Gender stereotypes, instant fame and double standards

Katie Morrison

Over Halloween weekend, a young girl snuck a photo of the cute boy bagging her groceries at her local Target. The girl didn’t notice him because he was flipping cans or handing out balloons, she was simply admiring his stylish haircut and defined jawline. She posted the photo on Twitter on November 2 with the simple caption of “YOOOOOOOO,” and thus #AlexfromTarget was born and went on to be tweeted and retweeted upwards of 900,000 times.

Over the span of a week, Alex went from having 144 followers to over 650,000. In the wake of this sudden fame, Alex from Target has received marriage proposals (all jokes, hopefully; he is only sixteen), creepy text messages, and a TV spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Hundreds of thousands of teenage girls have created memes in his honor, praising his bag-boy abilities and the curvature of his arms. None of these girls know him but now feel permitted to objectify this boy and obsess over his red t-shirt.

Sophomore Reagan Dieter said that guys aren’t defensive about #AlexfromTarget because they understand objectification in a different way. “Guys eat up praise like that. We love it,” he says. “With guys, you hardly ever hear anything about date rape or things of a negative nature when it comes to sexuality. So because motives are different, we take things like this as a compliment.”

But what if Alex from Target had been a girl?

With feminist movements springing up on all sides, this sort of situation would cause chaos had a female Alex’s flowing locks and long lashes been the focus of the online explosion. The girls who have retweeted the pixels out of Alex’s photo are looked upon as being sweet and naive, only interested in expressing their appreciation for his symmetrical features. But had Alex from Target been a girl, it wouldn’t be so sweet. Those sharing the picture would most likely be men, perhaps even the same men coming under fire for cat-calling women (see videos like this). But when it comes to sexual objectification, why do many females take offense while most guys view it as praise?

“Girls feel like guys just think of us in one way: how attractive are we,” says Makhela Libebe, a sophomore education major. “I feel like I might look at a guy and, yes, register that he’s hot. But is he smart? Does he come from a good family? Is he someone I could take home? He’s working at Target, so he must have good work ethic. I’m thinking of a hundred different things while he’s just looking at my body.”

#AlexfromTarget has encouraged discussions on the equality with which men and women are treated when it comes to objectifying the opposite sex. It is unfair to put the entire male population on blast for public harassment when the female population is guilty of uncannily similar crimes. Maybe Alex isn’t upset about his face being plastered all over the Internet. #KiernanfromTMobile and #StevefromStarbucks are probably jumping for joy at their similar influx in fame. But that doesn’t make it okay. It’s a fine line to walk between a genuine appreciation and blatant objectification.

Katie is a junior studying business administration.