The Objectification of Women – It Goes Much Further Than Sexy Pictures

When feminists decry the objectification of women, most people immediately think of the images that saturate our magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in varying stages of undress, dolled up and presented for the male gaze. Yet, while sexual objectification is a huge problem, it is, sadly, only a fraction of the objectification of women that permeates our world, from the moment we enter it.

Because it is all too obvious and difficult to ignore, we tend to focus on sexual objectification. The difference between the way women and men are portrayed in national newspapers and other media is stark— women are too often reduced to the sum of their body parts, heavily photoshopped to fit into an ever narrowing ideal of female beauty. It grabs our attention, we recognize that something isn’t right, and we confidently assert that this is sexism in action.

And we’re right, of course. Yet, an overemphasis on the ‘sexual’ aspect can obscure the much more problematic aspect of ‘objectification’, the iceberg of which sexual objectification is the visible tip. After all, being presented in a sexual way doesn’t always mean objectification. Sexy pictures of men, in contrast to sexy pictures of women, frequently portray them as sexual subjects, actors exercising their sexuality, instead of objects meant to gratify someone else’s sexuality.

Who is the subject, and who is the object?  Source: CNE

Who is the subject, and who is the object? Who is acting, and who is acted upon?
Source: CNE

So, what do I mean when I say that sexual objectification is simply the most visible part of objectification? Well, let’s start by differentiating between subject status and object status. While a subject is active, with agency, an object is passive, being acted upon. This dichotomy is reflected in our grammar; when we hear, “Fiona stroked the cat,” we recognize that ‘Fiona’ has subject status, while ‘the cat’ has object status. Now in an ideal world, we would find ourselves randomly cast as either subject or object at different times, depending on the situation, with no problems. However, in society’s dominant narrative, subject and object status is heavily gendered, with men granted subject status the vast majority of the time, and women severely objectified.

These messages start right from the cradle. A study by Janice McCabe showed that male characters in children’s books far outnumber female ones, and that even when characters (eg. animals) are gender-neutral, they are often referred to as male when parents read them to their kids. This pattern is consistent in children’s TV shows, where only a third of lead characters are girls. The Smurfette principle, where only one female character is present in an entire cast of male ones, still holds true for many TV shows, with ‘female’ seemingly a characteristic of its own.

Having been brought up on a diet of stories revolving around boys and men, this male-centeredness continues to dog us throughout our lives. The vast majority of films produced tell the stories of men, with women cast as girlfriends, wives, or mothers, or in other periphery roles. In a typical year, only about 12-15% of top grossing Hollywood films are women-centric, focussing on women and their stories.

It isn’t just the media that does this. In everyday conversation, male pronouns dominate our speech and ideas. Every dog we see is a ‘he’, every stick figure a ‘he’, humans thought of as simply ‘mankind’. There are exceptions, though. Boats, cars, bikes and ships always seem to be ‘she’, but this is hardly exciting once we realise that they are all objects, and possessions of (usually) men, at that.

Anyway, the cumulative effect of all this is that we are socialising generation after generation to view the world, and the women in it, from the point of view of men. As a result, only men are seen as full and complete human beings, not women. Women are objectified — this means we are denied agency, and are seen from the outside, our own consciousness, our thoughts and feelings, utterly overlooked.

It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that Tomb Raider’s executive producer, Rob Rosenberg, finds it natural to assert that players “don’t project themselves into [Lara Croft's] character,” that they think “I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.” Even though they are actually playing as Lara.

It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that Stephen Hawkings can declare women to be “a complete mystery”, and have newspapers gleefully latch on to this, declaring women “the greatest mystery known to man”. It is a common refrain for men to bleat about not understanding women, but this is because they have simply never tried, because society has trained them to never look at life through the eyes of a woman.

It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that when society is presented with a case of male violence or sexual abuse, everyone looks at it from his point of view: “Oh, he must have been provoked to have done that,” “He was a nice man who just snapped,” “He must have been confused by her signals,” “Maybe he’s been falsely accused, how terrible to have to go to jail for that.” With every victim-blaming, rape / violence apologist comment, society reveals through whose eyes it looks, and the answer is invariably the man’s.

It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that even good men, when speaking out against violence against women, tell other men to imagine her as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” it never occurring to them that maybe, just maybe, a woman is also “somebody”.

It is frightening to consider just how deeply entrenched objectification of women really goes. We must certainly combat sexual objectification, but the battle will not end there. Women are objectified in more profound ways than we realise, and we must tear down every entwined shred of the patriarchy, in order to achieve our modest goal of being recognized and treated as human beings.

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112 thoughts on “The Objectification of Women – It Goes Much Further Than Sexy Pictures

  1. I was conversing with somebody recently about the question of objectification and how it has evolved over time. In the past, objectification was more explicit, with women being the property of their husbands or fathers (the ramifications of which toward views of adultery and rape I discuss in my most recent blog post). Even though, in an explicit and legal sense, this isn’t true any more, in people’s perceptions it continues. Traditional marriage ceremonies include the father “giving away” the bride. Men can often be heard referring to their partners as “my woman” or “my girl.” The idea that it is the man’s job to ask out a woman on a date or make a marriage proposal follows with your point about men being subjects and women being objects. Women may have somewhat more agency than in the past, but in reality this agency still tends to manifest itself in response to men’s actions and desires (i.e. the empowerment of the woman’s right to say “no” to a man).

    What are your thoughts on how to overcome these deep-rooted views and traditions in order to create a greater balance of agency in society?

