Boobs. I didn’t even watch the Oscars, and boobs were the first things I heard about. Seth MacFarlane’s “boob song” video was waiting for me on my Facebook newsfeed the day after the awards show, posted by a friend who constantly bickers with me over the representation of women in media. I was unable to resist taking the bait and immediately posted an article by The New Yorker calling MacFarlane’s performance “hostile, ugly and sexist.”
One of the first responses to the article I posted was, “Damn, Seth was right about women never letting things go.” I responded sarcastically, trying to keep the debate light, but it wasn’t long before that same Facebook user reminded me how “tired [he was] of the sex card” being used.
It seems widely assumed that since the feminists of the 1960s and ’70s won so many rights for women, there really aren’t any women’s issues left, at least here in North America. So maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to complain. All those women in MacFarlane’s song did, after all, have the choice to bare their breasts, a choice that certainly wouldn’t have established them as respected actors before the ’60s.
Then why was it so frustrating and disturbing to see films like Boys Don’t Cry, Monster, The Accused and Monster’s Ball pilfered for boobie shots by MacFarlane? Well, maybe because he made it seem like those women weren’t professionals doing their jobs, but rather objects strategically placed in the film for male gratification.
In her book Sexism in America, Barbara J. Berg discusses how media has been used to “re-domesticate” women out of the professional world. She asserts that after the Second World War, television was intentionally used to get women back into the kitchen by enforcing the image of the nuclear family and the perfect housewife. After the women’s rights movement of the ’60s, however, women didn’t want to be the perfect housewife anymore, so North American media invented a new stereotype for us to become: the sex kitten.
Think about it. How many teenage girls do you know who would want to become a politician if they could become a pop star instead?
Women represent only 25 per cent of the House of Commons. That makes us the 45th most equal country according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. We fall far behind Rwanda, Andorra, Cuba and Sweden, where approximately 50 per cent of parliament members are women.
Boobs matter, but not just because some guys like looking at them. They matter because they are part of a person. Charlize Theron showed her boobs in Monster while acting out the story of an abused woman who became a serial killer. Jodie Foster and Hilary Swank’s breasts are bared in The Accused and Boys Don’t Cry (respectively) during and following rape scenes. According to MacFarlane, however, their breasts are only noteworthy because they’re “titillating.”
Women are still underrepresented in powerful positions here in Canada, and accepting jokes like MacFarlane’s boob song only perpetuates the imbalance of power and the stereotype that women are only good for their looks. As long as women are told to stop “pulling the sex card” and just accept their role as sex kittens, they are being just as restricted by media as a 1950s housewife.