Sexual Objectification 3: Daily Rituals to Stop

This is the third installment of a four-part series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects. (See Part 1, Part 2.)

There are four damaging daily rituals of objectification culture we can immediately stop engaging in to improve our health.

1) Stop seeking random male attention.

Most women were taught that heterosexual male attention is our Holy Grail before we were even conscious of being conscious, and its hard to reject this system of validation. But we must. We give our power away a thousand times a day when we engage in habitual body monitoring so we can be visually pleasing to others. The ways in which we seek attention for our bodies varies by sexuality, race, ethnicity and ability, but the goal too often is to attract the male gaze.

Heterosexual male attention is actually pretty easy to give up, when you think about it. First, we seek it mostly from strangers we will never see again, so it doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life. Who cares what the man in the car next to you thinks of your profile? You’ll probably never see him again. Secondly, men in U.S. culture are raised to objectify women as a matter of course, so an approving gaze doesn’t mean you’re unique or special. Thirdly, male validation through the gaze alone doesn’t provide anything tangible; it’s fleeting and meaningless. Lastly, men are terrible validators of physical appearance, because so many are duped by make-up, hair coloring and styling, surgical alterations,  etc. If I want an objective evaluation of how I look, a heterosexual male stranger is one of the least reliable sources on the subject.

Suggested activity: When a man catcalls you, respond with an extended laugh and declare, “I don’t exist for you!” Be prepared for a verbally violent reaction as you are challenging his power as the Great Validator. Your gazer likely won’t even know why he becomes angry, since he’s simply following the societal script that you’ve interrupted.

2) Stop consuming damaging media.

That includes fashion, “beauty” and celebrity magazines, along with sexist television programs, movies and music. Beauty magazines, in particular, give us very detailed instructions on how to hate ourselves, and most of us feel bad about our bodies immediately after reading. Similar effects are found with television and music video viewing. If we avoid this media, we undercut the $80 billion a year Beauty-Industrial Complex that peddles dissatisfaction to sell products we really don’t need.

Suggested activity: Print out sheets that say something subversive about beauty culture, like “This magazine will make you hate your body,” and stealthily put them in front of beauty magazines at your local supermarket or corner store.

3) Stop playing the tapes.

Many of us girls and women play internal tapes on loop for most of our waking hours, constantly criticizing the way we look and chiding ourselves for not being properly pleasing in what we say and do. Like a smoker taking a drag first thing in the morning, many of us are addicted to this self-hatred, inspecting our bodies first thing as we hop out of bed to see what sleep has done to our waistline. Self-deprecating tapes like these cause my female students to speak up less in class. They cause some women to act stupid when they’re not, in order to appear submissive and therefore less threatening. These tapes are the primary way we sustain our body hatred.

Stopping the body-hatred tapes is no easy task, but keep in mind that we would be highly offended if someone else said the insulting things to us that we say to ourselves. These tapes aren’t constructive, and they don’t change anything in the physical world. They are just a mental drain.

Suggested activity: Sit with your legs sprawled and the fat popping out wherever. Walk with a wide stride and some swagger. Eat in public in a decidedly non-ladylike fashion. Burp and fart without apology. Adjust your breasts when necessary. Unapologetically take up space.

4) Stop competing with other women.

Unwritten rules require us to compete with other women for our own self-esteem. The game is simple: The prize is male attention, which we perceive as finite, so when other girls/women get attention from men we lose. This game causes many of us to reflexively see other women as natural competitors, and we feel bad when we encounter women who garner more male attention than we do. We walk into parties and see where we fit in the “pretty girl pecking order.” We secretly feel happy when our female friends gain weight. We criticize other women’s hair and clothing. We flirt with other women’s boyfriends to get attention, even if we’re not romantically interested in them.

Suggested activity: When you see a woman who triggers competitiveness, practice active love instead. Smile at her. Go out of your way to talk to her. Do whatever you can to dispel the notion that female competition is the natural order. If you see a woman who appears to embrace the male attention game, recognize the pressure that produces this and go out of your way to accept and love her.

 

Photo of Stop sign via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted on Caroline Heldman’s blog

Comments

  1. I’m a bit wary of solutions to abuse that involve telling the abused people to change their behavior, rather than telling the abusers to stop abusing?

    • <3

    • I understand completely. But even people who are physically abused need to learn to rebuild their self esteem. And that requires some readjusting to be able to have a healthier outlook.

    • I thought this too (hoping part 4 is aimed at abusers).

      Although, as a woman who experiences the things outlined above, I do think these suggestions provide good tools for dealing with what happens on a daily basis – not as a holistic solution, nor insofar as the burden of responsibility should be on the abused alone, but as an empowering, initial first step to taking back some control. I particularly encourage women to call men up on street sexual harassment…but think it needs to be coupled with education directed at the harasser.

    • Merritt says:

      I think the idea is that we can’t directly control the abuse imposed on us by other people, the media, etc. What we can control is the self-abuse that we inflict on ourselves. By doing this we win. The real damage from this type of objectification is the effect on the psyche of the abused. If we can free ourselves of the self-hatred that we’ve been taught is acceptable, we have made huge strides.

      • I agree with Merritt- the point of this article is to stop abusing ourselves. We abuse ourselves when we cater to the heterosexual male gaze, when we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, and when we subject ourselves to sexist media. We abuse others when we compete and criticize. We’re our own abusers in the examples listed, so in changing our own behavior we /are/ stopping the abuser.

        Obviously, these methods won’t stop others from abusing us, but it does go a long way towards self confidence.

        • How does one “cater” to the “heterosexual male gaze?” If the gazer is a homosexual male, is it more acceptable to “cater” to that? How about the homosexual female’s gaze?No harm in catering to that either?

    • Well since she’s acting a certain way to elicit these behaviors from men, she will have to stop completely, evaluate her behavior, and change it to stop men from bothering her. I am not blaming the victim. I am simply stating what works as someone who once elicited many catcalls and gazes from men without fully understanding why. Once I started to notice my posture, the look on my face, etc I began to understand how badly I’d been duped into being a little patriarchy bot. (sticking booty/breasts out, looking desperate, having that lost puppy look on my face)

      I have since changed my behavior and appearance and overall presentation to the point where the percentage of male attention I receive compared to before I made these changes is miniscule.
      I still receive inappropriate male attention, don’t get me wrong. But since I am more comfortable in my skin I am far better able to combat it than when I was unsure.

    • Also may I add, Tim, that your suggestion very cleverly ignores the fact that every situation takes two to tango and elicits a fawning response in abused females in denial of this fact.

  2. What is the name for the alternative/male form of this, as in if we all start behaving like men will we not feel as oppressed as men do to be macho??

  3. I’m fine with all of this except “burt and fart” and “take up a lot of space.” Those are just rude things to do, whether you’re male OR female. The point of breaking away from body-hatred is to feel good about ourselves and to make others feel good about themselves. The point is not to go out of our way to be inconsiderate of others.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Valerie. There’s a distinct difference between having self-confidence and eliminating body-hatred, and being rude and obnoxious. Why not be confident *and* classy?

    • This is what I thought, as well. That is incredibly rude and inconsiderate no matter what sex or gender you are.

      To be honest, though, I don’t like any of these “solutions”. I think there are much better and maybe even more mature ways to go about breaking daily rituals.

  4. Maggie daman says:

    Love it! I think “Suggested activity: Sit with your legs sprawled and the fat popping out wherever. Walk with a wide stride and some swagger. Eat in public in a decidedly non-ladylike fashion. Burp and fart without apology. Adjust your breasts when necessary. Unapologetically take up space.” is my new favorite quote:)

    • I thought the same thing! I LOVE IT! And for all the folks commenting on how rude and classless this exercise is, I’m not taking it literally, like go forth and do these things at all times and be rude. The point is just don’t worry about being a “lady” and let your body do what it needs to do.

  5. I think #4 is directed at the harasser/abuser. Because we harass eachother. And really, #2 is directed at the harasser too, because the less we consume rubbish the less pressure we bring upon ourselves & eachother. Something needs to be said about the “standard,” I think. I wear make-up & I think “Yeah, I like to look nice.” but on the other hand if I go down the street without make-up I feel like Im offending people with my naked natural face. Ive often discussed with my boyfriend why I wear make-up. Do I do it because I enjoy it or because I feel obliged? Had I not been conditioned my whole life to compete with everything I see, or should every person go without make-up, obviously the decision to quit make-up wouldnt be so difficult. Does my boyfriend gel his hair to fit in or for himself? Himself, of course. Hes not thinkin “Oh cripes, that guys got a better hair style than me, better step it up.” I personally find it exceptionally hard to pull away from the empty competitive behaviour & sometimes its just “fitting in” (transforming my normal self into an elite, just to feel normal in society – the normal standard being tan, make-up, heels, hair etc). I unfortunately feel obliged to maintain a certain beauty standard to keep the gaze of my lover on me, although he insists against it. No ones ever applauded me for going without make-up, only more “Jeeze, you look tired.” I dont feel freedom there. So probably going to run away & join a tribe in New Guinea where they dont know what a hair dryer is.

  6. This is really cool ! i came up with something called WOMEN GAZE…. we look at a man we find attractive….if not individually….we sit in groups and stare at one man…. the poor guy will obviously feel self conscious and would want to flee…if he is a normal guy esp when he is young !

    GAZING comes natural to women too ! but we control..!! ;) imagine if we turn our heads at every good looking guy that passes us or if we stare at them…???

    so to all men who thinkits normal to gaze… its not :)

  7. I do all these anyways….even when i couldn’t quite put my finger on why i didn’t like male attention, i didn’t like it because of what you say….why should i need the “approval” of the male gaze!
    However, i am not able to walk with swagger and adjust breasts unless it really is an issue at the time…i just feel i am quite graceful by nature not because of needing male approval. i guess that’s it.

    • Pandionna says:

      I’m hoping you don’t sit there ripping farts in public. We don’t have to exist for male attention, but I don’t suppose it occurs to Ms. that some of the things they suggest will actually ENCOURAGE male attention. Why go out of our way to be gross just to prove a point? It’s not a good idea for ANYONE to belch, fart, barrel down a city street, sit with legs sprawled, etc. It’s just repulsive, no matter who does it and no matter who is looking. It’s not a gender issue. It’s a breeding issue. Really, we should be past defiant acts that cut our noses off to spite our faces.

      • I think the point they were trying to make is that belching, farting, sitting with your legs sprawled , is behavior typically reserved for men. We live in a society where women are taught to constantly be aware of our body: the messages we are given about the ways we should look, the ways we sit, the way we eat (or don’t) are those that reinforce the idea of women as the subject, the submissive. I think this article is suggesting that for a moment we give up the self-consciousness and hyper-awareness of our bodies and acknowledge the origins of those feelings as ideologies used by the hegemony (heterosexual white male) to maintain power.

      • I agree; I feel like that point is just encouraging us to do things “the guy way.” Well, if we were taught to have basic manners and to control out bodies in public, I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed about. On the contrary, we should demand more from those men who we see acting like savage animals. They need to learn manners! We shouldn’t be loosing ours!

  8. I agree with the sentiment that victims should not have to change their behavior, but at the risk of contradicting myself, I would also say that the most effective social changes come from the oppressed, not the oppressors. In this case, I don’t blame men for objectifying women because they are only doing what they are taught to do. In order to really change society, we have to go to the source, namely the media that promotes ideas of obejectification. When the norm is for women to be valued for their brains rather than their bodies, the world will truly be a better place.

  9. Pandionna says:

    Sit with legs sprawled–in a skirt or shorts? Fat popping out wherever–become obese just to prove a point? Walk with a wide stride and some swagger–in Manhattan? Eat in public in a decidedly non-ladylike fashion–with your hands? Burp and fart without apology–in public? Adjust your breasts when necessary–because that’s just as attractive as men scratching their balls in public? Unapologetically take up space–more than your body requires?

    Really, Ms. You can do better than telling women to combat rude behavior with rude behavior. The answer to being a women in civilized society is not acting like an uncivilized man. It’s also not in encouraging obesity, which leads to heart disease, the number one killer of women.

    • Agreed! Why reduce ourselves to such a base level? There is no dignity in throwing away politeness and civility.

  10. I completely agree with number one whole heartily. Once a young man creepily said to me, “I wanna take you home with me tonight”. I replied, “I’m a happily married woman” while showing off my ring. He barked , ” I’m married too! I just wanted to try that out, not marry you!” ugh! Talk about repulsive. I don’t even remember if he was cute or not, I was so repulsed by his words. Who does/ says things like this. I hate being catcalled. And I aknowledge it & let them know it was wrong every time.

    As for the other stuff I agree too, but will not be burping or farting in public, I have to have respect for myself.

