Sexual Objectification: A Response (Yes, To The Entire Theory)

This is a response to Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research. A link to the original work is here:

http://www.apa.org/education/ce/sexual-objectification.pdf .

I’d encourage you to take a quick look through the document, as I believe it is very well written, and accurately represents what sexual objectification theory is all about.  It also cites research numerous times to back up the claims being made.  I was originally going to do a response to Laci Green’s video on the subject, but this seems like it carries more authority, plus it includes many of her points as well.  So here’s my response.

From page 1: (and these are pages according to PDF reader)

>> Objectification theory provides an important framework for understanding, researching, and intervening to improve women’s lives in a sociocultural context that sexually objectifies the female body and equates a woman’s worth with her body’s appearance and sexual function

*** Right off the bat, I have a few questions.

Does sexually objectifying women sometimes (viewing them only in that context), necessarily mean that we objectify them all the time? And is sometimes being objectified always wrong?  I mean when I’m in the bedroom with someone, I want to be objectified.  I’m not going into details… like how hard I want to be objectified.  Or how many times.  Or from what angle – just, you know, I want the person I’m with to notice my body and my sexual function.  And they usually do!

When women appear in a swimsuit calendar, that’s probably what they want too, else they wouldn’t be appearing in the calendar.  That’s why we never hear them complaining.  And why is it wrong to appreciate their bodies this way? Does it mean that I automatically, always, all-the-time-no-matter-what, “see women as meat”, just because I like the way a few girls appeared in a swimsuit catalog?

Page 2

>> Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) postulates that many women are sexually objectified and treated as an object to be valued for its use by others.

*** At this point, to be abundantly clear on what’s being stated here, I’d like to also borrow a bit from Laci Green’s video on the subject, which you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_4dPB9MVS8 .  From the video @ 0:50

>> “Sexual Objectification – The viewing of people solely as de-personalised objects of desire instead of as individuals with complex personalities and desires/plans of their own”

*** If we take this as the literal definition, then sexual objectification simply does not exist except in the minds of extremely disturbed individuals.  NOBODY views other people as “de-personalised objects”, except maybe for serial killers. [1]

A baseball is an object.  If I see a ball in the yard, I can pick it up, carry it with me, and put it on the shelf inside my house and keep it there.  If it tries to roll away, I can hammer some nails around it to make it stay put.  Why?  Because the ball is a f*ing object.  It doesn’t have thoughts or feelings, and I only care about it’s use.  Now imagine treating A WOMAN that way.  Seriously — you cannot find a woman on the street, grab her, take her back to your house and hang her on your wall — that sounds like an episode of Criminal Minds.

Believe it or not, it is very possible for a man to see you as attractive, see you as sexy and sexually desirable, *AND* recognize your rights as a human being.  I say “man” here and not “person” specifically for a reason.  When I was a man, any attraction I had towards a woman could be (and usually was) called “objectification”.  Now that I’m a woman, you can’t dare say such a thing, because telling me it’s wrong for being attracted to other women is violating my civil rights.  Amazing how that works, ain’t it?  It’s almost like this entire theory is nothing more than a convoluted overly-academic way for 3rd Wavers to whine about getting hit on by guys they don’t like.

Page 3:

>> SO occurs when a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and
separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire (Bartky, 1990).

*** The first definition is different than the second. In the first one, sexual objectification (S.O.) was about how a woman was treated. In the second definition – given in the very next sentence – it’s more about how a woman is viewed.  I’m not just splitting hairs either — the way a woman is viewed in an image has no relation to the way a woman is treated as a person.

Obviously, I do not expect to interact on a personal level with a picture of someone. Even more obviously, I do not treat an actual person the way I would treat a picture.

Also on page 3:

>> Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) asserted that women to varying degrees internalize this outsider view and begin to self-objectify by treating themselves as an object to be looked at and evaluated on the basis of appearance.

*** DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a field of study in psychology that helps individuals understand what appear to be internal conflicting ideas and emotions, by showing clients that it’s possible to have two opposing ideas at once. For example, if a family member has come to visit your home, but after a week you’re a bit tired of them and you want this family member to leave, you now have two seemingly competing ideas in your head. On the one hand, you love your family, but on the other, you don’t want them around anymore. DBT helps clients understand that it’s okay to feel both of these things at once. It’s possible for you to love your family, but you also want personal space.

DBT also helps clients understand that emotions do not define reality; just because you dislike a person does not mean that person is bad.  It only means you dislike them – and that could be for any reason.

So is it possible that a woman wants to look attractive, and also values herself as a person?  Is it possible for a woman to recognize that looks do, in fact, matter (like getting dressed up when going to a job interview), but that her looks do not define who she is?  And is it possible for a man to enjoy a woman’s appearance, and also see her as more than just a pretty object?

The answer is yes – it is absolutely possible to see women as sex partners – and also – see them for multiple other qualities.  If that were not the case, then therapies and models we currently use in psychology like DBT, Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Dissonance, and so on, would not work.

>> More specifically, Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) postulated that self-objectification can increase women’s anxiety about physical appearance (i.e., fear about when and how one’s body will be looked at and evaluated)

*** In the old days, this was referred to as a woman “being afraid she wasn’t pretty enough“. It was fixed by the said woman engaging in self-esteem building activities, finding supportive friends, and being active in her community. That way she was able to understand her self worth ways other than her appearance.

Today, it’s societies fault, and men are the problem.

From what I can tell, the primary difference here is that it used to be on the woman’s shoulders to fix her own damn problems. If you’re feeling unattractive, then it’s your job to build yourself up and understand that you are not merely about you’re looks. You are more, and can be more, if you get out and do something about it. THAT kind of attitude was empowering!

But now it’s about being the victim of a man-driven objectifying patriarchy that just plain does not exist.

What’s most ironic is that this is almost exclusively coming from 3rd Wavers; they’re the ones who are constantly telling women that they’re being treated as objects, and present their nonsense as “research”.  So is it any wonder that some may start to believe it?  Given enough time, some women have probably begun slowly reinterpreting everyday interactions through the 3rd Waver’s narrative, so that every harmless “hello” and “hi there” and “PSSST” becomes a cat-call or harassment or pathetic attempt to get into her pants.

>> Evidence for the SO of women can be found practically everywhere . . . . and [in] subcultures within U.S. culture where the sexualization of women is cultivated and culturally condoned.For example, the APA’s (2007b) review of studies examining depictions of women in the media including commercials, prime-time television programs, movies, music lyrics and videos, magazines, advertising, sports media, video games, and Internet sites revealed that women more often than men are depicted in sexualizing and objectified manners (e.g., wearing revealing and provocative clothing, portrayed in ways that emphasize their body parts and sexual readiness, serving as decorative objects).

*** Okay, a few things.

First, “sexualize” simply means “to make sexual”. I find it difficult to imagine how free expression of sexuality, as granted by Freedom of Expression, can be allowed in a culture, while at the same time believing that culture should not also condone the use of that freedom.

Second, I’ve already covered how it’s possible to see a woman as sexy, and enjoy her sexual parts, without reducing your opinion of her intellectual capacity one iota.  I do not need to know a woman on a deep, spiritual, personal level, before I’m allowed to see her as sexually attractive (especially since I’m a lesbian woman, so telling me that I can’t see her that way violates my civil rights).  But alright, lets hammer this point into the ground.

Take a look at the following two people.

stacey-female-bicep-flex-in-gym

Im-Fat-And-Happy-Fugly-Fat-Guy

Even if you’re a straight, heterosexual woman, which one of these is nicer to look at?  Hint: it’s not the picture hosted on “UGLYPEOPLE.COM”.  If the woman is being valued because of her looks, then isn’t the man being *de*-valued because of his? We know nothing about either of them. But if one of them needed protection, which would you fight for?  Who would you rush into a burning building to save?

