Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Objectifying Women

I am in a stigma and discrimination class this semester at Columbia University. In our class, one of the students discussed how women are objectified in America by men and subsequently stigmatized in society. Since the majority of my class is female,  there was a lot of thoughts on the topic.

Most of the focus of the class was on how men are the source of objectification. Since we live in the remnants of a patriarchal society, it is natural to associate these attitudes towards women on the unequal power structure of which men continue to dominate. Personally, I agree that men are a major source of objectification for women. However, I also believe that women are a source of objectification as well.

Consider the magazine sections of a bookstore (I have always though that these sections are great measurements of society as a whole). What are the magazines under "Women's Interests"? Wedding magazines, diet magazines, fashion magazines, and celerity news (Perhaps this last magazine would be placed in periodicals). True, we find porn magazines under "Men's Interests", but this does not conflict with what I am trying to prove. Not only do men objectify women, but women objectify themselves and each other.

Think about fashion. Most girls choose their dress and shoes not only based on their expectations that men will objectify them on the streets, but based more on the fact that they expect to be judged by other women at the party.

When discussing this with some friends, someone remarked that this is not a girl's choice to have to wear heels, makeup and straighten hair, etc., but rather that society imposes this on them. Their argument was that women feel forced to comply to the mechanisms that objectify them, and it is hard to break out of it. On its face, I think this argument is correct. There are social pressures that force women to behave in certain ways, just as there are social pressures that make people do all sorts of things. However, her argument fails to address the source of such pressure. My argument isn't that since women objectify themselves they can easily break the chain of objectification, but rather that this very real, strong force originates and is propelled from men, as well as from women in society.

The questions that remain are: Which source of objectification of women is stronger? And how do we go about changing this social pressure in society?


mike rosenberg said...

Very interesting observation. I've noticed that before too. For instance, when some women insist that they have to shave their legs while others (perhaps more "natural" or just willing to shed the feeling of conformity) don't. Also, I think there is a much larger issue at hand than just regarding women. Some of the trends in our society have started to have men becoming increasingly objectified. We have pressures for perfect/muscular bodies, masculinity, and to be rich and successful. It's all over the media for men and women in American society to be portrayed as the ubermensch. Photoshop has gone crazy! I think a really important issue is how the media and popular culture dehumanize all people and the varieties therewithin (gender, sexual identity, race, religion, etc.). It allows for stereotypes and prejudices about women and men to perpetuate. Obviously, there are some objectifications which are more prevalent and persistent (e.g. what you were saying about women), but as whole, this issue poses a major threat to us progressing as a tolerant and open-minded society. I really appreciated those Dove commercials that used "normal" and "average" models to show how beautiful women (and - through extrapolation - all humans) naturally are.
And those are my two cents.
Good topic! :)

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg said...

If you add the element of age into the equation you even get starker lines. Beautiful women and men are all young and healthy. No one is allowed to wrinkle or turn gray. Hair must be colored. Wrinkles must be "erased" or removed. Women must conform to be considered beautiful and men must look young to get hired.(or, with a "touch of gray" can be both experienced and energetic)Oh Please!!! Perhaps it is less about objectification and more about competition for scarce resources (jobs, sexual partners, status, attention, bettering the gene pool). We use what we got to get ahead, looking only skin deep in a vain attempt to see someone deeply. "Don't judge the wine by the bottle, but by the wine that it contains."

Jonah Rank said...

My favorite book on this subject (perhaps the only one I've read fairly carefully) is Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy. Her book's thesis is that there is a Raunch Culture created by men, and many women are happy to take part in this chauvinism.

I'm a very strong believer that both men and women are responsible for the objectification of women in many cultures; however, I do believe that, had there not been men, women would not objectify themselves. If I have to point fingers, I still point the biggest fingers at men for initiating a culture where the choice to become part of Raunch Culture weighs heavy in so many women's lives.

Nathan said...

One of my favorite parts of the old Dave Chappelle stand-up special (actually they're all my favorite parts) goes like this:

"And then the magazines trick the women! The magazines start playing with your self-esteem. Every page you turn you start feeling fatter and uglier and you feel like your clothes aren't good enough, and the magazines have you forgetting how f***ing beautiful you are."