Sexual Objectification and Me

By Annie Figueroa

I cut my jeans into skimpy shorts, befriended the weed-smoking troublemakers in detention, and ditched the classes I once cared about.

That’s how I rebelled in frustration over a learning disability that I eventually overcame.

In the meantime, my self-esteem came from self-objectification: Reducing myself to my body while neglecting the rest of me.

Clad in risqué fashions I felt confident and proud. I began to admire and like the person I saw in the mirror. I was no longer invisible Annie. I was the daring, confident, sexy tour de force of my high school.

I wanted to feel beautiful, and had not yet discovered the insidious consequences of objectification that reduces women (usually) to sex and cares nothing about our thoughts or feelings.

Others objectified me. But they could slut-shame all they wanted, I didn’t care.

I eventually overcame my learning disability — along with my one-dimensional self-objectification — and joined my body to my brain.

Still, others objectified me.

My thoughts and feelings didn’t matter

After high school I headed to Mount Holyoke, an Ivy League women’s college.

I was elated and thrilled to join the community of quirky, overthinking feminists dedicated to lifting each other up. I felt liberated, excited and open to any opportunity that presented itself — sexual or not.

At a Halloween party that first semester I connected with an attractive Amherst boy who wanted to hook up. I was new to sexuality and uncomfortable with it, so I shut him down. But a friend encouraged me: “He’s cute! You should have a little fun, let loose. It won’t hurt. Just keep me on speed dial in case you feel unsafe.” So I decided to go for it and reconnected with him moments later.

That night I experimented with sexual equality, without hesitating to assert myself or speak up when uncomfortable. The next morning I felt fulfilled and satisfied. 

But everything changed when I met his roommates. They high-fived him, and cheered him on. But they catcalled me as I exited. When I checked my phone I found a series of texts like this: “Hey sexy China doll whore, call me for a good time!”

Just moments after feeling empowered and fulfilled I felt horrified, vulnerable and scared.

Reclaiming my sexuality

Since that Amherst experience I have learned to unapologetically embrace my sexuality and demand respect, even when people are reluctant to give it.

I’ve reclaimed the word “slut” and kindly ask people to not degrade me with it. If they do, I gracefully break contact with a smile and hold my head high.

Sluts are merely women pushing patriarchal boundaries, which is necessary for change.

This was written by one of my students who gave me permission to post the piece with a pen name.

Related Posts
Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?
Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?
Men, Women React to Male/Female Nudity

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 19, 2020, in objectification and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. After reading the post my initial thoughts go to why is it that the men get praised like they just won the lottery and the women get shamed? No matter how much we pretend or like to believe that society is doing a better job of treating men and women equally today in modern society, there is always going to be a case where that is not true. There are norms of how a man should act and how he should be in charge, and if he allows the women to take some charge then he is shamed for that. There is also the norm of how a woman should behave, and how it is not okay for her to talk about certain topics simply because it is un-lady like. I think it is amazing that the author decided to not let any of that get to her and embrace her sexuality. Not many women can say they do the same because of fear or insecurity but seeing others do it gives the rest of us women just a little bit more courage to stand up for ourselves as well and demand the respect we deserve.

  2. I have always noticed that when women feel confident and in control of themselves, there are many men, and sadly women too, who feel the need to bring them down. While men are praised for having sex, women, on the other hand, are slut shamed for the same thing. Women are allowed to have hook ups, one night stands, sex with multiple partners, etc if they want to and if they consent to it. We need to leave the idea behind that women must remain pure and belong to only one man. Women don’t belong to anyone! We must reclaim our bodies and our sense of self and allow ourselves to enjoy whatever it is we want to do with ourselves. As for other women who slut shame, please stop it. We need to work together and fight this patriarchal system that is holding us back while uplifting men. Why can’t we be equal?

    • And anytime you hear someone put another person down you know that they are insecure and are trying to create a sense of superiority by putting someone else down to lift themselves up. Just advertising their insecure self-esteem.

