I’m a red-blooded heterosexual American male. As such, it turns out that I enjoy seeing sexy women in their underwear. I am not ashamed to admit this. Women in their underwear kick ass. I am decidedly pro-lingerie! Yeah, I know… not exactly a controversial statement to make. But really my point is, for all of my feminist leanings… as progressive as I may think of myself… I still like looking at sexy women.
That said… this may be my favorite news story of the year. Basically, there’s a lingerie store in Russia. Store decides “hey, you know what would be some good advertising? We’ll have a contest to win a professional lingerie photoshoot for the hottest lingerie submissions. This will make lots of women send us pictures in their underwear.” It’s a good idea. And it worked. They get a bunch of submissions and they end up picking the ones by a contestant who calls herself “Ms. Avocado.” They award her the win and then find out that she’s really a he. Ms. Avocado is the alias of one Anthony Nagorny, a 20-year-old male college student. Lingerie store freaks out… strips Nagorny of the prize and then awards it jointly to the three female runners-up. Internet then freaks out because it’s the internet… and the internet kind of does that. It’s just a thing.
As far as I can tell, Nagorny doesn’t consider himself transgender… and from stories that I can find it doesn’t even look like he’s regularly a drag queen or anything like that. Basically, he saw the contest and said to himself “I’m pretty. I bet I can win that” and then borrowed his girlfriend’s underwear and had her do his hair and make-up and took some pics.
And you know what…. he was right. He’s hot as FUCK!!!
So I’m trying to figure out the rationalization of the store for disqualifying him. What’s the logic? Hell, to me I would have run with it. “Buy our lingerie, we can even make HIM look this good!” I mean, to be fair, if you look at the pictures of Nagorny in his regular dude clothes…. well, he’s a pretty man. So probably not just ANYONE could look that good.
But that’s not the point. Lingerie is a fantasy. This is why modeling is a job. For most women, if you go to Victoria’s Secret and buy the most expensive nightie in their catalog… you are NOT going to look as hot as the lady in the picture. Yes, you may look hot. But the girl in the photo is a fantasy. The photo says “this lady is fuckable. Don’t you you want to be fuckable like her? Well, if you dress like her, people will want to fuck you.” That’s the point. They’re not selling reality. And that’s ok.
And the fantasy here isn’t fucking Anthony Nargony. It never was. The fantasy is fucking “Ms. Avocado.” And if you really thought that “Ms. Avocado” was the name of a real person then… well… I just want you to know that I’m an exiled Nigerian prince and I’ve been having trouble getting my billion dollars in gold bullion out of my home country. If you help me out by paypalling me $10,000, I’ll totally give you a million dollars once I’ve secured my billion.
There’s this crazy thing that Maxim magazine does. Everytime some famous sex symbol starlet gets divorced, they “celebrate” her now being single with a headline like “REJOICE, SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS OFFICIALLY SINGLE” and they post a bunch of sexy pictures of her. The idea behind this is “hey guys, you want to fuck Scarlett Johansson don’t you? Well, now’s your chance! Get to it!” And see… this kind of sings to me… because as it turns out, I TOTALLY DO WANT TO FUCK SCARLETT JOHANSSON!!! I totally do! I have for years. But I’m also smart. And so I realize that my chances of fucking Scarlett Johansson today are EXACTLY the same today as they were when she was married. Like they haven’t changed at all. If she makes the offer, I’m totally going to take her up on it… but lets just say I’m not holding my breath.
And part of me wants to think that there’s a patriarchal bullshit justification of bro-codeness behind this. Part of me wants to think that what the magazine is actually trying to say “you know what, now that Scarlett is no longer owned by another man, it’s ok to masturbate to her again!” But they’re not. Because I just checked and Maxim’s website posts on average 1-3 articles a month that are of the format “here are some sexy pics of Scarlett Johansson, fap away!” Maybe it’s because she made a new movie. Maybe it’s because she said something in the press. Maybe the wind is just blowing. So really, the point of the article isn’t so much “it’s now ok to masturbate to Scarlett because she’s single” so much as “Scarlett Johansson is sexy and in case you haven’t masturbated to her in a while, here’s a reminder that you’re past due.”
It’s all about selling a fantasy. That’s sort of the power of lingerie. It’s 2017, it really isn’t hard to see boobs. Hell, you can find pics of Scarlett Johansson’s boobs if you google. More than that, even… She did a movie with full frontal nudity. It’s called Under the Skin. It’s an existential science-fiction think piece. It lost money. It’s not super sexy. It’s critically acclaimed, but no one saw it. You’d think that people would have flocked to it just to see Scarlett naked. But no. Because it’s not just seeing her boobs that is the draw. That would be easy. It’s the masturbatory fantasy. And it’s hard to masturbate to the idea of a gorgeous woman who kills people for objectifying her. And that’s sort of the point. That’s what the pictures are for. It’s not real. Scarlett Johansson does not want to fuck you (or me). We don’t have a shot.
You know who else doesn’t want to fuck you? Victoria’s Secret models. Nor does the stripper you are giving a dollar to dance for you for 60 seconds. Not even porn stars want to fuck you. It’s not because they’re not single. In the masturbatory fantasy, you don’t think about their personal lives or reality at all. They exist only as objects of the male gaze (ooh, I got all technical there).
Again. That’s actually OK. There’s a weird thing when people talk about the male gaze… both in academia and in popular media. People use it as sort of a short hand for “this is bad!” It’s wrong to objectify an image. That’s not really what it means. It’s actually way more complicated than that. The term is sort of agnostic to purpose. The term was coined by Laura Mulvey, in one of my favorite academic articles ever, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” It really just describes the phenomenon of how erotic objectification works in media. Basically, it explains WHY you want to fuck the girls in the picture. How they are positioned to manipulate your brain into finding them appealing. The reason we call it objectification is that the gaze dictates that you are supposed to view the subject of the photo as an object. She isn’t supposed to be real. She is pure fantasy.
And that returns us back to Ms. Avocado. And specifically why this may be my favorite news story of the year. The pictures are great. Ms. Avocado won the contest for a reason. Objectively, she looks hot. She’s looks sexy. These photos totally say “come fuck me. You know you wanna!” and that’s sort of the point. She won the contest fair and square because, objectively, knowing nothing else about the identity of Ms. Avocado other than the fact that she looks good in lingerie… she’s just hella fuckable.
But she was disqualified because Anthony Nargorny has a penis.
And that fascinates me. Since I have seen Under the Skin, I am aware that Scarlett Johansson has no penis. I have not seen most Victoria’s Secret models naked however. I don’t know what’s under those bras and panties. They are purely selling the fantasy of something sexy. And I imagine most people reading this haven’t actually seen Scarlett Johansson naked (because again, no one watched that movie). She’s sexy purely in fantasy.
And so is Ms. Avocado.
But that fantasy is broken purely because of the knowledge of Nagorny’s penis. The pictures are the pictures. They are either sexy or they aren’t and independently of the any other knowledge, apparently they are. But one of most important sections of Mulvey’s original article is III.B, where she states:
“According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man’s role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extradiegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle.”
Basically, the problem is that men can’t forget that there is a penis there, even if they can’t see it. The simple knowledge of its presence ruins the masturbatory potential of its assumed absence. Avocado can’t be allowed to win simply because it would apparently be tragic if anyone accidentally jacked off to Anthony Nagorny. This means that the store running the contest is now in the unlikely predicament of having to argue that they are disqualifying Nagorny because it isn’t fair to objectify men.
But I think maybe my most favorite thing about this whole thing is something that I haven’t seen anyone mention in any article. The contest was meant to have one winner. Ms. Avocado was chosen. But once the ruse was discovered and Nagorny was disqualified, they replaced him with THREE female winners splitting his prize. In other words, men are worth more than women even when it comes to just being T&A.