A Look at Modern Female Objectification
***NOTE: This article contains some crude language for the purpose of education.***
I’m an object. No, wait, I’m a female. As a woman in 2016, sometimes I get those two terms confused with all the stereotypes, media, and crude remarks thrown my way. We think we’re making progress in America because the women can vote and get paid a sort-of-equal amount to men. That must mean that men and women are treated as equals! Definitely. Totally. On paper, yes; in reality, not so much. I’m not here to talk to you about women’s legal rights today, though. I’m going to discuss a very basic, seemingly simple idea: the right to be viewed as a human and not as an object.
I’m not denying that we have made progress in the last several centuries. Clearly, the fact that women can leave their homes and earn money for themselves without the help of a husband shows a big step forward. However, it seems to me that in this day and age (even with all of the cool things like women’s voting rights and activism), being treated as a woman instead of an object is viewed as a privilege, not a birthright. Objectification manifests itself in two notable ways: slut-shaming and catcalling. The former manifests itself when people persecute women for their decisions; the latter occurs when passerby regard women as sexual commodities designed for other people’s pleasure.
What defines a slut? She must be of those notorious females who makes her own decisions! I mean, clearly any girl who willingly engages in casual “relations” with more than one person must be a whore, a harlot, a trollop, a slut. How dare she empower herself through her choices (don’t worry about me; even objects can be sarcastic). According to Google, a slut is “a woman who has many casual sexual partners”: not just anyone, but a woman.
The social construct we call “being slutty” is dated and offensive to women. A female’s choices in the boudoir are not for other people to label. Slut-shaming simply comes down to judging a woman based on her decisions. Often, if a man sleeps with such-and-such amount of women, he’s “got game” or he’s cool; if a woman sleeps with the same number of people, she’s a slut. I don’t know why or how the double standard started, but it’s unacceptable. Not only is the practice of slut-shaming sexist, but a person’s sex life also isn’t anyone’s business but their own. Even their sexual partner(s) have no right to spread information about it.
To provide you with the most accurate answers on female objectification in the form of slut-shaming, I spoke to CPS’s Feminist Union leaders, Kizzy D. (’17) and Maggie M. (’18).
INTERVIEW WITH FEMINIST UNION LEADERS (Part One)
What is a “slut?” Is there a problem with so-called “slutty” behavior?
Maggie: “Slut” is a word used to make someone feel bad about their sexual behavior. I don’t think [there is a problem with being sexual]. As long as you’re doing it because you want to, do what you enjoy.
Kizzy: “Slut” is a societal construct. Promiscuity is made up by society to shame women. You can do whatever you want with your body.
Talk to me about slut-shaming.
M: The biggest problem is that people aren’t educated about [slut-shaming being wrong] and they do what the people around them do.
K: It’s very prevalent between women, it’s internalized misogyny. What society tries to do is pit women against each other, and it stops us from forming coalitions like the Feminist Union. In the context of internalized misogyny, society has made women accustomed to societal standards that make someone a “good woman” and a “bad woman.” Slut-shaming is really prevalent, even on the CPS campus.
Building off of Kizzy’s last comment, have you seen slut-shaming at CPS?
M: I honestly don’t think it happens that much compared to the rest of the world. We do a pretty good job. It definitely still exists in incoming grades [because] they come from all kinds of backgrounds, but the grades who have been there for a while are better about [not slut-shaming]. It kind of comes down to the academic competition aspect between people.
Grace: You’ll get more judgment from your peers for low grades than low sexual standards.
K: At CPS, slut-shaming is less overt and more internalized. People don’t express it a lot, because we live in a very liberal environment where people will be quick to correct you.
Movies treat slut-shaming as a common phenomenon. In the classic movie The Breakfast Club, “basket case” Allison Reynolds says “Well, if you say you haven’t [had sex], you’re a prude. If you say you have you’re a slut.” Her critical social commentary hits the nail on the head — society pressures women to “give it up,” and when they comply, the social consequences can be devastating. Perhaps a better-known example, Mean Girls, will emphasize my point. In the Plastics’ “Burn Book,” several entries refer to girls as sluts, whores, and skanks. Here’s the kicker, though: the book also uses the term “virgin” as an insult. Where’s the middle ground? Is there middle ground? In the world of slut-shaming, I think not.
In the media, particularly advertisements, models and actresses undergo tremendous oversexualization and objectification. Off the top of your head, readers, I’m sure you can call to mind several examples you’ve seen – commercials featuring scantily clad women selling a product unrelated to their Photoshopped bodies. The biggest offenders in recent years? Fast-food restaurants (mainly Carl’s Jr. and Burger King) and clothing companies. I’d love to know why burgers demand sexualized slogans such as “It’ll BLOW your mind away” (BK 2009). I’d also enjoy hearing an explanation of why Dolce & Gabbana’s 2007 ad features a hardly-dressed woman lying on the ground, surrounded by men gazing predatorily at her. Nothing sells clothing better than insinuating that a traditionally attractive woman will throw herself at the buyer’s feet, basically dehumanizing herself, right?
