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Normalizing Sexual Objectification: 2011 Hollywood Films

December 19, 2011

The other day we posted an analysis article looking at product placement/branding in Hollywood films. This article will take a look at examples of hyper-sexualization in 2011 Hollywood films and messages about sexual assault.

Like previous years, 2011 was not much different for Hollywood in terms of how women were represented as sexual objects for male pleasure. In the film Just Go With It, Adam Sandler continues to play a character that gets to act out his male fantasies. Sandler plays a plastic surgeon who gets his female assistant to play his ex-wife as a means to get a young woman to like him even more. Both the young woman and his assistant (played by Jennifer Aniston) are presented as being hyper-sexual objects for the camera, with the slow motion and accompanying music, which has become the standard when women’s bodies are shown on the big screen.

Other films that objectify women and presents them as being available for men are films like 30 Minutes or Less and 50/50. In 30 Minutes or Less (filmed in Grand Rapids), both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in this comedy use women for nothing more than sexual pleasure. One of the good guys gets a blowjob early on in the film while his friend watches from the porch steps. After the woman performs oral sex on this character says thanks just seconds after he has an orgasm and gets out of the car. One of the “bad guys” in the film goes to a bar, where a woman takes her top off and tells him sexual fantasies based on his claim to have access to a million dollars.

In 50/50, the main character is diagnosed with cancer and struggles to come to terms with his disease. His best friend, played by Seth Rogan, convinces him to use his cancer as a means to “get pussy.” While at a bar the guys pick up two women and play up the cancer angle. After having drinks and spending time on the boardwalk, the guys end up taking the women home with them. Before they take the women home the character with the cancer tells his friend he is tired and wants to go home. His friend says, “Don’t throw this all away. Don’t waste my time, man.” While the film does a good job of personalizing the struggle people can have with cancer, the sexual use of women by men adds nothing substantive to the plot and just adds to Seth Rogan’s resume of play characters which treat women as nothing more than objects.

Another film that presents women in a hyper-sexualized way is the Bad Teacher. The main character is played by Cameron Diaz, a teacher at a middle school with no real teaching skills. She decides she needs breast implants in order to win the affection of a fellow teacher. While at the plastic surgeon’s office she is shown felling and talking about another woman’s breasts. Not only does this scene fulfill male fantasy it presents women as willing to go to any length to get a man.

However, the breasts implants are too expensive, so Cameron Diaz’ character tries numerous ways to get the funds she needs. In one scene she shows up to at a school car wash dressed in short shorts and revealing top. As she washes the cars she acts in very sexualized ways, again accompanied by slow motion and a hard rock song, Sweet Cherry Pie.

Other films that objectify women are Conan the Barbarian and The Change Up. In Conan, the female objectification takes place when Conan liberates slaves. Ironically, the male slaves look dirty and undernourished, but the women just happen to be clean, healthy looking and topless. Of course, their “freedom” also means they now become “available” for Conan and his other barbarian friends.

In The Change Up, the two main characters are men, who because they pissed in a public fountain together end up switching bodies. In this comedy, Jason Bateman’s character is now inside Ryan Reynolds’ body. Reynolds’ character is a bit of a slacker but does have an upcoming acting gig, which Jason Bateman’s character must now fulfill. The surprise is that the acting job in a role in a pornographic film, which is also presented in a humorous way.

Another scene in The Change Up has Ryan Reynolds in Jason Bateman’s body. Bateman’s character is married and now Ryan Reynolds thinks he has the opportunity to sleep with Bateman’s wife. He is waiting in the bed as she comes in the room with nothing on and walks towards the bathroom in, you guessed it, slow motion. Viewers see the woman’s breasts close up and then as she moves past the camera here is a tight shot of her butt.

Male attitudes about sexual harassment

The last example we want to take a look at is the film Horrible Bosses. In this film the three main characters are men, all of which have bosses they hate. The plot in this comedy centers around these three guys trying to figure a way to get their bosses killed.

One of the characters has a female boss who is sexually harassing him on the job, coming on to him and doing things that would certainly be considered sexual harassment as it is legally defined. Early on in the film the three guys are at the bar talking about how much they hate their bosses. When it gets to the guy who’s boss is a woman, the other two guys don’t show any empathy for his situation. Here is how the dialogue goes at this point:

“At least you’re boss isn’t sexually harassing you.” (guy 1) “Oh my god here we go.” (guy 2) “You are never gonna get any sympathies from us.” (guy 3) “It’s like a totally hostile work environment. It’s not funny. Today my boss started spraying water on my crotch so she could see the outline of my dick.” (guy 1) “That’s great. Why don’t you just fuck her.” (guy 2)

The dialogue continues with his friends who don’t consider it sexual harassment what is happening to him and then one of them sees a woman in the bar that he is going to go talk to. This guy says, “I’m going to go talk to that woman about her vagina.” Imagine if a group of female friends were talking in a bar and one of them said she was being sexually harassed by her male boss. Do you think that her friends would tell her that she would get no sympathy from them and that she should just “fuck” her boss?

Not only does this scene in Horrible Bosses dismiss that men can be sexually harassed at work, it normalizes that men always want to have sex and that to not take advantage of an opportunity to have sex means you are less than a man. Lastly, what we found in the 2011 Hollywood films we looked at was that sex was almost exclusively presented through the eyes of men, where women were simply made to be available for male pleasure, often in demeaning ways.

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