    • Thank you, your comment is spot on; excellently put. The end of your first paragraph reminds me of a quote from a Jane Austen novel – “Man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal.” That was in 1803; at bottom, some things haven’t changed, have they?

      As for how to overcome them, I think there are three main avenues:

      1. Raising awareness of the way our world is structured. The vast majority of people don’t even recognise the problem, having been so entrenched in it all their lives. To solve the problem and create a better balance, it is vital that this inequality, and the way patriarchy is upheld, is recognised. Raising awareness is so, so important, because it leads into…

      2. Individuals need to alter micro-behaviours. It’s the cumulative effect of tiny things that make up patriarchy: parents telling sons not to “cry like a little girl”, coaches mocking boys by likening them to girls, girls told that they must be ladylike, dainty, etc etc, I could go on, and I’m sure you know the kinds of things I mean. Back to point 1 – all the feminist parents I know try their very best to stay away from these gender stereotypical behaviours when it comes to their children. So, the more people are aware of gender issues and inequality, the more they will consciously provide a balanced environment for their sons and daughters, or any young person over whom they have influence. And when these people make up the majority of the population, I’m sure we’ll start to see a shift in mentalities.

      3. The media. This is becoming more and more important, given how much time we spend consuming it these days. We desperately need much higher female representation, in meaningful roles, as individual people in their own right. Men should be able to watch a film and be inspired by a female character, and no one should bat an eyelid if a man has a role model who just happens to be female.

      Those are the main things, I think. If the way women are presented in the media changes, and the way every one of us talks about women (especially to impressionable children) changes, a shift *will* happen. MUCH easier said than done though.

      • Excellent article. I think though that women objectify themselves too, and that is the start of the problem. We shave our legs etc -spend entire salaries of third world workers in a single session- and look down on women who don’t. Our code of conduct is very unforgiving, unlike that of men who are more tolerant with each others differences. We also criticize our sexual lives, assuming everyone is either lesbian or straight and then monogamous, and tend to be competitive. We think sexual life depends on age and civil status… also with whether the woman has had children. This weekend in the Zurich newspaper Tages Anzeiger (a serious newspaper) there is an article about women’s sexuality, and one of its points is: monogamy is more boring for women than for men! The comparison I am not sure about but of course we don’t talk about these things…we are busy shaving our legs and getting clothes…I really could not care about what the media does, I think we have to act in our own lives and know what it means to be a woman…this is for each person to decide, no general rules are needed. We do have some things in common I think (as women) and these things ARE nice.
        The other thing is when you say above ‘men should be able to watch a film and be inspired by a female character…’ I just don’t see why specify ‘men’. It again puts them at the top in terms of importance.
        In general, as long as women see themselves individually as objects, society will do the same.
        I have a daughter and even though I am and always have been a sort of tomboy in some ways and she does not really watch tv, and never sees any ‘celebrity mags’ she shows signs of liking to be ‘girly’. I won’t repress that. Plus…I don’t consider myself a feminist, though I am concerned about the abuse suffered by women in other countries (outside the richer west). To me contemporary European feminism is about western-raised women having it all…and not about fairness in general. I am a South American, studied hard a university degree and discriminated here in Europe in terms of jobs, don’t get a single interview (only men in HR departments maybe?) for not being European, plus I am not the only one. If you see how many cleaning ladies there are and how many cleaning men and their nationalities, there is a clear trend there.

        • No, women’s self-objectification is not the start of the problem. Sexism is the start of the problem, and women’s internalized sexism is a consequence of that. Look up the term “patriarchal bargain.”

    • this observation on language,although valid in english,holds less weight in other languages where all words are gender related. perhaps,even there one can spot some social input,but overall,it just seems more equitable. female subjects or objects will have their own set of articles that are more specific than a generic ‘the’. same goes for the male version. it is not ambiguous. furthermore,many words might be male or female to begin with,but change gender according to whether they are plural or singular. english is a very stark language,and i do agree that it is not just a vessel to convey information..it also mold the way we think. perhaps we should pay more attention to positive and negative values within it’s structure because it is a mirror to our frame of reference.shame that as human are not multi gender…

      • Anonymous makes a great point about why it’s so important for schools to teach foreign languages to kids–it helps them think outside their own linguistic boundaries.

      • Pero cuando hablamos de más de una persona de quien no les conocemos al género (o quienes incluyen ambos géneros), otros idiomas utilizan por lo general pronombres masculinos. Por exemplo, “ellos,” no “ellas,” o “nosotros,” no “nosotras.”

      • Eeeehhhhrrmmm…. :)
        Whether a language has genders, primarily one (male) gender or no genders at all have very little impact on what is described in the article.
        Danish doesn’t have any linguistic genders, but despite of that is one of the most gender segregated societies in the western world. Heck… even some of the more traditional developing countries are less gender segregated than Denmark when it comes to jobs, educations aso.

        So blaming it on linguistic sophistries is moot… at best.

        Women became objects (and I am going to be so slammed over the head now) with the invention of the Abrahamic religions.
        Before that women tended to be equal, even revered, and then some gender-scared petty, navel-gazing, sex-inhibited puny-minded men took over….

        • I agree with you in part that the monotheistic religions locked women in the home and made sexuality a taboo compared with many polytheistic religions.

          Not all is good in polytheism though. Frequently women are objectified (virgins as sacrifice, priestesses or women of temples not only as sexually empowerd but sometimes as sexually enslaved people, etc). India clearly has a horrific rape culture all whilst reverring a variety of goddessess..