  3. “I’ve reclaimed the word “slut” and kindly ask people to not degrade me with it. ”

    I’m confused. If you’ve reclaimed it, how could you be degraded by it?

    • I agree that this can be confusing.

      Here’s the idea: oppressed groups reclaim a word that has been use to put them down so that it isn’t so hurtful. For instance, in rap music you will hear the N-word a lot as a way of taking and using the word so that it doesn’t hurt you as it had when it is just use as an attack. Or some gay men have starred in a show called Queer Eye. Or a woman will say, “Yeah I’m a bitch. Bitches get stuff done.”

      But only the in group can use the word. That’s part of what gives it its power.

  4. Objectification is something that most, if not all women, have experienced in their life, whether it involved being catcalled, harassed, or taken advantage of. I deeply respect the thoughts expressed in this post and completely agree that society faces a deeply rooted issue. I liked the point made about how out of frustration this woman gave in to the idea of body objectification out of frustration of a deeper issue. This is more common than I think we as a society think. Sometimes it’s easier to be subject to society’s expectations in order to make our lives easier and less complicated. We learned from society that our bodies are what matter and not our minds, so it’s hard not to focus on just the physical aspect. When “slut shaming” occurs, the situation can get worse. Now that one has given in to society they are now judged for it. There is no middle ground. I appreciate how she mentioned that she was able to join, “ my body to my brain.” Being able to accept all of you both mentally and physically is such an important aspect of understanding yourself.

  5. It is quite sad to know that you had to go through such a rampant sexual objectification.
    Sometimes teenagers do things they don’t want to do simply to be “cool” or “visible” or just “fit in”. Why do they not realize that following a crowd mentality is not always cool?
    Such catcalling and staring is really uncomfortable, even for men. I don’t know how these started, but incidents like these are apparently increasing, which is quite worrisome.

  6. Slut Shaming. Why do people even do it? I have a few theories as to why. Men can be jealous and feel like they’re missing out, maybe they project this feeling onto women by shaming them. It’s cliche for haters to be jealous, I think it’s pretty applicable to this term as well. Why do women in short clothes bother men so much? I was reading this blog and this question kept bugging that little voice in the back of my head.. WHY? I have yet to find a proper answer to this question, I genuinely think it’s because some men can’t control themselves and resort to restricting women and making them feel bad for being so attractive. I remember reading a story online about how school dress codes are needed because certain body parts being exposed could “distract” boys. So extremely sexist but I don’t think the schools are even ready for that conversation.

    • Thanks for your theories. Interesting thoughts.

      The key to understanding it is that you find it in patriarchal cultures but not in non-patriarchal cultures (which hardly exist anymore).If you want to create a sense that men are free and women or not, create a notion that celebrates men and punishes women for doing the same thing. Plus, make women feel ashamed about something that is a key human drive and you create mass shame among women. Helpful and sustaining a patriarchy, a sense of male privilege and superiority.

      And keep in mind that me and patriarchy are two different things. Patriarchy is a system of sexism and plenty of men are against that. In fact, women unconsciously internalize patriarchy too and some men and some women both do things like slut-shame. Once patriarchy is established all of us unconsciously learn it.

  7. Right now I feel like I’m also on a way to stop objectifying myself. Or let others stop objectifying me. Idk. I still fall back into it cause the ad hoc reactions feel so good for that moment. While I started to love myself and accept myself, I noticed I needed that less and less which is good cause I feel for me it’s the only way to have a healthy sexuality. I guess it’s the only way you can really achieve to do what you want yourself and not what others might want you to do which you comply with out of fear to be rejected and out of hope to be liked. This is very important to me, not only for myself but also because I lost valuable people by acting like that. I struggled so hard to overcome those mechanisms and I feel like I’m getting closer.

