I recently wrote a post about International Women’s Day and women allowing themselves to be exploited. That post was inspired by some time I had spent with an elderly lady last week. She had discussed some verses from her religious book which were about modesty, arrogance and shamelessness and the morning of International Women’s Day, I woke up to pictures on my account of a woman… and her buttocks. Not something I wanted to see first thing (although some people may want to), I had no choice in it, it was unrelated to the subject of the post.
Anyway, since that post, I’ve had some positive feedback and messages from people expressing the same worries as I.
One of my friends sent me a beautiful poem, from a mother to her daughter (which I will add to my previous post for you to hear) and I also coincidentally saw a TEDx (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk via my twitter account yesterday and so I decided to share what I learnt from it (I will also upload the talk below) and delve deeper in to the subject of objectification.
I want to share the main points from this speech called ‘The Sexy Lie’ by Caroline Heldman PHD which is all about why sexual objectification culture is damaging. I will be quoting the main points that I think we should be sharing with our children before it is too late.
“The 13-minute video below is a Ted Talk given by SocImages contributor Caroline Heldman. The aim is to define sexual objectification, refute the myth that it’s empowering, and offer strategies for navigating objectification culture.”
Sexual objectification is treating a person like a sex object that serves the pleasure for another. We are surrounded by it and are now oblivious to it, it’s in the images we see, advertising, social media etc
A friend of Heldman’s said “it is like being raised in a red room, pulled out of that red room and asked to describe the colour red” .
Heldman, talks about her devised Sex Object Test (SOT) to measure the presence of sexual objectification in images. She proposes “that sexual objectification is present if the answer to any of the following seven questions is “yes.””
“1) Does the image show only part(s) of a sexualized person’s body?
Headless women, for example, make it easy to see her as only a body by erasing the individuality communicated through faces, eyes, and eye contact:
2) Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object? She shows a woman being used as a table
3) Does the image show a sexualized person as interchangeable? Interchangeability is a common advertising theme that reinforces the idea that women, like objects, are fungible.
4) Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized person that can’t consent?
5) Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person?
6) Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity (something that can be bought and sold)?
7) Does the image treat a sexualized person’s body as a canvas?”
She goes on to say that “the damage caused by widespread female objectification in popular culture is not just theoretical… Women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others.
This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (e.g., clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning,sexual dysfunction, access to leadership, and political efficacy. Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.
Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.
Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths. Add to this the countless hours that most girls/women spend primping and competing with one another to garner heterosexual male attention, and the erasure of middle-aged and elderly women who have little value in a society that places women’s primary value on their sexualized bodies.
We now have over ten years of research showing that living in an objectifying society is highly toxic for girls and women…
Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others. At the same time, being sexual, is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up. Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.”
Heldman outlines “four damaging daily rituals of objectification culture we can immediately stop engaging in to improve our health”;
1) Stop seeking male attention. Most women were taught that heterosexual male attention is our Holy Grail before we were even conscious of being conscious, and its hard to reject this system of validation, but we must. We give our power away a thousand times a day when we engage in habitual body monitoring so we can be visually pleasing to others. The ways in which we seek attention for our bodies varies by sexuality, race, ethnicity, and ability, but the template is the “male gaze.”
Heterosexual male attention is actually pretty easy to give up when you think about it. First, we seek it mostly from strangers we will never see again, so it doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life. Who cares what the man in the car next to you thinks of your profile? You’ll probably never see him again.
Secondly, men in U.S. culture are raised to objectify women as a matter of course, so an approving gaze doesn’t mean you’re unique or special.
Thirdly, male validation through the gaze doesn’t provide anything tangible because it’s fleeting and meaningless.
Lastly, men are terrible validators of physical appearance because so many are duped by make-up, hair coloring and styling, surgical alterations, girdles, etc. If I want an evaluation of how I look, a heterosexual male stranger is one of the least reliable sources on the subject.
2) Stop consuming damaging media, including fashion, “beauty,” and celebrity magazines, and sexist television programs, movies, and music. Beauty magazines in particular give us very detailed instructions for how to hate ourselves, and most of us feel bad about our bodies immediately after reading. Similar effects are found with television and music video viewing. If we avoid this media, we undercut the $80 billion a year Beauty-Industrial Complex that peddles dissatisfaction to sell products we really don’t need.”
