Getty's 'Sexiest Fans' Gallery: Is the Outrage Justified?

Getty's 'Sexiest Fans' Gallery: Is the Outrage Justified?

You may have read an article about how Getty removed their "sexiest fans" gallery due to receiving backlash from social media. What's interesting is Vogue Magazine posted a similar type of article about men, which didn't seem to receive much in terms of outrage. Is it more offensive to objectify women than it is to objectify men? 

The whole article from Vogue discusses football players and describes them as "Reasons to Watch the 2018 World Cup." From talking about one player's lips and smile to another player's abs, this article clearly objectifies men in a manner that would be completely unacceptable if they were women. The primary difference is the reaction this piece has received versus the reaction Getty received for doing something similar. The reaction Getty received forced them to completely remove the gallery and offer an apology. As of writing this article, however, Vogue's article is still live and the reaction from social media has been relatively benign. 

Personally, I do not believe the article from Vogue causes any offense, nor do I think it requires any outrage, so why do many of us consider the Getty gallery to be offensive? If society considers anything negative against women to be more significant, is that in itself a form of sexism? Some could assume that men simply don't care as much as women when it comes to these issues and that people are becoming overly prone to outrage. You may be led to believe this if you read some of the comments. The majority of the comments on the Fstoppers article about the Getty gallery are from men expressing their unhappiness in regards to the outrage. Effectively, men are outraged about women being outraged about something. The discussions tend to focus on how people are just looking for things to be outraged about and how this infringes freedom of speech. Whether or not this affects freedom of speech could be debatable; in any case, we are seeing more frustration against "political correctness." We also see more and more companies developing themselves to be seen as forward-thinking and modern when it comes to how women are presented, yet, we don't see much of that happening for men. 

There are many that assume issues relating to men aren't taken as seriously by society in general. Maybe men's issues don't matter as much and we're simply expendable to some extent, which is horrible to say the least. The saying "women and children first" comes to mind. An article from The Guardian discusses this specifically, and in practice, there have been situations that suggest this is not as relevant or true. There are no actual laws that dictate this either; even still, the sentiment seems to remain. 

I think it's important to consider context too. For the longest time, women haven't had many of the rights that men have benefited from. Although in Europe, two of the more prominent countries (U.K and Germany) do have female heads of state. Is this enough? Could it be that strong reactions are required when female rights are infringed or if something is damaging the perception of women in order to bring some balance and equality? The outrage we see now could be due to the many numbers of years where women didn't have rights and it's strong reactions that have helped push the progress. Maybe the reason companies like Getty are actively trying to be seen as modern and forward-thinking is that they have deep-rooted issues that need to be shaken off. Progress can be slow, but fortunately, we've seen it happen and we can help it continue. 

Personally, I don't think either company did anything majorly wrong with either the galleries or the articles, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm right. I don't assume to know the answer; I can only describe my own thoughts and ask questions that I feel are relevant. Ultimately, there're two facts I'm certain we can agree on: people find people attractive and attraction is fundamental to how we operate. Just because a particular article or gallery shows individuals of a certain gender as being attractive does not mean all of their other characteristics are negated. In some sense, this reminds me of the fundamental attribution error. Having said that, It's important to remember how a single image can be extremely impactful. Photographs have the potential to drastically change the political landscape for better or worse. Images can become symbols with incredible meaning. Maybe we need to be more conscious of how an image or a gallery is portrayed and what message it sends. Once again, context is important, and in the current climate, with many women trying to develop and improve perceptions, maybe the pendulum does need to swing a little farther to one side before we see some proper equality. 

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65 Comments

Rob Davis's picture

It is simple. There is a power dynamic that differs between men and women in most of the world. Women, until fairly recently in the West and still are in other parts of the world, were/are essentially the domain (read: property) of men in law and in practice.

The fight to undo this objectification is still fairly new and despite having improved somewhat, still rages as we have seen with all of the #MeToo stories.

This is why objectifying women for entertainment is different than objectifying men for entertainment. The same way it would be much different calling a white person the N-Word vs. someone of African dissent.

