The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas has made a splash in advertising circles with a racy new print spread that portrays bellhops as a symbol of a very different kind of quality and service:
I’m all for the general recognition that heterosexual women like to look as much as heterosexual men, and that as consumers, we’re not necessarily going to be satisfied by the idea that, say, gorgeous women should settle for funny, schlubby guys who don’t have their lives together. But what struck me most about this ad wasn’t that the bellhop was naked below the waist—it was that we don’t see his face at all. It’s one of the most literal transfigurations of a man—and in particular, a service employee—into an object of consumption that I’ve seen. Men, when they become sex objects, are not generally considered to have handed in their brains in the same way that gorgeous women are often expected to behave as mute objects. Channing Tatum may take his clothes off in Magic Mike, but the whole point of the movie is that there’s a brain and a heart somewhere to the north of that gyrating pelvis. Giving heterosexual women eye candy may seem like a form of third-wave equality. But if the form of that eye candy becomes a race to the bottom where it’s not clear whether women or men are treated worse or presented as more powerless or unrealistic, that doesn’t seem like much of a win.