        • Well Mandoe, I’m not going to disagree with you, but generalize just a bit. There is a school of thought that says the rise of patriarchy came more from understanding paternity in the process of child-bearing. When children became a wealth tied to an act of the father, as opposed to a miraculous gift of fertility via the mother, that created a major economic (and subsequently social/religious/etc) shift. Fathers went from having little or no interest in children beyond the general welfare of the clan/tribe, to having a particular personal interest in particular children. And it was hardly just Abraham’s kids perpetrating this view, it is present in other, unrelated world religions.

          Of course, as in most things human, exceptions can be found (native American societies come fairly quickly to mind), but anthropologically speaking, the connection from the scientific understanding of fatherhood to the father god, to the rise of patriarchy is fairly clear.

        • Mandoe,
          where are you getting these facts from?
          As far as I know, Denmark happens to be one of the absolute front runners when it comes to gender equality. Maybe you confused it with the fact that Denmark, if compared to the other Northern countries like Sweden and Norway, is less gender equal (or more segregated). However, in overall terms it is still one of the most gender equal countries in the world.
          If you have any statistics that prove me wrong, please link me to them, so I can get my facts straight.
          Much appreciated!

      • I actually often think that to have neutral words – and not a male and female version of teacher, lawyer, author, manager etc. – would HELP. The problem in the languages that have grammatical distinctions is the masculine version is going to be used as the “neutral” one. Meaning when you don’t know a manager or teacher’s gender, or speak generally, or have a mixed group, you’ll be using the masculine. And matters are actually worse when there is a feminine version, and the masculine version is used than when their is only one version at all: Audiences hear you talking about something male explicitly. While in English a woman can be forgotten if we talk about “manager” etc., in the gendered languages she is explicitly ruled out as someone talked about when the supposedly “neutral” masculine version is used!

        We actually strive to find trully neutral versions like with gerundiums (“the studying” instead of “the students”, which, in its base form, means only men).

      • I was going to point out that German has its merits insofar as it defines everything either he, she or it. While it’s not always logical (and has its own patriarchal traits to labour under) a cat is a she, a dog is a he. Unless pointed out differently.

    • I have had this conversation many times with friends about being “given” away in marriage or taking a man’s name, and most seem to think its just a harmless tradition, and their father liked “giving” them away etc. they dont realise that they are subscribing to enslavement and the whole tradition is about one man handing ownership over to another, the same way a woman’s previous identity is squashed when she takes another’s name. I got married in a registry office, there was no handing over, I never changed my name and I never got engaged because the woman is promised to the man but a man doesn’t wear a ring, besides I would never wear diamonds because of the exploitation involved in them and Im not materialistic, I didnt mind swapping wedding rings because we both had the same rings. When people ask me why I didnt take my husbands name, I say “our marriage is a merger, not a takeover”.

      • I still like honoring the “tradition” although you make several very good points, and I may be changing my mind here. Probably a moot point for me (was engaged, given away, and changed my name 25 years ago), but love how you kindly explained your views!

  2. Wow!….LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS: “It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that even good men, when speaking out against violence against women, tell other men to imagine her as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” it never occurring to them that maybe, just maybe, a woman is also “somebody”.” Never thought of it that way, and you’re correct, we, and I, am/are a somebody! You’re such a good frickin’ thinker, and you are able to put it into words so clearly and smoothly that I can’t help but agree with every point! Well done.

    • I have been one of those “good men” and didn’t see how that just perpetuated the status quo. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    • Yes!!! The rest of the article I agree with, but did not blow my mind. That phrase did! I would add that we always imagine men as pepetrators and never as victims of violence, especially when it comes to sexual violence because, of course, that would be placing them as objects and not subjects. That may be another reason why we ask them to identify with love objects, but never dare cross the invisible line that separates men and women: men are not supposed to be objectified.
      On another level, theough, capitalism objectifies people (just as it grants objects the qualities of people), and perhaps this growing objectification of women comes hand in hand with a growing objectification of us all in the workplace, in politics, in society as a whole. We have become just numbers in a world that is dehumanizing us on a daily basis.

  3. there’s a kind of malignant simple-mindedness in US right wing politics where everything comes out even and empathy is a sissy word. I am appalled at the news of a man in Texas who was acquitted of murder after he shot a woman who was working as an ‘escort’ and refused to have sex with him. You have to see people as objects to make sense of this.

    • I agree, it’s absolutely appalling. Just shows how little regard society has for women, especially escorts who are not, according to the patriarchy, “virtuous women”. As though they are somehow less than human.

      • I completely agree with the comment about the Texas acquittal. Monstrous. I was also horrified by the Texas homeless person who was sentenced to 50 years because he was hungry and stole food. What a horrendous objectification of a human being. But, what I would caution anyone about is to label an entire group of people (something very easy for western people to do) as the sole source of our gender inequality troubles, namely conservatives.

        This problem is perpetuated and advanced by virtually every single demographic in our country and culture, conservatives and liberals alike. No one is immune.

    • Question, though: do you actually know ANYTHING about the case other than headline? Did you know that the man did not, in fact, shoot this woman but in fact shot her car tire, causing a bit of shrapnel to very unluckily hit her square in the back of the neck, and that she only died three months later due to complications? Did you know that the prosecution still attempted to charge him with second degree murder, even though intent to kill was clearly not present and there’s no way they could have won the case? Of course he was acquitted of murder, that’s the fault of the legal system (or more specifically, the problems associated with in-career lawyer politics). What he did was wrong, yes, but it wasn’t second degree murder. This case has little to nothing to do with left or right-wing politics, other than as a stupid completely irrelevant talking point.

