Early on in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Chris Pratt unveils what can only be described as perfection, lifting his shirt to reveal that there is in fact a god. While we never need an excuse to be subjected to that view, we imagine that one of the reasons why Star-Lord's nipples made a return is because of a reference to the first film, when audiences first took a long, hard look at Pratt's naked torso and experienced true nirvana.
Thirsty fans who fret that this topless trend may soon end need not worry. In fact, watch any #Marvel movie, and you're guaranteed to see an astonishing set of abs at least once before the inevitable post-credit scenes have begun to roll. It seems that heroes such as Thor and Captain America just can't stop the bad guys without flashing at least a pec or two in the process, and no, it's not because the villains react to their rippling muscles like Kryptonite.
Now, we're the first to admit that it's fun to Marvel at men in the #MCU. Hell, we've done it ourselves — more than once in fact — but does that mean it's right? We've known for a long time that Marvel and their ilk have treated women less than spectacularly in their movies, but heroes such as Black Widow aren't the only ones who are objectified in Hollywood. Marvel is actually more guilty than most of reducing their muscular heroes to a set of glorified body parts.
Is Male Objectification Inherently 'Bad'?
During a press conference for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, director #JamesGunn joked that Marvel's President Kevin Feige has made it mandatory to include at least one gratuitous scene of male nudity in each instalment of the family-friendly franchise. However, laughs aside, this certainly appears to be a genuine clause in the contracts of stars like #ChrisHemsworth and Chris Pratt. After all, even the latest trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming included a scene featuring #TomHolland without a shirt on, and Peter Parker is just a teenager.
At this aforementioned conference, Vulture reports that #ChrisPratt had a thing or two to say on the matter, surprising attendees with his candour.
“Hasn’t hurt my career! We are objects. It’s true, we are. We’re props... I would say that objectification is good for me because when I turned my body into an object that people liked, I got paid a lot of money. My kids can go to college because I’m an object.”
Following his breakout role on Parks and Recreation, Pratt slimmed down and then bulked up again to secure himself a role as one of Hollywood's leading men today, featuring in the likes of #GuardiansoftheGalaxy and Jurassic World before baring his ass in Passengers. However, it's not all pearly white smiles and toned buttocks.
Refreshingly, Pratt also took some time to address how objectification has a far darker side that's not discussed as often as it should be:
“As a man, I can say that. I have to be careful because for generations — for millennia — women have been objectified in a way where there’s a pretty horrifying past. So that’s a little bit different, and there probably is what you’d call a double standard, but I think you have to deal with them separately because there’s a history of objectification [with women] that is a sensitive issue."
Pratt's response isn't overly surprising when you consider that this isn't the first time that he's celebrated the notion of being objectified onscreen. Back in 2015, Pratt told Radio Four’s Front Row that the key to equality is to "objectify men just as often as we objectify women," but is this really the way to go?
Is It Ok To Objectify Men?
In some ways, it's rather gratifying to see men's naked bodies glamorized by the kind of films seen in the Marvel franchise. After all, women have been treated as eye candy since motion pictures first began, so some would argue that it's only fair that men suffer some of the same adverse effects derived from objectification too.
A few years back, the Sony email leak revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars, despite being the highest-grossing performer of 2014. Unfortunately, little has changed in the few years since. For the most part, women are still sidelined in favor of male actors, and reduced to configurations of breasts and butts who occasionally talk. When they do talk, it's usually about the men in their lives, failing the Bechdel Test with alarming regularity.
When men are objectified in films like Thor or Captain America, the actor's career isn't affected negatively like a woman's could be. Sharing memes of topless Chris Pratt won't affect how people perceive him as a person, or stop him from landing lead roles. In fact, Time recently coined the phrase "man-jectification" in response to films like Magic Mike, which actually empowered actors such as Channing Tatum, injecting new, muscle-bound life into their careers. Some would say that women deserve to see hotties on screen too, and such practice can actually benefit the careers of the men involved.
Comic books have trodden a similar path to Hollywood over the years, portraying male #superheroes as physically perfect specimens of humanity wrapped up in tight, sexy spandex. Look back at the early Superman comics from the '40s and tell me who's being objectified more: a fully dressed Lois Lane, or the spandex-clad Kryptonian? It doesn't look like Superman's legacy has been hurt by this, so some may argue that Marvel and other comic book studios are just being faithful to the legacy of the source material.
Men Don't Like Being Objectified Either
In a plot twist of M. Night Shyamalan proportions, it turns out that not every man shares Chris Pratt's desire to be objectified by women. Last year, Game of Thrones actor #KitHarington explained to The Sunday Times why he's uncomfortable with fans treating him like an object:
“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. 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.”
The internet reacted unfavorably as a whole, calling Harington But for equating objectification with the much more multi-faceted issue of sexism. Whilst his phrasing might leave something to be desired, the actor does have a point.
Speaking a year earlier to Page Six, the young performer argued that it can be offensive for both men and women to be seen only for their physical beauty. Of course, women have endured this on a wider scale for a longer period of time, but the problem is no longer a uniquely female one.
How Can We Move Forward From Here?
In 1975, noted academic Laura Mulvey coined the phrase "male gaze," exploring how women are depicted onscreen through a male perspective, one that objectifies, sexualizes and marginalizes women in the majority of mainstream media. For years, the male gaze was propagated through three perspectives that worked together as one:
- The spectator
- The team behind the camera
- The characters involved
In response to this, interest rose in the idea of a female gaze, where women become the spectators, rather than the objects. While this is indeed rarer, there are some notable examples of the female gaze operating even within Hollywood, arguably present in films such as Thelma & Louise. However, the "female gaze" in its most ubiquitious sense — women looking at me — is still reductionist. Luckily, some artists and filmmakers are committed to making the female gaze more about female perspective and experience, than about staring at hot men.
In 2016, Jill Soloway sought to redefine the female gaze at at the Toronto International Film Festival. As the creator of Transparent and I Love Dick, Soloway has some unique insight into the ways in which gender is portrayed onscreen. It's no surprise then that fans and academics alike welcomed Soloway's desire to position the female gaze in a way that promotes equality for all, and helps diminish the objectification of men and women equally.
In her version of the female gaze, Soloway encourages filmmakers and audiences alike to identify with the emotions depicted onscreen, regardless of the protagonist's gender. Rather than focus on the bodies portrayed and the actions they take, we must instead prioritize the ways in which these bodies convey emotion and tell the story. Soloway would argue against Chris Pratt's assertion that actors are simply "props". Instead, balance and equality should actively be sought in order to break the barriers of inequality brought about by the objectification of both men and women.
Can We Move Forward From Here?
There will always be articles posted online that argue "Why it’s acceptable to objectify the male body but not the female’s" — we're looking at you, Sabrina Maddeaux of the National Post — but how does this solve anything? Reducing men to just their physicality as a form of revenge doesn't level the playing field, it simply robs everyone involved of their dignity instead. Belittling men like Kit Harington who object to objectification is disrespectful and does nothing to break the cycle, so instead, we should strive to stop reducing people to their physical appearance, regardless of gender.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Even with the might of Asgardian blood running through our veins, what we can do to stop the likes of Marvel objectifying both men and women in their films? (Yes, don't get us started on how Black Widow was sterilized in Age Of Ultron, or Hope was sidelined In Ant-Man.)
To those who would argue that Marvel are justified in their objectification of men, depicting superheroes who should be portrayed at their physical peak, it's worth bearing in mind that these muscular frames are still easy to see under layers of spandex. Yes, it can be rather titivating to see Chris Pratt remove his shirt, but isn't it also a bit uncomfortable when these scenes are so obviously shoe-horned in? Topless Tony Stark in the midst of an operation: Makes sense. Topless Chris Evans changing his shirt for no good reason: Not so much.
By all means, Marvel and studios of their ilk are free to show nudity when it makes sense for the story, but let's not celebrate their need to undress men onscreen just to draw in wider female audiences for financial gain. Instead, let's champion scenes of explosive story-telling, characters who represent the whole gamut of human experience, and movies where women and men are celebrated equally, regardless of what they're wearing or how long they're naked onscreen for.
Our heroes should never be reduced to mere "props," Chris Pratt, and it's unfortunate that you're not asking for more than that from those who employ you.
Is it ok to objectify men in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.