Some feminists today are strongly opposed to the Sex-Positive Feminism movement, sharing my concern that the sexual objectification of women, especially by women themselves, has been detrimental to the well-being of women, men, and the institution of marriage in our society. In this view, raunch culture and proud proclamations of sluthood are symptoms of sexual mores that have spun out of control since the 1970s. Caroline Heldman and Lisa Wade (of Sociological Images) are two prominent feminist scholars who subscribe to this belief.
The “sex wars” of the 1980s pitted radical feminists, who claimed that female sexual objectification is dehumanizing, against feminists concerned about legal and social efforts to control and repress female sexuality. Over a decade of research now shows that radical feminists were right to be highly concerned.
Caroline Heldman, PhD
Today women’s sexual objectification is celebrated as a form of female empowerment. This has enabled a new era of sexual objectification, characterized by greater exposure to advertising in general, and increased sexual explicitness in advertising, magazines, television shows, movies, video games, music videos, television news, and “reality” television.
What is sexual objectification? If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object (a non-thinking thing that can be used however one likes), then sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.
Here are examples of sexual objectification in advertising:
The insidiousness of the problem has brought us to a place where even women not looking for casual sex may be mistaken for hookers based on their dress and makeup. Artifice and display are the guiding principles of female-male interaction, and while this is nothing new, we’ve upped the ante to a place where it’s hard to imagine what comes next. We’re already rutting in the streets.
All this is taking a significant toll on the female psyche, which in turn affects males. We’re raising girls to be sexually empowered, i.e. objectified, while simultaneously urging them to be professionally empowered as subjects, or actors.
Here is Heldman’s excellent TED talk, well worth 13 minutes of your time:
While most people will not feel spurred to activism, Heldman’s advice for women is sound:
1. Avoid the worst offenders in the media. Ditch Cosmo and all the other photoshopped rags.
2. Stop seeking attention for your body from strangers. Don’t compete with other women for male attention to your body. That validation is fleeting and, if anything, is inversely correlated to establishing a long-term relationship.
3. Practice viewing your body as a vehicle for moving through the world, its strength and all the things it enables you to experience other than as an object of male admiration.
4. Be in the moment during sex. No woman can have a great orgasm if she’s watching herself from above, wondering if her back is arched in such a way that her partner finds her beautiful. If you decide to have sex with a man, do it with abandon. It will be much, much better for both of you.