      PS. I apologize if this came off as overly antagonistic, but strong statements without full understanding are a pet peeve of mine.

      • Yes, I did read several news accounts of the case. The accused was innocently shooting at a car with 2 people in it and accidentally severed the spine of a woman. I know what dying slowly over 3 months looks like, what a ventilator is, what paralysis is. There’s something wrong when shooting at someone and causing their death is not murder.

  4. One of my friends posted a link to this on facebook. I followed it and I am VERY impressed. Thanks for the clear thinking well worded commentary!

  5. Excellent article. I am reminded of what sociologist Ashis Nandy said: “One must choose the slave’s standpoint not only because the slave is oppressed but also because he represents a higher-order cognition which perforce includes the master as human, whereas the master’s cognition has to exclude the slave except as a ‘thing.’” Women have been trained to view men as complex people with agency, but men haven’t had the same training with women. Even when media does portray women as subjects, it’s labeled as “chick flicks” or girly material, to be eschewed by men.

    • People don’t need to be “trained” to see others as human. They need to be trained not to see them as human. Even then, they know there’s no proof of what they’re being taught, so it’s still thier choice to sign onto the belief.

      A little less “they don’t know any better!” defenses, please.

      • You can stop now. Some of us learn empathy and some of us don’t and those who don’t can include women and other marginalized individuals. Privilege includes not having to understand other people’s points of view. It’s like the Republican senator who opposes gay marriage until he finds out his son is gay. You’ve made it abundantly clear by now that you think we’re excusing this behavior. We’re not. You’re right that sometimes oppressors understand perfectly well what they’re doing and don’t care. We’re right that sometimes oppressors don’t understand what they’re doing and can reform if they are educated. Some of use are reformed oppressors. So you can stop slinging this bullshit all over the place because if you’re suggesting that every person who ever said/did something sexist/racist/whateverist did so while fully cognizant of its effects on the marginalized person in question, you are the very picture of ignorance.

  6. Pingback: Intersexualität, DIY-Blogs & Einfluß von Pornos aufs Sexleben « Reality Rags

  7. i think is natural… a world with men and women sharing same potential will deter the natural outlook of femaleness.. You used ‘objectivity’ to saturate you views so nothing more can be absorbed outside the reality, but you have to understand that men in good general and natural sense are not being subjective but protective.. Like an instinct, males will think and act towards females in a protective way and that has already engendered females attitude in the society at large. Even in wild :)

    • No, not all humans or even all animals have the male protecting the female. Many human tribes, cultures, and animal species have dominant females, or non-specified ,no one dominates.

      Yes, some men are protective towards women, but not all. No man, or person, however, should HARM another.

    • Thanks for providing some common sense Chimaobi. Furthermore women and feminists want to be treated that way. It is much easier to be the object that the subject. If you ask any woman if they would want to trade places with a man, what would the answer be?

      • Hmm, let me see. Would I want to not be harassed, catcalled and groped by creeps on a regular basis when going about my daily business in public? Would I want to not be called a slut/whore/any other term that really just denotes ‘woman who annoys me’ for expressing opinions and exercising agency? Would I want to be about twenty times more likely to end up in the legislature of my country or the top jobs in my area of expertise as my female contemporaries with the same education and skills? Would I want to not lose my job when I have kids? Would I want to earn more money than my female colleagues doing the same job? Would I want to be free from the pressure to change my body in various ways to fit society’s standards because my natural body is deemed gross? Would I want the vast majority of all media, movies, books to cater to my viewpoint and interests? Would I want to *be the norm* in society? Sounds pretty dandy to me!
        Being a (straight able-bodied white) guy is pretty much the easiest, most sheltered existence one can have in this world. Get real for a second.

    • Men are being protective? Just out of curiosity, from whom are we being protected? Last I heard, over 1 billion women in the world are suffering from physical abuse (by large part at the hands of men). We’ve got about a 1 in 3 chance of being beaten or raped in our lifetime (the ratio varies according to location but that’s the worldwide average).

    • I have heard men in traditional societies talk a lot about how much they adore women and want to protect them (the “jewels in their crown”, here in the Caucasus). However, this seems to extend only to those women who “behave themselves” and are “good girls”. The bad girls, usually deemed so because of something related to their sexual behavior, are no longer protected but demeaned or exploited or abused. If the woman’s behavior diverges from that which is considered acceptable, she’s treated very differently.

  8. ” It is a common refrain for men to bleat about not understanding women, but this is because they have simply never tried, because society has trained them to never look at life through the eyes of a woman.”

    No, actually this isn’t at all why they bleat about not understanding them.

    99% of the time- literally, you can check the stats in your own life- 99% of the time, the things they say they don’t understand about women are things that aren’t different from what they think and do (or are things they already know are true of men and women, or the public in general).

    The reason they say they “don’t understand women” (when a woman does the exact same thing a man would do in that situation) is so they can get away with treating her worse by pretending he “doesn’t understand” what he did wrong because he “doesn’t understand” her and why she would be bothered. It’s like when a non-crippled kid pushes a handicap kid around and says he “didn’t know it would bother him”- it’s so he can get away with it by pretending he didn’t know the action would bother “that particular group” of people he chooses to push around.

    If you ever notice, most of these men totally understand the so-called “womanly” action at many other times in their life, when both women and men do them. There will be times when he totally understands and gets a woman when she does it. The only time it becomes “womanly” is when he chooses to do it to a woman because she’s a woman, or when he is at fault for her reaction. That’s the only time he “thinks” it’s a female specific behavior or reaction, or “forgets” males react that way too.

    Not rocket science.

    • “the things they say they don’t understand about women are things that aren’t different from what they think and do (or are things they already know are true of men and women, or the public in general)”

      While I agree with what you’re saying here I don’t agree with the reason you gave for why this happens. The actual reason for it is because we have been taught to view men and women’s actions as different even if they’re doing the same exact thing. Example: When a man has an assertive personality he is seen as someone who could be a good leader but when a woman does she is seen as a bitch even though the man and woman are acting in the same way. When we see a man who is indecisive about what he wants from his relationship with a woman its said, men don’t really like being in a relationship or is given some sort of a direct explanation but when a woman is indecisive about what she wants from her relationship with a man it is said that women don’t know what they want. When a man doesn’t talk about how he’s feelings or gives the silent treatment or says he’s fine even when he’s not, its considered understandable because its said that men don’t like to about their emotions but when a woman who is upset says she’s fine, or gives the silent treatment instead of talking about the problem its said that women are just impossible to deal with and you never know what they want

      So a man with a forceful personality has what it takes to a leader, men don’t like to be in relationships, and men don’t like to talk about their emotions.

      A woman with a forceful personality is a bitch, women are confused and never know what they want in relationships, women are impossible to deal with and you can never know what they really mean.

      You see how the same behavior is described differently. That happens when we have strong gender stereotypes that we can’t shake. So we look at behavior and make people’s behavior fit the stereotype. Actions of men are given real reasons for but the actions of women are just not explained even though if done by a man we would understand it just fine.

      So this doesn’t happen because all men consciously treat women this way in order to get away with what they’re doing but because they have been taught to view men and women in a way and it’s the man’s POV. The man’s actions can always be explained or have a better/more positive explanation and women’s actions either can’t be explained because they are seen as just different from men in every way but men can’t be bothered to actually understand women because women just aren’t as important. So if we were to teach people that men and women are not a different species and women are individual people just like men then we can see a positive change.

      • Another spot-on and eye opening observation of how we all get indoctrinated. Awareness can lead to behavior change, which is so much harder without it.

  9. “when society is presented with a case of male violence or sexual abuse, everyone looks at it from his point of view: “Oh, he must have been provoked to have done that,” “He was a nice man who just snapped,” “He must have been confused by her signals,” “Maybe he’s been falsely accused, how terrible to have to go to jail for that.” With every victim-blaming, rape / violence apologist comment, society reveals through whose eyes it looks, and the answer is invariably the man’s.”

    I think this is a bit off. Regardless of whose point of view you look from, facts are facts. If I steal from Rebecca, I’ve stolen from Rebecca. Whether or not it happened does not differ with looking from her or my viewpoint. If a kid hits his brother because the kid is sitting around doing nothing to him, he did it. Whether or not I’m the kid or not doesn’t change my “view” of what happened. It might change whether or not I would SUPPORT the kid, or back his actions up, but it would not change WHAT I saw occur.

    This kind of subjectivist language- “viewpoint,” “his opinion,” “her eyes,” etc- is only helping the oppressors, because it presumes that they don’t know what they are doing is wrong (how could they be doing it so perfectly without knowing what they are doing?), and that, even worse, there IS no right or wrong.

    • did you happen to look at the news coverage of the Steubenville case? It was really kind of disgusting, but it proves the point that (in some places) (some people) *will* view things from a male pov. Although it is undeniable that the young men who made that video raped their classmate and were disgusting excuses for human beings, nevertheless, the news coverage focussed their sympathies for the young men, stating that “they had their lives ruined”.
      Not a word about they ruined the life a young woman who didn’t deserve it, or ask for it. But not doubt thy feel sorry they got caught, and the news sympathized with them, took their point of view.
      It’s not everywhere that it happens (thank goodness) but it does. Far more frequently than anyone should be comfortable with

  10. “even good men, when speaking out against violence against women, tell other men to imagine her as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” it never occurring to them that maybe, just maybe, a woman is also “somebody”.”

    It doesn’t “not occur” to them. they just don’t care. If you live with someone, there’s no way you can avoid knowing they are a somebody. Perhaps they don’t care, but there’s no way they don’t know.

    • I think some people are just so narcissistic that they simply are not aware of others…

      Also, when someone has not been seen themselves, they are unable to see others. I recently blogged about feeling invisible here:

      http://amazingsusansblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/see-me/

      Imagine, I am 57 years old and I still remember trying to be heard by my father! And my mother who also was unable to see me. It’s fascinating. I’m sure there are millions of people whose experiences are similar to mine. The same experience cascades from one generation to the next creating whole societies full of ghosts…

      Ah, the human condition… :)

        • I guess we have to agree to disagree :) I think some people do ignore others and are totally unaware they are doing so. They are simply completely unaware, unable to notice. That’s my experience anyway, yours must be different :)

        • He’s not lying. He was simply not aware. Some people are just not aware period. It’s like they are blind and don’t know it. That’s all. Anyway, my father has been dead for five years. Perhaps he can see me now. Don’t know about that part.

        • I still believe it is lying, not accidental. Maybe not seeing is accidental, but not looking at what is right in front of you, choosing not to see it, is on purpose.

      • Wow. it just can’t enter your head that a woman’s experience of her world is as valid as your experience of yours. Her ‘opinion is cute’ and ‘yours is fact.’ WOW. Thanks for proving the article’s point.

    • Fact disincludes “for you”. Fact means something either is or isn’t. Yes, that is a cute example, but it isn’t relevant here, because if he were to look, he would see the exact same thing.

