had over the presence of scantily clad women dancers. Female attendees felt uncomfortable, and an IGDA chairwoman resigned in protest. This was an especially sore point because the game developers field has long been dominated by men—and instead of making efforts to include women and make them feel like respected and valued colleagues, a major professional conference instead “included” women as entertainment and decoration. This isn’t for you. We’re not talking to you.

It’s not that I have a problem with women’s bodies, or showing skin, or what have you. And it’s not that women can’t be entertained by scantily clad women. It’s more that such women, in the public sphere, in media, tend to represent a wider attitude about women, an accessibility, an empty vessel-hood, that is conceived of, produced, and enjoyed by the heterosexual male gaze. It’s this pervasive sense that, unlike men, women can be expected to provide sex, entertainment, decoration, inspiration, that they are bodies and not subjects, not actors, not people. These women are not participators in the conversation, but rather objects and symbols that sit voiceless on the sidelines while men bandy them about. And those women who do participate have to accept that they are exceptions.

This type of problem ties into wider issues of gender inequality and attitudes towards women, and, as ridiculous or harmless as it may seem, I believe it has the potential to at least indirectly promote or condone some really, you know, evil, effed up shit---misogyny, discrimination, rape culture. It’s an all-consuming, insidious problem that I don’t expect to change overnight, but that, I hope, will slowly fade as women continue to expand their influence in related fields. In the meantime, I'm dealing in two ways: I wrote this blog post, and I’m not buying any Hot Pockets.