  8. I greatly respect the author and the development that occurred over the years. Slut shaming is a serious issue and there is nothing wrong with embracing whatever sexuality you choose. Many people make fun of things they are jealous of or as a way to deflect their own issues, and it is never fair. Over the years I have greatly changed from being very quiet and introverted to becoming my true self and opening my self up to many more people. It took me many years but I eventually learned to ignore hateful comments and just to focus on being a better person myself. I make it a point to never make fun of people as I have experienced it for a long time and you can never know what is going on in the other person’s life. It is great that the author has moved past taking the word personally, and to instead break contact with those hurtful people.

  9. You were pressure into having sex, did not have a bad time, and then were objectified. This really seems like a social issue to me. What I mean is in college, some guys are just looking to hook up every night, and it does not matter with whom, as long as she is hot to him and his friends approve. You were peer pressured, maybe he was, too. This does not in any way validate what he did and I do not know how or why he would text that and expect you to like that. You were objectified, and I think it is important to realize the context and the environment that led to all this. Firstly, it is college, which increases the likelihood of attending parties with douchebags. These douchebags, although they might seem nice, you need to pay attention to what they want from you, and if that is the same thing you want. Also they usually have a group of douchebag friends that could egg them on. Usually they make it clear that they want to hook up. If you want to hook up with someone you just met, it is completely up to you, as I said context and environment are important. At parties there is usually alcohol and drugs, a guy you meet there could be drunk, high or both. What I am trying to say is be careful. There are a lot of cases of girls passing out and guys taking advantage of them. Take care.

  10. I respect the outlook and opinions this post makes. Sexuality is something that 100% should be explored by all people within the boundaries they are comfortable with. Why is it so common that women who have sex are considered a slut while men are usually just rewarded? It honestly does not make any sense, especially in this modern world we live in. Boundaries are also necessary in being able to develop a healthy relationship with your body and being comfortable. Reclaiming sexuality is so important and is something I have learned to work on in my college experience. I have had trouble figuring out who I am in the process with work, school, and my social life and have held back embracing my sexuality because of this. However, I completely agree with demanding respect and reclaiming the word slut as a way to enforce change and help others find themselves in this process along the way.

    • The double standard doesn’t make any sense outside of patriarchy. Within a patriarchy – a sexist system that privileges man and tries to create a sense of male superiority — punishing women for something that men are celebrated for creates a sense of who is free and who is not and works well to create a mass sense of shame in women for having desires that are completely natural.

  11. This is a very good story and you really overcame it. I’m sorry you had to deal with those guys slut-shaming you, double standard much? I had to deal with this issue in high school and would yell back the guys telling them girls can have fun too! It’s unfair that back then, being open with your sexuality so looked down upon and now society is okay with it and much easier to be open with it today. Because of the past, I am not so open anymore and I’m okay with it and fully support people who are open today, especially women because they always get the short-end of the stick when it comes to “hooking up” and it’s not fair for them to be degraded, especially when guys are getting “crowned” for it. I’m glad you are embracing it now and holding your head up high, and I hope others can read this story and think to do the same.

  12. Why is it when men gets caught cheating or are involved in anything sexual, they are seemed as a “king” but when a woman does it, she is a major “slut”. Women are not even allowed to talk about sexual topics because they get shut down. Women should be proud of their bodies and shouldn’t be sexualized or be punished over them. I have this friend that when she was single, she loved to hook up. I always called her a slut but as a JOKE and of course, she knew that. But I actually never thought about her like that because for 1 that’s degrading and 2 she could literally do anything she wants to because she is the one in charge of her own body. It’s nice to get compliments when you are feeling good about yourself, but sometimes men don’t seem to get it. Like said above when the guy called her a “sexy China doll whore” like that is that? Why does he have to call her a whore? I think people just need to shut up and let women express themselves the way they want to because they can. 

    • Thanks for your comments. I wrote a couple of comments to people who have a hard time understanding why the double standard exists. Take a look. But it’s tied to patriarchy – a system that works to privilege men and create a sense of male superiority. It doesn’t make any logical sense outside of that harmful system.