Paul Juniper's picture

Well said Rob.

Usman Dawood's picture

Some interesting points and I can’t say I disagree. The context is important and I do discuss that.

Rob Davis's picture

I also think this situation is unique because it was Getty and people felt it was beneath their standards. Playboy just went back to a semi-nude format after trying to go non-nude, so I don't think the "sexy women" industry is in any danger.

“It is simple”

It never is.
You can reduce it to something that might look simple to you, but that’s not the same thing.
If “objectification” is (morally) unacceptable, shouldn’t it be for all people regardless of their gender, religion, race, etc.?
I know gender double standards are common in many cultures. Reversal is not the solution in my opinion.
You mention #MeToo. That’s about sexual harassment. Does the gender of the victim make a difference in how we should act?

Rob Davis's picture

I think gender should make a difference in how we evaluate something if gender makes a difference. Which in this case, I think I can demonstrate that it does. It depends which moral view you're taking. Is it the deontological ethical view that the morality of the act is the most important thing, regardless of the consequences? Or is it the consequentialist view that the morality of the act is measured by it's consequences? I lean toward the latter. That sexually objectifying men is bad, but not nearly the same as objectifying women because of the historical harm women's sexual objectification has caused.

“…the morality of the act is measured by it's consequences”

The consequences to whom?
All woman simply because they have the same gender?
Attractive woman as a sub group?
Black women as a different subgroup?
Gay women as a different subgroup?
Muslim woman as a different subgroup?
What about attractive black Muslim gay women?

The “historical harm” and “power dynamics” are different for every group and subgroup you can think of down to each individual.
Where do you draw the line and why?

If you want more equality between men and women it seems counterproductive to create new differences in the process.

Sietske Barnes's picture

Every single woman on Earth suffers from sexism to some degree. There may be other power dynamics at play, which is the principle upon which intersectional feminism is built, but sexism affects every group of women you mentioned.

To “some degree” is not “to the same degree” nor is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's gender something only women can suffer from.
If morality is measured by its consequences and you differentiate between groups who decides where the dividing lines should be? Gender based discrimination will vary a lot between cultures, religions and political systems.

By the way, if you choose “the hottest actor” and only nominate white actors, colored actors will suffer.
Now if you replace “actor” with “fan” and “white” by “female”, what do you replace “colored” with?

Santiago Borthwick's picture

Discrimination based on gender is something that in most cases (read 99 out of a 100) is something women suffer, men don't.
There might be anecdotal cases, and individually they are to be taken seriously and qualified as morally wrong, but the reality is that we don't suffer that.
In the few fields that it's been widespread, it's been also about men having twisted views about virility and not about women enforcing a chauvinistic policy (a good example is nursing, and it's interesting to see how it's drastically changing now that the market needs more nurses, and as a society we are evolving to value interpersonal skills and empathy more).

Given that reality, and given that objectification does form part of the roots of rape culture, being one of the pillars of men giving themselves rights over unwilling women it IS more worrying, and does deserve a stronger response.

I do think objectifying is also impoverishing what attraction really is, and packaging that drive for consumption, to sell products, magazines, whatever, and it should be criticised and countered, not from prudish taboos, but from informed and open discussion, BUT the consequences of the same behaviour, towards men and women are vastly different (again in most cases, which doesn't diminish the individual cases that don't adjust to the norm, doesn't mean we have to ignore those).

It is also astonishing to see the tone deafness of getty, they inability to see the social moment we are in... People in power sometimes struggle to see the shifts in values and adapt.

I’m not arguing men suffer the same, I’m arguing woman as a group is too big a generalization.
Compare living in western Europe or the US to living in a country where girls have no access to education, where they are forced into an arranged marriage when they are teenagers and where they will be mutilated or killed if someone rapes them because even though they are the victim they still bring shame or dishonor upon their family.

