Feminists Can Care About Male Representation, Too | Vol. 4 / No. 34.1

Photo: Meester X, CC BY-SA 2.0

I’ve written before about my desire to have body-type diversity in media, especially for women. FYI, I have had arguments about body-type diversity in media way, way more often on my personal Facebook feed. Because I am addicted to debating and making myself angry, apparently. Whenever I have these debates, one of the first things that is always brought in to counter me (especially if I’m talking about comics) is the argument that “men in X media have unrealistic body types/proportions, too!” Now, I could sit here all day and explain the difference between a sexual fantasy and a power fantasy, point out the tropes of “fat husband, model-thin wife” in television, etc. But today we’re going way back, to the early days of “things that probably messed up my body image.” Today we’re going back to Barbie. And now, Ken.

People have been talking about Barbie and her unrealistic proportions for a long time.  Like, since before I started getting angry on the internet. And, like usual, whenever you bring up Barbie, someone has to say “but Ken is unrealistic, too!” Well, yes. I learned relatively early on that most dudes are not shaped like a bicycle seat down there. But again, the parallel isn’t exact. Ken’s proportions, his groin aside, are much closer to the average man’s than Barbie’s are to the average woman’s.  One year ago, Mattel introduced a new range of sizes and skin colors for Barbie, bringing in “petite,” “tall,” and “curvy” Barbie, increasing the number of skin tones for Barbie, and also adding variety to the face shapes.   And that is awesome! I probably meant to write an article about it at the time, and then saw something shiny and forgot. And now, Ken is getting the same treatment. Ken dolls will now come in “slim,” “broad,” and “original.” (God, I want to make an “extra crispy” joke right now.)  Ken dolls will also have an increased number of skin tones, as well as new hair styles. (He has a man-bun! I love it.) These changes are really important, because we start developing a lot of our ideas about what men and women “should” look like from an early age, when you didn’t have to call dolls “collectibles” in order to justify buying them.

And honestly, I’m happy about this new line of Ken dolls. Partly because it will mean people have fewer stupid arguments to throw in my face when I’m arguing about representation, but mostly because I am always genuinely happy to see more varieties of representation. I want more representation for all sexes and genders, not less. The answer to “female superheroes are sexualized more than male superheroes” is not “sexualize all male superheroes.” It is “have a reasonable number of sexy and non-sexy superheroes of both genders.” One of the things that opponents of feminism frequently forget is that feminism is concerned for men, too. The patriarchy also hurts men. Young boys constantly getting inundated with messages that all masculinity must be tough, brutal, and violent really fucks up both boys and girls. Feminism wants to work against that gender norm as well. If you haven’t seen them yet, I highly recommend checking out Jackson Katz’s movies Tough Guise and Tough Guise 2, which address this very topic. (I’d link you, but I can’t find anything other than the educational distributor for it, which charges OMG rates. You have Google, I trust you can find your way.)

Even if I don’t think that men have suffered from representation problems in the same manner and scale as women have, and even if I won’t allow arguments regarding male representation to derail arguments I’m making about female representation, I’m still concerned about the topic. And I’m still excited to see progress in male representation as well. Especially when it involves plastic man-buns.

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Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not talking about Ken dolls and representation, she studies gender in popular culture.

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