The sexualisation of men—not women—in film has worsened
AT A press screening of “Batman v Superman”, Henry Cavill had barely taken a step on to the stage when the applause was punctuated by a female voice from the back shouting “TAKE YOUR TOP OFF!” Though Mr Cavill politely laughed—demurring “No, thank you”—his recent complaint that he is objectified by female fans has caused more than a few eyes to roll.
Data collected by researchers at USC Annenberg and the Harnisch Foundation might validate Mr Cavill’s claim. Since 2007, the ‘hypersexualisation’ of men on film has increased; in 2014, 8% of male characters were figured in “sexualised attire” (up from 4.6% in 2007), whilst 9.1% (an increase from 6.6%) were shot “with some nudity”. 2013 (incidentally the year that “Man of Steel”, featuring Mr Cavill, was released) marked the high water mark of this trend, with 9.7% of male characters in sexualised attire and 11.7% getting some (or all) of their kit off.
Before we shed too many tears over the plight of the sexualised male, however, it is important to put these findings in context. More men may be required to bare their bodies (and, often, hit the gym for this purpose) on-screen, but 8% and 9.1% are paltry figures in comparison to the 27.9% of women that are scripted to wear sexually-appealing clothing and 26.4% that expose their chests, legs, or other body part in front of the camera. Women make up less than one-third of all speaking characters on screen, and less than one-quarter of the leading roles. This makes these percentages all the more alarming: women are less visible in films, but when they are present they are exponentially more likely (roughly three times more than men) to be figured in sexualised terms. Granted, these figures haven’t worsened considerably since 2007 (sexualised attire came in at 27% and partial/full nudity at 21.7%) but they haven’t improved either, despite initiatives such as actor Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media.
The Annenberg report offers some interesting insights into why this ‘hypersexualisation’ discrepancy is so marked. When a female producer is on board, female characters are much less likely to be depicted in sexually revealing clothing (26.4%, rather than 35.9%) or with nudity (25.1%, instead of 33.3%). So too, films that have at least one female screenwriter as part of the production team feature a higher percentage of girls and women in significant roles (34.8%) than teams that only have male screenwriters (25.9%). They note that female producers or writers may have been purposefully hired for “female-driven stories” that focus on areas more diverse than romance, or that female writers may “write what they know” and thus put women at the forefront of their narratives.
It might have been interesting for the authors to apply the same rigour to films in which men are sexualised, to assess where the ‘objectification’ trend might be coming from. Nevertheless, the report is prescient, and its authors rightfully state that a “focus on youth and beauty restricts both the career opportunities of female actors and the range of stories that are told”. Mr Cavill may disapprove of the zeal of lustful fans, but he will likely never have to deal with the ageism and sexism that women in Hollywood contend with on a regular basis.
ARTICLE BY R.L. | ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT The Economist