Written by Seren Pendleton-Knoll. Originally published at Bright Light Thinking. Re-printed with permission.
A few days ago, NBC’s show “Community” posted a picture on their Facebook fanpage of their two female leads being featured in GQ. An incredibly sexy photo, it features the girls engaging in S&M like activity while clad in lingerie. Within hours of it being posted it received thousands of “likes”, and over 800 comments. Most of these comments were from men using some of the most demeaning and sexualized language I have seen on Facebook.
What originally affronted me was not the picture itself, as I take no issue with women being sexy, but rather that the show they are on, a relatively PG show, was posting it on a public page. Fortunately, “Community” took down the photo after a few comments from individuals (including myself) on the inappropriate manner of the posting.*
However, as soon as I read the accompanying article in GQ to the photograph, my mild disapproval skyrocketed to monumental disgust. The title and tagline of the “article” for your collective gasp:
“Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs Did This Lesbian Scene for Us And all we had to do was ask nicely. The hilarious and hilariously gorgeous girls of “Community” are such good sports, aren’t they?”
Are you kidding me?!?!
This photo shoot and article are completely degrading. What could have been a sexy shoot, showing another side to the comedians (women are allowed to be multi-faceted), turned into using straight women assuming lesbianism for the pleasure of the male readers, and the apparent men in the room at the time. The objectification, and clear use for only men, was seen repeatedly in the comments posted in Facebook.
“But Seren”, some might say, “it’s GQ! Gentleman’s Quarterly! This magazine is for men, it makes sense to cater the photos and articles to their desires.” Unfortunately, it’s not as innocent as that.
Both Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs are straight women and by posing them sexually as lesbians in a men’s magazine it ends up trivializing lesbians. This also continues to enforce the false stereotype that sexuality (especially female sexuality) is a choice, or worse, doesn’t exist at all (unless it is an act to excite men).
By putting it in this framework, it makes it incredibly easy to objectify both women and lesbians (as clearly seen by the comments on FB). Studies have repeatedly shown that objectification of women leads to feelings of being less human; hinders self-esteem, and mental health of those objectified; and, remarkably, also decreases male self-esteem. What is even more problematic is that this not only dehumanizes women, but also adds an extra layer to the objectification for lesbians.
This objectification will also continue to reinforce the male/female hierarchy. By posing females as sexual objects to play with each other for the pleasure of men, it puts women out of control and in the hands of the men. While Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs clearly choose to do this shoot, it embeds itself into the fabric of our society, continuously recreating females in subservient positions relative to men. I can’t imagine an ‘article’ in Cosmopolitan featuring the male leads from Community doing suggestive poses in hardly clad clothing entitled:
“Joel McHale and Donald Glover Did This Gay Scene for Us And all we had to do was ask nicely. The hilarious and hilariously sexy boys of “Community” are such good sports, aren’t they?”
And this would never occur as men are not culturally subservient to women becoming women’s play toys. Not that I’m suggesting that should be the case either.
In conclusion, sexy women are NOT the problem. It is possible to be a sexy woman without becoming an object (see my article on Emma Watson). Sexualizing woman on woman for the pleasure of men IS a problem.
*Note, as of July 18th, the post is back up, this time without the accompanying photo.
Seren Pendleton-Knoll writes the blog Bright Light Thinking. She has earned her Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology and Applied Theater at Whitman College, where she also spent a significant about of time studying Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her Senior thesis was entitled “When the Masks Come Off: The Effects of an Enthonodrama at Whitman College.” Seren’s research interests lie in the school to prison pipeline, with a focus on alternatives to the current juvenile justice system; as well as class, gender, and racial inequalities. Currently working to bring youth voice into local government in the Bay Area, Seren also works with youth with eating disorders, juvenile girls, and runaway teens providing mentoring and group counseling. Seren recently was awarded the honor of being the winner Dr. Lisa’s Africa Challenge, from the CBS television show “The Drs” as a woman who inspires girls in her community. Check out the episode here. It was on this trip that Seren had the pleasure of meeting Gina Otto, who encouraged her to start her own blog, and thus, started Bright Light Thinking.