Few topics I’ve encountered seem to be as frustratingly mystifying to most people as objectification of women. Most agree that it’s a problem but when asked to define said problem, the answers don’t tend to bring much clarity. The answers tend to fall into three categories:
1. Objectification is completely natural part of men’s sex drives so stop complaining.
2. Objectification is completely natural part of men’s sex drives that still makes them terrible people.
3. I don’t know.
As a result, a lot of guys who aren’t all that interested in doing the right thing here feel like they are totally justified in not trying. Those who actually want to do the right thing are often paralyzingly anxious because they aren’t sure what the hell the right thing even is.
Let’s start at the beginning. The first time most of us heard the word objectification, it had something to do with porn, rap videos or cat calling. I’ll start with cat calling because I find it to be the simplest to explain in this context.
See a guy on a crowded street yells over to some random woman about how nice her ass is. Having not been given much clarification, a lot of people who are told that this is wrong conclude that what he did wrong was looking at a woman’s ass and liking what he saw. A guy might enjoy looking at the jiggling butts and rap videos or watching porn and learn that that’s objectifying too. With this in mind and easy conclusion to come to is that if you look at a woman and get pants feelings from it, then you’re a terrible person who objectifies women. Your options from there, if you want to be a decent human being are to either have your gonads removed or walk around with blinders on.
Those who know that there must be another way and who don’t want to be That Guy, often struggle to figure out the right way to treat women when Underpants tinglings are involved. How can they let a woman know they’re sexually interested in her or even be interested at all without doing this very bad thing?
Some look for the answer in feminist literature and come up empty ( because feminism is not a pickup manual and then they find Dworkin and it all goes to shit). Some, particularly from Catholic backgrounds like mine tack on the idea of thinking a bad thought being the same as doing a bad deed and start trying to wipe their brains clean of all images of sexy women. I even know many lesbian, bisexual, and queer women who carry a sort of Creeper guilt complex as if there’s something inherently objectifying and creepy about desiring women sexually. I used to be one of them. It wasn’t fun.
So what’s a woman loving person to do? Conceal all sexual interest? Grovel at women’s feet and never finish a sentence without saying “I’m sorry”?
To get a better idea of what to do about objectification and how to avoid it, let’s get a clearer picture of what it actually is.
Let’s go back to catcalling for a minute. As you’ve hopefully figured out by now, the problem with the guy from that example was not the fact that he liked a woman’s ass. It was what he chose to do about it. If he chose to go on with his day without giving this woman and her ass his stamp of approval, that would be different. Guys who act the way he did act as if women exist on the street for them to look at and comment on. Getting a little grammatical here, this is a subject-object relationship.
Objectification, put simply is making someone into an object. Just like it sounds. There are many ways this can happen. ( I’ll only touch on a few of them but I highly recommend checking the link out for more information). Catcalling in particular demonstrates the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes and treating them as if their boundaries don’t matter. It stands to reason than that you can enjoy what you happen to see without also believing that the person you looked at is there for your entertainment and open to your review a-la Rotten Tomatoes.
To boil it down – she’s not there for you. She didn’t wear that outfit for you. She didn’t grow boobs for you. She’s not sitting on the bus waiting for you to come up and talk to her and she didn’t put in earbuds to see if you’re man enough to pull them out and talk to her anyway. (Seriously, someone said that.)
Even the so-called Nice Guys who often see themselves as reactionaries to this type of behavior aren’t off the hook. I’m talking about the ones who claim to have finished all of their feminist homework, respect women and wouldn’t dream of treating a woman like a sex object like those other guys do. These guys in particular can be some of the worst objectifiers out there.
I’m not sure which came first, the Sims game or the idea that dating works the way it does in The Sims but here’s how it works in case you missed it. You make one sim do tons of nice things for another Sim ( who are both made to look like you when your crush. Who are we kidding here?) Then little green plus sign show up above their heads showing they like each other more. Then, once you get enough of those, you click “kiss” and Presto! Your Sims are dating!
Nice Guys treat women like Sims (ie objects) by denying that they have autonomy and agency. It’s as if they think that in reaction to their spamming nice gestures, the woman’s mind is passively being molded into being open to a relationship with this guy. To give an example from a previous post, I’m pretty sure that’s what Toshiba, my Nice Guy thought he was doing until he saw that I was clearly interested in someone else. This put him in a panic and it was probably because:
a) he knew he couldn’t compete with her (her being a really cool, really attractive person of my actual preferred gender who was not persistently irritating me at the time).
b) he realized I had thoughts and plans of my own that didn’t involve him.
c) he thought my mind was suddenly passively being molded by someone else and he had to put a stop to it lest she erase all his progress.
d) some combination of a and c but definitely not b
B is crucial. If women worked like Sims, there be an app right now to check your green plus sign count. Acting as if the woman of your choice is obligated to date you because you reach some quota you think should count is denial of her own standards (and autonomy).
In conclusion, objectifying women is really not that hard to avoid if you’re willing to try. You don’t have to join a celibate religious order. Just treat women like actual people. For real. That’s it.