Do Women Buy Into Objectification?

Dad wears short shorts, like daughter

Dad wears short shorts, like daughter

By Jack Smith

Why do some women buy into our objectifying culture?

I wondered about that one day when my women’s studies instructor asked this question:

A feminist friend of mine has a daughter who wants to wear short shorts that show her butt cheeks. Her mom doesn’t like it because she feels that it objectifies her. But her daughter says she’s a feminist and feels women should be able to choose to do whatever they want.

What do you all think about this?

Here’s what I think: While this young woman probably truly believed what she was saying, I can see things from another perspective. Which may or may not agree with her. It depends. 

First and foremost, I want to say that when it comes to objectification, I place no blame on any individual woman or man. When dealing with societal problems, it is useless to blame individuals.

But when women are objectified, so much that’s wonderful about them is missed. Whether it’s men looking at women or women looking at themselves in one-dimensional ways. That one-dimensionality is a problem.

But our society bombards young women with messages that they should objectify themselves. The images act as role models. After all, the women in them are called “models.”

It all gets unconsciously into the heads of both women and men. That’s why I blame society and not the individuals who internalize it.

And saying you do it for yourself, and that it makes you feel good, may be more evidence of conformity to other’s expectations — if their approval is what makes you feel good.

The idea that people have choice in those situations can be a damaging myth, depending on the motivation and how self-aware they are. If the choice is either to make yourself a sex object, or be considered to have less worth by your peers, it’s not a real choice.

Does that mean girls should be shunned or shamed for wearing miniskirts? Of course not. Does it mean that in an egalitarian society miniskirts would cease to exist? Of course not! In an egalitarian society women could theoretically walk around naked and not be considered sex objects. There is nothing inherently wrong with revealing clothing.

There’s nothing wrong with looking sexy and enjoying sexuality. Or wearing short shorts. And some women might actually be fighting society’s expectations by wearing them. The question is what is happening here? What’s the motivation?

If society tells you what you are supposed to do and you “choose” to follow that message, it cannot be considered activism of any kind.

Fortunately, if you become aware of this problem, you are more likely to have a real choice, instead of unconsciously conforming to a cultural message.

If the young woman is self-aware and not blindly led by a society that says a woman’s worth lies in a sexy appearance, but is instead expressing her freedom to dress however she wants, then yes, it is a feminist choice.

Even if the world doesn’t change, you can at least think for yourself and influence the people around you to care less about ideals that are damaging to both genders.

This was written by one of my students who gave permission to post it under a pseudonym.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Sexual Objectification, What is it?
Why Men Objectify
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 February 5, 2014, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Is it objectifying if a woman were to wear shorts? Absolutely not. It is primarily the intention of the woman (if she wants to be perceived as value based just on looks), and about perception. However, it is unfair to categorize all girls who expose their legs as objectifying themselves. Women should have the freedom to dress and express themselves according to how they feel, what temperature it is outside, and so forth. If a woman is deemed to minimize her worth because of wearing shorts, how about men who don’t wear t-shirts on a hot day? Just like an earlier blog post, men/women aren’t hardwired to find breasts attractive. So why can’t women have the same liberty of being a dignified human being? It is such a double standard. It is culture. If a woman chooses to be sexy, she should have the liberty to do so. Fashion and clothing is similar to art-it is an expression of oneself. It is others that percieve her (women that slut shame her, men that objectify her, etc) that are at fault.

  2. There is always a time and a place for everything. Women need to be able to identify what is appropriate to wear in the environment they are in. In church women should know not to wear revealing clothes, but in a club or party scene of course you can wear revealing clothing. Wearing revealing clothing shouldn’t objectify a woman. What clothing a person decides to wear shouldn’t put them in a category. No matter what you wear you will always be judged. This is a lose lose situation. With the media alway telling us that being thin and showing off your body is accepted and beautiful. In actuality we look up to these models and celebrities and emulate them. The only difference is these models are praised looking and dressing that way while the average woman is judged harshly. Men say that’s how they want their women to look, but feel uncomfortable when they actually do. A way of dressing doesn’t change a person and the way I see it is do it while you can at the appropriate time. If I wear short shorts to a party that doesn’t take away from my eduction or intellect. Women do not into objectification just for the attention and do not have low self esteem.

  3. No objection from me 😉

  4. That’s an interesting question isn’t it. It would be quite un-feminist to suggest women should cover their bodies so they don’t objectify themselves. I guess it becomes a problem when women dress sexy because they feel it’s expected. I think it’s fairly normal to enjoy looking good and having admiring glances or compliments from other people, I’m not sure I really know where an admiring glance ends and objectification begins. Personally if there is one thing I like about my body, it’s my legs, and I live in shorty shorts and short skirts, I’ve never really though of it as objectifying myself, maybe I am a little bit. This, like most of your posts, gets me thinking.

  5. “If the young woman is self-aware and not blindly led by a society that says a woman’s worth lies in a sexy appearance, but is instead expressing her freedom to dress however she wants, then yes, it is a feminist choice.”

    Amen to that. Maybe this girl would benefit from a discussion with her parents about how she defines feminism and her motivations for wearing the shorts. …assuming her parents are comfortable discussing feminist ideas.

  6. I agree w/ your student- it can be about the distinction between choice and self-objectification that makes the difference.. intention is everything. The problem is, when a girl is conditioned to self-objectify, can she really make that distinction? Or, is it just a matter of, “I know I am doing this to objectify myself and I am choosing to do it, which makes it okay?” And perhaps that is the world we live in- I am not sure that today it is possible for most of us to act 100% free from the dictates of objectification.

    • You make a good point. And I suspect he would agree with you. I also agree that it could be very hard to tell. But I like that he provided some food for thought on the question.

      • Most definitely. I really appreciate it when men contribute to the dialog and have insightful things to say cuz it really is an issue that affects all of us.

      • He wanted to be anonymous but I thought it was important that he use a pseudonym so that you could tell his gender. I agree that it’s important for guys to chime in, especially when they criticize sexual objectification of women.

  7. Feminism is controversial as it’s hard to define it. Here in India people who talk about feminism also talk about women reservation. So, it is not easy to decode. (May be the person who emphasis more is right :P)

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