Also remember that Sexual Objectification *requires* that we value the person being objectified at the expense of any other cause of value. Does anyone look at the woman and think she’s *only* valuable because she’s attractive?

Well, what else do we know about her? Right now, nothing. What else CAN we know about her? Right now, nothing. She’s an attractive woman. That’s the only judgement we can make for right now. The same 3rd Wavers who claim she’s being objectified can look at the man and think he’s a fat piece of lard – but that’s perfectly fine.

Third, what if a woman wants to dress sexy?  Is she making herself into a sexually ready decorative object?  I have a low cut blouse that I like wearing when I go out.  It’s low cut for a reason.  Is it because “self-objectifying”?  According to your theory, I guess so.  It means I believe myself to be a de-personalised object valued only for my appearance.  Darn.  I never felt that way before, but I guess that’s how I’m supposed to feel now.

Fourth, humans are a sexually dimorphic species – this means we are biologically and psychologically different in ways that are connected to our gender. Men are sexually attracted scantly clad women of a particular shape or level of fitness.  And what are women sexually attracted to? The question itself throws the above claim right off its hinges – are we to dare assume, that these precious, delicate little angels, could possibly have… SEXUAL DESIRES?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. And the things women are attracted to are powerful men who are good providers. Look in any magazine. You’ll see men modeling a cologne or gold sports watch – and what is he wearing? Probably a suit that is worth more than the GDP of a small African nation. And how is he standing? In a power pose. And how does he look? Strong, confident, and self-assured. Why? Because that’s what women are attracted to. They “objectify” men just as much as men “objectify” women. They simply do it in different ways, because they are different biologically and psychologically, and we all know that.

Also, wanna emphasize one more point in the above:

>> and Internet sites revealed that women more often than men are depicted in sexualizing and objectified manners

*** Right.  The women are sought after and valued because of how they look.

The men are crawling through pipes, jumping on turtles, busting blocks with their heads, spitting fireballs, climbing flag poles, getting shot at, shooting lasers from their swords, walking over lava, exploring every dungeon, taking arrows to the knee, flying through space, getting punched hit kicked and body slammed, thrown against the wall, beaten to a blood pulp, all to save a woman who doesn’t have to lift a finger.

As a man, I could never be good enough.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I could never achieve the over-the-top heroics that would make me even half as valuable as a woman who only has to look pretty.

As a woman, you can never be good enough.  No matter what you do, or how hard you try, you can never achieve the over-the-top heroics that makes you even half as valuable as me, who only has to look pretty.

Page 5 (Holy f*** I can’t believe we’ve covered this much and we’re only on page 5)

>>This SO often intersects with women’s other sociocultural identities, such
as sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and social class, to form unique sets of
media portrayals and experiences for subgroups of women (Fredrickson &
Roberts, 1997).

*** Make it stop.  Make it stop.  Make it stop.

>> For example, lesbian and/or same-sex female relationships
have become increasing sexualized, exploited, and used in the media to tar-
get some male fantasies of being involved sexually with two or more women
at the same time.

*** Men… fantasizing about women… where there is no other male competition?

*sigh*… really? Men aren’t supposed to do this, and if they do, it’s wrong? Women now have the power to damn near criminalize male sexuality, and yet, somehow, are still the victims.  Its like some sort of backward Orwellian dystopia, where the people making the laws that punish others, forcefully present themselves as victims of the people they have the power to continually punish.  I, you, just… gah!

>> In addition, the sexual exploitation and victimization of
African American women from the days of slavery to the present has led to media images and stereotypes of Black women as sexual aggressors and sexual savages (Greene, 1994; Thomas, Witherspoon, & Speight, 2004).

>> In contrast, Asian American women are often portrayed in the media as sexually subservient, childlike, and exotic (Root, 1995).

***So lets see if I got this straight.

If men fantasize about lesbians – IT’S WRONG!
And if they fantasize about a dominant, strong woman – STILL WRONG!
If they fantasize about women being weaker instead of stronger – NOPE, STILL WRONG! If they fantasize about rich women – WRONG!
If they fantasize about poor women – WRONG!
If men fantasize — WRONG!!!

If you’re a man, and you fantasize about women at all, ever, in any capacity or in any role, then you’re a dirty sexist pig AND ITS WRONG!

Now if you’re a woman – oh sure, go ahead and have any fantasy you want, any time you want, involving anybody you want. And if anyone ever be judges you for it, then oh my my how the tables have turned, because – THEY’RE WRONG!

This is why I quit calling this shit feminism, and started calling it “3rd Wave”. I rarely even include “feminism” in the name anymore.

>> For example, in a series of daily diary studies, Swim and her colleagues (Swim, Cohen, & Hyers, 1998; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, & Ferguson, 2001) found that 94% of undergraduate women reported experiencing unwanted objectifying sexual comments and behaviors at least once over a semester, women reported more SO experiences than men, and SO emerged as a unique factor of daily experiences of sexism.

*** Note that this is “unwanted sexual comments”… as opposed to “wanted sexual comments”. Personally I would just love it if certain women told me how good my ass looked in those jeans. I’d smile, blush, play with my hair a little while I said thanks… then linger a bit and hope they follow that up with something. And of course I’d hate it if that same exact comment came from an old unshaven homeless guy (or from most any guy, since I prefer women).

The problem isn’t the comments coming from the homeless guy. Believe it or not, he is human. He has thoughts and emotions just like anyone else, and he’s entitled to them. So thinks I’m attractive. Big deal. The problem is whether or not I let that bother me. What can I do about how I feel, rather than pretending that every man in modern society is responsible for how I feel?

Wouldn’t that kind of attitude be empowering?

And by the way, just for the record — personally, I know I am not as pretty as other women. Never will be. But that’s fine. I’m not as strong as other women either. But I’m fine with that too. I am many, many things, and I measure my value across a spectrum. I don’t blame society for when I don’t feel as pretty as the girl in the magazine.

While I will never be as attractive as Cindy Crawford, I can be as attractive as Athena. And Athena is f*ing awesome. I’d never give up being her for anything! This is why I don’t mind if I get SO’d. I understand that a man (or more hopefully, a woman) seeing me as a potential plaything doesn’t close the door on him or her also seeing me in lots of other ways. And you know what? After we’ve been seeing each other for a while, and one of us invites the other back to their place… I might just be in the mood for a little play-thing objectification! No, that’s not dirty minded. It’s not wrong. There’s nothing at all dirty about it, and it’s not anti-woman either. It’s a wonderful part of life that keeps getting smeared and tarnished by a small vocal group of hateful girls.

>> In addition, many women work in environments whose main purpose is to offer explicit targets for men to objectify them and that reward them for treating themselves as sexual objects (e.g., exotic dancing and cocktail waitressing).

*** Those women choose to do exotic dancing. No one is forcing them to. I firmly believe that in a free society, people have to be able to make choices that I may not personally agree with. I have never drank a sip of alcohol ever before in my life – but I do not believe anyone else should be forced to give up drinking. I have never been in a strip club either – but if other people want to go, they should be allowed to. No one is forcing them to go, and they have the freedom to do as they please, so long as everything is consensual.

The argument that women are forced into stripping because of economics is an entirely different matter. First, I am aware of our current economic situation, and we can discuss all day on systems other than capitalism (or perhaps some modified form of capitalism) that would allow individuals freedom without counter balancing that freedom with the threat of starvation.

Second, consider the following.

Both a man and a woman have spent the last of their money on food. Both are now homeless, and both are desperately seeking food and shelter.

A woman, in this circumstance, can turn to stripping. She’ll earn more money than any regular 9 to 5 minimum wage job would pay.

A man, in this circumstance, simply has to starve. He doesn’t have stripping as a choice. If he wants money, he’ll have to apply again and again, day after day, at different places, and hope that he might be lucky enough to get picked for a temporary position involving extreme physical labour that probably wont last longer than a day.

And when he gets back to the shelter holding his measly 80 dollars, which wont be enough to buy sandwiches for a month, the stripper, who’s now paying rent at her own studio apartment down town, can inform him that it’s HER who’s the real victim here, since he’s the one who doesn’t get “objectified”.

>> Self-objectification manifests in a greater emphasis placed on one’s appear-
ance attributes (rather than competence-based attributes)

*** Ok, first, out of all the horrible things that can happen to a person, having them pay extra attention to how they look hardly seems at the top of the list.  This is hardly even “a mild annoyance”, and in any other context might simply be considered vanity.

Second, when is your appearance *never* a factor?  I mean if you work in an office, don’t all the men show up wearing pressed business shirts?  Most jobs require that your appearance meet some sort of standard.  Do you need to *always* put your competence ahead of your looks?  Because no one else does that.  People see you before they know you.

Finally, how is this necessarily a bad thing?  Women know their looks can get them ahead / can get them out of trouble / can get them what they want, and they are willing to use that in any situation they can.  I’m a woman now, and I sometimes do that too.  No one complains when this kind of thing gets them out of a speeding ticket.

At this point, I’ve addressed the majority of points the book makes.  From here, I’ll only address just a few of the major sections that remain, then draw it to a close, as the points from here on are simply building on the points I’ve already debunked.

On page 11 (according to PDF reader), the section is titled:

>> Exposure to Sexually Objectifying Media and Internalization of Cultural Messages

*** One of the best quotes from this section:

>> Research has shown that advertising promises its viewers a fantasy—if you drink this beer or smoke this cigarette, you will be more attractive to others and engage in more fun (Miller, 1992).

*** You know, this is something we kind of all know and come to expect once we’re over the age of 10.  We know that McDonald’s Cheeseburger in the ad doesn’t look like the one we’ll actually get.  We know opening up a can of beer doesn’t make beautiful sexy women suddenly come out of nowhere.

The woman on TV smoking a cigarette looks really sexy?  Darn.  Now I have to look sexy too.  And that’s part of what objectification means in the media, so stop fantasying abut pretty women, you male-privileged sexist pig.

I want to live in a world where only I get to decide when and what time men have an interest in sex – and which men get to have those interests – and which men specifically have that interest only in me, and not other women who are also potentially interesting to them because their boobs are bigger than mine.

Now sit there and think about that for a while.  That other guy over there looks cute.  I’m gonna go talk to him.  But if he turns out to be a jerk I expect you to be sitting here waiting,a and NOT looking at other women!  Especially not the ones in a beer commercial.  There’s an entire social-scientific theory out there right now validating all this insecurity, so I know it’s not just insecurity anymore.  Your the problem, and so is the media!

Page 12, the section is titled:

>> Interpersonal Experiences in Sexual Objectification

*** This section claims that experiences previously described, such as a man going “PSSST”, or even worse, a woman with big boobs in a beer commercial demands, and I quote:

“that an individual use coping strategies to manage the extra stress associated with these oppressive environmental stimuli, which can negatively influence psychosocial health”

This section then blatantly implies that men are rapist because of objectification (that women must fear for their safety), that this is all caused in part by a “patriarchy” (another way of saying “men”), and that this is partly the reason why women turn to drugs.

Best quote from this section:

Relatedly, Jacobson (1986) postulated that women may smoke, and perhaps use other substances, to cope with being undervalued and underpaid and because they fear that if they express their feelings they will come off as unfeminine.

First, underpaid?

Second, expressing your feelings is the primary hallmark of what it means to be feminine.  Not expressing them is generally considered “masculine”.  I don’t know, something about getting gender that backwards that just fits perfectly with this entire book.

Page 14, the section is titled:

>> Co-Occurrence of Depression, Disordered Eating and Substance Abuse

*** Men expressing their attraction in women – and the fact women cannot control this attraction with the push of a button – means men are now responsible for women’s depression, eating disorders, and their drug use.

If you’re wondering why Objectification Theory isn’t a prime talking point in more public forums – no, it’s not because it’s being oppressed by a super secret society of men who just wanna look at women’s boobs like the criminals they are.   It’s because this whole entire thing is incredibly mind-numbingly stupid.

What’s perhaps most infuriating is that sometimes women actually are victims of extremely unfair situations where their safety or security genuinely is a concern.  Women sometimes do deserve actual, considerable help, to survive situations that completely aren’t their fault, and are abusive and overwhelming.

But it’s hard to know who those women are, because it’s difficult to tell them apart from whiny little 3rd Wavers who eat a bowl of ice cream because the woman on TV looks better in a bathing suit and call that an “objectification-related eating disorder“.

The final thing I’ll close with, in the next section:

>> We also identify some supplementary factors that may contribute to the creation of an SOE, including the presence of alcohol, the regulated encouragement of sexualization (i.e., flirting, smiling)

*** There you go.  Earlier it was indicated that sexualizing is strongly tied to objectification.  Some examples of sexualization?  Flirting and smiling.

Smiling.

“PSSST” is a catcall, and smiling is sexualization.

Also lets not forget, if you TELL a woman to smile, that’s male privilege!  And if YOU smile, that’s sexualization.

Again, there are women out there who need serious help with their life circumstances.  This kind of “Objectification Theory” nonsense does nothing except cloud the view of who really needs help and what we can do to help them, since smiling at a woman is now being presented as a social justice concern.

======================================
[1] Alan Duval pointed out that depersonalization also happens in some other situations, outside of psycopathy, and quoted from Adam Smith’s essay on the Theory of Moral Sentiments.  Essentially it comes down to “one death is a tragedy – a million deaths is a statistic”, and this applies as well to a death happening on the other side of the world, which you cannot see or hear.  While this is another valid point where de-personalization happens, it doesn’t fit the theory of Objectification, as it’s presented in feminist theory.

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14 thoughts on “Sexual Objectification: A Response (Yes, To The Entire Theory)

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  5. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been feeling shame for watching porn and thinking of the actors only for their bodies and function of sex but that’s not objectification because one I’m not hurting anyone with my thoughts and lust and I shouldn’t be told how to think and secondly such mediums like pictures where women voluntarily show a picture of their breast spilling out of a undersized shirt are designed to appeal to my baser instincts and if it’s not wrong to lust after them when I don’t have anything to go on but their physical form. Women and Men offer up their bodies for judgement and 99% of them accept that the replies will be both positive and negative and they don’t have the right to tell people how to think reply to an image they intentionally offered up for public consumption. 3rd-Wavers also blame men for furthering objectification in this regard but absolve the woman posting such a picture of any responsibility, instead blaming her actions on the patriarchy (men).
    3rd-Wavers want Men to not be able to look at Women without permission and would even accuse you of eye-raping them for looking. If we say hello they lump us in with the men who assault women or are aggressive and rude. Men can’t win and women can’t be victims or responsible for their own actions. The double standards are crazy. If a man is accused of rape then he’s guilty without proof and if a woman is accused of raping a man they devalue and dehumanise him as a victim and treat him as an object not worth sympathy and they’ll side with the accused so basically if the accuser is a man he’s an object or not worth of sympathy and if the accused is a man he’s guilty because a woman said so

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is SOOO great. I’m glad this woman went through her transition, and is now making this kind of material. Amazing insight from a transgender woman.

      Like

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