Being put on a pedestalby Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 08/28/14
This past week, on the Emmy Awards, Sofia Vergara participated in a dopey skit where she rotated on a pedestal in an evening gown while the CEO of the Television Academy talked about something boring, the joke being that Ms. Vergara is pretty to look at and that television owes the viewer something pretty to look at. At the end of the skit, she feigned frustration, saying that this was why she stopped doing car shows....the rotating pedestals made her dizzy.
It was not particularly funny, it was kind of silly and awkward, but both she and the Emmy Awards have been called to task for the skit being sexist.
I honestly don't get it.
Ms. Vergara is a gorgeous woman who milks her sexuality and hourglass figure on television and makes a fortune doing so. She's also funny. She's clearly shrewd, and she laughs all the way to the bank as the object of young men's lust. I doubt that at this point in her career she could be forced into a situation that she perceived to be demeaning and sexist. Forbes estimates that in 2013 she made approximately 30 million dollars--the highest earning television actor, male or female. But some were up in arms that she was exploited by the skit and that it only served to continue the objectification of women.
I think we've lost sight of the difference between being objectified or exploited or manipulated and capitalizing on one's good looks and embracing one's sexuality. A pimp forcing a broke, lonely woman into prostitution, a boyfriend making his submissive girlfriend strip in his nightclub, even a husband who reads his wife's emails or tracks her on her phone's GPS is exploiting and manipulating, even abusive. A woman making 30 million dollars who makes fun of the ditzy glamor girl persona that has made her famous is not being exploited, she's being facetious. We may not agree with how she is making her living and wish she focused more of her attention on her brains and not her beauty, but I am doubtful that anyone is forcing her to wear skimpy clothes and get paid to look gorgeous.
We underestimate women and the power we have when we react this way. There are many Lambda Chi Alpha members who can recall me selling raffles at their frat parties. The intention was to earn some money to pay for the keg and snacks. I figured out that the more I flirted, the more money that the tipsy 19 year old boys threw my way. Being that we were all math geeks, I informed the frat brothers that there was a clear scientific formula: The shorter the skirt, the more money we get for the keg. I never felt exploited, in fact, I felt I was exploiting the young men's hormones for the benefit of my friends at the frat. Some harmless flirting raised more money to cover the cost of the party, and I walked away truly believing that women were the smarter sex, as we would never open our wallets and toss $20 bills around for a little flirting and glimpse of skin (and yes, I often got twenties, I was cute, and a very good flirt). No one MADE me do it, so I felt in control. Herein lies the difference.
Lucille Ball began her career as a model and dancer. While Lucy Ricardo mugged and acted silly rather than playing up her sexuality, you could not avoid the fact that Lucy was gorgeous and her long, fantastic legs and flawless complexion had initially opened doors for her, not her comedic timing. Madonna has embraced her sexuality while becoming a gazillionaire on her passable singing talent and genius at coming up with hit songs and making headlines. Marilyn Monroe read literature, studied classic acting, and married a playwright. There are women posing in nudie magazines who are paying for college with the money. There is currently a student at Duke paying for her education as a porn actress. If she can get into Duke and REMAIN in Duke, she is clearly not a stupid girl. It's somewhat sad that she has to make porn films to pay for school, but it's her choice, one she may regret later, but it's still her choice to make. Is capitalizing on one's looks and sexual attractiveness any worse than capitalizing on one's ability to throw a ball or sing a song?
Can women be objectified and exploited? Absolutely. Anyone who is not in a position of power can be. Is it likely that the highest paid actor on television was forced into a skit that she felt was degrading? Probably not. She defended her decision by saying that she felt it demonstrated that a woman can be hot but also be funny and smart and laugh at herself, and that those who didn't like it should "lighten up." On some level, I agree. If she were an ingenue being chased around the casting couch and forced to do what some male TV executive thought was sexy I'd feel differently. Ms. Vergara was clearly in on the joke, even if it wasn't very funny. She's lived the American dream--immigrant girl makes good capitalizing on her good looks and comic timing. The joke may not have been a knee-slapper, but all us girls who have learned the power of sex are laughing along with her at what people will pay money for. The real travesty is not that she was put on a pedestal like a trophy (she does play a trophy wife on TV, correct? Get it?), but that we pay people 30 million dollars to be pretty rather than to find the cure for cancer. All she's doing is benefiting from our society's desire to spend money to see gorgeous women. I'd do the same thing if I were her.