  11. To the number three suggested activity, I would suggest adding ” If it itches, scratch it”. I am horrified by the vagisal commericails that try to make me horrified at the idea of scratching an itch in public, “They” will get over it. If your itching requires more than an occasional adjustment or scratch, you need a doc anyway, not an anti itch cream.

  12. I think there’s a lot of satire in the ‘suggestions’ part of this article but I could just be really laid back. Either way, I totally understand the aversion to some of the suggestions.

    One of my male friends said it best once, “Men should change their behavior out of respect and empathy for women. Why it’s so controversial to do so, I will never understand.”

    And that, dear ladies, I think is key. Sure, we can boycott media, break social ‘norms’ of behavior assigned to women throughout the ages but the biggest shift in social changes can happen when men are aware of the overarching problem that is sexual objectification and how they contribute to it on a daily basis without even realizing it or having it called out by women.

    Example: I was hanging out with a mixed group of men and women. One of my male friends made a strange noise and then made mention of a woman’s behind that he was admiring. Another male made a comment along the lines of “too big…” I said to them, “Wow, it’s amazing to listent to you two evaluate a woman whom you don’t even know.” They both looked at me stunned. Now, these are guys I would consider very aware of the problematic society women live in so it came to a suprise to me that THEY were surprised by MY comment.

    My point is simply this. Often times, men don’t even realize that their behavior can be problematic. No one (man or woman) wants to be reduced to their behind. And on the flip side, for a woman already dealing with body issues, it can be completely devastating to here men so harshly evaluate another woman’s body.

    It is a constant struggle to love our bodies because we have voices everywhere–whether accidently or intentionally telling us to hate our body instead. Until we are willing to challenge that (in whatever way we feel comfortable doing) voice, it will be very unlikely to go away.

    • Judith Tuckwell says:

      Thanks, Amanda. I enjoyed reading your take on this article.
      Somehow letting men know when they are doing offensive things, without putting them down or laughing at them seems to me to be the way to go.
      We must keep our self-respect, whatever way we choose to use to point out that “normal” male behaviour isn’t necessarily acceptable.
      Again, thanks Amanda

  13. arfellian says:

    I think number 3 is more about allowing yourself to be comfortable with your body. What I take from #3 is ‘allow your body to be itself’. Be comfortable with your body, accept yourself. It might be worded in a way that some find strange or offensive, but the principle is a good one, and whether for us as individuals it means farting and burping in public or sticking to more socially-acceptable behaviour, the important thing is not to feel you have to pretend that your body is something that it is not.

  14. Elisabeth says:

    I think it’s unfortunate & very telling that despite the powerful, thoughtful message of this article, we are so notably focused on the burping & farting & breast adjusting & fat spilling & space occupying. Read it in context & consider it. The writer doesn’t say burp & fart EVERYWHERE. She doesn’t define what eating in a non-ladylike fashion is. The message I got was to stop allowing others to define how we as women live in our bodies. All of us, to one degree or another, grew up with the notion that women must always smell like flowers, must speak softly, must look appealing, must never eat as though we’re hungry…In my home, the men were served & began eating first. I’m in my twenties, so this wasn’t fifty years ago, either. I cannot begin to count how many times I was told to sit like a lady, that ladies don’t raise their voices, ladies don’t talk back, beginning as early as 4 or 5. So maybe next time I’m on public transport, I will put my arm on the armrest. Maybe the next time I go out to eat, I’ll eat more than a quarter of my meal. It’s a start.

  15. I am shocked and disgusted at the recommendations. The writer is essentially telling women to behave like rude men. I thought we were better than that. Try these suggested activities instead.

    1. When you receive a catcall, smile and say ‘thank you for the compliment.’
    2. Buy what you need to feel beautiful for you, not for others, but also learn to see your own beauty and realize that beauty starts with a smile and a happy attitude.
    3. Stop playing the tapes. Just stop. They are useless. Retrain your brain to play the positive ones. You are good enough, pretty enough. You just ‘are’
    4. Stop competing with other women. The game isn’t worth it. No man is so fabulous that you need to ‘steal’ him from another woman. I would like to see more ‘honor among women’ in this area.

