View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV
1 June 2018

Is it feminist for five national papers to have topless Poldark on their front pages?

Is ogling a sexy man the same as ogling a sexy woman? Discuss.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Something struck me when I looked at today’s newspaper front pages this morning. And it wasn’t topless Aidan Turner’s muscular physique. No, it was the fact that five national papers were using the return of BBC One drama Poldark as an excuse to run front-page pictures of topless Aidan Turner’s muscular physique.

THIS IS PROGRESS! I couldn’t help thinking, images of the British press’s time-old penchant for Page Three models, teenage blondes getting exam results and barely dressed female celebrities flashing in my mind. What a time we live in that newspapers are now using any excuse to sell papers by objectifying a hot, semi-naked man instead of women!

But it’s more complicated than that. A debate is brewing over whether it’s OK to ogle an attractive man simply for his looks – if we’re fighting against this attitude towards women in the media. Why is it one rule for women and another for men?

This is what the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir asks in a column puffed on the front of the paper alongside, yes, the now ubiquitous picture of Aidan Turner with his wams out.

“As Poldark strips off (again!), why is it OK for women to ogle men – but not vice versa?” is the headline, with a huge image of Turner squinting hairily into the middle distance just below it (captioned, inevitably: “Eye candy: Aidan Turner flaunts his toned torso”).

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Hypocrisy aside, Moir’s point is this: “Yes, we women can ogle, but men can’t. Is that entirely fair? No. But it is entirely wonderful.”

The broadcaster Mariella Frostrup recently pointed out what she sees as a “double standard” in female writers openly lusting after Poldark when male writers wouldn’t get away with writing similarly about women.

“If a male colleague had penned… [the same thing about] any of Turner’s equally appealing female co-stars, his cries of contrition would be drowned out by Twitter’s Troll Chorus,” she wrote. “We are losing not only our sense of humour but our sense of proportion as we throw every act of perceived sexism into the #MeToo basket”.

Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman, who has extensively covered sexism in politics and misogynist abuse, also asked Twitter whether it’s right to objectify Turner if we expect the opposite from men:

The feminist activist and writer Caroline Criado-Perez argued back that this is not a double standard, because men have not been objectified and oppressed throughout history by women who value them on their looks.

“There is no history of men’s worth being reduced to how fuckable they are,” she tweeted. “No one is saying that unfuckable men shouldn’t be allowed out in public. Why are you even posting this?”

This is the key feminist argument in favour of slavering over Turner’s torso, and against the idea of reverse sexism in general: he and his kind are not held back by a society that judges – and has always judged – them on their appearance and sexual compliance.

But Frostrup’s warning against a sense of humour failure when it comes to the Poldark double standards debate sits uncomfortably when you do look at it the other way round. Just think of how often Page Three has been explained away as a bit of fun by male editors, or male Sun readers, in an attempt to make feminists look joyless and patronising, for example.

In their recent books about modern masculinity, both the actor Robert Webb (How Not to be a Boy, 2017) and artist Grayson Perry (The Descent of Man, 2016) argue that the patriarchy and gender norms can be incredibly damaging to men’s self-worth and emotional wellbeing as well as women’s. Perhaps it’s better for everyone if we don’t idealise certain body types – “flaunted” in “barely-there breeches” or not…

Content from our partners
Labour's health reforms can put patients first
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure
How to tackle the UK's plastic pollution problem – with Coca-Cola

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU