BRAVE: Stop hypersexualizing male celebrities

By Emilie Ivy, BRAVE Peer Educator

The Internet has always been a lawless terrain, filled with ideas and images that many people would have to see to believe. In the earlier years of being chronically online, these incredulous bits and pieces of the web were often found in either the deepest corners of the Internet, or within fanfiction chapters. In the “Tumblr” years, you could visit AO3 or Wattpad and find a fanfiction about any hot male celebrity filling terrible character arcs while racking in tens of thousands of reads. Plenty of these stories had a plethora of scenes that we would now refer to as “spicy.” 

But now, this spiciness that used to have to be sought out is now readily available, and the male celebrities being written about and hypersexualized on the page can see these depictions of themselves whenever they log onto social media.  

The main component in the definition of a sexual fantasy is the phrase “mental image.” BuzzFeed’s ever-popular “Thirst Tweets” video series is a prime example of how these fantasies are trickling out of people’s brains at an alarming rate and being uploaded to social media sites with seemingly no concern for their digital footprints. Now, I’m not saying these videos only feature men because they don’t. But, the most watched ones feature the hottest male celebrities, especially ones who are having their “renaissance.” 

I didn’t even know certain words existed until I saw them over and over again in the tweets featured in these videos. 

Sure, everyone has the freedom to post what they’d like on Instagram, as long as it doesn’t violate community guidelines. The argument I’m making isn’t against posting anything that comes to mind on the Internet. I’m just sitting here wondering when people decided that they wanted the male celebrities starring in their sexual fantasies to be aware of that. 

One of the earliest instances of this unwanted awareness that I can remember is when the Harry Styles fanfiction series “After” by Anna Todd racked in more than one billion reads on Wattpad. They featured a heavily tatted, emotionally damaged Harry Styles, with other One Direction members being described similarly. The main draw of this series? The copious amount of sex scenes between Styles and the main character, Tessa. Not only were those stories advertised every time you entered the app, but they were also eventually published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The fourth movie in the series was just released September of 2022, with the fifth one in talks to premiere late this year.  

The main change from the fanfictions to the published stories was the name of Harry Styles to Hardin Scott. Other secondary celebrity characters in the fanfictions were renamed, too, but these books still include a blurb describing the story’s origin, even going as far as to refer to Anna Todd’s Wattpad screen name, Imaginator1D. 

The “After” debacle is one of the more extreme examples and brings up more concerns than just building a career off of a male celebrity that was 19 when the 24-year-old author began writing these smutty scenes. This book series added onto the “sex symbol” label that Harry Styles fans spent years trying to remove, because it was attached to him at such a young age that many saw it as creepy. 

Older actors have these creepy experiences, too.  

Nowadays, Pedro Pascal is steadily climbing the ladder to reach “heartthrob” status as he pushes 50. His role in HBO’s “The Last of Us” caused the most recent hype about him, but he’s had roles in other popular series such as the titular character in “The Mandalorian,” Oberyn Martell in “Game of Thrones,” and Javier Peña in “Narcos”. The multitude of roles he’s played has made TikTok edits of him that much more complex (I still have that one TikTok audio stuck in my head). 

This newfound fame has found Pascal joking about being the Internet’s “daddy” and has also led him to awkward red-carpet encounters. A few weeks ago, while on the red carpet for the premiere of the newest season of “The Mandalorian,” an interviewer asked Pascal if he would read aloud thirst tweets about himself. After glancing over some of the options, he looked up and simply said, “No.” He then went on to shake his head and call some of his fans “dirty,” leaving many people to comment on how weird it was for the interviewer to put him on the spot like that. It’s very obvious that Pedro happened upon some sexual fantasies about himself in those thirst tweets and didn’t want to read them off for more people to enjoy or add to their own catalogs. 

I bring all of these examples up to say that the normalization of sexualizing male celebrities in this overt, online (and even in-person) fashion is inappropriate and no longer as funny and casual as it used to be. Justin Bieber has been in the news recently for many things, one of which is a resurfaced video of him literally being groped onstage at the 2012 American Music Awards by Jenny McCarthy, who was 40 at the time while he was 18. Online interactions like the ones I’ve brought up before have led other celebrities and fans to feel comfortable treating male celebrities inappropriately in real-life, because of the narratives surrounding them online. I could have mentioned so many other examples of male celebrities who have been sexualized online and/or groped in real-life. The main issue here is seeing how online narratives can play out in real-life, when a lot of the time, certain posts and fantasies are meant to either stay online or in someone’s head. 

Now, I am in no way comparing male celebrities’ experiences to those of female celebrities. The hyper sexualization and objectification of female celebrities has been normalized for eons, and the inappropriate interactions they’ve had weren’t sparked by online trends or thirst tweets. They were almost automated, with many violating and “line-crossing” incidents happening like clockwork. There are so many videos of female celebrities being asked inappropriate and irrelevant interview questions and having to defend themselves continuously. The plight of women, as well as other non-male identifying folks, is not being used for comparison or anything like that. 

I am simply bringing up a point about how casual attitudes about sexual posts and comments about male celebrities, and violating physical interactions, haven’t been talked about as much because they seem to be normalized. Not feeling like you have a voice to speak against things like this can be harmful in and of itself, and I think starting this conversation is a way of preventing that silence from causing more violence.