Actress Uma Thurman – Image Credit: 2017 Pirelli calendar, Photographer: Peter Lindbergh

My dear and long suffering reader, being the discerning sort of human-type human that you are, the type who keeps a figurative “ear to the ground” for important socio-political events in our world, you’re no doubt aware of the 2017 Pirelli calendar and it’s rather interesting subject matter.

In case you missed it, Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli has, since 1964, published a limited-edition annual calendar featuring the world’s top models, mostly nude, captured by renowned photographers. The 2016 edition took a major departure from previous years, trading the overt sexuality of previous years for portraits of accomplished writers, filmmakers, artists, and philanthropists instead. The selection featured tennis legend Serena Williams, comedian Amy Schumer, artist/activist Yoko Ono, writer Fran Lebowitz, musician and author Patti Smith, supermodel Natalia Vodianova, chairperson of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy, Chinese actress Yao Chen, director and screenwriter Ava DuVernay and Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat to name a few. The photographer was the legendary Annie Leibovitz.

For 2017, Pirelli has once again stepped away from its traditional presentation of bare bottoms and heaving bosoms to feature 14 internationally renowned actresses… in black and white and without a hint of retouching or Photoshop. The subjects, all hand picked by photographer Peter Lindbergh, include Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Charlotte Rampling, Lea Seydoux, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet, Robin Wright and Zhang Ziyi.

Many applauded the 2016 calendar, calling it a cultural shift – it’s interesting to note that it came on the heels of an announcement by Playboy magazine that they would no longer feature nude photos in their magazine, though most would agree that this was born more out of competition with the internet than any desire to create cultural change – and a largely positive move toward gender equality. Similar opinions have been made about the 2017 calendar.

On the whole, I tend to agree that this is a positive step, but I’m not sure we – and by “we” I mean men – should be patting ourselves on the back for our supposedly progressive attitudes.

As a regular reader of my literary detritus, you’re no doubt aware that I pay a great deal of attention to the words people use in their everyday lives. Often I’ve found that our preferred verbiage is quite revealing, not just from the literal meanings of the words, but from the implications of those words. Allow me to provide an exemplar.

One of the most unusual sentences I’ve ever heard in the gender equality debate (interesting phrase that… what’s to debate?) is something along the lines of:

“Women are proving that they can stand toe to toe with men in any area they choose.”

While on the surface it’s certainly a true statement, the implications it generates should be worthy of pause. It implies that men are already superior at most tasks, and that women have to prove that they can stand toe to toe (note the aggressive boxing metaphor) with men. The idea that women have to prove themselves to anyone is frankly absurd, not to mention belittling and insulting.

Another phrase you’re guaranteed to hear bandied about is male dominated. Again note the aggressive (not to mention pseudo-sexual) implication in that phrase. We describe many industries, sports and activities as “male dominated,” when in reality they’re simply “male over-populated.” The word “dominated” implies that men are naturally superior at those activities, (the word means “to control, govern or rule by superior authority or power” after all) which we know to be utter piffle. The only reason women are not represented in these activities and industries is because they’ve been kept out, or discouraged from even participating, either psychologically or even through regulatory manipulation.

Digression Alert: Until 2014, there was no such thing as women’s ski jumping in the Olympics. Ski jumping as a sport was added in 1924. It took 90 years to change that. 90 years. We still have a very long way to go. End of Digression Alert

Please understand dear reader, I am not necessarily anti-male. I do not (usually) believe that “all men are idiots,” nor do I believe that the entire gender is worthless and incapable of mature behaviour. (Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.) To hold such an attitude would simply be sexism in reverse, and would show that we’ve learned nothing. No, I’m not anti-male, but I do believe that we as a gender have, at the very least, a moral obligation to acknowledge our own culpability in the difficulties we now face as a species.

Gender equality will not happen by ensuring that every government agency, organization, company or activity is made up of a straight 50/50 gender split. Equality will occur when gender – and for that matter ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation – become effectively irrelevant as a criteria for selection.

While I believe that many of the issues surrounding gender spawn from the XY side of the chromosomal equation, and that we as men should follow the example of progressive thinkers rather than pat ourselves on the back for making small gestures towards equality, the inevitable solutions will come from both sides.

The Pirelli calendar represents one small, admittedly limited, step forward in the direction of a better future. A more inclusive future.

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