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Steele and Shores (2014) – Real and Unreal Masculinities – The Celebrity Image in Anti-trafficking Campaigns


Numerous scholars note the highly gendered nature of anti-trafficking responses. Much of the literature exploring anti-trafficking campaigns, however, focuses on the objectification of women and their placement as abject bodies, objects of violence, in pain and to be pitied. Nevertheless, few scholars explore how these campaigns portray men and shape masculinities. Using as example a highly publicised online anti-trafficking campaign, ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls’, this article responds to this gap in the literature by exploring depictions of masculinities through this prominent anti-trafficking public service announcement. The article observes that this announcement serves not to reshape gender performance around trafficking, but instead further reproduces existing gender structures and power relations underpinning trafficking and child exploitation. It observes that the campaign re-instantiates hegemonic masculinities – framing men enacting this masculine form as ‘real men’ – while encouraging men to embody a virile, successful, consumerist, controlling, and patriarchal manliness. We observe that these characteristics are notably assigned to celebrity men. Meanwhile, it is noted that men who buy girls are set in binary opposition to these real men, being shaped as faceless, un-described, deviant, and ‘unreal’. The result is that the campaign not only patterns masculinities, but also objectifies the objectifier as well as women, recreating a gender ordering in which women and girls remain disempowered, and buyers of girls are ultimately denied subjecthood and thus the ability to change. This article, therefore, uses this one case study to call for anti-traffickers, researchers, and scholars to urgently consider, research, and reshape portrayals of masculinities in anti-trafficking literatures. It calls for greater diversity and fuller account for a broader spectrum of gender representations in the visual representations of those involved in, and responding to, human and child trafficking, in both our scholarly work and public action.


Steele, Sarah L., and Tyler Shores2014. “Real and Unreal Masculinities: The Celebrity Image in Anti-trafficking Campaigns.” Journal of Gender Studies 24(4):419–35. doi:10.1080/09589236.2014.959477.





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