In Which I Get Angry About Sexual Objectification

Time for some real talk, folk. And as a warning, there is liberal useage of the four-lettered f word. I very rarely get my feminist cap on because I find there are problems either side and I prefer to just carve out my own corner of equality in my life but the truth is: sexual objectification affects me. Every day. In almost everything I do. It is, perhaps, one of the leading causes of my mental health issues. And perhaps even one of those self-fulfilling prophecy thingies.

I am worthless because obviously men will never find me attractive – because I am not the definition of beauty that magazines and TV have led me to believe is normal – and so I acknowledge that this means that people are constantly thinking how fat and ugly I am (pretty self-centered, huh?) – and thus I hate myself because I am worthless… rinse and repeat.

How wrong is that? When I take a step back from this and really look, I can tell myself quite clearly that my worth as a human being has nothing to do with the way I look or how men, or even other women, perceive that. In fact, if other people do decide that I am worthless because of something as stupid as my physical appearance.. well.. what does that say about them? When I hear people judge others on the way that they look, I instantly decide that they are nasty. So why do I put so much stock in their opinions of me?

I just came across this video on UpWorthy and it really got me thinking. Sit back and watch. I’ll wait. (Some language, be wary of this if watching at work or around kids)

Gets you thinking, right? And I warn you, really really do not read the comments on this one. I can sum up: men are debased too, we have to pay for dates, and Magic Mike! Right, now that’s over with. It is bullshit.

 

Making You Think

sexualobjectification_1

The first thing that Laci does is define what sexual objectification is. So let’s just think about this for a moment. She used examples of sitcom after sitcom wherein men are varied and full, but the women are just pretty things there to be looked at. (Big Bang Theory, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Two and A Half Men, Two Broke Girls, and on and on and on..) She tells us how normalised the idea of “women are things there for me to have sex with” really is and it got me thinking further. Just look at advertising (sex sells!), Page 3 girls, the whole rubbish with photoshopping star’s pictures to make them “perfect”.. it’s a real issue that is ensconced in our society and I don’t personally see it getting much better any time soon. As long as people keep giving credence to the act of sexualising just about everything a woman does, we will have to live in a world in which our worth is defined by our body shape, skin colour, hairstyles, our makeup.. it’s actually pretty disgusting. And it’s not just men. Women judge too, it’s that deep in our psyches to think of women in terms of boobs, bums, and cameltoes. Maybe it’s a subconscious way of thinking “well I put the effort in to look good so why the hell hasn’t she?” I don’t know. And I’m not going to try and think too long on that. But it’s bizarre.

Please bear in mind, however, that as Laci states in the video I linked to, there is a difference between finding people attractive, and sexually objectifying people. If you think somebody is hot, but still accept that they are a human being with their own desires and plans, then you are doing it right and please carry on. If, however, your reaction to Page 3 is “cor, them tits!” then maaayyybe you need to shuffle a few priorities around..

 

Why You Aren’t Good Enough

sexualobjectification_2

Scared yet?

Modern culture’s way of telling a woman she isn’t good enough is subtle. Kind of. When you really look at it it’s more like a big arse in your face telling you to rub it but that’s tying back into the point I tried to make in the paragraph above. This one is explaining that wherever you turn as a woman, there is something telling you that you aren’t good enough and can do better. Okay, you can avoid the rubbish that tells you 15 ways for flat abs now, and how you can be better in bed in just 5 easy steps, but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. It’s all about “real” women, things you can do to be sexy for your man, how to be gorgeous (because you aren’t already), why being single is bad, sex, beauty tips for youthful skin, sex, tricks for great hair, sex… Yawn. Modern media seems to think that women aren’t fucking people. It’s plastered with this “ideal” image of what a woman “should” be, and this is where that thinspiration shit (we’ll come back to this later) comes from. And that makes me pissed. Seriously. All women are real women and we do not have to define ourselves by the way men (or women!!) perceive us or make us feel. Your worth is not defined by your fucking dress size or the way you do your makeup – if you do it at all. You don’t have to.

She goes on to talk about how men get Halloween costumes and women get sexed up versions. And you’re probably tired of hearing it, but this made me think about how we even get this in our fucking video games! We hear that women are “too hard” to code, their stories aren’t interesting enough, meanwhile, men are consistently getting the hero treatment while women are emotional messes, or more commonly, this:

Blade & Soul

How is that okay? How the fuck does this stay on those over-sized torpedo boobs? That’s not natural.. And WHY is she oiled up?? Oh, Blade & Soul.. you have issues. So many issues.

And if we complain? Oh boy do we get told to quit whining and then add on any disgusting expletives you like.

Therein the Problem Lies..

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Here’s the thing though, Laci then connects sexual objectification to mental health issues and that’s where it really hit home for me. Remember that self-fulfilling prophecy thing I talked about earlier? That there is self objectification. And it stems from somewhere. I can walk down the street and have kids point at me, groups of lads shout derogatory and nasty things at me, women laugh, people avert their eyes.. I’m almost constantly being judged. So it’s little fucking wonder that my social anxiety kicked off big time with the full expectation that everybody I pass will be critiquing how shitty I look to them and how little I deserve to be in their presence and why I barely leave the fucking house because of this constant fear. I realise that most people won’t even notice me, that everybody has their own issues they’re dealing with, and some aren’t as dickish as that. Sometimes I even notice people not noticing me walking past them and I lift my head a little higher. But for the most part I’m in a constant state of telling myself to smile at people I pass and put one foot ahead of the other, that people who judge aren’t worth my time or attention, but it’s so tiring and I end up sleeping for hours and still feel drained as a result of simply trying to live my life like a normal human being. Now let’s imagine that sexual objectification wasn’t a thing. People might look at me, decide that I’m unattractive or even simply acknowledge that I am another person walking past, and I would recognise this and not develop this side of my anxiety. In an ideal world, am I right? And that’s just one end of the scale. Let’s bring this back around to the issue of thinspiration that I talked about above which stems from a very problematic portrayal of how a woman should look. Now, don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with using images to inspire yourself to keep going when you’re struggling with weight loss, but the very idea that entire communities of girls and women post pictures of skeletal women as inspiration to keep losing weight throughout their eating disorders sickens me. Eating disorders stem from the idea that you are not good enough, and the constant use of images in the media and beyond to drive the idea of the “ideal body image” home exacerbates the problem tenfold and this needs to stop. We need to help people overcome their problems not make them worse.

Sadly, this isn’t the way the world works, and this TedTalks hits the fucking nail on the head (I’ve linked from the self objectification part but do rewind and watch the whole thing). Caroline tells us that the more self objectification effects us, the higher our rates of depression, concentration loss due to focusing way too much on how we are presenting ourselves to others (and yes, to the statistic she gives, for those who watched the video, for those who didn’t, she states that on average, a woman who occupies in ‘habitual body monitoring’ thinks about how she is presenting roughly every 30 seconds, think for a moment how damaging that is), loss of sexual desire and pleasure – again because we spend too much time and energy on worrying about how we’re presenting ourselves.. it basically just lowers our mental capacity to function the way we’d like to. On top of this, “it lowers your ability to get along with other women. We engage in female competition..” This quote. How many times have you said, or heard the words, “I struggle to get along with other girls, I just get along better with guys.” raises hand Too many times to count, for me, on both saying and hearing. Could this be because we know that sub-consciously we compete with other women and get tired of it so opt to step away from it entirely? I think so. It makes sense to me. And the older I get, the more I hear other women say those words, and the more I find that these women are the kind of people I can connect with, because I know deep down that they are tired of the stupid, inward competition too.

And fyi, this is why I despise rating women. Saying things like “cor, she’s a 10” or “I am punching above my weight” acknowledges to us the idea that there is a social pecking order based on appearances and thus reinforces the self objectification as we automatically remember that we place ourselves at the lower end of the scale, when in reality, there is no scale. We are all human beings and everybody finds something different attractive. What one person considers a “10”, another might not even look twice at. So really, the idea of scaling women based on their beauty is not only needless objectification but also completely meaningless and harmful.

 

You Don’t Have To Accept This As Normal

Caroline proposes a personal plan of action against sexual objectification:

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This is why I have issues with terms like “social justice warrior”, because it demeans the very positive actions of some good eggs and furthers the sexual objectification problem. Also, I think we can add for girls: You are beautiful, fuck what media tells us, you don’t need to change. Raise your head high. Though by all means, ladies, lose weight and look great. But do it for you, not for anybody else. Okay? And men who read this and agree? Keep being awesome. If that makes you a social justice warrior then fucking raise that sword and keep at it. I think the vast majority of the people I call friends already live by a lot of what is listed above because you’re all awesome human beings.

34 thoughts on “In Which I Get Angry About Sexual Objectification”

  1. Hmm, I didn’t knew that commercials in the US are so sexistic. I’ve never seen something like that. It’s really disgusting… crazy.
    But on the other Hand… I haven’t experienced sexual objectifictaion by anyone yet. I don’t know if I live on the moon, but I’ve got the strange feeling, that I’m not really confronted with such. Even though I know, that something like that exists, but rather from movies, that I never watched…
    I don’t know. I feel okay in my body, but my mom wants me to do more sports, not because looking good, but rather because my weight is becoming unhealthy…
    Windsprite recently posted…Tough Travels -Law EnforcementMy Profile

  2. Winged angels in improbably low-cut petticoats and Victorian Goth lace aren’t heroines. I would never play that character. I’d like video game designers to create more games with strong female protagonists and characters that aren’t objectified, mentally unstable, or plot fodder. The young male demographic is no longer king and it’s time we started making games that reflect the people who play them. Give us positive images of ourselves and it will have positive effects on the way we think and the way we feel about ourselves.

    Rachel Frederickson, a contestant on the “Biggest Loser” television show, lost weight until she reached 105 pounds which is below the low end of the “healthy” weight range for her body composition. I can’t help but think that she was motivated to do so by the images she saw in various media. Rubbish. I, for one, will be supporting and creating images that are positive, healthy, and realistic, because these images are the ones that typically lead to positive attitudes and personal fulfillment. Human beings > Human Barbie Dolls.
    The Mystical Mesmer recently posted…They’re Not Tanking the TrinityMy Profile

    1. *hugs* That’s not to say that women with that “ideal” body shape are worth less than the rest of us. Every woman is worth something, no matter her looks. It just means that people need to stop seeing ALL of us as things, like media presents, and see us as PEOPLE. I honestly never realised how angry it makes me..

  3. Societal pressures along with our own biology make this a very complex issue to resolve. It’s something I’ve become more aware of recently after I found out I was to be a Grandfather and that my son and his partner are having twin girls.

    In a perfect world my they should be able to grow up and pursue their dreams, regardless of their looks, gender, sexual orientation or social economic status. However, I don’t think that’s likely and they’ll probably have to endure many inequalities and injustices purely because of their sex. Add on top of that, all the stereotypical notions people have about twins to begin with.
    Roger Edwards recently posted…It Follows (2014)My Profile

    1. It’s good to have something to ground you like that, though. And I’m sure those girls will know if anybody treats them like shit, grandaddy Roger will be on the case! 😀

  4. Sexual objectification is so prevalent and it really screws people up, I don’t think anyone is immune. A while back when all the articles about street harassment were coming out there was one point (or a few of them) where I thought “I never get catcalled on the street. Am I not attractive enough? Why doesn’t anyone catcall me?” And then the rational part of my brain took back over and scolded myself for having thoughts so incredibly fucked up and damaging.

    This is why I get so mad at the “who cares about female characters that get used as background decoration or objects? It’s just a video game” people. Objectification of women is so pervasive and it’s not healthy for anyone.

    1. This! I had the same thoughts about catcalling.. Well. I actually thought, “I wish I got catcalled rather than slagged off for my appearance.” Now THAT is kinda fucked up.

      And yes. There is a difference between wanting your character to be a bit sexy. Fine. That’s a choice. And treating women as objects because ‘who cares it’s just a video game’.. that’s something entirely different and damaging because it just solidifies how “okay” it is in our society to treat women that way. No. No no no no no.

  5. Excellent post. Truly.

    I’d honestly consider it “must reading” for anyone who has the ignorance or arrogance to post negative comments, attacking women on a variety of topics.

    Great work, my British Overlord.

  6. A little bit heavy stuff for me to really comment on, but I shall try.
    Every day I look in the mirror and judge myself. I mean.. I have an anxiety disorder – Avoidance personality disorder meaning – I don’t feel I am good enough.. I feel inferior to everyone else, women and men. I am less worth, I am not attractive etc etc. And this world that we live in has clearly pushed me into becoming the person I am. I’m not born thinking, oh dear, I am worth less then everyone, I suck… So many of us have the anxieties and depression, largely because of this issue we’re talking about. It’s not like I can push all the blame on it, there are other factors to i’m sure but yeah, a lot of the reason is how the world is right now.

    I have been harassed in games, because I am a woman, I have had prank calls, I have had people talking about my, well lets say body. And yes it pisses me off.

    But I never really think much of how my characters look, if it is to sexy or not, I admit I like them having cute outfits, showing some cleavage and legs. I can have an avatar that I feel can be an attractive toon to play on, because it is a game, a fantasy. But I do understand that avatars like this can make people think that all is allowed, they can live out their fantasy, they can act and behave like they want to. and overstep that boundary and become outright nasty and creepy. So there is that to think of when you play a game, sadly.

    If you are overweight you get trash, if you are to skinny you get trash, you get shit no matter what you look like. I have been told I MUST have an eating disorder because I am a petite person, I’ve been told I can’t have babies cause I am to little?!… I am not a fruitful enough woman to have babies, cause I am skinny?

    I mean people have told Halle Berry to go take surgery, and look at that woman, she is beautiful. The world is a crazy place, and when I am in-game I chose to ignore it, even though it doesn’t help the problem, I still do. I ignore people I don’t like and move on because that’s the easiest way for me to deal with it.

    The issue has always been here, but now with all our tech, it’s just become worse. You get reminded every second. If you go to the store and want to buy an item, and you get to the register, what do you see ? Tons and tons of magazines on how to get the perfect life, look, clothes,smell whatever..Fuck that… *sigh* I’m hanging up the phone now 😛 Beeep……
    Missy’s Mojo recently posted…Screenshot(s) of today !My Profile

    1. *hugs you* That is why it bugs me so much when you get like.. that All About That Bass song, for example? When she’s going on about “all the skinny bitches” it’s like.. DUDE, not helping. Women are not BODIES they are PEOPLE. And guess what? Thinner ladies have trouble with debasement too, don’t fucking make it worse for them.. sigh. Society, man! *throws up arms*
      Fuck that, indeed. Beeeep!

  7. Oh man, I agree so strongly that I don’t even know what to say.

    I have spent much of my life in the same headspace as you describe, thinking about “how little I deserve to be in their presence and why I barely leave the fucking house because of this constant fear” and being focused on how I’m presenting myself and how that is being perceived by others.

    On the upside, I’ve found that gets a lot better as I get older. In my 20s I was depressed and bordering on agoraphobic in large part because of the reasons you describe here. And now at 40.. well, you just give fewer fucks. It’s pretty cool.

    Anyway, this is a really great post. Thanks for sharing it!
    Liore recently posted…Twitter, Blogging, and the Depth of Online FriendshipsMy Profile

    1. *hugs* I’m working on that giving fewer fucks! At the moment I go with pretending to be fine (or fake it til you make it) where I can. But yep.

  8. I agree. I have had relationships ruined by my failure to live up to the unnecessary standards of manhood. “You’re the man, you ought to do this” is such bullshit. We’re all human beings, let’s discuss the roles we want to play in our relationships, have a dialogue as two equally worthwhile people, and not have 1950s sitcoms do it all for us.

    Excellent post, Jaedia!
    Murf recently posted…Molyneusian PromisesMy Profile

    1. Yup. I guess in a way.. man-shaming is part of the problem too. Men are shamed for not being manly => try to be more manly => well you get the idea. So many of you guys don’t cave to it, thankfully, but so many do.. and they’re the problematic ones.. It’s a whole CYCLE of ridiculous and unrealistic societal expectations.

      1. Yeah. They aren’t exactly on the same level of a like-kind, but we have a broader human problem of projecting some very unhealthy values on one another that is further enforced by cultural things. It is a real clusterfuck.
        Murf recently posted…Molyneusian PromisesMy Profile

    1. Haha. When it’s used sarcastically.. “look at these white knights riding in to protect the objects *snort*” .. “those social justice warriors are at it again” it belittles very real and serious arguments and debates that need to be had. It’s a pet peeve of mine, perhaps.. but yes, I like the idea of riding into battle with a sword too. 😉

  9. “L’Oreal. Because I am worth it. And because holding myself to an impossible standard of beauty keeps me from starting a riot!”

    The above quote says it pretty much – the most powerful tool of keeping women in their place and getting them too occupied to go for their rightful share of power in society, is the whole obsession with beauty. In some ways, it’s correct to think of it as a conspiracy even. And as you said too, it keeps women from seeing other women as allies. I’ve written about my tomboy fatigue on my own blog and how difficult it was to realize what I was perpetuating by avoiding female company.

    And it really doesn’t matter how you look like, that’s the irony of it. You’re either too fat or too skinny, too pretty for XY or too ugly. The place where a woman is pretty and powerful and happy doesn’t exist.
    Syl recently posted…On Rock Paper Shotgun and “that” Molyneux InterviewMy Profile

    1. Nail on head. Except it does – at the point in which we are happy in our own skin. One day, society will learn that. Probably not.

      It’s a shame that this is how things are though.. human beings are so varied and that’s amazing! I love learning people’s differences and what makes them unique. When society objectifies that and removes it from a person’s worth it’s just.. stupid.

  10. Bear with me, going to be a long response.

    I’ve just read the entirety of your post and it has brought me close to tears. So many things hit close to home there. I know exactly how you feel. Although I’m able to walk through the streets without many fears, I too judge myself constantly. I feel like I’m not good enough for anyone to love, that I’m ugly and undesirable. Because I don’t live up to the “pretty” standard, or atleast that is what is in my mind.
    I’ve had a horrible time with men. Objectification is basically what has happened throughout my life when it comes to guys. I have felt more like a trophy than a girlfriend to some of my exes. In the summertime I barely dare to dress in a tanktop and shorts when it’s warm because I get harrassed by men.
    I’ve had crippling self doubt after my last serious relationship, why was I not good enough? Why can he drool all over other girls, who have a pretty face, but not me? Why is beauty more important to him than someone with a good heart and who actually cares more than anyone else?

    It has been detrimental to my mental wellbeing and I’ve only recently began to climb out of that big black hole of self hate and anxiety. During this period I have gained a lot of weight, making me feel even worse. I hated the way I looked and felt, which made me depressed. Right now I’m working on losing that weight again, not because I want to be found attractive but because I want to feel healthy again, to look in the mirror and be able to say that I look good, instead of basing my opinion on men. But it’s hard. Sexual objectification is everywhere, even within my circle of friends. Guys who drool over their pretty faced friends while shoving aside the “less pretty” ones, even though they may have a very nice personality and are in the end much better friends.

    Sexual objectification is a cancer to society. Yeah I used that word. Although it’s difficult to change this I’m happy to see people speak their mind about it. Even though it triggers me like crazy.
    Sandrian recently posted…Random Sunday MusingsMy Profile

    1. *cuddles you* Totally triggered me too, why I felt the need to write my thoughts down.
      “Guys who drool over their pretty faced friends while shoving aside the “less pretty” ones” <- 100% this. I notice this a lot. It sucks..

  11. That was a really good video. It’s such a good discussion to have but also a very hard one in many ways. Good to bring awareness and I feel like I failed already in some ways (honesty check) at some point in the video I thought “she is really cute in a quirky and fun way”.

    FU@K! Did I honestly just think that in a middle of an important video about objectification? And was I objectifying her or was I just making an honest reflection of her appearance to me? Was I actually attracted to her displayed strength, conviction, intelligence and passion in the video or the body parts she was talking about (it was the former, honestly) ? I don’t feel like I was sexually objectifying her but (goddamn it) as a guy who feels he is pretty aware of this kind of thing that my mind still went there.

    So the question becomes at this point – is it because I am conditioned to think that way because of media messages and bombardment and the way men are brought up and their support circles, or was it human nature, or something in between?

    Either way I am definitely aware and thinking about it and thank you for the great post.
    Isey recently posted…Too Big to NOT Fail?My Profile

    1. She is cute though, and it’s okay to think somebody is attractive even then. But I understand what you’re saying, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing it because it’s natural or because I’m conditioned to see people in a sexual way. The important part is being able to recognise that a person is attractive, but also a person. 🙂

    2. It’s probably a mix of both. Nature (biology and genes), reinforced or led to flow a certain way based on culture and the environment.

      Any woman who’s felt the flux in emotional moods based on the level of one’s hormones during the menstrual cycle can -definitely- confirm that -something’s- going on under the hood beyond conscious brain control. Some days, you’re just bloody irritable and woe betide some innocent person that accidentally triggers moody you.

      So I’m quite willing to believe that varying levels of testosterone cycling through different males could prompt different types of behavior – such as unconsciously rating suitability of mates through physical measurements. 😉

      Then there’s different peoples’ tendencies to compare themselves with others and moderate their behavior as a result. Some of it is nature, imo, and some of it is culture and labeling (as in which labels or descriptive words we choose to believe.)

      I’m personally so strongly introverted and inward focused that I occasionally wonder if I might not qualify for some variant of schizoid personality disorder (as self-diagnosed via Wikipedia! Lol) and I just gave up with trying to fit into mainstream definitions of normal or feminity long long ago.

      It’s really hard for me to grok that a ton of other people don’t see the world the way I do, and spend a lot of time worrying about fitting in or being accepted (I mean, I do get the concept intellectually, but it seems a tremendous waste of one’s time and energy) – maybe because I saw what a total wreck doing that did to my mom and resolved to not bother/rebel against it all.

      If I never get married and have 2.3 children and all the other highly typical things Asian culture expects of you, then so be it. That basically freed me to follow my interests elsewhere, writing, gaming, whatever.

      Culturally, I suspect the one I grew up in was less centered around physical perfection and objectification of the body as a sex object too. Sex is traditionally something only married couples do. The unhealthy obsession revolved primarily around grades, being smart, and doing well in exams so that one can climb the social status ladder or something of that ilk, and then subsequently starting a family and pumping out even cleverer babies. *rolls eyes*

      Whatever. We don’t have to buy into the messages that other people are selling if we don’t want to.

      Yes, it may be easier said than done, for different people. Yes, there may be tradeoffs and consequences.

      And I’d better stop my comment here before it turns into an essay and try to incorporate some of these themes into a post that has been incubating for a while, but hasn’t quite found the right form yet. Later (TM.)
      Jeromai recently posted…Evolve: Short ImpressionsMy Profile

      1. Thank you for the epic comment. 🙂

        Absolutely. There is some ridiculousness all across the scope. The essence of it all boils down to flipping the v to what is expected and doing what makes us comfortable and happy, while respecting others for doing the same. Nature isn’t black/white, life shouldn’t be either.

  12. Sexual objectification is a huge problem, I totally agree. I have what is probably an odd and slightly conflicted view on it, because I actually love some characters wearing revealing armour (my GW2 armour has, in the past, been pretty revealing for example) and I don’t think it should be a problem within reason. However, the Blade & Soul example you gave is pretty shocking.

    I think you and I have both agreed in the past that it is possible to be aware of harmful messages while still enjoying the media that it’s a part of. I think there’s a line, for sure, whereby it becomes increasingly harmful to consume that media. I’m not too sure where that line is yet, so I guess it’ll take a lot of work!

    I’m sorry you’ve gone through feeling this way though. <3
    Kirsty recently posted…Goodbye, Avatar! (FFXIV)My Profile

    1. Wanting to feel pretty is not in itself a problem. We all do, I’m sure. Nothing wrong with that! And I’ll likely give Blade & Soul a go because it looks fun, but if the character models prove to be an issue than I’ll step away and leave it at that.

      The line is quite simple, I’m learning. Perhaps less so for men, but for us we can look at something and ask ourselves if it makes us uncomfortable. If not, then I’d say that’s a fair estimation. If it does then perhaps there is a problem. The TedTalks video actually had a list of points on how to recognise something as sexual objectification. This sums it up, I believe: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/02/sexual-objectification-part-1-what-is-it/

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