Friday, January 25, 2013

The Difference Between Sexism and Innocent Sexualization

Look at these covers. Would you consider these covers to be an offensive objectification of the male body?


Well, okay. Maybe that's not fair. (After all, our society does have a double standard when it comes to most gender roles.)

But anyway, there has been a bit of controversy lately over Lee Moyer's "fantasy pin-up calendar." (Honestly, I don't know why everyone's complaining about this now. This calendar came out in, like, November.) Long story short, Lee Moyer and fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss decided to create a series of pin-up calendar pictures based off of famous fantasy authors or their books. These calendars were up for sale during Rothfuss' annual Worldbuilders fundraiser, which supports Heifer International.

Of course, given how different genre communities work, this is what you see:

Fantasy fans: Awesome, dude! I want one!
YA fans: OMG so offensive!


It's not that I don't understand how these calendars might be perceived as "problematic." Obviously, there's a problem with society seeing women as something that exists for men to 'use'--whether for sexual, homely, or baby-making purposes. And the fantasy community is not without rampant sexism--on the internet, at conventions, etc. And maybe this calendar is somehow encouraging that. I mean, isn't this just like showing sexualized women in anatomy-defying poses on the covers of books?

Not really. A book is one thing: when males get to be heroes and have personalities while women do nothing but stand there and look pretty, then yes, we have a problem. But this? It's a pin-up girl calendar. Criticizing a pin-up girl calendar for sexualizing women is like criticizing pornography for, well, exactly the same thing.

But maybe this calendar shouldn't even exist if it's going to promulgate sexism. A very fair point--but one that I have trouble agreeing with. For these reasons:

a) Partially because this is Pat Rothfuss. The same guy who was a part of this awesome photo (GO CLICK ON THIS LINK RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME). Although his female characters aren't the best, they are still a lot better in terms of presence and personality than those of many other fantasy writers. That, and my impression from reading his books and his blog is that he is anything but sexist. He regularly recommends books and media by female authors, for example.

b) This calendar isn't exactly taking itself seriously. It's half-fetish, yes, but also half-fun.

c) Yes, it is okay to fetishize the female body (to a certain degree). Why? Because we're human, and humans are animals, and that's okay. Desiring a woman sexually does not mean that you can't also respect her. And just because you love a woman's personality, it doesn't mean you can't also appreciate her body.

Now that's not saying I don't have a problem with this calendar. This is my problem with it: Where are all the men? Surely, the female body isn't the only thing worth fantasizing over. Give me some shirtless, muscle-y men! A girl needs to get her fix, too! (Just kidding. Mostly. It is kind of sexist to objectify one side and not the other.)

If you want to fight sexism in fantasy literature, then write more books featuring well-rounded, realistic, ACTIVE female characters. And when you write a love interest, that person should be more than just a lust object for your reader or a passive "motivation" or "treasure" for your character. (This advice is aimed at authors of BOTH genders.) And when you encounter sexism, harassment, or accusations of "not being a real fan," then don't be afraid to speak out.

But don't get all huffy about things like this. If you don't like the calendar, don't buy it. But don't criticize others for actually admitting that they like looking at boobs.

(And hey, look! At least two out of these twelve women are non-white! Diversity FTW!)


What do you guys think? Do you find this calendar sexist? Where do you draw the line between "acceptable" and "non-acceptable" objectification of women?

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