Is there a weird double standard with this “Alex from Target” thing?

Yesterday the Internet did what it does best, and totally weirded out adults everywhere by causing a frenzy over a “Bieber-esque” Target employee named Alex. Or, as the Internet has taken to catchily calling him, “Alex from Target.”

The viral meme sensation started out, as we now know, as a marketing stunt, with a planted tweet featuring a shot of the feather-haired Target employee with the classic caption “YOOOOOOOOOO.” That’s a total of 10 O’s, which, as everyone knows, means serious Internet business.

Long story short, people started sharing pictures of Alex from Target at a rapid-fire rate, and pretty soon Alex from Target was a full internet meme-sation.

While this is a harmless trend that is likely all in good fun, the roadblock we hit is that this viral smash is taking place right in the midst of the many important ongoing public discussions about catcalling and objectification.

With this barrage of cat-calling videos and articles that have recently surfaced, the Alex from Target phenomenon feels just a little bit ill-timed and a little bit ironic. Yes, it’s likely that most people were just jumping on the “Alex from Target” bandwagon thereby fanning the flames of this trend, but obsession is built around physical objectification and what are we all doing if not e-catcalling him?

The Alex from Target tweets have inspired others to throw their favorite cute retail employees into the ring, such as “Kieran from T-Mobile” and “Frankie from Starbucks.” Again, seems pretty harmless, nothing wrong with remarking that somebody’s attractive.

But you have to wonder what would it be like if the genders in this situation were swapped. If a guy saw a female employee, decided she was attractive, posted a picture of her on the Internet and the whole thing blew up, would the Internet join in excitedly to add their own two cents to the fun? Would we be OK with it?

Our society is becoming increasingly cognizant of the fact that catcalling isn’t something to be taken lightly. There is nothing complimentary about shouting out praise for a stranger’s body when you have not been invited to do so. Repeat: there is nothing flattering about catcalling. Apparently it needs to be repeated, because there are still some who adamantly believe that catcalling is just admiration, pure and simple. In actuality, it’s harassing a person and treating them as nothing more than an aesthetically-pleasing object. And to many, it can often feel threatening. The recent public discussions about catcalling are important and necessary, and it is equally important to understand that catcalling is something that should be examined from the perspective of both genders. This is especially imperative when it comes to sexually predatory remarks on the Internet, or “e-catcalling,” as so many people take no accountability for their words online.

While this whole “Alex from Target” thing is good for a laugh, it’s worth taking a pause, a step back, and thinking about whether or not this is a double-standard. Some might argue that Alex seems to be taking his newfound fame in stride even tweeting “am I famous now?” No harm done, right? But the reality is that this sort of obsession wouldn’t fly today if Alex were a female. And if we acknowledge that that’s the case, why is it okay to behave as if objectifying a dude is somehow different?

Personally? It really isn’t that different, and the fact that it’s happening in tandem with all these catcalling conversations makes it really worth mulling over. Am I saying that the Alex from Target phenomenon is terrible and sexist? No, I’m not.

What I am saying is that the timing here is thought-provoking, the reasoning complicated, and that hopefully this trend will help make people more aware that objectification, either online or IRL, isn’t necessarily a one-way street.

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