      For example, if I rob someone, I may have a different viewpoint from them in that I wish to rob them and they do not wish this to happen. But whether or not it happened, what happened, looks the same to both of us.

      • I say you’re the one who’s lying. You know perfectly well that some people are ignorant in their privilege but you prefer to lie about them being fully aware so that you can rage at them all the harder. And because it’s totally possible for one person to know exactly what is going through another’s head, when I say you are lying it is an inarguable Fact.

        Full disclosure: I don’t think you are lying, but you sure are unbelievable.

        • I certainly am not lying. I really just don’t think it’s likely they don’t know what they are doing, They just don’t care. I rage at them because of this, not the other way around.

        • If you meant to say “it’s totally IMpossible for one person to know exactly…” I agree with you. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is going on in one’s OWN mind, let alone someone else’s…:)

        • Susan, I was using the sarcasm. Still waiting for that sarcasm font to be developed!

  11. “what happened, looks the same to both of us.”

    Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable. People “see” or don’t “see” in radically different ways. I think the example is perfectly relevant.

    Few things are or are not. The world is simply not black and white. It is multi-coloured. And that is a fact LOL :P

    My father may have looked at me and seen me in a literal way. He was not physically blind. But he certainly did not “see” me in the way I am using the word “see” i.e. in the sense of “understanding.” In that sense he was perhaps emotionally blind.

    I really don’t see much point in continuing this discussion. We don’t share the same beliefs, or even definitions of the words that would allow for constructive debate.

  12. I agree with this post. This website is not only appalling, but the comments and how many men read into this and actively believe in the things he posts is just… http://www.rooshv.com/never-listen-to-a-woman. I was researching misogyny and came across this. The link I posted is an example of why this article (‘The Objectification of Women…’) is important.

  13. you gotta understand.There is no Society! We are the society!
    Conspiracy theories are but the sub-versions of the Biggest conspiracy theory which in fact is the Theory of God or the Creator! This is a transferring Mechanism we have been clinging on forever!
    This among all other consequences of so called ” inductions ” or “conspiracies” of what so ever imaginary and of course collective entity,we believe,have been forced upon us or we have been the victims of it!.Is nothing but the mere illusion we have created to transfer the indictments onto it!

    You are responsible for ALL THIS!

    As in fact everyone is!

  14. Well…this article just blew my mind. Thank you. As a dad with a partner and a little girl and boy, it makes me quite uncomfortable about how I’ve been guilty of buying into the whole rape thing. It’s insidious.

  15. Pingback: Feminist Quote of the Day – Objectification, More than Just Pictures | Dead Wild Roses

  16. If I’m in a barber chair, would you argue that I’m the object and hence somehow wronged? (And anyone with experience with cats would say the proper way to view the situation with Fiona is “The cat deigned to let Fiona pay it obeisance”. :) Is the situation in the photo like that?)

  17. Something that tipped me off to my relationship being perhaps not the best for me, was when, after we’d been dating a month and I was presented the chance to work overseas in the next year, his response to that was “Then I’ll marry you before you leave.”

    I’m sorry? You’ll marry me? We won’t do anything? The only choice and action is yours.
    Ah…no.

  18. An insightful article. I’m a lifelong feminist who was marching on Washington for the ERA when I was 3. I do think that part of this problem must be attacked through changing entertainment and media portrayals. I can’t remember what it’s called, but there’s a test for movies and shows: is there any scene in which 2 or more women are discussing something not related to men or relationships with men?

    I’ve always been very conscious about the ways inequality is expressed in and promoted by media, but this test really concretized it. I apply this to everything I see now, and it’s just insane how much of our entertainment fails.
    If we want to change our culture, we have to change our entertainment.
    I would also point out that the blind acceptance of princess fetishizing in our children’s entertainments is a huge part of the problem. Not only does it rabidly promote gender stereotypes, but it also fetishizes feudalism, one of the worst, most inequitable social structures ever invented.
    I point this out a lot, and I have had even women I thought were progressive tell me it’s just harmless kid stuff. But that’s where it starts!

  19. Im sorry, but i’m a young woman and i fail to see the truth in 80% of this article.
    It’s from an incredibly biased viewpoint and doesn’t even consider that 70% of men aren’t like this, and many often face similar obstacles such as these. I don’t condone the objectification of women, in fact the idea sickens me, but it strikes me as incredibly naive behaviour to believe objectification is restricted to women. Which i feel this article appears to be inferring.

    • Isla, what bias is this article starting from? Where does it say that men are “like this”? What does “like this” even mean?

      Owing to the fact that you consider yourself a “young” woman, is it possible that it could be you that is naive? That just because you have not yet experienced (i.e. noticed) a system of misogyny that uses objectification as one of its tools to disempower women doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’m glad this hasn’t been a crushing weight on you as it is for many young women, but please do some research before you dismiss a common phenomenon that has greatly impacted women, with or without their realization.

      Check out the science on objectification, because this subject has actually been studied and found that there is a legitimate difference in the way people view men as sexy but women as sex objects. Notice that the people objectifying women are not just men. It is something we are all conditioned to do. Note that Sexism is not a matter of opinion.

      BTW, don’t throw your credentials around to speak for any group, even ones you’re a part of. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman speaking for women, a person of color speaking for your race, disabled, etc., you speak for yourself. Your experience of being a woman does not nullify others’ experience of being a woman nor does it make you qualified to dismiss their understanding of patterns in our society.