    • “Thank you for the compliment” completely goes against the spirit of this post, and is really just encouraging men to harass women and make them feel uncomfortable. It validates them. “Oh I’d love to tap that ass” and “Hiss, hey baby” are not compliments to me. They are men believing that they have the right to sexually objectify women that they do not even know. Every single one of my friends has been made to feel like a piece of meat when they walk down the street in their own neighborhoods. The fact that you’d imply that this agressive behavior is a compliment, shows that you haven’t really contemplated how deeply imbedded the need for male approval is in our culture. Women should have no obligation to be polite and smile when people harass them.

  16. jerry flamer says:

    People who are objecting to these suggestions seem to be attached to the behavioral patterns in a way that is a collective form of self abuse. You can just go about calling men abusers for noticing women in revealing clothes, just like you can’t blame companies for continuing to produce exploitative/demeaning products when women supply a demand for said products. Stop buying garbage that diminishes your sense of self worth/feeds off of insecurities and the market for it will collapse. Dress with some reservations, i.e. not with the intent of showing off your body (not an outlandish concept) and it will curb some degree of unwanted and superficial male attention. Shifting the dynamic of gender roles is not just a one sided act. There has to be an effort by both parties and those who object to the roles they feel obligated to or cast into, should be the first to implement measures to change the dynamic.

    • Curioserandcurioser says:

      “Dress with some reservations, i.e. not with the intent of showing off your body (not an outlandish concept) and it will curb some degree of unwanted and superficial male attention.”

      Please fuck off.

  17. As a male, I very much relate to the “random male attention” thing, mainly because when I’m around women who cultivate this kind of attention, it’s hard for me to get past the barrier. I want to say something like, “can we get past this dynamic so that we can have a normal conversation?” I know not to take it personally, and I realize that very likely, it’s not only a way they’ve been conditioned to behave but has proven to be an effective survival tool for them, but it can be difficult to be around women who exhibit this behavior, not because of the sexual tension thing, or the flirting thing, but just because it’s distracting and makes it hard to interact with them.

  18. I understand the point being made about farting, burping, etc in public. The point is that men, in general, dont think twice about doing this themselves.
    1) It is generally accepted behavior when a man does this; it is considered “natural”. Men need not be concerned about offending anyone (or so they believe). For a woman to do these things is considered completely unacceptable…..much more disgusting than if a man did this. Women are expected to ALWAYS be cognizant of the effect their behavior has on those around them.
    2) Most men who burp, fart, etc. in public aren’t aware of (or dont care) if they are offending anyone. And, in general, this is considered acceptable. It would be a good excercise for women to “try out” this mentality and not care what others think.

  19. RSangsura says:

    Overall, I think this article makes some good points, but I’m very disappointed in the following suggestion:

    “Sit with your legs sprawled and the fat popping out wherever. Walk with a wide stride and some swagger. Eat in public in a decidedly non-ladylike fashion. Burp and fart without apology. Adjust your breasts when necessary. Unapologetically take up space.”

    I realize that people tend to ignore these gross habits (burping, farting, etc) in men, while pointing them out in women, HOWEVER this crosses into the territory of crass & rude and isn’t acceptable for EITHER men or women. If I had a son (or daughter) who did these things, I’d have to give him a verbal slap upside the head.

    Since when did it become empowering to lower oneself to the level of the engaging in the crass behavior of any gender?

  20. I hate being catcalled, but I really don’t get shouting “I don’t exist for you!” That just seems like an odd thing to say, to anyone. I can imagine a guy getting confused rather than angry at that. Surely there are other things to say to point out their unwelcome behaviour? (and no I haven’t worked out what they are).

    • How about “You dont make enough money!”
      “Nice gut!”
      “Your wife spits in your dinner every night!”
      “Won’t your boyfriend get jealous?”
      “No way, you probably voted for _(fill in politician of choice)__”
      “I’m already sleeping with your son/daughter”
      OR best of all, DONT say anything at all. Acknowledging inappropriate behavior encourages and enables it. Dont even flip him off. Just ignore it. Then, if you have the time and forethought, pelt them with rotten eggs, paintballs, and/or Supersoakers filled with piss & vinegar. Get some guy friends to do it with you for solidarity, idea for this being that women have the support of the whole population therefore representing the majority opinion that objectifying women is unacceptable to all.
      Also, I advise you to wear a mask and non-descript clothing if carrying out Operation Rancid Rebuttal.

  21. This article includes a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Along the same lines, I’ve been thinking that I shouldn’t hate republican women because I should just be feeling sorry for them because they are so lost and probably hurting inside.

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