Rob Davis argued that he leans toward “the consequentialist view that the morality of the act is measured by its consequences”. If you do so, you can’t use the generalization “women” in my opinion. In consequentialism the morality is determined by the potential consequences of an action and they are not the same for all women on the planet.

Another view (deontological ethics) boils down to; these are the rules, if you break the rules, you are morally wrong. Human rights are based on this view.
A quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2):
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Now I don’t think a consequentialist view and a deontological view are necessarily each other’s opposites, but this might not be the place to have a discussion about all the nuances involved.

Santiago Borthwick's picture

Why? why wouldn't it be the place? photography has played an important role in the whole objectification process in modern times. This is a site about photography, and it's refreshing to see a discussion about ethics, with social commentary instead of gear talk or technical articles.

Also, i see what you mean about the generalisation, and i understand why you say it.. but to me it doesn't seem like a good argument to counter anything that has been said in response to getty's gallery.

Yes consequences are different depending on the context, yes there is a vast difference between living in a rich, western country compared to other places...
Do those differences eliminate the fact that objectification has very pernicious consequences wherever we look?
Since it does, the generalisation isn't one that hinders discussing the problem, which can be broken down in more detail when context and particular situations are discussed.

Sadly women as a collective suffer varying degrees of violence almost everywhere, in part consequence of being thought of as objects to be coveted or possessed.

If we follow Immanuel Kant, and I’m inclined to do so, all sexual desire is necessarily objectifying. If so, we can't help ourselves unless we get rid of sexual desire. Even if you agree with Kant there might still be a difference between male sexual desire and female sexual desire (male being dominant, female being submissive). The latter would probably mean women do not objectify men for entertainment. I think they do objectify men or at least I know enough women that do. Series like “Sex and the City” gave objectifying man a platform and women loved it.
People have sexual desires; therefore, they will objectify others. I don’t have a problem with that as long as people respect the rights of the people they objectify.

Santiago Borthwick's picture

Wow.. too many assumptions there...
-First, sexual desire isn't necesarily objectifying, being a complex mechanism that has a lot of variants, some biological and others social. It CAN be objectifying given certain values and practises but it doesn't NEED to be.

-Assuming that male and female sexual desire can be categorized into two distinct categories and ,on top, qualifying them according to outdated gender roles isn't only an oversimplification, but it is also an ideological or moral choice (or the comfort of not questioning our own upbringing, wich is again a choice)..

Sexual desire is complex and it can vary a great deal between individuals, the last 5 decades have been amazing in the strive to break the outdated and monolithic views about gender and sex... and with wider tolerance we see the rise of identities and choices that up until very recently were penalized or openly repressed.

I find the two attempts to obliquely disqualify the critique of getty's choice as completely incoherent between them, one criticising because of an ample generalisation, the next resting on assumptions and an oversimplified view of sexual desire.
This is not a personal attack, i don't know you, i don't mean by this that you are a chavinist...

I think being uncomfortable with people protesting old social inerties is a normal response of individuals facing social change.

If we go back to the root of why getty's gallery caused so much outcry: Are you seriously ok with the consequences of how our view of women have affected them as a group? or you don't believe that drive to present them as passive objects of desire is one of the roots of violence and abuse towards them?
Because in my view those are the only two options to not be at least partially concerned by things like these...

You can use as much capitals as you want but that doesn’t change what Kant has written about this subject.
I’m not going to write an essay about this here. If you want to know how sexual objectification in feminist theory reaches back to the philosophy of Kant, read something like “Sexual Objectification: From Kant to Contemporary Feminism” from Papadaki.

“Are you seriously ok with the consequences of how our view of women have affected them as a group?”

My English must be really bad if you think that is what I meant.
I wrote: “People have sexual desires; therefore, they will objectify others. I don’t have a problem with that as long as people respect the rights of the people they objectify”.

What I mean by that is that I think people (or at least average males) have sexual desires and objectify others (females in most cases, but there is also homosexuality). That’s what people do when they watch porn for instance. People have fantasies, I don’t think you can stop that. It’s not what we think, it not our view, it’s how we act, what we do and in the things we do we have to respect the rights of other people. Respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good starting point, but we are nowhere near doing that, not even in our so called western civilization.

