My Boyfriend, the Objectifier

playboy-bunny-manual-main[1]When I first heard feminists complain about sexual objectification I didn’t get it. Why didn’t they want women to be sexy?

Turns out, I didn’t understand what objectification was.

Put simply, it is about seeing someone as nothing but an object – one that is sexual in nature – that exists for someone else’s pleasure. Objects don’t have feelings, thoughts or life goals, so you needn’t worry about hurting them.

So I finally got it intellectually. But I didn’t fully get how it played out until I met “Mike” (that’s what I’ll call him). And years later saw Mike’s way of seeing in a Ms. Magazine article discussing objectifying ads.

My first hints that Mike strongly objectified women were 1) staring at boobs, 2) being rude to me by staring at boobs and 3) when I told him that staring at boobs was impolite he said, “Well, they’re just more attractive than you.” Apparently, I was an inadequate sex object who had no feelings to worry about.

That’s when we broke up.

But when I asked what he meant, he explained that they were more “open” and “invited men in” by opening their clothes. Compare that to this Ms. article:

Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person? 

This American Apparel ad, with the copy “now open,” sends the message that this woman is open for sex. She presumably can be had by anyone. 

And, what he found attractive was all about one body part: boobs — the bigger the better. Nothing else mattered. (No idea why he was with me.) Turning again to Ms.:

Does the image show only part(s) of a sexualized person’s body?

Headless women, for example, make it easy to see them as only a body by erasing the individuality communicated through faces, eyes and eye contact:

I learned that Mike was a breast man who didn’t even notices faces. The article continues:

Covering up a woman’s face works well, too:

He had also wanted threesomes, which I had no interest in. “Let’s do it with one of your girlfriends!” He hadn’t even met any of my girlfriends so he wasn’t particular. I felt like I didn’t matter, I was just one part of a (hoped for) threesome fantasy. They didn’t matter either. He wasn’t interested in any of us as people. He could plug any girl into his fantasy.

Again from Ms.:

Does the image show sexualized persons as interchangeable? 

Interchangeability is a common advertising theme that reinforces the idea that women, like objects, are fungible. And like objects, “more is better,” a market sentiment that erases the worth of individual women:

This image of a set of Victoria’s Secret models has a similar effect. Their hair and skin color varies slightly, but they are also presented as all of a kind:

Yeah, that was one weird short-lived “relationship” — and I use the term loosely. But without Mike, I never would have truly understood what feminists were talking about. Because for some reason, I rarely attract, or am attracted to, objectifying guys. (If they objectified, they were subtle.)

So in a weird way I have to thank Mike, if you’re still out there.

To see the original Ms. article that this post is based on, go here.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Sexual Objectification, What is it?
Sexual Objectification, The Harm
Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?

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 September 23, 2013, in feminism, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Ashley Steffenson

    I find it absolutely disgusting how nowadays a women’s body is a product to sell or simply an object to help things sell. It’s a commodity and a fantasy verses reality and humanity. This objectification imprints on the young minds of youth today as a picture of a set standard of what beauty or being sexy is all about. Which in the ads shown, are presumed to be big boobs, flat abs, and an all around fair skinned and skinny body. This image of “beauty” or this market of what “sells” is showing young girls that this what you should look like if you want attention or people to like you. That your worth as a woman is your body. There are hardly any billboards of half naked men(at least not NEAR enough as there are women). Men are valued further than simply their anatomy. Men are respected for their intellect and according to these ads, many of these girls don’t even have heads to carry their own brain. This objectification also only adds to women who deal with eating disorders and morphed body images. It teaches curvy girls, girls of other ethnicities, and flat chested girls that they are all not beautiful enough to be considered a fantasy that can sell. That they are not “sexy” and if you aren’t “sexy” then you have no worth. Objectification only leads to sexist ignorance and skewed visions of what self worth really means.

  2. I totally agree that objectification exists in our society. It creates bad examples towards men and women. Personally I did not realize how bad it was, especially when you see these types of ads everywhere you go, at the pharmacy, at the supermarket, at the bus stop, in the streets, magazines, TV, internet, etc.

    Also, very unfortunate, some women get into objectifying themselves. some of them want to become the model of a magazine as a result may suffer eating disorders, may buy sexy and expensive clothes, and may go to the extreme of having plastic surgery. They are not happy with their own body.

    However i also agree with DarknessPinokio that sometimes there are double standards. I also think men suffer from objectification by women and it’s not seen as bad.

  3. Ever since I have started dating, I have across many guys who I consider to be objectifiers. In fact, the majority of guys I have dated or started getting to know seemed to be what you would call an objectifier. I have always heard that guys only want one thing. We all know what that is. Well, most of them anyway and that good guys are hard to come by. In my experiences with dating, I would have to say I agree. The majority of them were first attracted to me because of my physical appearance. It’s not that what I wear is so revealing, it’s just that I like to keep my appearance up by always having my hair and makeup fixed, and wearing cute clothes.

