Thomas Blachman, the Danish TV show host whose programme features a naked woman standing before two men who sit and judge her body, justifies his show:
“[T]he entire idea of the show is to let men talk about the bodies of naked women while the woman is standing right in front of them. The female body thirsts for words. The words of a man.”
The theory of the ‘male gaze’ was introduced by Laura Mulvey in film theory, to express the power dynamics of a woman’s body becoming an object before a camera. In essence, men are the watchers and women are the watched. An immediate example in British popular culture would be Page 3.
However, although the women in Blachman’s TV show stand in silence being watched, the men are more than just looking. They are verbally critiquing, judging, at some points laughing, at a woman’s body. They openly discuss her, in her presence, as though she were an object devoid of emotion or comprehension. Even if the women were deaf, they would still understand the intention and emotion behind this scoffing arrogance of the men.
Blachman defends his program:
“I am giving you something that you have never seen before”
Really? This is something we’ve all seen before. Countless times. He presumes there is a demand for this, and I can expect that there probably is: sadly from both men and women. Men, because they want to join in the critiquing, and women because they want to find out what ‘men’, misrepresented by two old toads on a sofa, find attractive.
It’s hard not to believe that the producers are deliberately just trying to insult as many people as possible. The Channel Producer states: “We have a program that reveals what men think about the female body. Quite honestly, what is wrong with that?” Assuming that their views are representative of all males is both arrogant and harmful. Not to mention heteronormative. Blachman has gone beyond assuming that he knows exactly what the female body wants [because, of course, all females are exactly the same in their desires] but he also assumes that all heterosexual men find only certain physical aspects of a woman attractive, and that her worth doesn’t extend much beyond that.
This is an amplification of rhetoric found in women’s magazines that describe what ‘he’ wants. The pseudo-scientific surveys that give statistics on the number of men who prefer boobs to bums, the most insidious of which are those that claim something along the lines of, ‘out of the men surveyed, the majority of men who didn’t care what a woman looks like, as long as she had confidence’. This is the ultimate kick in the teeth, considering such pressure put on female aesthetics from all angles. The same thing is meaningless coming from woman to woman, it’s just given legitimacy and persuasive power when it’s backed up by male public opinion.
Because that’s what women need to do: entertain male public opinion. Don’t forget it, girls. Seen, judged and definitely not heard.
The whole premise, before the judges even open their mouths, is unequal. Whether the judges are giving her criticism or praise, the fact that their opinion counts so much is harmful; the entitlement they are given to judge her as she passively stands there portrays a completely unequal power balance.
If Blachman isn’t objectification, then I don’t know what is. This is the perfect example of men’s bonding being facilitated by power over, and potential humiliation of, a woman. That she is naked, silent and attentive serves a chauvinistic and grim fantasy, exonerated by its claim to be ‘entertainment’. This is nothing new; it’s just another brutal example of the expectations that are inscribed both into men’s and women’s minds.
The same behavior is mirrored in the laddish cries of ‘you’re a bit of alright’ to women in the street, catalogued in public comments about women’s bodies that the EverydaySexism project has evidenced for us, and already exists in classrooms where groups of boys rate their female classmates with scores out of 10 and usually let the girls know about it. Blachman both reflects and reinforces not just the male gaze, but the importance of male opinion in what women should look like.
What Blachman adds, however, is the entitlement for men to say this to a woman’s face, without expecting reaction or reprisal. Needless to mention the fact that it’s on prime-time television where young people will absorb and further perpetuate this unhealthy discourse and gendered power dynamic.
If Blachman wants to show us something we’ve never seen before, he could shake up this age-old gendered power dynamic: why doesn’t he stand alone, his naked self lit up and exposed before a panel of young females who review his body?
But I wonder: how many of us would want to see that anyway? How much more time do we need to spend analyzing and denigrating each other’s bodies? It achieves nothing but increased insecurity, decreased confidence and bad sex. It’s boring. I could think of a thousand more interesting, and more body-positive programs to put into Primetime television programming, and none of them would involve the judgment of others for one’s own body confidence.