Objectifying Women Objectifies Men

Norah Vincent transforms into a man ("Ned") for 18 months.

Norah Vincent transforms into a man (“Ned”) for 18 months.

The four Fs. That’s all you need to know about women. Find ‘em. Feel ‘em. F- ‘em. Forget ‘em.

The only time 12-year-old Phil had a man-to-man chat with his dad, he got that advice. By the time he was a married 39-year-old professional with two daughters, he seemed to have absorbed the lesson:

What are most guys looking for in a woman? We’re not looking for a nice person. We’re not looking for someone to rear our children. We’re not looking for someone who’s going to pitch in and be a good worker and contribute to the household. A guy is looking for a woman to f*ck him.

Norah Vincent met Phil during an 18 month period of her life when she dressed in drag to pass as a man, hoping to better understand them. And she wrote a book about it, Self-Made Man. Thru this journey she came to empathize with the male experience, and admired many of the men she got to know.

Other times she felt dispirited. Like when she met Phil.

Dressed as “Ned,” Norah had met Phil at a low-class strip joint called the Lizard Lounge – one of her more depressing discoveries. As a stripper approached on that first trip Norah looked up at her face, trying to avoid seeing her hard veined hands, her stretched belly and “her small, angry breasts.” Norah had expected that the woman’s face would be the least offensive part of her. Instead,

(Her face) was where the squalor showed the most… She wasn’t pretending that she liked us, or wanted us, or cared what we thought. She knew what we thought.

In the following weeks Norah watched other strippers like her. They would,

solicit you at the bar with their tits in their hands, sometimes with semi-sneers on their faces, and ask you how you were, often in the most hostile and obviously uninterested way… the girls often failed to ring a smile out of (the) glowering types, which explains why so many of them had given up trying long ago, and now came across like disgruntled cashiers at the all-night grocery.

Over time Norah saw that the women’s faces, their expressions, and the lives they reflected, didn’t really matter in these places. And that only a woman would likely even notice.

But she felt complicit in the objectification. And as the only woman not for sale, she put herself in the strippers’ place, measuring her own life against theirs. But looking again at “the thoughtless consumption” about her, the (seemingly) immense difference between the stripper and herself disappeared:

I knew that the circumstances of her life—or mine — didn’t make any difference in this place. To these guys she had no life. She was generic and rootless, just as her component female parts were devoid of any individuation. And so, therefore was I. I didn’t have to put myself in her place. I was in her place, just another piece of ass for the picking, had they only known it.

But actually, men who behave like this don’t objectify while sustaining their own humanity and empowerment.

Mark Swartz, a director of the Masters and Johnson clinic, says that porn becomes self-objectifying for many men who get hooked on it. He was talking about pornographic images instead of strippers, but his thoughts are provoking:

A man starts to feel like a computer himself when he realizes that he’s dependent on computer images to turn him on.

Norah Vincent came to see something similar at strip clubs. Both the strippers and the lonely men who frequented those places were equally debased.

Men who are all about sex and little else, or who seek to use and abuse women, are just as dehumanized, one-dimensional and shallow as anyone they objectify.

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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 4, 2015, in feminism, men, objectification, pornography, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I totally agree in what you wrote about objectification, especially about how women are treated as objects and only for sex. I never really thought about this until a man told me. I have questioned male friends and they agree that ultimately, that’s the first thing they want – sex.

  2. This makes me think of how often what we see is a reflection back of our own projections… interesting idea that in objectifying women men objectify themselves. It makes me think too of how it can be easy to look at other women as a women from that lens of objectification… a reflection of how our own self-objectification.

  3. Have you heard of Tinder? it’s a new dating application that’s it’s focused more on common interests in Facebook and photos.
    So men and women judged each other mostly on their photos.
    Women supposedly don’t care about men’s looks but this Tinder trend shows that women value and choose men by their looks

    • A number of studies have shown that women are nearly as interested in looks as men are. They are just less likely to objectify.

      If I ever repost this I will be more clear about what objectification is. I’ve written about what it is and why women are less likely to do in this post:
      Do Women Objectify Men?

      But as I mentioned to another commentor, here is a quick definition of objectification:

      Objects are treated as little more than a means to others’ pleasure. They are not people with lives, goals, thoughts or emotions. So you don’t have to care about them. It’s all one-dimensional. The men in the strip club were seeing/treating women like that.

