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Fashion mag's naked sexism

Melinda Tankard Reist |  18 September 2012

John Slattery, GQ coverUpmarket British men's magazine GQ has declared four 'Men of the Year'.

Starring in the '15th Annual Men of the Year Awards Special Issue' is English rapper of Nigerian decent, Tinie Tempah; English singer-songwriter Robbie Williams (not just any old man of the year but 'icon' of the year); Mad Men actor John Slattery (if you're a fan as I am, you'll know him as Roger Sterling); and TV and film actor, James Corden.

All four men have been photographed dressed homogenously in black suit and tie.

I don't really know what any of these men have contributed to the sum total of humanity. Are there no living British men who have done something truly amazing for the world? But that's just an aside. What's attracting all the attention is that this year GQ editors have included a 'Woman of the Year'.

She's Lana Del Rey, 26, a singer. But there's no suit and tie for her. Actually there are no clothes for her at all. The only things she's wearing on the cover are a few glitzy jewels and bright red lipstick.

It seems giving her the label 'Woman of the Year' was just an excuse to take her clothes off.

If a woman wants to own the title, she has to do it on GQ's terms. And that means a photoshoot designed for titillation, not respect; a birthday suit, not a black suit.

Not only is Del Rey featured with knees bent, naked, sitting on a floor — in contrast to the men who are standing, dominant and dressed — inside photos of Del Ray reinforce her true place as sex object.

In one image her breast is being groped from behind by a man standing over her, his hand securing her face (he's in a suit, are you surprised?). The hands grabbing her are those of GQ's own creative director Paul Solomons. The image has sinister overtones, suggesting sexualised violence.

In another photo Del Rey is naked from the waist down, touching herself. Another has her demure and submissive in a corset holding a rose. Her crotch appears digitally emphasised.

It seems this is how GQ editors and male readers prefer their women of the year. Actress Jennifer Aniston, a former woman of the year — it has a patchy history, of course you couldn't dish out a title like that every year — was posed topless.

While the titled men appear as sophisticated citizens of the world, achieving important manly things, Del Rey exists only for male gratification and pleasure. She is up for grabs, literally. Her job is to strip and pose and look hot. Who cares what she has achieved?

GQ mentions her number one debut album Born To Die, that she has signed with NEXT models and done some other stuff, but really couldn't they have illustrated this without disrobing her?

The men are not being groped. They are not depicted touching themselves in sexually suggestive ways. It shows just how normalised pornified images of women are in the mainstream.

Of course this isn't the first time women have been posed naked beside fully dressed men. Fashion designer Tom Ford features women naked with clothed men in advertising. Vanity Fair featured Scarlett Johansson (then 21) and Keira Knightly (then 20) with a (suited up) Ford.

Glee stars were depicted in a photoshoot for GQ in 2010, the females in underwear, the male stars fully clothed.

Unequal dress almost always reflects unequal power. To be undressed around others who are completely dressed is a sign of vulnerability and of the power the clothed individuals hold.

But this time it is attached to an awards honour. Sexism, submission, objectification, groping — this is what a 'Woman of the Year' — and perhaps all women — deserve?

And this is the message we send to young women: that in a culture that rewards exhibitionism, your achievements count for nothing unless you're willing to get naked. 

Melinda Tankard ReistMelinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, media commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls. She is well known for her work on the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls and working to address violence against women.



Melinda Tankard Reist


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Submitted comments

James Bond, debonair Brit, where are you when we need you? Seriously, I would hope our young (and not so young) women and men would see this GQ Men of the Year and Woman of the Year thing for what it is. An attempt to sell as many magazines as possible and unfortunately in our society sex sells. Also unfortunately, Ms Del Rey has allowed herself to be 'used' to reinforce the male perception of dominance over female.

Pam 19 September 2012

It was ever thus and until women stop being photographed like this, it will continue. Women have to be strong and say NO to being photographed naked, near naked and in unacceptable poses. Keep up the good work.

Pam 19 September 2012

Melinda, if your description is accurate, then GQ has indeed displayed brazen sexual and gender bias; sadly, a pervasive reality in mass media. I wonder, though, if Ms Del Rey could just have said, "NO"; conscious, of course, of the pressures applied to young women to 'take risks' for publicity 'glory'. Perhaps we need introduce a campaign: The power of NO. No , I won't take my clothes off. No, I'm not here for your gratification. No, I'm not going to sell myself short. No, No, No.

Peter Day 19 September 2012

Well written article. Thank you for the courage to speak the truth. I have no daughters but I worry for my three sons who are alao victims of this. Thank you.

Anne Borserio 19 September 2012

Could it be that what is (rightfully) of concern to Melinda, and the discriminatory behaviour of most religions toward women, are simply opposite sides of the same coin?

Ginger Meggs 19 September 2012

Modesty in dress, words and actions are forgotten these days. I have 3 daughters and 2 sons and these types of images that are talked about in this article does damage to all of them. Immodesty is everywhere in movies, magazines, internet, television etc..Everyone should say no to immodesty wherever they encounter it. It objectifies women and girls and ruins peoples respect for the dignity of each soul. Modesty is a virtue. Immodesty leads to Hell.

Trnet 19 September 2012

Sadly until westerbused women say NO, they are going to continue to endure this tool of marketing. We must together shout to the world that this is not OK. Men have power because we have allowed it in what we like to think of an an equal society. If it takes a man groping to pay your bills, then it is a very sad reflection of modernity in today's world! Collective Shout!!!!

Jane 19 September 2012

Great article - pity the responses reflect the old "asking for it" attitude that has prevailed in my time - "allowing herself to be used" - "women have to be strong" - why does it seem that it is a woman's responsibility to ameliorate a man's behaviour?

Emmaline 19 September 2012

the problem is the supply. If this singer is willing to be photographed in This way then the men will continue the exploitation. If freedom of expression and individual rights means this for Australian women then I guess all your writings against this will not mean anything if women go on condoning their exploitation. I remember an incident in India where an actress was said to have commented that loosing her virginity before marriage was not such a big thing. She was boycotted, harassed by women and the media went after her right up to parliament. That is how important was for the Indian people in their culture. As for white women..if they want to portray their bodily assets publicly for display akin to prostitution using individual rights and expression- no one can stop her - only the women folks themselves.

Peter Anthony 19 September 2012

Sadly, Melinda's concern for all women (and men) is not the concern that our economy has for us. Fashion economics are such that both men and women are captive to the "men have to be dressed by and for their women and women have to be dressed to be undressed by their men" business strategy. It's all for money and little care for human dignity. As Christians, we need to have the next generation of our children raised by counter-cultural parents. Any volunteers?

Fr Mick Mac Andrew 19 September 2012

Thank you for this article. I want to add that I notice that women in dance videos on TV are less and less covered and exceedingly sexualized. The men appear to be roughing them up but it seems to be part of the coreography. I agree with Melinda that we are normalising this inequality and it is appalling. Thanks again.

Wendy M Louis 19 September 2012

I wonder if mothers still teach their children custody of the eyes. I can recall sitting in mass with girls with their families, half falling out of their blouses and thinking I hope she doesn't go up for Communion, then looking at the priest, I would see he was wearing his dark glasses. At least I couldn't see if he was looking up to see...

L Newington 19 September 2012

I suppose then we should be congratulating priceless young Prince Harry for nakedly sticking up for gender equality.

Eugene 19 September 2012

PETER DAY and JANE got it right in one go. If some woman wants to cheapen herself for money that has nothing to do with "unequal power" or deliberate "objectification of women". Doubt that LANA DEL RAY thinks there is any problem.

jeem23@bigpond.net.au 19 September 2012

Thanks Melinda for such a well written article on an issue for which women are always blamed. It is so culturally acceptable that we women don't even know it's actually happening to us and not by us. However, we still need to say absolutely no to the people who continually undermine our welfare by selling such blatant inequality in any media form whatsoever.

Liz Hamper 19 September 2012

Peter Anthony's response interests me. I believe that men have a responsibility in these matters. If they simply didn't buy these magazines the problem would be resolved. And I am aware that there are large numbers of men in the world who respect all women. The problem is one for both men and women and Melinda does great work in bringing this to our attention.

Margaret McDonald 19 September 2012

Well society also tells women that hot=successful and that a woman's worth is based on her looks, not her brains.
I run a naturist organization and when searching images for articles, it's usually difficult to find nude photos of women who are NOT posing in a provocative/sexual way. Just goes to show how women are always on display as sexual objects. http://nudistnaturistamerica.org

Felicity @FelicitysBlog 20 September 2012

Also along similar sexist lines - and even more extreme - are gay magazines. Gay culture/marketing (if there is such a thing) is peculiar in the fact that it has it's own newspapers and magazines, whereas I would suspect GQ is for all sexual orientations (correct me if I'm wrong - maybe it's just a heterosexual men's mag). Anyway, my point is - while GQ depicts women as sexual objects, gay men's magazines objectify themselves - it's all about sex basically and not much of interest for a thinking person interested in a monogamous relationship or platonic friendships. Lesbian magazines, for some reason, are totally different - with long thoughtful feature articles and a not much in the way of titillating soft porn.
There's no such thing as a gay culture/community - it's all just sexist, trashy marketing - so not only do gay people have to put up with homophobia from mainstream culture, the alternative is superficial soul-destroying waffle.

AURELIUS 21 September 2012

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