Sexual Objectification, The Harm

Dolce-Gabbana-Ad-Sexist[1]By   (Cross-posted at Ms. and Caroline Heldman’s Blog)

This is the second part in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects. (Part 1 can be found here.)

Sexual objectification is nothing new, but this latest era is characterized by greater exposure to advertising and increased sexual explicitness in advertising [PDF], magazines, television shows, movies [PDF], video games, music videos, television news, and “reality” television.

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 disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual 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 (false notions about rape). 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.

Hiromi Oshima Shoes

Theorists [PDF] have contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual. If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon. Subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy.

Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful fiction that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others; they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others. At the same time, sexuality is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yardstick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they otherwise measure up. Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.

The documentary Miss Representation has received considerable mainstream attention, one indicator that the public is now recognizing the damaging effects of sexual objectification of women.

Widespread sexual objectification in U.S. popular culture creates a toxic environment for girls and women. The next two posts in this series provide ideas for navigating objectification culture in personally and politically meaningful ways.

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
Sexual Objectification, What is it?
Nude Men Seem Less Intelligent
Objectification’s Role in a Suicide

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 19, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This article is important to me because I have very important women in my life that I would like to see be respected, as they deserve. My mother had me at a young age, and had to give her dreams in order to raise me. Rather than her being judged for getting pregnant young, I would like to see her applauded for raising a wonderful-if I may say so myself- child, while working and creating a life for me. For example, I am able to attend Foothill College. I was always able to play any sport I wanted, no matter the cost. However, it is not just my mother. My sister and girlfriend both have apparent body issues. They both watch tv shows and read magazines that only show skinny models. They both obsess about their weight, and are constantly complaining about their looks. If only media praised women for their different looks instead of making them feel bad about themselves, it would be a much better world. There is only so much I can say to them so that they feel beautiful. Media needs to start advertising different body types rather than the skinny, all bone models.

  2. Media is really bad on sexualizing women but to be honest i think we do the same to men… dont we want all men to be talk dark and handsome? dont we ask men to be strong and muscular.. im not gonna lie i wont date anyone whos shorter than me its that the same? my friends are just as hard on men… and when you look at magazines for men arent they all tall and handsone with 6 packs and naked? or with an armani suit.. so females want makes that are handsome and rich.. men want big boobs and big butt..

    I believe that women do this to their selves, why are they are tv acting stupid? fighting with other girls? and dancing for money?? why are the guys on jackass stupid and disgusting? its their own morals that they need to work on.. not all men are sexist and not all women are innocent..

  3. I’m really glad to find your blog. ( I commented on another post.)

    One of the ways I found to get rid of this insidious programming is just to stop watching TV and buying magazines. One of the best decisions I ever made that boosted my self-esteem.

  4. That first Dolce photo is appalling – I’m literally gob-smacked!
    We need more voices like yours BB.

    • Yeah it is. Sexualizing violence against women. And thanks!

      • That, and the success of that “50 shades of Grey” trilogy. For what I’ve heard about the book, is more or less an apology of abuse and rape, disguised as romantic BDSM story.
        And worst of all, the ones who are reading it are women. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 90% of women that I see reading while travelling in the underground, are reading this book.
        I wish so SO much that J.K.Rowling or Dan Brown write a new book so everybody forgets about this and moves to the next best-seller…

      • Yes, I’ll be writing more on this later. Thanks.

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