      Women don’t do it less because they’re better than men. They do it less because they aren’t taught to do it, but men are bombarded by objectifying images.

  4. The objectification of women, and men too, is so difficult to address as often times it stays in the mind or is done in private place we don’t see it happening… which allows for its continuation. Thought provoking post!

    • Yeah, it’s practically impossible to change when it is unconscious. Talking about it brings it at least partly to consciousness, allowing the possibility for some change.

  5. “Men who are all about sex and little else, or who seek to use and abuse women, are just as dehumanized, one-dimensional and shallow as anyone they objectify.”

    Today, it seems to me that women are in relentless pursuit of being just like men. I wonder if they (women) too know how it feels to be permanently invisible, disposable, undesired, and often unloved? Maybe this is why so many men are “all about the sex and little else.”

    Until you have walked in my shoes, I don’t see how you can really understand the daily reality for most men. Not the minority of men women chase after even if for these very men it is “all about the sex and little else” too. Oh I forgot, these men get a free pass from women.

    • Maybe you are an objectifier. I don’t know you well enough to say. But people can get confused about the difference between appreciating a person who is sexy and actually objectifying them.

      Objects are treated as little more than a means to others’ pleasure. They are not people with lives, goals, thoughts or emotions. So you don’t have to care about them. It’s all one-dimensional. The men in the strip club were seeing/treating women like that.

      I don’t see how anyone can be happy or have good, healthy relationships when they do that.

      And I don’t think that women are in the relentless pursuit to be just like men. If they are, they have bought the false idea that men are somehow better.

      Feminists, anyway, want women and men to have access to their full selves, while recognizing the worth and dignity of each person.

      So women are encouraged to take on certain empowering so-called masculine traits like taking leadership, being assertive and active in the world… And having that be accepted. But also sustaining the ability to feel and express emotion, be nurturing… All those great so-called feminine qualities. And we want men to be able to be in touch with those things, too, and for that to be socially accepted.

      And if you look at interest in dating someone, OK Cupid found that men tend to all flock to the most beautiful women and ignore everyone else, Whereas women we’re more likely to proportionally contact men at a variety of levels of attractiveness.
      More on that here: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/06/10/louis-c-k-on-assortative-mating/

      • “And if you look at interest in dating someone, OK Cupid found that men tend to all flock to the most beautiful women and ignore everyone else, Whereas women we’re more likely to proportionally contact men at a variety of levels of attractiveness.”

        Men flock to beautiful women like women pay attention to handsome men. But plenty of men on dating sites will write to or contact, average looking women too. Whereas, women seem to rarely contact men in general, let alone an average looking man. And even the few women who do proportionally contact men, they are most often just contacting but no plans in actually dating or meeting the guy. So basically a waste of time for the man or wasting time for men.

      • It may depend on the dating site as to whether women are serious or not. I do know that sites that are just about sexual flings and not about relationships are more likely to attract women who just want to flirt and do nothing else. Otherwise, don’t really know. I’ll have to check it out and see if the type of dating site matters.

      • I guess I am just really confused about this whole objectification thing. Yes, I would agree that the manner in which the women in the strip club were viewed and treated is dehumanizing. Just as prostitution etc.

        But, where the confusion comes in is when people consent to just have sex….Is that not making one another objects just for pleasure? When men do this sort of thing, often it is viewed with considerable disdain. But, when women do it, somehow it is viewed as empowering. So, I really don’t get it. Where do you draw the line on when certain behavior is objectification versus consenting adult behavior?

        If a woman is highly sexualized and has tons of sexual partners, society is likely to slut shame her. I would not consider her a slut. But, neither would I find her desirable. But, is she not engaging in objectification of men? Confusing.

        What I mean by women being in relentless pursuit of acting like men is the drinking, swearing, lewd conduct etc….I was in Baltimore over the weekend and these two young women were urinating in an alley! They were also quite drunk. This is behavior I see increasingly with women. This was once conduct strictly in the domain of men.

