THE BLOG

Why Putting Sofia Vergara on a Revolving Pedestal Wasn't a Joke

27/08/2014 12:12 BST | Updated 26/10/2014 09:59 GMT

There is no question that putting Sofia Vergara on a literal pedestal at the Emmys objectified her in a manner that was blatantly sexist. It rightly raised the ire of viewers, setting off an almost immediate wave of wrath from those who voiced their disgust online.

What were people so angry about? Well, while Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum spoke about increasing diversity on our screens, one of the highest paid women in television stood on a revolving display stand before him. Vergara was eye candy. She was almost stumbling helplessly while trying to remain upright while Rosenblum told us this:

"What truly matters, is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewers something compelling to look at."

Ah, so this was meant to be ironic. This was meant to be funny, and we were apparently meant to be laughing at ourselves. We could, you see, recognise the joke in now having something before us that was compelling to look at. This revolting skit which looked like a scene from a 1950s awards show instead of something being filmed 60 years later was meant to be satire. Except for many viewers, it missed the mark.

On that pedestal, Sofia Vergara made depressingly clear that women are still little more than objects to be salivated over. The beautiful Colombian in a white dress, objectified before the whole world by a powerful white man, epitomised the position of women in an industry built on appearances. She had no voice, no control, no authority. (But she did make the man look rather successful by being quite compelling.)

Viewers who voiced their despair or even anger at the scene were greeted with the usual responses from a defiant audience who could see little to complain about. Vergara was a willing participant, it was pointed out. She was simply doing what most actresses did on the red carpet - and didn't we all objectify them there too then? It was meant to be a joke... The excuses continued in this vein. Largely, those that saw nothing wrong with the skit blamed Feminists for getting out of control, for getting a bee in their bonnets about something that was just meant to be a bit of light-hearted fun.

Placing a woman in a position of helplessness - whether it be mock helplessness or not - is not funny. Dressing her in white, destabilising the ground beneath her feet, making her into a display object for ogling - this is not a joke. There is no irony at highlighting the blatant sexism which supports an entire industry. It is not satirical to draw attention to the oppression of minorities for entertainment's sake.

Yes, we all watch the Emmys and enjoy looking at pretty dresses and sparkling jewels. Yes we like watching the stars, all dressed up, win awards. Yes, we like watching them arrive on the red carpet and do a twirl so we can admire what they're wearing. Is it objectification then? Yes, I suppose it is. But there was surely a line that was crossed in the skit with Vergara. There was something too openly in-your-face about it.

In January, Cate Blanchet called out an E! News cameraman for lingering over her hips and breasts while she stood on the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. "Do you do that to the guys?" she asked? No. Nobody invites us to leer over men's bodies at awards nights. Nobody puts men on revolving pedestals and tells us we're being given something compelling to look at.

After her outburst, I wrote about my desire to one day watch red carpet events with my daughter. I wrote that I hoped to watch footage which didn't ask us to leer over women, footage which celebrated women for the cleverness and their talents, not the shape of their busts in the gowns.

But nothing has changed.

We are still invited to view women as sex objects. Making a joke about them being a wonderful sight to behold, making light of how entertaining their beauty is - that's not funny. It doesn't make sexist objectification ok. It normalises behaviour which we should be calling out as wrong.

How do we change things? Perhaps we all start by refusing to laugh at the irony. Perhaps we stop repeating the jokes. Perhaps we stop looking the other way when things get uncomfortable. Perhaps we speak up. Because a beautiful woman is just that. And she deserves more.