Objectification & Fetishization in the Media

Spent some of this evening on Facebook trying to get through to some complete tool on one of the now many Jean Byrne groups on Facebook on the distinction between fetishism as a lifestyle practice and clothing or appearances that are merely potentially objectifiable in a fetishized manner.

I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with many of the FB groups and movements that are increasingly taking notice of Ms Byrne's shall we say, unique, form of dress for weather forecasts. As a result I've dropped out of all but Andy Hamilton's generally polite and restrained one, and try to avoid commenting or responding to comments that objectify either Ms Byrne or women in general.

Now don't get me wrong, its still a fascinating national sport, probably worth an occasional bet on Paddy Power as to what colour or style will appear next. But I don't like the way the whole thing is developing into fair game for this rather quiet and refined lady to be projected as a piece of meat. That is totally unfair and I suspect a confusion of individual autonomy to dress as one pleases within limits for public broadcast with some sort of cheap attention-seeking stunt. I very definitely feel, having seen a good few broadcasts and accidentally landed on the two radio interviews (I am a morning radio addict) that women, especially professional women, have a right to present themselves within reason as individually as they like, as long as obvious conventions are satisfied.

This should not, ever, be a licence to regard a public figure as some kind of piece of meat to be chewed up or fetishized in a manner that sometimes this leans toward. This basically is the same kind of mindset that regards women who dress "provocatively" as fair game for a bit of oul rape, and ends up with the whole horrendous notion of women having to cover themselves from head to foot in burquas in order to "protect themselves" from the male gaze.

Also there is huge mythology about the kink scene and what it means. Let me give you a quick 101 on the subject.

1. Nimhneach describes itself fairly clearly on its own site. People do NOT have sex on the premises or engage in full frontal nudity, nor do they engage in any activity without the full express consent of participants. In most cases, what goes on boils down to "scening" which largely consists of role play and spanking. It is NOT a swingers club and it has a very strict ban on photography.

2. Much of the Irish scene revolves around a few public mailing lists and social networking sites for kinksters. These include many different people, including peoplee who do not publicly like to act out their kinks but enjoy the company nevertheless. It inludes many diverse groups such as cross dressers, gender variant people, LGB folk and BDSM adherents. Many of the social events are "vanilla" and there are extremely strict codes relating to getting invited along in order to prevent really weird or messed up people from coming along and spoiling other peoples socializing.

3. Most BDSM communities are built around the concepts of informed consent, negotiation and respect.

4. While there may be some crossover into gay and swinging scenes, most people just don't do this.

5. It isn't a "show" for peeping toms, its a real social environment for like-minded people who just happen to like these practices in their lives for whatever reason.

What I really am trying to say is please, get this message - just because you wear a leather jacket on occasion doesn't mean you are a biker. Likewise, wearing a designer dress made of leather or an unusual fabric doesn't pinpoint you as some kind of kinkster, however that might be associated with such practices. High fashion (as the Joanne Hynes collections known to be favoured by Byrne aree) is heavily influenced by styles associated with particular subcultures which include kink communities, within reason, and its not at all uncommon to see styles appear on the high street which may resemble the assumed styles of a dungeon. But this does not on any account mean that the wearer is projecting such a message, and even less does it permit people to fetishize them.

A similar practice which is equally reprehensible is the way in which Tiger Woods personal problems have been appropriated into the common cultural trope of fetishizing the black male body. This was originally appropriated as early as the awful early 20th century lynchings which frequently included castration and explicit sexual imagery through "consuming" the black body by castration (which was done in some of the more horrible murders) and indeed the members kept as "souvenirs." The media near lynching which Woods has received as some kind of inevitable victim of his own bestial nature (rather than simply being selfish) is unhelpful.

The horrific lynching of Claude Neal in Alabma in the 1930s, which included a truly terrifying 2 day ordeal of torture and multiation, as well as the projection of him, untried as a brutal rapist and murderer (while it is almost certain that he killed the girl in Florida, it appears that there was no evidence that the sex she'd recently had was anything but consensual) struck terror into the black communities in southern states and reinforced notions of not only black inferiority, but of the threat of severe white brutality in defiance of the law. Woods has been tried by media and reduced to a helpless figure of sexual hunger, just as Byrne has been caricatured as a desperate vixen.

These twin parallels which are intended to reduce the effective sexual power of on one hand, a high achieving black American, and on the other hand an educated middle aged woman through general ridicule and sneering disdain, do suggest that ultimately, there is a real power there on the part of the sexuality of both groups. The black males I see hanging around the more ghettoized streets of the largely impoverished community in which I live are currently the main targets of a nasty racist campaign by (mostly male) taxi operators who feel threatened by a large number of African men entering the industry (and they are also good at their jobs). I had the privilige of knowing Cork's first female taxi driver, who sadly took her own life 2 years ago at a far too young age. It was interesting and somewhat disturbing for me to discover that the cities first female driver was only the same age as me - did it take Cork that long?

Note: As for the taxi situation, a friend got stuck in Mallow on Saturday night - there simply wasn't a cab to be had for love nor money - so much for the crybabies moaning about "too many" licences, and had to walk 2 miles out to a friends house.

Its interesting that there is a so much more conservative dress code for male presenters on RTE - aside maybe from Paschal Sheehy, who sported the maddest combination this evening (as my mother would say: screaming at you) - very strong pinstripes with "loud" shirt and tie. But it seems to take so much more for anybody to notice. As I keep suggesting to friends, I think what differentiates Ms Byrne is the many years of being rather conservative - the sudden leap in the glamour stakes was unexpected, although delightful, but it isn't an excuse to either paint her up as some kind of game bird, nor is it a justification for transformation into a mere object for gratfication.

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