Now, if the object of the humor was actually MacFarlane and his penchant for ribald attack humor, a simple 15-second cutaway—much like those on Family Guy—would have gotten across the point…and the humor. But no, it goes on for nearly two minutes—the point is to name and shame, say the word boobs and turn actresses into dehumanized objects yet again. I have a dream that someday women will be judged by the content of their character and not the content of their Maidenforms, but that day has not come for MacFarlane.-- Heidi MacDonald, "Why Seth MacFarlane is Not a Great Satirist."
I won't repeat my arguments against MacDonald and others who advocate her type of feminism, which I covered at length here and here. I will call attention to one phrase MacDonald used that has some irony now, when she claims that all MacFarlane had to do was to say the word "boobs" and that this would turn "actresses into dehumanized objects."
This trite assertion becomes ironic in light of the evolutionary theories outlined in JUG BOND. Purely from the standpoint of distinguishing homo sapiens from all other animals, the genetic arrangement of adipose fat tissue within the female's breasts and buttocks is extraordinarily "humanizing." One can contrast the organs of a male human being with those of other male animals, but no one will find any single organic feature that compares in distinctiveness with the female breast. Further, the role of the breast has been that of promoting the human pair-bond, whether one wishes to conceive of that bond as having its roots in sexual deception or oxytocin-produced ecstasy.
Some feminist thinkers, however, do not take into account the role of the female tit in its evolutionary character; its ability both to encourage and to discourage sexual congress. For them the exposure of a boob is simply a means to make the (usually living) female to whom it is attached to an "it" rather than a "thou," to reference the terminology of Buber, discussed here.
I began the first part of this essay-series by noting that it was understandable that female viewers of an exploitation film-- such as 1993's ANGELFIST-- should experience a cognitive dissonance when seeing a female action-hero simultaneously fighting off nasty thugs but also exposing her tits to the implied male viewer of the movie. I understand the attitude so expressed, which I deem to be produced, at least in part, by a tendency for women to advocate societal modesty. It's a tendency that might prove to be universal-- or nearly so-- in human cultures in every time and clime, at least in comparison with a male tendency toward raunchiness and rule-breaking. But though the attitude is important for the maintenance of society in the real world, I still find it to be grossly out of place when assessing fictional constructs.
Though there are some heroic characters in fiction who may escape the limitation of being either "male" or "female"-- "Rebis" of Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL is literally a transgendered being-- the great majority of heroes can be fairly defined as either male or female. In Part 1 of BBAJ, I demonstrated the prevalence of the "mostly unclothed hero" in a wide number of narratives starring male heroes, and observed that a lack of clothing did not carry the same taboo for males that it did for comparable female characters.
Nevertheless, because both male and female characters are fictional, one cannot accurately speak of either one being reduced to "dehumanized objects" simply by the lack of apparel. Fictional characters are objects only in comparison with living human beings. The most one can say is that in society some characters create more of an impression of being "it-objects," while others create more of an impression of being "thou-objects"-- though such judgments will always be rooted in the vagaries of taste.
But in terms of pure logic, there is no reason to assume that a female character's lack of clothing is any more "dehumanizing" than a man's. Characters like Tarzan and Hercules are seen as figures of power precisely because they can defy the norms of society, very nearly walking around in their birthday suits. So it is within the bounds of possibility that one may view disrobed female characters in the same way. Rather than seeing them as commodities divested of clothing to please male viewers, it's possible to see them as beings whose bodies are so awe-inspiring that the open display of those bodies gives them a godlike formidability.
One cannot decisively prove, of course, that male viewers view Lara Croft more as a figure of awe than as a dehumanized object. But the converse cannot be proven either; it's merely an assumption that has deeper roots in political ideology than in literary analysis. To neutralize either heroes and heroines of their sexual assets puts a new spin on the notion of "men without chests."