While girls and women are marketed to, a much more insidious reality exists. Women are not just the target of marketing ploys, but are themselves marketed.
To clarify, I don’t mean that women themselves are being bought and sold (though that is a very real tragedy of human trafficking, but is a blog for another day). What I do mean is that womens’ bodies are used as props to sell products. This phenomenon happens through sexual objectification.
To introduce this topic, please watch this Sex+ video with Laci Green (NSFW: Because of the nature of the topic, the video contains sexually objectifying material that may be graphic; view with discretion.)
Sexual objectification rests on the subject/object dichotomy in which subjects act, and objects are acted upon. Subjects have feelings, hopes, desires, personalities, et cetera, while objects exist for a purpose. In terms of sexual objectification, the explicit purpose is sexual desire. Another way of understanding sexual objectification is that subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy. This reality exists in our culture are men (sexual subjects) are perceived to have an obsession with sex while women (portrayed sexual objects) are obsessed with being sexy but cannot act sexually without harassment for being a whore/slut.
So what does sexual objectification look like? Caroline Heldman has developed a sex object test to determine if something is sexually objectifying. If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then it is likely objectifying.
- Does the image only show parts of a sexualized persons body?
- Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand in for an object?
- Does the image show a sexualized person as interchangeable?
- Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized persons’ body who can’t consent?
- Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of a person?
- Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity (that can be bought and sold)?
- Does the image treat a sexualized persons’ body as a canvas?
But what are the effects of sexual objectification? According to Heldman, “This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disorders,body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual dysfunction [PDF], access to leadership [PDF] and political efficacy [PDF]. Women ofall ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.”
Sexual objectification has also contributed to rape culture. When it is perceived that a woman’s existence is for the sexual pleasure of others, then there is a heightened climate for sexual violence.
But at its foundation, sexual objectification is dehumanizing. To be human is to be a subject–a complex being with a personality, emotions, hopes, dreams, and a wealth of desires; to be dehumanized is to be made into an object that exists for a purpose. A defensive argument is often made that being objectified is empowering but on the basis of definitions alone this is an impossible reality.
For this reason alone, let alone the harmful effects of objectification, people need to speak out against sexually objectifying media and advertisements. Christians in particular ought to be very vocal about the seriousness of this issue as we affirm the humanity of all peoples made in the image of God. Though Christians and feminists often have poor perceptions of each other (despite having no foundational differences) they stand unified in a conviction to affirm the humanity of people. Objectification is inexcusable.
For more information:
Caroline Heldman TED Talk on Sexual Objectification
Sexual Objectification: What is it? (Graphic Imagery)
Sexual Objectification: The Harm
Sexual Objectification: Daily Rituals to Stop
Sexual Objectification: Daily Rituals to Start
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