  20. I very much appreciate the sentiment posed in this article; objectification is a very significant issue surrounding equality between the genders. However, I find that here, as in many feminist literature I come across online, over-generalization and emotionally charged rhetoric is detrimental to the supposed aims of the author. Overly antagonizing men, especially well-meaning (if ignorant) men, coupled with generalizing what “society’s” response is to any given situation only serves to perpetuate the sentiment that feminists are just angry at men and the world and don’t actually care about equality. As a feminist, that bothers me.

    Referring to someone as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister” is a common rhetorical device used on men as equally as women; thinking about the personal connections of an unknown other humanizes the other and encourages sympathy. The phrase “that boy was somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s husband” works just as effectively. It has nothing to do with gender inequality.

    Phrases like “it is a common refrain for men to bleat,” implying that they are mindless sheep, antagonize and ostracize the people you are supposedly trying to reach. Saying that “when society is presented with a case of male violence or sexual abuse, everyone looks at it from his point of view” is simply objectively wrong; not only do you simplify “society” into a patriarchal amalgam when it is clearly more complicated, you also then state that “everyone” looks at rape through the man’s point of view (not to mention the fact that objectification works both ways; female-on-male rape is nearly never reported due to the same phenomenon, “women don’t have agency, they can’t possibly have raped you!” coupled with masculine gender roles. But I digress).

    I am a feminist. I agree with most of the statements you make. You make great points about the lack of agency of women in art and media, as well as about the common sentiment that men can’t understand women. But antagonizing rhetoric and over-generalization- Has. To. Stop. It alienates people who do not already consider themselves feminists and it gives truthfully valid weight to arguments against feminism: “feminists are just angry and hate men!” “feminism always focuses on the littlest things that aren’t even an issue!” “feminism talks about all men as if they’re the same!” Perhaps with a little more thoughtful diction on the part of our feminist authors and writers, we could break down the patriarchy that much faster.

  21. Sorry to say it but this goes both ways. Women do this too and I am not ashamed to admit it.- I mean has anyone seen the movie Man of Steel –

    Objectifying things is a natural and instinctual function of the brain. We do it automatically; every time we see a cute guy across the bar, every time some new coworker threatens our job, and any and everyday we work in customer service. We naturally objectify people as obstacles, and goals depending on our own motives. The ability to pick out an ideal mate is a primal mechanism innate to all humans. Even a brief glance is a powerful tool. Based on visuals alone, we can make assumptions about a person’s health, ability to carry a child, ability to provide, and overall ability to survive. That’s why the way someone is presented is so important and so integral to a social order.

    Yes we have evolved a bit- many thousands of years of hunter/gatherer roles can do that. Just as men can grow to be stronger so that they may hunt or fend off threats, we women have the gift of improved empathy that allows us to care for our family (even when they are annoying as all get out). ***Not saying that either gender is incapable of being strong or empathetic just that it may come more natural***

    On the topic of empathy, its also natural for us to relate to the person that is most relatable. So if, for example, some girl kicked some guy in the nutts repeatedly- my first thought would probably be something on the lines of “she must have thought he deserved it” *****not saying that a nutt shot or two is anywhere near as bad as rape*****

    • But there is not a whole system supporting the objectification of men.
      And no – it is not mutual. Often when we women watch a movie, we do identify with the men, because they are the “cool” ones.
      Society does not encourage women to make the first step in dating (“Dont give yourself away easily!”) and it does not posit women as rational, thinking subjects.
      What you are saying is that we think as men as being sexy – yes, but even then, women have learned to appreciate a mens mind and intelligence, where the standard taught to men is that the woman has to beautiful.

  22. Interesting comment on the “Somebodies blank” statements. Though I think it’s also used in general to humanize others. “You wouldn’t do that to your brother.” I think these statements are meant to shift someone thinking into seeing someone as a human beings. The point being that some only think of those close to them in a certain group as somebodies but not that group in general. But that doesn’t mean that there arent any negative consequences for the good intentions and it’s not a bad idea to follow that up with “You wouldn’t want that done to you.”

  23. Wonderful, insightful, articulate work. May I use this in my program for male batterers? We’re covering male privilege right now and this is a great summery of the problem.

    • Well, not being accused of “PMSing” or being “hormonal” whenever you have an opinion and are legitmately upset by external circumstances would be a nice start. So would the concept that I’m in charge of my own body and that a legislator has no business passing a law requiring me to undergo vaginal penetration without my consent to obtain a legally protected medical procedure. Those would be some very good places to start.

  24. I wonder what the author thinks about Chivalry in this case, as Chivalry and treating a woman “like a woman” are extremely sexist principles but in a supportive, not destructive way. It is not possible to have men being heroric for the sake of women or giving everything to women out of love, whats so called “being a gentleman” without sexist principles at play because in a truly equal world this would be demeaning and viewed as “you cant do these things yourself so I will help you and take care of you”

    Food for thought that not all sexism is a bad thing, otherwise the world would be a gender neutral place where men and women all act and do the same things

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  27. Pingback: The Objectification of Women – It Goes Much Further Than Sexy Pictures | Mascara Streaks

  28. It’s also been my experience of male partners – including guys who didn’t regard women as sex objects and were quite enlightened – nevertheless regarded me as an extension of themselves, and my belongings as theirs to be used/given away/sold/thrown away as they saw fit. It actually took as much time and energy digging my heels in and explaining that my possessions didn’t come to them as a dowry, as it does to challenge more overt sexism.

    It was the sense of entitlement, and bewilderment when this was challenged, which really makes my blood boil!

    (These days single and happy!)

  29. Very interesting article. As a man, I often struggle to see things which are probably quite obvious to women. The same I guess can be said about my ethnicity (white).