    I think the majority of girls would admit that attention from guys is nice because it’s a good feeling to be noticed, but constantly being paid negative attention really isn’t that great. Maybe some girls appreciate it because they are just getting some sort of attention, but I find it rather annoying when a guy tries to pick me up just from seeing the backside of me somewhere or when a guy honks at me while I am walking because I’m wearing a tank top, shorts, and have my hair curled.

    The pictures in this blog of the headless women appear sexy and appealing to most men I’m sure because men are visual creatures and are easily excited by a woman’s physical features because it is what they can see. I know I have had way more men stare at me or compliment me on a physical feature, rather than something non-physical. However, I think a lot of women feel the need to dress or appear sexy because of the attention and somewhat “acceptance” they will get.

  4. extra note: just shared my feeling. You know i sometimes get pissed off by my society they too sexualize women bodies whereas too desexualize men body, so it become contrast at public.

    i till my adolescene don’t know anything about female body- because its very taboo.
    but my female family don’t need to be educate about men anatomy anymore.

    also i’m upset if men do something to women, we are sex offender but if women do the exact same thing to men its must be okey. (it’s like women body are more worthy)

    like female cleaner are legal & free to enter men’s toilet where there’s men urinal (easy to see) if the situation reverse men cleaner accidentally see women “activity” on toilet its a BIG, BIG cases but since it’s women that see men “activity” it’s okey even if she accidentally see men’s penis and the worse is it is SUPPORT by LEGAL system.

    i just can’t agree with this double standard

    if i said my view i usually get ridicule or ignored

    its hurt :”((

  5. Hi i saw on youtube that said it’s also women’s fault if they wear a sexy dress and get raped so they come to conclusion women shouldn’t wear sexy dress. They said women give rapist a chance but i think chance does not include with what women wear because even women in hijab can get raped (if that rapist already want to rape they will search for a chance–not include dress) like if u’re midnight alone at a wrong place…

    also women have rights to choose fashion, if she’s in group and wear sexy i think it’s okey don’t label her.
    and everybody have different perception about what’s appropriate and what’s not. Like if you live on tribe naked seem very normal but in middle east they will think women deserved to get raped if wear sexy clothes for example, what’s your opinion?

  6. in my personal view i see it as marketing skills and you’re mainly on point and they show this so we think “WOW” and make us want to buy the item or product or even look like that, even though its enlarged and all Photoshop to the max.

  7. In my personal view how i see it is all done for marketing, they’ll edit it and enlarge breast and make look more attractive so that the consumer will be like “WOW” and, want to be like that and will buy the product or get what’s shown.

  8. What a great post to remind people that popular culture can really have an effect on society. At the very end of the post, when you thanked Mike… I agree! Without him, I would not be able to understand this idea either. Thanks to your post, I understand what you are getting at. I always struggled with this because I thought women had to look a certain way and had to be perfect- I learned this from magazines and silly reality shows. As I matured, I understand that objectifying women is not demeaning. Magazines and commercials throw me off when it is a women being “sexy”, and it frustrates me. I am proud that women are needed to sell things such as perfumes, clothes, etc. but at the same time, I hate it when the boys around me just stare at the TV or comment on it when they see something. I think it should start with the marketing folks taking feminists seriously when producing such pictures, but then again there are so many women out there ready to model for these products. I think you did the right thing by ditching him; it gives women motivation to do the same if they are ever in that situation.

    • Thanks. But I’ll have to say that I do find objectification demeaning. You’re just a thing to have sex with. Who cares about your personality or your mind, or who you are? That’s why I broke up with Mike. I mostly needed to thank Mike because meeting him helps me to explain things to my students.

  9. Buna ziua !
    O melodie cum numai in ROMANIA
    se poate compune !!!


  10. Really good post. I actually find it scary when people genuinely objectify others sexually in a real life setting. I have to admit I love the art and photography of people like Robert Mapplethorpe who often depict the body in an objectifying manner, like some of these shots for example:

    I think there is room for artistic exploration of the human body as “parts” rather than the whole. But when real people see someone simply in terms of what satisfaction can be gained only for themselves rather than as a living person just like them, well that’s just psychopathic.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Thank you. I’ll have to say that I think those photos are very beautiful. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be a different sentiment behind them, and maybe a true artist can bring that out. Because for me they hold a certain dignity.

  11. I just read a poster I thought you would enjoy, it drives the point home: “If a guy wants you for your breast, thighs, and legs, send him to KFC. You’re a lady, not a cheap value meal.”

  12. Wow, you hit the point straight home! So true!

  13. I think honest, subjective articles like this are so necessary in the understanding of feminism, and general social constructs of what’s considered normal or appropriate. Thanks!!!

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