Toxic Culture 101: Understanding the Sexualization of Women

A year ago I decided to drive across the street from my office for lunch. I wanted to avoid the catcalls I’d endured the last time I had crossed this particular street, when a middle-aged man yelled from his red Chevy truck, “Ride my cock, baby!” I wondered what it would be like not to feel like a sexual object on display. But I also wondered whether I’d rather be the woman who gets whistled at or the one who doesn’t.

As a psychotherapist, I meet hundreds of women who struggle with their body image or sexuality. These struggles show up as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, reproductive concerns, parenting issues or relationship crises. I’ve also encountered increasing numbers of men dealing with relationship issues and loneliness.

And I know firsthand the discomfort of embodying what many people see as unattractive. As a Middle Eastern American, I don’t fit the Eurocentric model of beauty. When I was a young girl, I drew pictures only of blonde, blue-eyed princesses, perhaps in response to my blonde stepsister telling me that my “skin was the color of poop.” No matter how much I tried to dress myself up, I was still not white.

Now that I understand how common body-image struggles are, I’ve begun to wonder who is really sick—my clients or our culture?

So, I spent the last year documenting pieces of the world around me, gathering evidence of a toxic cultural milieu. On my drive to work one day, this is what I saw:

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We are bombarded with hypersexualized images of females, so much so that most of us don’t even notice them. They are all around us like the air we breathe; messages so blatant, they become invisible, encouraging the normalization of female objectification.

With the rise of electronic technology and social media, the quantity and quality of these images have intensified. The Internet pornography industry generates $13 billion per year in the United States alone ($100 billion worldwide)––bigger business than professional football, basketball and baseball combined.

Researchers reviewed over 1,000 Rolling Stone cover images published over four decades and found that 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women appeared in sexualized images in the 1960s, compared to 17 percent of men and 83 percent of women in the 2000s.

There is also the rise of the “breastaurant,” chain establishments featuring young, attractive servers in revealing uniforms. According to an article written in 2015 by journalist Jillian Berman, “Sales at the Tilted Kilt, Twin Peaks and Brick House…have grown at a double-digit pace over the last year.”

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A Tilted Kilt ad

Younger people are also increasingly exposed to sexual imagery. In a 2010 U.K. study, one third of 14 to 16 year olds reported they had first seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger.

I came across these ads in various women’s magazines and in Business Insider, in several medical office waiting rooms, including a pediatrician’s office:

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According to social learning theory, audiences are more likely to be persuaded to buy a product if the advertising narrative is easily recognizable and frequently repeated. But if these ads represent what is easily recognizable and “normal,” what does that say about the health of our society? And how does all this really affect us?

Everyone suffers from this constant emphasis on appearance as it encourages people to separate the body from the individual as a person. All women are affected, regardless of whether they fit conventional standards of beauty, and whether images depict women as active or passive. In any case, the body becomes an object that exists for sexual pleasure, leading to self-objectification. Self-objectification, in turn, is connected to eating disorders, depression and sexual dysfunction. Researchers have found a link between male partners’ pornography use and women’s lower self esteem, higher negative affect and relationship anxiety.

Dozens of studies, such as this one, have also linked pornography use to sexual violence. Constant exposure to scenes displaying women as sex objects may encourage males to believe that they have a right to coerce women into sexual acts.

But men also suffer emotionally and physically from hypersexualized images, as they, too are portrayed as less than human. Psychology researchers Linda Muusses and colleagues showed that husbands who frequently used pornography experienced more marital adjustment problems and poorer relationship quality. Men are also experiencing erectile dysfunction as early as 20, possibly resulting from desensitization to sexual imagery.

Many men are starving for real human connection, but are only being taught to satiate their hunger in empty and unfulfilling ways.

Is there hope for our society? I believe there is.

The first step is to increase awareness. We must be brave enough to see what’s right in front of us and to question practices deemed normal and acceptable. We can see efforts in this direction, such as the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which shows realistic body types in ads and sponsors projects to improve women’s self-esteem; Dear Kate, a women’s underwear company that rejects idealized models and airbrushing; and the Always LikeaGirl campaign, promoting female empowerment. While these are still companies selling products, they have at least begun to offer more empowered—and non-sexualized—images of women.

These media pioneers are the exception to the rule, but I hope that one day in my lifetime the rule will change.

An ad by the underwear company Dear Kate

An ad by the underwear company Dear Kate

New research is promising. This recent study found that people more favorably evaluated brands that avoided sexualized ads compared to those that used them. Perhaps treating people with dignity and respect can sell products. Perhaps what we all want is a culture where we can feel safe and authentic––where we all prefer to walk, not drive, across the street.

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Shadia Duske, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist in Denver with a strong interest in feminist issues. She has worked in the field of mental health since 2004 and has counseled hundreds of women and men struggling with anti-feminist messages in our society.

Comments

  1. David Gay says:

    Thanks Shadia.!
    Dg

  2. Marcia Weeden says:

    Thank you for at least mentioning that males are affected, too, because most articles never even touch upon that subject. I need to ask – why didn’t you elaborate more? Where are the articles strictly focused on what happens to boys and males of all ages? Where are the pieces that the objectification of females are destructive to males as well?

