Do handsome male stars have a right to complain about being sexually objectified? That’s the question some people are asking after Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington told the Sunday Times about the “demeaning” treatment he’s been subjected to in the entertainment industry.
Here’s what he said:
“I think there is a double standard. If you said to a girl, ‘Do you like being called a babe?’ and she said, ‘No, not really,’ she’d be absolutely right.
I like to think of myself as more than a head of hair or a set of looks. It’s demeaning. Yes, in some ways you could argue I’ve been employed for a look I have. But there’s a sexism that happens towards men. There’s definitely a sexism in our industry that happens towards women, and there is towards men as well…
At some points during photoshoots when I’m asked to strip down, I felt that. If I felt I was being employed just for my looks, I’d stop acting.”
It’s unfortunate that he used the term “sexism” to describe his experience. Thanks to the conservative wing of the Men’s Rights Movement (which many feel is a backlash to feminism), a lot of people get suspicious when something is described as being sexist toward men.
“I think what he is actually describing is feeling objectified, which certainly isn’t a phenomenon belonging to a single gender” Aimée Lutkin wrote in an article on Jezebel. Technically, she’s right. It would be sexist if the way Harington was treated on photo shoots only happened to men. In fact, women are much more likely to experience sexual objectification and Harington acknowledges this.
So the question is this— since the sexual objectification Harington experienced would be so much worse if he were a woman, does he have the right to complain?
According to Lutkin, the answer is no. In that same article for Jezebel, she wrote:
“I’d definitely be disappointed if Kit Harington quit acting and Jon Snow died a second time. I’d also be disappointed if I never saw him without his shirt again. Sigh. Sexism hurts us all: both male and female actors, and also the overwhelmingly white male producers, directors, and writers on the other side of the camera.”
I get that men, specifically white men, hold all the power in Hollywood. If Lutkin had just made a snarky comment that highlighted this, her statement wouldn’t be so troubling. But it’s curious that she uses the same kind of condescending, sexually demeaning tone that misogynists often use to silence outspoken women. There is something downright rapey about the fact that her reaction to Harington saying he feels uncomfortable being asked to undress is to joke about wanting to see him with his shirt off.
When we fight to dismantle rape culture and stress the importance of consent are we only speaking on behalf of women?
Aimée Lutkin wasn’t the only person trivializing the sexual objectification of men. When asked about Harington’s complaints, the actor Patricia Clarkson told The Guardian, “He’s a sex symbol. Get over it. You have an amazing career and you’re on a hot show. Take your shirt off.”
The strangest part about this is that in this same interview, Clarkson was vocal about the discrimination she’s experienced as an older woman working in the film industry.
It’s ironic that she would say that a member of a historically privileged group doesn’t have the right to complain about discrimination. After all, Clarkson is a thin, white woman publicly complaining about the shitty roles she’s offered when almost all the leading female roles in Hollywood end up being played by white women.
Patricia Clarkson got a lot of praise when she said “A white male actor should never be allowed to complain about anything. Shut up and sit in the corner.” But she doesn’t feel she needs to “shut up and sit in the corner” despite the fact that she’s been given opportunities denied to women of color. She expects us to understand that despite her race, she still faces obstacles as a woman, and yet she won’t extend this courtesy to a man speaking about his experience.
This is why the whole, ‘stop complaining, I have it so much worse’ stance is absurd.
It goes without saying that Patricia Clarkson would have a much harder time finding quality roles if she were a woman of color, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t experience sexual discrimination. Her racial privilege only goes so far.
Just like Kit Harington’s male privilege only goes so far. Not all men are treated the same. Young, attractive men working in entertainment are sometimes ogled and objectified in a way that’s quite similar to the way women are treated.
In an ideal world, Patricia Clarkson and all the women who rolled their eyes when Kit Harington said he felt uncomfortable taking his clothes off, would view him as an ally. Instead, it often feels like we’re all in a competition to see who’s more oppressed.
But the truth is, the patriarchy adversely affects men as well. Yes, women experience sexual objectification more often and more intensely than men, but saying that men who do experience it should just accept it because it’s so much worse for women, doesn’t help anyone.