There’s a problem with objectification of women in the media. I get it. And any time an instance is brought up, there’s always someone pointing out that the musclebound hero is also harmful objectification. And others are quick to remind them that the musclebound hero is a power fantasy and thus positive.
Well let me tell you, that’s no such thing to me. I find what you call a power fantasy completely unappealing and bordering on offensive. There was a time when I felt bad seeing these, because I knew I’d never live up to it. I don’t know who finds appeal in burly men mindlessly beating the crap out of everything that moves.
Just as many women enjoy what you call harmful objectification, many men find what you call a power fantasy completely unappealing. Some even find it diminishing. It’s what they’re told is the ideal growing up, and they’re encouraged to feel bad by the culture around them for not wanting to live up to it.
So what do I see as a power fantasy? It has nothing to do with brute strength. Strength may be an element, but it’s secondary at best. It would be depicted as a last resort, when diversion and diplomacy fail. It’s only a first resort when well-justified within the story. Picard rarely took time to consider talking to the Borg before attacking them after the first disastrous encounter.
I see Batman, user of detective work and stealth, as a power fantasy. I see Link, user of tools and his environment, as a power fantasy. The idea that one person can overcome a hostile dungeon or several very angry brutes with cunning and skill is profoundly empowering to me. The idea that they have a higher ambition than a nice piece of tail is appealing to me.
Link is saving the world, and that asshole Ganon kidnapped that cool person you met at the castle. Let’s go rescue her and kick his ass together. Yes, this isn’t how it goes in the game. That needs to change. I want to be able to play a co-op Zelda game with my niece by the time she’s old enough.
Batman is trying to avenge the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents by locking up all the criminals. Bruce Wayne occasionally dates someone to fit the young billionaire stereotype, but that’s not his ambition.
There’s a dearth of representation of perspectives outside the mainstream. Batman and Link are the easiest examples of non-traditional (and meaningful) male empowerment I can think of. Past that, it takes some mental parkour. Picard is cunning, but he also commands the immensely powerful flagship of the Federation. Jack O’Neill is buried in basic cable science fiction obscurity where he’s only a potential role model for a few million people.
The situation isn’t good for any of us. Let’s try to remember that the next time someone offers a flag-bearing torso as a pre-order incentive.