        Why do you say ‘so-called feminine qualities? I do think their are qualities that are indeed unique to men and women completely devoid of social influences. What I have observed in women-run organizations is a greater emphasis on cooperation. There is a more egalitarian approach. Consensus is valued over dominance….These are all excellent qualities that men lack for the most part, in my opinion. Our world is based on hierarchy (i.e., the alpha dog nonsense). You either conquer or be conquered……

        Yes, we men can be in touch with these feminine qualities. But, if women are in a mad rush to discard these qualities who are going to teach us? I truly believe that women tend to have a moderating influence over men. So, as Rabbi Boteach says, “if there are no ladies, then their will be no gentlemen.”

        As for the OK Cupid matter I am very skeptical. How can that be if we all agree that most women find most men UN-attractive? Women are also far more discriminating and picky. So, it just seems iffy to me.

      • On okCupid the research showed that Women judged men less attractive than men judged women, but women were more likely to contact men at every level of attractiveness than vice versa.

        One study tried to figure out what were feminine traits and what were masculine traits — how could you predict what sex the person was based on their traits. And about the only thing you could predict was how physically strong a person was. Even with our socialization there was tremendous overlap between men and women. But we do live in a culture that tries to cut off women’s leadership skills, assertiveness, Etc. Which women definitely are as capable of as men. And we try to cut off men’s emotional expression, Which stunts them. And hurts the rest of society. Men who are disempowered become depressed or sad, but are not supposed to feel those “Weak emotions” so they do “emotion work” to turn them into “Strong emotions”/”Male emotions” Like anger. And then they beat up their wives, or write horrible mean and nasty things on social media, or kill themselves, Or kill others, Or rape… Both they and society would be much healthier if they didn’t have to deny their real feelings and constantly put up a strong front.

        Women tend to take on male traits because they’re more valued in our society, Because we rank males or females. So they want to be associated with a higher status.

        I don’t like just using people for sexual pleasure and not caring about who they are or how they feel. I don’t think that that is a healthy way to treat one another. Here’s more on objectification:

        Sexual Objectification, What is it?
        Sexual Objectification, The Harm

      • As for your last paragraph you may be right, but objectifying someone for their looks isn’t the only class of objectification. Whereas men seek out the most beautiful women, women look for success in men. You can find various articles around the web, describing men as “success objects” not valued for their individual personality or emotions but their ability to provide. Media tends to focus on objectification in terms of physical appearance but any one-dimensional appreciation of features from the opposite sex is in reality objectification as well, it doesn’t matter if you objectify someone for their looks, their money or their nice car if that’s all you focus on.

        I think this is where much of the resistance against feminism stems from, not that most men are against the idea that women wish to be appreciated for more than their looks, but that the discourse should include more than that

      • Most men and women, these days, want to marry a soulmate. It’s unusual for women these days to want to marry man that she doesn’t love. And I don’t know how being with a “success object” helps women unless they marry the guy and get his money. Which leaves her unhappy in the long run. She would be much happier with a man she loved who had less “success.”

        The main reason that women are more likely to marry for love and not money nowadays is feminism.

        In the past, a woman didn’t have opportunities to make a good living. If she wanted a nice lifestyle she would have to marry a doctor instead of being one herself. Since she can be a doctor now, she can marry a man who she loves, Instead of a man who provides a lot of resources.

        However, we still rank men above women in our society. And so men tend to feel uncomfortable marrying a woman of higher status than him. And she feels like she is emasculating her husband if she makes more money than him. Luckily, men and women are both comfortable marrying someone of equal status. And that’s what usually happens. Partly because we tend to hang out with people of equal status, Whether in College or in the workplace.

        As we get more gender equality, through feminism, women will be more comfortable marrying guys with less status and money than themselves, And men will be more comfortable marrying women with more status and money than themselves.

        So I’ve heard about the “success object” thing. It just doesn’t make much sense to me.

      • Sure, most people want to marry a soulmate. But that doesn’t necessarily exclude finding a guy that’s successful as well as a soulmate. It’s not that women look for men based on objective terms of success alone and will accept poor behaviour but that success does till appear to be an important criteria for many women (but far from the only one).

        And yes, I think too, that as people tend to implement more equality in their lives and society these differences may render obsolete in the future but unfortunately for many men, in the meantime, many women continue to seek out success objects.

        But this example isn’t really my point, it’s to show that theories of objectification can be applied in many contexts all equally unacceptable in my opinion. Genereally I think it’s not acceptable to objectify person x for any quality y.

      • I agree. Thanks for your thoughts.

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