Sietske Barnes's picture

"If society considers anything negative against women to be more significant, is that in itself a form of sexism?"

No, it's a sign that that issue disproportionately affects women. Because of sexism. Women are routinely evaluated and either accepted or rejected purely based on their physical appearance, and men are not. This is why there is disproportionate outrage towards the Getty gallery.

Feminists have actually been fighting for men's issues to be taken seriously for decades, which society at large would realize if feminists were listened to instead of a target of mockery. Also, the phrase "women and children first" exists because women and children are thought of as resources.

You had me until "...the phrase "women and children first" exists because women and children are thought of as resources."

Michael Little's picture

Right? Yawn. I'm so tired of all this crap I just tune it out now. I wont even read the articles.

Yet you'll make time to join the comments so everyone knows how little you care.

Rob Davis's picture

Kind of sounds like the whole "women and children first" thing is a bit of a chivalrous urban legend.

https://www.history.com/news/women-and-children-first-on-sinking-ships-i...

Sietske's right about women historically being viewed as resources though. Google the legal doctrine of "coverture." The legacy of which is part of why people, even today, will say things like "a woman can't be raped by her husband."

Interesting article but regardless its genesis, which the article doesn't really answer, and the beliefs of, undoubtedly, a lot of individuals throughout history, the majority of Western Civilization holds women and children in high esteem for their own worth. As for the sinking ship thing, it wouldn't make sense for anyone to say, 'save my assets (women and children) first and me, second.'

The thing about journalism (wait for it...), as we've recently discussed, is it can be molded through inclusion or exclusion of facts and, sometimes, outright lies. How much more difficult would it be to sift through the journalism of past eras and hope to glean the absolute truth about, well, anything. When faced with such dilemmas, I ask myself, "What would I rather be wrong about?" The greater error is always being wrong so I'd prefer to make a mistake I can live with than one I can't.

In this case, as in most, I'd rather be wrong in assuming the best in people than be wrong by assuming the worst. JMO

Rob Davis's picture

I wouldn't agree with the premise that Western Civilization hold women and children in high esteem. Not at least as far as social structures are concerned. At least for women, we hold them in high esteem when they are one of the good ones, fulfilling the roles that do not threaten the status quo (i.e. sex, motherhood).

Well, I know we have different points of view and, certainly, different experiences. We'll just have to disagree, agreeably. :-)

Usman Dawood's picture

You’re going to have to provide evidence for your claims. Men aren’t evaluated based on their appearance?

Women suffer more?

I’m not suggesting I know the answer but you’re making the claims here.

Women and children are thought of as resources?

Sietske Barnes's picture

Women are judged on their appearances in ways that men are not. For example, look into the stories of aging actresses-- they will tell you that they were unable to get work when they aged, when aging actors did not suffer the same way.

Also, perhaps it would be more understandable if I said women and children were (and some places, still are) thought of as property rather than resources. But I would argue that women were considered valuable as property because of the things they can produce -- children -- which would make them a resource, in my opinion. A historical, possibly apocryphal, illustration of women-as-resource would be the rape of the Sabine women.

Usman Dawood's picture

The movie industry is not indicative of society as a whole. It’s a small tiny section.

Also men in the movie industry are judged on their looks too. Leading men are not average looking by any means.

Age is an important factor for men too, it’s one of the reasons why Brad Pitt isn’t playing Thor.

Matthias Kirk's picture

"You’re going to have to provide evidence for your claims. Men aren’t evaluated based on their appearance?"

There is lots of research out there that comes to this conclusion:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002210311000288X
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00036840010027568

There's plenty more where this came from...

Usman Dawood's picture

You haven’t described what conclusions you draw from the studies.

Matthias Kirk's picture

That women are more likely to be evaluated based on their appearances than men. Wasn't that the question?

Matthew Saville's picture

Well apparently chivalry is dead, and was never a good thing in the first place? Okay...

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