The Willing Object: Sophia Vergara, Empowerment, and Objectification
Last night’s Emmy Awards had many big moments. One of the most contested involved Sophia Vergara introducing Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum, only to then be placed on a pedestal to entertain the audience during his address.
On one level, she executed the bit perfectly, and it made for an entertaining bit. On another level, this was everything wrong with how the media treat women. It set Twitter abuzz with comments such as:
“Sophia Vergara is the highest paid actress on TV and they just made a joke of her. This show is a fucking disgrace.”—@moby_dickhead
But what these comments are missing is that Sophia Vergara is not a victim here. She’s a co-conspirator. If Vergara is in fact the highest paid woman in TV (I don’t have the details on this), it’s largely due to masterful combination of wit, talent, and her very fantastic body, which neither she nor her Modern Family character shy away from objectifying. Everything about her brand as an actress (which she absolutely has control over) encourages this kind of trope.
Does this make objectification okay? Nope. Does this mean we can just blame the woman any time the media objectifies a female body? Course not.
But where is the line between being objectified and sexually empowered? Before the Vergara pedestal moment last night I would have said that it was about what is done to you vs. what you choose for yourself. But if Vergara chooses to step on a pedestal and spin to audience applauding her marvelous booty, well, we’re still only applauding said booty as an object.
A lot of Tweets from last night pointed to Beyonce’s MVA performance the night before the Emmys as an empowered counterpoint. I see some degrees of difference … but not enough to buy into it.
Each of these women own their sexuality and flaunt it the way they choose to. Beyonce did deliberately choose songs about empowerment for her performance, sexual and otherwise (rather explicitly, with her toddler daughter in the audience). So sure, give the lady some points there. But does her choice of wardrobe, a skin-tight leotard intended to flaunt her curves, or her dancers shaking gold-shimmered booties at the audience, perhaps send a mixed message? Perhaps? Reflecting on it now, I almost wonder if Vergara is more self-aware about her choices.
Nothing about the dialogue of women, media, and objectification is simple. If anything, it keeps getting more complicated. When facing moments like the Vergara Pedestal Incident, it becomes clear to me just how individual these definitions can become … and how personal. Not exactly a strength in the battle to end objectifying media behavior.
Where do you draw the line?