4 Daily Rituals to Stop Objectification

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Objectification causes women a lot of harm says Caroline Heldman, a professor who specializes in gender at Occidental College:

In a culture with widespread sexual objectification, women (especially) tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (clinical depression“habitual body monitoring”), eating disordersbody shame,self-worth and life satisfactioncognitive functioningmotor functioningsexual dysfunction [PDF],access to leadership [PDF] and political efficacy [PDF]. 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 less 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 some girls/women spend primping 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.

In a new post she discusses what women can do to navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects. (See Part 1Part 2.) This is the third of a four-part series.

Sexual Objectification: Daily Rituals to Stop

By 

There are four damaging daily rituals of objectification culture we can immediately stop engaging in to improve our health.

1) Stop seeking random 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 goal too often is to attract 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 alone doesn’t provide anything tangible; 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,  etc. If I want an objective evaluation of how I look, a heterosexual male stranger is one of the least reliable sources on the subject.

Suggested activity: When a man catcalls you, respond with an extended laugh and declare, “I don’t exist for you!” Be prepared for a verbally violent reaction as you are challenging his power as the Great Validator. Your gazer likely won’t even know why he becomes angry, since he’s simply following the societal script that you’ve interrupted.

2) Stop consuming damaging media.

That includes fashion, “beauty” and celebrity magazines, along with sexist television programs, movies and music. Beauty magazines, in particular, give us very detailed instructions on how to hate ourselves, and most of usfeel bad about our bodies immediately after reading. Similar effects are found with televisionand 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.

Suggested activity: Print out sheets that say something subversive about beauty culture, like “This magazine will make you hate your body,” and stealthily put them in front of beauty magazines at your local supermarket or corner store.

3) Stop playing the tapes.

Many of us 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 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. Self-deprecating tapes like these cause my female students to speak up less in class. They cause some women to act stupid 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 highly offended if someone else said the insulting things to us that we say to ourselves. These tapes aren’t constructive, and they don’t change anything in the physical world. They are just a mental drain.

Suggested activity: Sit with your legs sprawled and the fat popping out wherever. Walk with a wide stride and some swagger. Eat in public in a decidedly non-ladylike fashion. Burp and fart without apology. Adjust your breasts when necessary. Unapologetically take up space.

4) Stop competing with other women.

Unwritten rules require us to compete with other women for our own self-esteem. The game is simple: The prize is male attention, which we perceive as finite, so when other girls/women get attention from men 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 than we do. 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 and clothing. We flirt with other women’s boyfriends to get attention, even if we’re not romantically interested in them.

Suggested activity: When you see a woman who triggers competitiveness, practice active love instead. Smile at her. Go out of your way to talk to her. Do whatever you can to dispel the notion that female competition is the natural order. If you see a woman who appears to embrace the male attention game, recognize the pressure that produces this and go out of your way to accept and love her.

Cross-posted at Ms. and on Caroline Heldman’s blog

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on February 11, 2013, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Required reading for everyone should be The Second Sex by the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. That book opened me in ways that I still feel the ramification today, the idea being we should raise our daughters to be subjects not objects. The male gaze, what it imputes is learned from the fathers coming of age with the supposed sexual liberation of playboy, but there were images before, maybe the crime is more the sexist behavior that is passed down, treating woman as objects rather than as something that makes one and the other whole. Your writing springs the mind into action, wanting to sort through the complexities of these modern day coming of age stereotypes. We would have to explore deeply into gender studies. I will put more thought here because I know I am part of the problem, but that part of me I try to mature out of, it was handed to me by my father whom said look a those tits, that’s where it begins. We could just as well speak about racism, my ears here racial slurs, these things to I had to mature out of.

  2. I’m not sure. I hear a lot of cringe-worthy opinions on this and allied subjects. Part of me says that you’re asking (albeit intelligent) animals to stop behaving like animals, which seems both unreasonable and unlikely to succeed. Another part of me deplores the “meat market” approach to dating and courtship which seems all-pervasive. Anything you can do to improve self-image in men and women will make matters healthier but it will tend to treat the symptoms and not the disease.

  3. Oh, Georgia, you did it again!

  4. Woo Hoo. Good job. I will continue farting, swaggering and adjusting my breasts in public and know these are the right things to do. :-) Oh yes. And letting my “blubs” of fat hang out. This means I can wear a tank top and shorts at last.

  5. I never understood the whole male/female game. Since I didn’t I figured all I could do was be who I thought I was. Make-up was never my thing, and fashion is a complete mystery to me. Although I am considered an air-head by many, dumbing myself down was never a question. Strangely enough, a lot of people have considered me flirtatious. I never got what I did that was flirting. I was stupid when it came to understanding if someone was flirting with me.

    A complete mystery. It still is. I don’t understand the rules of the game and don’t understand why anyone would want to play.

    The really funny thing is that people in general seem to like me. Weird, huh?

  6. I just read the book by Ariel Levy “Female Chauvenist Pig and the rise of Raunch Culture”
    Great insight on objectification self-propogated by women.

  7. Every single point mentioned in this article is completely relevant and needs to be addressed. As a woman, I know how difficult it is to reject the advice given on the beauty column of a magazine. It is just something I read and follow without even being consciously aware. Another thing I catch myself doing is comparing myself to others around me, whether it is my friend or a random bypasser. I would simply compare our outfits, style, etc. If I think the girl looks better than me, I would feel less confident about myself, which is why I found this quote to be so significant
    “Unwritten rules require us to compete with other women for our own self-esteem.”
    These are all problems we experience on a day-to-day basis, however, the number one issue I notice with a lot of women is their desperate attempt to attract the attention of an attractive male. He may be very wrong for them on so many levels, but that won’t stop them from chasing him. It’s not only unfortunate that a lot of us feel incomplete without a man at our side, but also very bad for our self-esteem.

  8. I do agree with the above rituals. Combined they would lead women to positive mental stimulation versus a daily objectification we face. Part of the problem of the spreading of objectification is that women allow themselves to succumb to jealousy and competition among other women. At a young age, girls are getting used to this game of vying for a man’s attention. The media I feel is definitely the root to the problem. Shows like “The Bachelor” and the ones where male athletes look for “love” have many women forced to compete and compare each other, easiest through physical beauty. Makeover shows also make the target of each segment to achieve that form of beauty, and then often lead to beauty as most important for successful dating. In sports, female athletes are focused on less for their skills but more for their looks and appeal to the younger crowd. The inclusion of sex appeal into sports and media shouldn’t affect how we evaluate our worth as women.

  1. Pingback: the math of one | Susan Daniels Poetry

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