Are men as under pressure as women to conform to body norms?

Kit Harington recently shook the iron throne of sexual objectification

Game of Thrones star Kit Harington sparked controversy when he confirmed in an interview with The Sunday Times that he does think there is a “double standard” against male actors. Harington argued: “I like to think of myself as more than a head of hair or a set of looks. It’s demeaning.”

He also added: “Yes, in some ways you could argue I’ve been employed for a look I have. But there’s a sexism that happens towards men.”

The face that launched a thousand storms about male objectification

The crux of the problem, which has so rightly ruffled many indignant feathers, is that Harington uses the word “sexism” to refer to his anger against way in which he believes he is sexualised. As many have noted a more appropriate term for what Harington is describing would be “objectification” which is certainly experienced by both men and women.

These comments have been met largely with frustration from fans of the immeasurably popular TV show. One such fan, Georgia Humphrey, whose credentials include guesting at the season five premier of the show, featuring on the after-show Thronecast, as well as running Game of Cosplay UK, stated: “I find comments like these from men in Hollywood really disappointing. No one is denying that some actors get cast for their looks rather than their talent, but to label that sexism is a fundamental misunderstanding of how sexism, and indeed the industry in which Kit Harington works, functions”.

Georgia also added that Harington’s implication that he received roles purely based on looks, was overlooking the multiplicity of issues facing his female counterparts which include “the lack of women in leading roles in action/adventure and sci-fi/fantasy films, the problem of roles for women drying up completely once female actors hit forty, the huge pay disparity between male and female co-stars, and the sexualisation and abuse that disproportionately affects women in the film and television industry”.

As Georgia points out, Kit Harington’s words are careless, “especially in light of the various complaints his own show, Game of Thrones, has received for glorifying violence against women.”

Georgia casually posing with the man himself

Harington’s words were indeed ill-thought out and appear to disregard the disproportionate weight of sexism against women.

Nobody is denying that male objectification exists and is in need of addressing, however Harington fails to weight it proportionally with the sexism against women in the industry. We do give air-time (although arguably not enough) to the pressures faced by young girls to conform to expectations about body norms and rightly so. The hugely damaging pressures upon teenage girls which has led to an unsustainable and frightening culture of anxiety needs addressing. Yet we often fail to recognise that the cry from teenage boys often also remains unheard or even ignored.

We absolutely need to keep helping the girls who are most at risk. However are we really giving enough help to boys too? Who do teenage boys have to turn to when they are worrying about the amount of hours to spend in the gym or the coveted, unrealistically toned body – which the film industry unfairly promotes – that they go to extreme lengths to achieve?

Sexualisation of men does of course exist and needs to be addressed. Kit Harington had a point, but slipped up over his brandishing of “male sexism” and by overlooking the disproportionate sexism against women in the industry.

The acting industry is perhaps one example within which we should focus our attentions to provide both women and men with confident, well-informed role models who are honest and clear about sexism, objectification and the pressure to conform to body norms.