  13. Since we’re born, much of what defines our character comes from the ever-changing environment we’re raised in. From elementary to high school, much of my learning process came from trial and error through social situations. Transitioning from a child to a young man was something that only I could define for myself. What kind of man would I eventually become? When it came to dating and interacting with girls, I was always shy and never knew how to approach. I always felt safer in groups or with my friends so that I could let my guard down and follow the energy of the situation. I did not know boundaries because throughout my time in grade school, no one had boundaries, we were all kids testing social boundaries. It was easy to get away with calling one another names, everyone would just regurgitate and reenact all the bad words and actions they’ve heard or seen other people do through their environment. I think the problem college students have, especially when it comes to sexual encounters and experimentation, is the lack of understanding these boundaries because no one was there to show them early on. Once college starts, the social circles grow and you compare yourself to the actions of others trying to assimilate in a new environment. The freedom college students are now able to experience allows them to test the boundaries even more. Partying comes into the picture at a blink of an eye. Before you know it, you’re partying with people you’ve never met trying to make good impressions on everyone hoping someone will like you. I think most of the people who have something negative or immature to say about sexuality lack experience themselves and remain in ignorance.

  14. I think the whole slut shaming thing is so childish. I have never seen why it is the thing to do try and make a woman feel bad about herself by expressing her sexual curiosities. Guys are somehow always applauded for having sex with women in almost every circumstance if not every kind of scenario, so why can’t it be the same way for women? It is already bad enough that women are still somewhat treated like property even though they are humans just like the other half of humans that are male. Women have to deal with child labor and periods on top of that so I feel like they should have even more of a right to exercise their sexual desires, curiosities etc. People do not realize that sex is a two-way street, even though women seem to always get the short end of the stick. Lastly, I feel like most people who slut shame or put down girls are just basically guys and girls that are jealous in some way. For women, maybe they wish they could pull off the same look or maybe the guy they liked ended up liking the “slutty” girl. For guys they usually slut shame girls that either reject them or don’t come as advertised for a being a slut.

  15. What an empowering story! I’m almost at a loss for words. I will admit that I am usually the girl who I slut shaming and calling people mean names, well that was me in high school. Now I just judge people in my head which doesn’t make it any better. I speak on sexualizing women and degrading them on how they dress, but in the way that I was raised I feel as if you should still respect your body and not prance around like an object or people will see you as an object. This doesn’t mean I’m for the “because you wear revealing clothing you deserve to get raped, or cat called”. Let me tell you, I am not for that. I feel that women should be comfortable in their own skin and if they feel proud enough to walk around in a short skirt, high heels, and a tank top, then so be it! As long as the individual isn’t sexually active towards every living man or woman they see.

  16. Sluts and ho’s but a male is a player, why?
    I think we don’t talk enough about this subject, sexuality still is taboo in our society no matter how advanced we feel we are getting. The subject of sex is not a norm for most women whether it’s with consent or by abuse, for example women are usually not comfortable enough to talk about the subject in front of men because of doubts, fear that she will be looked at as wanting sexual activity or that she is dirty. For some reason even joking around as a woman about sex could be seen as not appropriate for a lady, have you heard the term “lady like”? I’m sure you have heard about it, especially as a woman. It’s a miss conception created mainly by men who have no idea what being a woman is like. If a woman has numerous sexual partners it’s considered “loose” and might not be worthy of marriage or being “wife material” but when men do it’s considered “another notch on the belt” or someone with experience. We must stop agreeing with this type of mentality and if we choose to “sleep around” not be ashamed of it as it was our choice and if we say no and do not consent we also shouldn’t feel bad for not giving in or doing something we are not comfortable with, we should not feel like we owe anyone an explanation or that we are going to be looked at as less because of our choice.
    We must value our own worth.