3) Stop Playing the Tapes. Many girls and women play internal tapes on loop for most of our waking hours, constantly criticizing the way we look and chiding ourselves for not being properly pleasing in what we say and what we do. Like a smoker taking a drag first thing in the morning, many of us are addicted to this self-hatred, inspecting our bodies first thing as we hop out of bed to see what sleep has done to our waistline, and habitually monitoring our bodies throughout the day. These tapes cause my female students to speak up less in class. They cause some women to act stupidly when they’re not in order to appear submissive and therefore less threatening. These tapes are the primary way we sustain our body hatred.
Stopping the body-hatred tapes is no easy task, but keep in mind that we would be utterly offended if someone else said the insulting things we say to ourselves. Furthermore, we are only alive for a short period of time, so it makes no sense to fill our internal time with negativity that only we can hear. What’s the point? These tapes aren’t constructive, and they don’t change anything in the physical world. They are just a mental drain.
4) Stop Competing with Other Women. The rules of the society we were born into require us to compete with other women for our own self-esteem. The game is simple. The “prize” is male attention, which we perceive of as finite, so when other girls/women get attention, we lose. This game causes many of us to reflexively see other women as “natural” competitors, and we feel bad when we encounter women who garner more male attention, as though it takes away from our worth. We walk into parties and see where we fit in the “pretty girl pecking order.” We secretly feel happy when our female friends gain weight. We criticize other women’s hair, clothing, and other appearance choices. We flirt with other women’s boyfriends to get attention, even if we’re not romantically interested in them”
Heldman on her blog then posts details of some “daily rituals that help interrupt damaging beauty culture scripts”
1) Start enjoying your body as a physical instrument.
Girls are raised to view their bodies as an thing-to-be-looked-at that they have to constantly work on and perfect for the adoration of others, while boys are raised to think of their bodies as tools to use to master their surroundings. We need to flip the script and enjoy our bodies as the physical marvels they are. We should be thinking of our bodies, as bodies! As a vehicle that moves us through the world; as a site of physical power; as the physical extension of our being in the world. We should be climbing things, leaping over things, pushing and pulling things, shaking things, dancing frantically, even if people are looking. Daily rituals of spontaneous physical activity and thanks for movement are the surest way to bring about a personal paradigm shift from viewing our bodies as objects to viewing our bodies as tools to enact our subjectivity.
2) Do at least one “embarrassing” action a day.
Another healthy daily ritual that reinforces the idea that we don’t exist to be pleasing to others is to purposefully do at least one action that violates “ladylike” social norms. Discuss your period in public. Eat sloppily in public, then lounge on your chair and pat your protruding belly. Swing your arms a little too much when you walk. Open doors for everyone. Offer to help men carry things. Skip a lot. Galloping also works. Get comfortable with making others uncomfortable.
3) Focus on personal development that isn’t related to beauty culture.
According to research, women spend over 45 minutes to an hour on body maintenance every day. That’s about 15 more minutes than men each day and about 275 hours a year.
But, since you’ve read the above and will be giving up “habitual body monitoring, body hatred, and meaningless beauty rituals, you’ll have more time to develop yourself in meaningful ways. This means more time for education, reading, working out to build muscle and agility, dancing, etc. You’ll become a much more interesting person on the inside if you spend less time worrying about the outside. The study featured above showed that time spent grooming was inversely related to income for women.”
“4) Actively forgive yourself.
A lifetime of body hatred and self-objectification is difficult to let go of, and if you find yourself falling into old habits of playing self-hating tapes, seeking male attention, or beating yourself up for not being pleasing, forgive yourself. It’s impossible to fully transcend the beauty culture game since it’s so pervasive. It’s a constant struggle. When we fall into old traps, it’s important to recognize that, but quickly move on through self forgiveness. We need all the cognitive space we can get for the next beauty culture assault on our mental health.”
I realise this post is long and mainly quotations from Heldman’s speech and blog, however I couldn’t have put it better. Ever.
So I suggest we all take away something from what we’ve read today and empower the women and girls in our lives. We need to show them that they have so much to contribute to life and others other than their beauty and sexuality.
You can hear her speak for herself here: