Beyond Chainmail Bikinis: Objecting to Objectification is Not the Same Thing As Objecting to Indecency

Chainmail bikinis?
For seriouscat feminists
Critique goes deeper.

Chainmail bikinis serve as metonymy for all objectification of women in fantasy and gaming. Or, broader, for the problem of unrealistically scantily clad female figures.

Objecting to women scantily dressed for no reason (other than to satisfy the male gaze, of course) leads to accusations that one is a prude. For this reason many women include a reflexive apology in their criticism, or seeing themselves as sex-positive (or wishing to be seen as sex positive) don’t make the criticism because they don’t want to be uptight. The accusation that objecting to objectification is prudery comes from either ignorance or bad faith. Ignorance, we can fix. Fixing bad faith is beyond my powers.

Here is the difference. Arguments against scantily clad women which arise out of the indecency premise are about the men. They leave the male gaze unquestioned and focus on the corrupting effects of viewing women’s bodies on the male viewer. They maintain the assumption that women are corrupt and corrupting. The worry of the indecency argument is always about how the scantily clad ladies will harm the men. Women, if considered at all by the argument, are only judged against the ideals of womanhood and always found wanting. Women are always found wanting. Virgin or whore, you can’t win.

Arguments against scantily clad women in unrealistic scenarios which proceed from the anti-objectification premise are on the other hand about women. I feel almost crazy pointing this out, but the female characters in video games, in fantasy art, in comics, aren’t real. Those are not the women I’m talking about when I say the anti-objectification argument is about women. I am talking about the women playing the games, looking a the art, reading the comics.

When we, women, consume media with female characters designed for the delectation and titillation of male viewers, we know that we are not the intended audience. There may be no man in the picture when you stare at Lara Croft’s bum, but there is a man implied by the way she is presented. There is an audience already implied in the way the image is made, and that audience is not us. These images of women clearly designed for the male gaze alienate women from our own experience of playing games, looking at art, watching movies.

If we want to enjoy them, the easiest course of action is to identify with the implied male viewer and try to see through male eyes. There’s no harm in imagining oneself other than what one is now and again, but to be forced into the state continuously is a burden.

Further, by designing media with female figures dressed for the delectation of the implied heterosexual male audience, the creators train men in a certain way of looking at women. That problem goes way beyond video games and fantasy art. It’s part of the dominant paradigm ruling our world. Everywhere you look there are images of women designed to appease the male gaze, metaphorical and literal training manuals teaching men how to objectify women.

Real women consuming media know that this is how men look at us. And now, even here, in the imaginary world where we wish to escape for a moment from the constant consciousness of the male gaze turning us from human beings to objects that exist only for the pleasure (and at the pleasure) of another, the form of the world reminds us that even here, we exist only for men’s pleasure.

And that is why constantly sexualized images of female character models are objectionable, not because they are indecent.