    • Yeah, the only way the sexual double standard makes sense is in a patriarchy that wants to punish women and celebrate man for doing the same thing, thereby re-creating a sense of male privilege.

  17. Reading this blog post I was left with a few thoughts about it’s content. Why did the girl feel the need to objectify herself in order to build back up her self esteem? I wonder what type of external factors could have gotten this girl so depressed or just angry at the world to do that to herself. She says that she was frustrated with a learning disability she had but as I read that line over and over again I wondered how a learning disability could lead to such feelings. I’ll be the first one to admit that I may be being ignorant on this and not aware of the scope of learning disabilites that exist and how severe some of them can be. I just hope that as she grows into a person she is able to disconnect her self image to her body and connect it to the person she is. I’m thinking of this post as a father to a very young little girl and I wonder if anything occurred with her parents to lead her to feel that she must rebel and do all of the things she did.

    • I think that sexuality has been a traditional place of power for women in a patriarchal society where women are disempowered, and in our culture today we celebrate the objectification of women. These ideas unconsciously get implanted in our brains. All of this is very unfortunate. I appreciate that she has done some self reflection and realizes that a one-dimensional self-objectification is not healthy.

  18. I respect the author for opening up about this topic, as it’s not a side you get to hear from very often. In their high school years, they rebel against the diagnosis of a learning disability by using her body as a way of feeling like they still have value. I went through a crisis as well after learning I would have a disability follow me for the rest of my life, but I went in the opposite direction and became borderline Amish in the way I dressed and acted. The author stated that hyper-sexualization gave her empowerment (and in my opinion it should!) and the fact that the feeling of having complete control over your own body can be twisted by others making them feel unsafe is unfair. I was lucky to have friends with me through school and beyond who continue to be an excellent and non- judgmental support system. The authors friend who encouraged her to go with the Amherst boy but to “keep (them) on speed dial” is in my opinion, an example of a positive relationship. Yes, the immediate results were the author ended up feeling ashamed of her body, but at least she had a safety net in case something went wrong and she ended up using it as a springboard for something positive. Female friendships are such a useful tool for self-esteem and safety, and I’m glad the author recognized that. It is not without its toxic side however, as I acknowledge that the friend should not have pressured her into doing something she didn’t want to do. The peers of the Amherst boy make his texts to the author make more sense. The fact that they were objectifying her by catcalling leads me to believe the boy was in a toxic echo chamber. I hope he managed to escape that once he left.

  19. An Ivy League women’s college and guys from Amherst, makes me recall a verse I heard from a song along the lines of, “after all those years of education, it is a wonder I can think at all.” Just saying, that is what popped up in my mind. Probably says more about me than them.

    • I guess there are all sorts of ways to be educated in school. Some have to do with learning about cultural biases and other learning has to do with keeping other people from putting you down and controlling you. That’s often what you learn outside the classroom.

  20. There’s a lot to unpack here but I can see this as being almost like one asking for consent to touch etc and the other person saying they don’t care. or to put it another way, it’s almost like people try to be nice just to be polite so as not to hur ones feelings although it’s probably far too simple a thought to even contemplate with the magnitude of such a post but that’s probably the way I invisage it. and i’m sorry to throw a spanner in the works here but one often thought a learning disability was lifelong and you never overcome it but do the best you can with what you have I know that’s a terrible thing to say but it’s just how I see it. but a lot of the posts on here sexual objectification is frowned upon as it is at any other time and I come from where to refer to somebody as a slut is disrespectful but i’m obviously too sensitive for my own good and I obviously haven’t seen enough of the world and frankly, there are some parts of the world I really don’t want to see if i’m completely honest.

    • Well, the word slut is certainly seen as a slur. Because of that some women have “taken back” the word as a way to own it so that people can’t use it to hurt them. The same thing has happened in other communities with words like queer or the N-word. It’s OK for people within the community to use it but people outside shouldn’t call someone else those names.

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