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'Is it OK to objectify Poldark?'


Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's new column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand. 

This week's question:

"As a feminist, I'm sensitive to the way women are represented on TV - so is it OK for me (and other women) to objectify Poldark?"

Victoria Joy

Feminist Victoria Joy says:

"That face, the scar, his chest - ohhhhh his chest," groan millions of women, in unison, every Sunday evening. We've all gone weak, or rather, phwoar, for Ross Poldark.

He's the new Darcy, an 18th century Diet Coke Guy - we are loving him. I say him, although what I really mean is his aesthetically-pleasing bod, which as you've quite rightly pointed out, we're objectifying all over the shop.

We are. The reaction to Aidan Turner as rugged Ross isn't a simple nod to him being an attractive chap - it's gone far beyond that, with ludicrous fan accounts and heated tweets seemingly pinged straight from the fiery loins of female viewers. If it was the Irish actor's thespian talent everyone was so enamoured with, then why weren't we going boss-eyed for him when he appeared in The Hobbit films or Being Human?

It's no big surprise that the BBC chose a looker to play Poldark, it's how the industry works. Being completely honest, if you're going to surrender an hour of your weekend to watch the tellybox, it's nice to spend it looking at something easy on the eyes. And this applies to women as much as men. 

If we public know attractive people have a much better chance of scoring parts, budding actors (both male and female) know the score, so it shouldn't come as a shock to Aidan, his co-stars or the BBC bosses.


The face that launched a thousand Twitter appreciation groups

The objectification of hot people, whatever their gender, in films and TV is pretty much a given. It isn't ideal to be so distracted by looks, or to unconsciously teach our kids to follow that pattern, and it certainly isn't OK to look past a person's skill set to focus on whether they're 'fit'. That said, in this particular case, I don't think you'll find Aidan's future career suffering for it nor the Poldark writers crying into their scripts, given they've had a second series signed off.

What shouldn't be as inevitable as objectifying - or appreciating - the good looks of leading men or women, however, is the aesthetically-driven checklist each female character (and therefore actress) still has to tick off before they make it onto our screens.

Lithe bodies, dainty features, a youthful glow - if you ain't got 'em, get out.

I think Poldark would have fared just as well as a programme should its hero have been hit by a few branches of the ugly tree, whereas the use of leading ladies who are deemed anything but perfect specimens by society is a pipe dream. The breadth and realism of female characters looks to be improving all the time - The Fall, Top of the Lake, Orange Is The New Black - but it's also fair to say that every protagonist has the Hollywood seal of approval in terms of looks.

People can chatter about the equality of objectification all they want but until we see the female equivalent of unconventional lookers like Cumberbatch, Eccleston and Freeman on our screens, so highly-praised for their acting that they've become sex symbols almost as default, that's what we ought to be looking to change.

If you want to ogle at Ross in the meantime, that's your choice.

What do you think? Is it acceptable to objectify the men and women who appear on our screens, or does it undermine the need to combat sexism and ageism (particularly with regards to women) in the industry?

Or do you agree with Victoria that objectification is the lesser of two evils when it comes to the stringent checklist of 'beauty' and youth that women on TV are subject to, on a broader scale? Scroll down to let us know your views in the comments section, below. 



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