What Exactly Does Gender-Swapping Do?

The blog post Advertising In Reverse got me thinking about other gender-swapped advertisements and photographs. Whenever I see something that is deliberately gender-swapped, my initial reaction is usually one of excitement and a bit of relief. I am happy to see something that calls attention to how women are depicted in the media. However, recently I have begun to question gender-swapping. I believe it is much more complicated than simply pushing back against how women are depicted in the media.

In the pictures from Advertising in Reverse, we see men posing like the women in the motorcycle ad pictures. Frankly, the men look silly. Really silly. As module81 suggests, the pictures are meant as a joke. But what is the joke about and what does it do? While we laugh at the sight of men’s bodies in positions we’re not used to, are we also laughing at the women who assume these poses regularly? And does our focus on the silliness of the poses distract us from the important social consequences of this trend of women being depicted in these manners?

A very interesting example of gender-swapping is Mod Carousel’s parody of Blurred Lines.

Mod Carousel says about the video:

It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified and does everyone a disservice…we made this video specifically to show a spectrum of sexuality as well as present both women and men in a positive light, one where objectifying men is more than alright and where women can be strong and sexy without negative repercussions.

Originally, I liked this parody a lot. I liked how it had the potential to show men how the original video is problematic. However, I am beginning to think that this parody–just like Mod Carousel says all gender-swapping does–“does everyone a disservice.”

This article, “Why The Gender-Swapped ‘Blurred Lines’ Parody Gets It Wrong” captures many of my thoughts about why this parody isn’t as wonderful as I originally thought. It argues that the video

normalizes that behavior in ways that don’t quite critique the fact that these power dynamics exist in the first place, a world where femininity is policed and exploited…By having these women continue to perform predatory male behavior, it only upholds male patriarchy. Mod Carousel seems to suggest that the song’s content is okay and that you can sing “I know you want it,” just as long as you’re female, but what it does is uphold a world where femininity continues to be predated.

It then suggests:

If Mod Carousel wanted to critique the system, they would show us a world where both women and femininity are powerful, and you don’t have to act like a man to be the master of your domain.

Similar arguments are made in a Feministing article called “Mod Carousel Remakes ‘Blurred Lines’-But Does It Subvert The Misogyny?”

Overall, I’m starting to think that gender-swapping pictures, ads, music videos, etc. are not helpful. Do people agree with me? If so, how can people more effectively achieve what gender-swapping attempts?

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5 thoughts on “What Exactly Does Gender-Swapping Do?

  1. Thank you for your article. However, sometimes i cannot help but try to distinguish my acquired looking from a fundamental gaze that biology might keep me from escaping. For instance, it could be my socialization processes that forms the gaze through which I call someone attractive. However, there is also evidence from a scientific & psychological study that our perception of attractiveness might be bestowed upon us biologically. There is the famous study where 3 month old babies stared longer at faces rated as attractive. Though they might not have termed the faces”attractive”, they knew there was a difference between the two different types of faces. So, with the female bodies that look silly doing some poses, are they silly when recreated by males with a female type body. (For instance, this is Isis, a Trans gendered Top model. http://mimg.ugo.com/200809/6537/cuts/cw-antm11-isis-container_016392-4e181e-500x750_288x288.jpg) Also, did it begin to look silly on female bodies when you had seen males bodies recreate it? I ask because I cannot figure out what the wrong is, the limitations of specific poses to women and some to men or the fact that they exist at all?

  2. I’m really glad you wrote this article because I never took the time to look into the Blurred Lines controversy.

    As someone who’s never watched Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video before, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the parody. And then I watched the parody, after which I thought to myself, “This is bizarre. This is a parody, so it’s probably an exaggerated version of the real Blurred Lines video.” And then I watched the real Blurred Lines video. The parody wasn’t an exaggeration. The real video was just as bizarre- there were naked girls dancing, strutting, and riding giant bicycles.

    What’s I’m concerned about is that I found the parody ten times more foreign than the actual video. It was disturbing seeing naked men dance so sexually, even though they were merely doing what women often do in music videos. I even scolded myself for not seeing the naked men and the naked women in the same light, but nonetheless, I couldn’t change the way I felt. My different reactions to the two videos reflect just how normalized the media’s sexualization of women has become. We don’t even blink twice when a woman feels herself up in a music video, but we’d be shocked if a man did the same thing.

    Coming out of all of this, I have one question. Is the problem that women are over sexualized or that men are under sexualized?

  3. I pretty much agree with you. As far as Blurred Lines parodies go, I think this one is the best – it points out how straight-up creepy and violent the song is:

  4. June that video was actually pretty hilarious. I am surprised because that is the first time I have been entertained by any of the Blurred Lines parodies. I think one of the important parts of this parody is that the gender roles are not reversed. Instead it has the women reacting to the song in rational ways to the ridiculous lyrics.

    I think the main problems with the other parodies is that they simply change the genders of the persons who are being exploitative and who are are being exploited. Their behavior, dress, and mannerisms do not change. The men are now acting like the women and vice versa, but this does not subvert the message of misogyny. I believe the parodies would be more effective with a genuine reversal, perhaps with women objectifying men who were not adopting the mannerisms, dress, and makeup of women. However that does not seem like the correct solution to the problem either. How can objectifying men in the same exact ways that make women feel uncomfortable and devalued be beneficial to anyone? The route to equality is not the inversion of harm, but hopefully even though these parodies are not perfect they have helped people realize the problems with the rhetoric invoked by the Blurred Lines song and video.

    • “The route to equality is not the inversion of harm” – Yes, this! I think that’s absolutely spot-on. The problem with reversals/inverses is that they can only work on the same terms as the original problem, and not (generally) in a dialectical way that moves us beyond it.

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