Of ‘hot’ chaiwalas and sexy security guards: is objectification of men a feminist issue?

The Pakistani chaiwala, the Singapore security guard and the Afghan girl.

Toss and talk is a slumber party game where a group of people toss around a bunch of questions and everyone has to speak their minds on the subject truthfully. In its second such session, Pyjama People discussed the ‘chaiwala’ trend that took social media by a storm this week.

A good-looking man was photographed in Pakistan and his picture was shared on Instagram. Soon his picture clogged Facebook and Twitter timelines everywhere, with people and even news organisations exclaiming just how ‘hot’ this ‘Pakistani chaiwala’ was.

Some commentators picked the classist undercurrent to the story and wrote columns about it, others criticised his widespread objectification.

Amid all of this, Vishakha came across a post by popular Buzzfeed writer Imaan Sheikh, where she compared the implications of objectifying men, versus women. And it instantly made us wonder if male objectification really was okay?

Avantika: Can I just say I’m super guilty of objectifying men. I paid no attention to Canada before Justin Trudeau came into the picture.

Divya: Me too, sometimes you just want eye candy

Janani: You’re telling me – there’s this picture of Obama, Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto together that makes me all kinds of happy!

Divya: Good Looking men in power is a whole new level of eye candy!

Avantika: And the Singapore security guard? The hot chai-walla?

Divya: Well, that’s just classist, to think that people at regular jobs or lower income strata cannot be good-looking.

Vishakha: I’m not sure we are aware of exactly where “checking out” ends and “objectification” begins. And this whole chaiwala trend has made me wonder why it so long for all the “this is objectification and classist” thought pieces to come out.

Janani: So on a more serious note the stories on the tea seller and the security guard I just find absurd. Yup and the story is literally just about him good looking. How is that news or information that the world should be focusing on?

Avantika: Does anyone feel like it’s ok to objectify men maybe because, women doing it is not as threatening?

Vishakha: I have realised it is just easier to assume/imagine men fapping off to a good looking woman or her photo that a woman doing something like that to a man. This open objectification won’t happen (had there been a woman instead)! Any participating men would be shamed.

Avantika: Anyone remember the hot felon, then? With the tear tats.

Janani: I do – was just discussing this with a friend last night and she brought him up

Divya: Yes! Goodlooking people also get in trouble you know.

Avantika: Nothing against the hotness, but those tear tats usually correspond to the number of murders a person has committed. How was that ok?

Janani: I get that we’re biologically geared to be attracted to beauty but having that be the only reason we talk about or appreciate someone, whether it’s men or women feels so outdated.

Avantika: Here’s my question tho; yea, all these men are HOT. But if the situation was reversed, like they were women and we men. Would this open objectification be ok?

Pakhi: I don’t think objectifying men and women can be paralleled. Because we live in a male dominated world. Whether it’s porn or Bollywood or selling cars. The objectification of women has a sexist history.

Avantika: So are we saying it’s ok to objectify men because we’ve endured the same constantly and probably more?

Janani: So I agree with a comment made earlier about appreciating beauty as part of another context (checking someone out) – like the movies, music, etc. But just on it’s own saying that we are recognising you for just how you look and everything else is secondary, I find really annoying.

Vishakha: Yeah. I think you nailed it J.

Janani: It’s why I have an issue with pageants!

Divya: Exactly, reducing someone to just the way they look is just shallow.

Pakhi: Not even secondary, people don’t even care. The chaiwala thing took the cake. People love to romanticise images and people, and their lives, without context. I saw a parallel on Facebook with Steve McCurry’s Afghan girl. How much her beauty was spoken of. But she had such a tough life. I mean it’s good to appreciate diversity, but there has to be a line where you can’t just exoticise ‘rural life’ and ‘tribals’ and not give it any context.

Avantika: So Vishakha, Pakhi: you’re saying it won’t be open because women aren’t yet in a position of power as men are?

Pakhi: I’m saying its just not even the same thing. It is not a hypersexual objectification with years of conditioning. There are degrees of objectification, and I don’t think that the objectification of men has even reached near to women’s.

Vishakha: So.. I disagree that it’s okay to objectify men. I think women and men have been equally objectified through history… Just to serve different means. Look at the six-pack culture or that stupid clean-shaven-look campaign. The problem – in case of women – is that this objectification mingles with underlying patriarchy and the aggravates into an ugly mess. It also has a sort of bearing on sexual crimes.

Pakhi: I disagree that they have been equally objectified. The six-pack thing is new and only recently do you see male actors being put under pressure to be fit. And not to mention a woman’s youth and sexuality. All female actors stop acting. All the classics from Madhuri to Hema. Because they loose sex appeal. Men however keep on thriving. SRK with younger women and Amitabh toh doesn’t stop.

Vishakha: There are some age old ads that show men in jumpsuits with the bare bodies and clean-shaven chests. It’s not new.

Janani: I think objectification of either sex is just not helpful narrative.

Avantika: I agree with Pakhi that objectification of men is newer, and different from that of women. I ask tho: is that because women have only recently found their outdoor voices in India?

Janani: About women finding their outdoor voices (whether in India or outside) – I think the trend towards male objectification seems to be coming from this place of somehow building equality between genders. This may be coming from women saying they want to be open about their desires and what turns them on.

Or from branding and marketing geniuses who are trying to tell women that this is how they can be open about their desires. I just find that it is taking us ten steps back in terms of acknowledging beauty in a more healthy way.

Of #objectification, a chaiwalla and #fawadkhan: our next #tossandtalk. Up on the blog on #Thursday.

A photo posted by Facebook: @pyjamapeoples (@pyjamapeople) on

Divya: Objectification needn’t always be obvious either. It is different and prevalent in some areas of life. Like even at work, if you are a good looking woman, I feel you are not taken too seriously. You will definitely be pushed to get into sales/client management, you know what I mean.

Vishakha: Hmm. Doesn’t this sound like a mix of other problems like sexism and misogyny?

Divya: Yes, it is.

Pakhi: But, Objectification is a result of sexism.

Avantika: But does sexism automatically mean that the perpetrator is a man and the object a woman?

Pakhi: No. Chaiwala was objectified.

Janani: I disagree that sexism automatically means that the perpetrator is a man and the object a woman – definitely with these two recent ridiculous viral stories about men.

Pakhi: No sexism means assigning any role and discrimination towards a gender. If you tell a boy to ‘be a man’, that’s sexism.

Janani: Sexism has and will likely continue to be (atleast for awhile) skewed towards women being seen and thought of in specific roles but it happens both ways and neither way seems ok.

This is on a slight tangent but I think also related -one of my favourite talks on gender diversity and the fact that is about both men and women and how we think is by Emma Watson at the UN in Sep 2014.

Vishakha: J do you mean skewed in a sense that the moment someone says sexism – one thinks of a woman being victimised?

Janani: I’m referrring to both actually – one is the natural assumption and the other is the reality that given that we are a male dominated society the likelihood of someone being sexist towards women is more likely than it is for men.

Pakhi: I feel like objectification in itself is not a big deal, but it becomes a big deal when determining beauty standards. I like to look at something I find pleasing. But to sell me only one thing and tell me that’s pleasing. That’s the problem, now it’s definitely much more equal. But women have constantly faced body image problems because they are competing with the unrealistic ideas of sex and sexuality that are sold in the name of their gender.

Avantika: So why then, do we and the world seem to have become more comfortable with male objectification? Or is there a hue and cry that I missed?

Vishakha: Mehta – I think, comfortable because the repercussions of that objectification is manifold for women. Objectification of both genders sets unreal standards for both of them. Now for men, more often than not it is restricted to the ‘looks’ bit.

But for women, it mingles with all other underlying gender bias in our society. That means a woman not conforming to a particular ideal will probably be dismissed at her job or in social situations. That means a woman not conforming to a set ideal will be ridiculed. Also that means that the more women are objectified the higher become chances of crimes against them.

Janani: This may be a super simplistic way to put it but I think it’s a way for both men and women to now say – ‘hey women, look you too now can appreciate beauty the way men have been doing for years because we are all equals’

Pakhi: Agree with Vishakha. I think it’s kind of a shout back. Like woman can have body ideals too. It’s not a good thing, but it’s definitely more balanced. Ranvir Singh and Deepika Padukone both equally have to stress about their bodies. I mean best would be that neither have to, but at least now they’re somewhat at par.

As in you won’t have like Sridevi being beautiful and… Anil Kapoor…

Vishakha: Well, Anil Kapoor was luuurved for all the chest hair. It was considered a sign of ‘manliness’ at one point.

Avantika: But now we have Amitabh dyeing his head hair either or Anil Kapoor now shaving his chest. God knows who has a weave. I know my dad does.

Janani: There’s some point in the concern that objectification like the recent articles are just opening up room for young boys/men to now build body image issues, and deal with so many other issues young girls have been battling with because of objectification of women’s bodies and the ideals of beauty.

Pakhi: That’s true, but I do also think that it’s blurring the line between gender. I like that beauty and ‘dressing up’ is less a ‘woman’ thing. Even in the fashion world, androgyny is favoured.

Personally I feel like the less we define gender, the closer we are to being equal. And I do think that men caring about their appearance is a step towards that. Justin bieber wearing skirts, I’m for that. And I feel like as it gets more flexible, so will beauty standards

Janani: I just wish we could recognise and curb objectification of men in the early stages because we know what kind of damage it’s caused already for women.

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