How much female objectification is too much female objectification? The problem with “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon”

Fourth of July weekend in America means three things: hot dogs, fireworks, and Michael Bay is gonna blow some s–t up. And while I hate hot dogs and am, frankly, terrified of fireworks, I must confess that I have already dropped ten bucks on Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.

I know, OK? I know. But there’s something about moon landing conspiracies that just pique my curiosity. I reasoned that with all the CGI and explosions and stuff, Michael Bay wouldn’t have time to objectify Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in such a way that I would have to go home and wash my brain out with soap. You will be shocked, I’m sure, to hear that I was wrong.

Huntington-Whiteley makes her big-screen debut ass-first, and the camera sticks with that introduction for a solid minute while her nearly-naked bum sashays up some stairs. She doesn’t suffer any bruises, bumps of scrapes throughout the duration of the movie, and even takes time in the middle of a heated battle to take care of her hair and makeup. And good Lord at the double entendres. Patrick Dempsey describes the sensuality of a car; the camera pans up Huntington-Whiteley’s body. Someone says “look at the box” (an actual box); and the camera lands near Huntington-Whiteley’s. Her sole purpose is to run in slow motion and make thinly-veiled hand-jobs and blow-job offers to Shia LaBeouf.

Nothing stirs up lesbian feminists quite like the topic of female objectification. It is rampant. It is gross. And it is dangerous. But you know what else? We also kind of like it.

There’s a reason our AfterEllen.com Hot 100 is consistently one of our most-trafficked posts. And there’s a reason our readers are more likely to click on headlines that feature words like “sex” or “naked.” And there’s a reason we all go scampering over to Dorothy Snarker’s personal blog every Tuesday for tank top day. Emily Fitch explained the reason perfectly: We like girls. We like sex with girls. We like their rosy lips, their hard nipples, bums, soft thighs. We like tits and fanny, you know? We can call it “appreciating the female form” all day long, but no matter how you say it, the truth is, we like ogling hot women.

So where’s the line? Why do I feel OK appreciating Troian Bellisario’s female form in my Pretty Little Liars recaps, and gross watching Transformers? It’s not like I’m writing a treatise on all the ways Troian excels as a human being; I’m going, “Look at her collarbone; listen to her voice; check out that naked back.”

For me, objectification crosses the line when it reduces a woman to her body or her appearance, or when she becomes nothing more than a tool for the purposes of lust. I can say “I love the way Troian’s mouth moves” without reducing her to “hot girl with hot mouth.” When Tina Fey won our Hot 100 in 2008, she told Empire magazine: “[Making] the AfterEllen [list] is flattering. I think those girls take more of a 3-D picture before they decide they like somebody.” And she’s right. Sure, we can’t get enough of her gorgeous brown eyes and lovely figure. But that’s only part of her hotness. She’s wicked smart and dangerously funny and exceptionally talented. We like to look at her, but we know that she’s more than the way she looks.

The problem with Transformers is that the main female lead is nothing more than a hot body. She didn’t once pick up a weapon to fight against the baddies, she didn’t contribute to the “plot” in any way, she didn’t display any personality whatsoever. She stood in various car magazine poses and let the camera crawl all over her, while other characters talked about what they’d like to do to “cars” and “boxes.”

One of the main tenants of objectification theory according to good ol’ Martha Nussbaum is called “interchangeability.” If one human being is interchangeable with another human being, you’re objectifying it. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, I’d like you to meet Megan Fox. I think you might recognize her from Michael Bay’s previous films. What’s that? Her face isn’t familiar? It was a Michael Bay film, honey. Maybe you recognize her ass.

How much objectification do you think is too much objectification?

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