    I think objectification is perhaps one of the biggest problems of contemporary society in the west. However, I would have to say I disagree with the extent that this is an almost exclusively gendered dynamic. I think that people more generally are seen as objectified, whether it be based on ethnicity, gender or social class.

    I think the Marxian idea of ‘reification’ is really helpful in coming to understand this problem of subject/object with regards to persons and their bodies. In a world where money becomes the standard against which everything is measured, the objects of our culture take on a ‘thing-like’ status. When this happens, we lose sight of the significance that the object might have – so for example, when the 1950s housewife style becomes fashionable, the patriarchal association becomes forgotten, and only the ‘look’ bears any relevance to the modern subject. In this way, one can find appeal in an aesthetic which has a historical symbolism associated with oppression.

    More worryingly, is that the relations between people – or subjects – become more akin to our relation to reified (ie ‘thing-like’) objects, and we see other people simply in terms of instrumental worth, rather than as having a value in themselves. In other words, the (real) person gets lost, and we see only an object which we value based on how it looks, or what we think ‘it’ can do for us. So this happens when men’s magazines just emphasise the sexual aspect of women through their scantily-clad images, while ignoring the many other facets of personality that exist beyond the narrow criteria of sex.

    In this way, I think we can see that sexual objectification – in the contemporary conditions of the west – is part of a wider objectificaiton, and it is bound up with the values of consumer capitalism which seem to suffocate alternatives, such as feminist and marxist perspectives, (among many others) from being culturally influential. I think in this period, other forms of objectification can become commodified – such as many of the items of our culture you mention in your article. However, I would argue, that men are also objectified – and, as you argue in the case above for women, not just in the guise of sexualisation. For instance, athletes are often just seen as objects which are endowed with certain properties – such as speed and power – and, that these properties are then used to market certain types of products which want to associate with the athletic ‘object’s’ properties. Moreover, in being a worker, one is objectified as an instrument of a wider process of profit accumulation. This can be seen in the way ‘class warfare’ has been portrayed in the UK and US.

    I think that while you are right to conduct a feminist critique of objectification, I think the analysis here is lop-sided, whereby a power dynamic is suggested which always points in the direction of men oppressing women. The oppressed can include men as well, and the oppressors can also be women. I think it would be a more balanced analysis if you looked at how women are not the only victims of objectification (although there is certainly plenty of good reasons to want to argue that women suffer more from this phenomenon). I think, also, it would make sense to show that women objectify men and themselves also, to show how we are all complicit in out own oppression, to varying degrees.

    I hope this is received not as a polemic, but rather, a critical (but of a respectful and constructive kind) suggestion based on my own worldview. I personally think that capitalism is the most oppressive system, and that a battle for equality and emancipation has to include an attack on capitalism as well as patriarchy and racism.

  30. It suddenly makes all the attacks on women’s health more logical. Not that I’m condoning male legislators trying to dominate women’s bodies and health decisions, but if you think of women as objects, telling them how to live their lives almost sounds… humane. You know, like when you neuter an animal. Talk about benevolent sexism…

  31. Your Stephen Hawking point isn’t entirely sensible. It seems to claim that women can be declared “a mystery” because they are objects. In fact I think the tendency is towards the opposite. I think objects are much more straight forward than subjects. I mean theres only so much mystery that can be held in a chair, or a boat, etc. Now subjects, thats a different story. I think you would find that a lot of scientists who use human subjects, would declare about them very similar things to what Stephen Hawking said about women. I would go so far as to say Stephen Hawking words were a declaration towards subjecthood. I mean, how infinitely more mysterious would chairs be if they had agency?

    Also you argument based on peoples reactions to male based sexual abuse or rape is slightly over the top. No doubt people think that way, and they are idiots, but to say that it is everyone is definitely a stretch.

    I think with arguments like this you really have to think about your goals. If you want to preach to the choir then this style is perfect. If you want to bring people to your side I would suggest a less rhetorical more calculated approach.

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  34. Hi, I am a newcomer to your blog and I am enjoying it very much, along with the high caliber of your commentors. I def agree that women are objectified whereas as men are active agents in the ways you’ve outlined here. At the same time, your paragraph about rape causes me to view things in a different way, because as you’ve tweeted, people blame everything but the man for the rape he perpetrated. I would bring us back to early Christian teachings about feminine wiles being demonic, to the point that there is the Succubus Demon Archetype. This archetypal figure steals the men’s souls for the devil via sexual seduction. The man’s agency is stolen from him and he is the object of The Great Deceiver in a hot dress. This destruction of male agency is a Shadow Tale hidden in the rape culture’s unconscious. This myth is the reason fingers start getting pointed at the victim and blaming her: this rare case of culturally-perceived demonic female agency is destroying fine boys’ lives, goes the outcry! It is an unpopular opinion of mine that rape culture has been forged to whitehot in a crucible of dehumanizing and ever-escalating internet porn, where “insatiable sluts” “command cock”. Our dopamine systems are shot.

  35. Pingback: Equality Laws: They’re Not Magic Potions | Feminist Aspie

  36. I really want to first thank you for your words, and second I would like to quote this on my facebook page an properly attribute the quote to you :

    “even good men, when speaking out against violence against women, tell other men to imagine her as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” it never occurring to them that maybe, just maybe, a woman is also “somebody”.

    This is really one of the most succinct examples of “everyday objecitication/sexism” that I have ever had the pleasure to read.

    So, since I am not about to pry for your name, I will attribute it to “Leapord (cratesandribbons.com)

    Really, truly.. thank you.

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