However, even in the noncorporate, layperson’s world, people frequently objectify women on the street through that most infamous attention-getter: the catcall. Catcalling is the act of “making a whistle, shout, or comment of a sexual nature to a woman passing by,” according to Google. Not only is catcalling common enough that it merits a dictionary entry, but said entry even says that catcalling happens specifically to women. I interviewed the FU leaders again, this time on the subject of objectification in the form of catcalling.
INTERVIEW WITH FEMINIST UNION LEADERS (Part Two)
What does objectification mean to you as a feminist? What are forms of objectification?
M: It means seeing someone as their exterior rather than acknowledging that there’s any sort of personality in there. As a feminist, it’s a really big issue in the form of street harassment. It happens a lot in how people justify saying/doing things to women.
K: For me, it functions at a lot of different levels. Seeing women for how you can use them instead of how they are individual entities and what they’re capable of. It manifests itself in the wage gap and how women aren’t seen as equal and individual entities with their own power. It happens on an everyday basis with catcalling, where women are seen as just their bodies instead of as parts of society.
Why is objectification a problem/unacceptable?
M: It creates an unequal dynamic in which one person feels they have superiority in being smarter or being more of a person. It leads to patronization and thinking that someone can’t do something even though they can.
K: It’s a root cause of the issues that feminism addresses. It creates a different dynamic between male and female, where men are seen as superior and able to decide the role of women. Any gender is able to decide how they live and everyone should be seen as equal. It leads to a lot of contention over what women can do, what decisions they can make—like the GOP debate over abortion: a bunch of men talking about whether women should be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies.
Is there a way to catcall that isn’t offensive?
M: it depends if you’re saying something to compliment someone or saying something to try to pick them up. You should read physical signs as to whether or not someone wants to be approached—it’s an invasion of space. Being catcalled feels dehumanizing and it feels unsafe—is this person going to follow me? Do I need to get away from them? It’s not only men to women; we’re kind of going off the binary right now, and there’s lots of directions it can go, but most often it is a man to a woman.
K: There’s a fine line for what is/isn’t ok in terms of catcalling. It’s like consent—being catcalled doesn’t mean you’re asking for a compliment or objectification. In terms of non-offensive catcalls, I don’t know where we draw the line. It plays into larger structures in the context of objectification—it’s not necessarily flattery, but men still think their opinions should be accepted no matter what. Men think they have the right to comment on women’s appearances even when they don’t.
Perhaps I can better emphasize the predatory nature of catcalling by sharing a few anecdotes I received from CPS girls. Think about the innocence and naïveté of childhood. Now, think about losing said innocence because you have felt threatened and objectified by a catcaller.
When Anonymous Girl 1 was twelve or thirteen years old, “I was with my younger brother in Whole Foods after school, wearing my uniform. Basically, this old man proceeded to follow the two of us around the store and continued to make my younger brother and me very uncomfortable by saying really lewd things and threatening us.” Luckily, the man eventually left her alone, but she then had to explain to her little brother what had happened. She was only in middle school, and her brother felt threatened as well.
Anonymous Girl 2 was grabbing dinner with a friend in the evening, when “suddenly, three men appeared and surrounded us from each side. Right, left, and behind. The [men] asked if we wanted to join them/what were we doing alone at this time. We didn’t respond. Just as they were getting frustrated, at that very moment, the crosswalk turned and we RAN across the street into a random store directly across. We hid there until the men were gone.” Before her sophomore year began, this girl had already hidden from men who approached her on the street.
In mid-afternoon, Anonymous Girl 3 was walking to dance rehearsal with a friend. [Anonymous Girl 3] was 13 and [her friend] was 12. “We had gone to get a snack near the UC Berkeley campus and on our walk back, there was a silver car that was driving in the traffic next to us. In the car were two clearly Cal students. The window was down. I only noticed this because when I looked over, I saw them looking at us. Then, when the light changed and the traffic started moving, the one in the passenger’s seat leaned his head out the window and hooted, and they sped off.” Two college-aged men, at least four years older than the girls, regarded them in a sexual light and made lewd noises. Readers, does anything seem wrong with this situation?
I may not be the authority on female objectification, but I have eyes with which to see the unfair treatment women receive, as well as having experienced it firsthand. Have you, readers? Whether it’s slut-shaming or catcalling, people actively seek opportunities to lose respect for women. If a woman sleeps with two people in a week, she has made a decision; she is a strong female adult, not a slut. If a woman wears a revealing outfit, she is not asking to be to be whistled at, to be the target of obscene sounds and words, and to be followed; no, she probably feels good about her body, which does not exist to please others. I am not a “crazy man-hater.” I am a feminist and I know how I, as a woman, would like to be viewed––as a person, not an object. Readers, the next time you find yourselves in the midst of a slut-shaming session or a group of catcallers, think on my article and remember that women deserve better.