    How are boys and young men supposed to find emotionally satisfying relationships when they are exposed to the same messages as girls and young women? What does society think is going to happen? That magically, overnight these males are going to seek out and know how to have emotionally fulfilling relationships with others? If girls don’t know anything else or better because of the messages being promoted everywhere, how will boys know? It isn’t as if they get some sort of secret manual on how to behave as a caring, loving human being.

    I become infuriated when the focus is only what is happening to the girls. As the mother of a son, I keep asking, “But what about the boys?” Where is the outrage on what is being done to them?

    Everything is about “empowering females” because why? Males are so horrible? My son is not a monster. He isn’t a rapist nor a sexist. Why is it about power?

    Why isn’t it just about what it takes to be an emotionally healthy, productive human being capable of relationships that are respectful of others?

    Where is the support and instruction for both sexes about how to be a full human being?

    This isn’t one sex against another. It’s about us as people.

    • Marcia, it’s not that boys or men are monsters, rapists or sexist. Anyone with a brain knows it’s not ALL men or boys. There’s a lot more pressure on women and girls to look and behave a certain way and boys and men seem to get away with a lot more when it comes to aging and behavior because we’ve been a male-dominated society for so long. I believe female empowerment means that women and men should learn that a woman’s worth should not be based on how she looks. We should absolutely teach our male AND female children to grow up to be good human beings, but sadly that does not address what women and girls experience in the present time by people who were perhaps not taught otherwise. Just one example, Carrie Fisher was criticized for her age, yet, no one blinked an eye about Harrison Ford’s age. All women have a story about how they were harassed or assaulted for the way they look, but I don’t hear the same from men nearly as often. Women in Hollywood in their 30’s and 40’s get passed up for roles because they are “too old” for the leading men, who tend to be in their 40’s or 50’s. The list goes on. Perhaps those men need to speak louder as well, but people get so defensive about the topic, so there’s no constructive dialogue. What is the outrage you expect to see? That boys are being fed these false ideals? I don’t quite understand your comment about that.

      Continue teaching your son to be a good person as I hope other parents are teaching their sons and daughters as well. Thank you for being someone who is aware of stuff like this on both sides, but I don’t believe this article intended to minimize your son’s struggles by addressing women’s struggles. If you feel boys need more of a voice, then be it.

      • Beautifully said Jen.
        Marcos, write an article and post the irl here, I’d be really glad to read it to better understand your perspective. I too am quite confused about what your concern is in relation to women being objectified. Males certainly gave many many pressures that need to be brought up & addressed, but female objectification isn’t one of them.

      • Jen, I disagree, though I get what you’re saying. The reality is that people judge you by HOW you look — first impressions matter. You should aspire to look neat, clean, healthy, and appropriate to the environment. People grow old gracefully generally. My grandparents did. Harrison Ford did as did Carrie Fisher’s mother.
        Carrie was not criticized for being old. She was simply a psychological mess, a degenerate — and is showed. She slept around with a lot of men, sexualized herself instead of focusing on other skill and attributes and succumbed to mental illness. Even her house resembled that of a hoarder’s. Her mother, in contrast, was a classy, charming lady even in old age — ask anyone about how ugly Betty White is? Even at 90? she is gorgeous because she embraces life, is fun, intelligent, witty, classy, cares for others, etc. Carrie looked like she didn’t care about herself. She let herself go, gained weight, dressed poorly and then did something to her face — like thought sex was all she had to offer and so surgically alerted her face into a duck pout/trout pout making her look ridiculous….like she was trying desperately to be “sexy.” Healthy women don’t do that.
        I used to be that pretty young blue eyed blond and got all the cat calls…harassment EVERYWHERE I went. I didn’t even dress immodestly. FRom what I Have gathered MOST, if not ALL, young people experience this to varying degrees. Some women embrace it — and think sex is power or they grow to hate and exploit men. Others realize that sex and their bodies are sacred and that they want to be valued for other attributes. Still others go the opposite extreme, by becoming as unattractive as possible.
        Looks matter –but that is not the same as sexuality. The highly sexualizd tend to have a lot of mental problems and are not reliable partners, friends, colleagues. I wouldnt trust a woman around my husband as a friend or at work who flaunted cleavage and used sex as a weapon, etc.
        Everyone can look nice and neatly put together and appropriate to their environment. You have to bring value, skills to whatever the situation requires. The highly beautiful are often dismissed as having obtained what they wanted through looks alone….and don’t do well in life once looks fade…You can choose to turn off TV, avert your eyes to salacious ads and read books that uplift your spirit and mind…instead of pollute it. You are what you read/eat…and you attract what you are…..As beautiful as I was as a younger woman, I always attracted men of quality who were themselves moral, upstanding, accomplished, educated….They liked me for me. THe men who clearly wanted me for one thing never got far…Now as an older woman, I attracted a man who says he prefers “Plain Janes.” to superficial slutty ones …as he wants a quality woman and partner, whom he can talk to and who can be his best friend. He is actually a lot better looking, wealthier, etc than I am…and has had women throwing themselves at him his entire life…He never liked or respect that..and thinks women who dress like tramps cannot be trusted….He’s a smart, quality guy. When I doll myself up and look stunning, he gets amazed..but he loves me either way..even when I look a mess….
        As for the creepy middle aged guys…I mean, yuck..but there are a lot of pedophiles out there. I had 40/50 year old married men beg me for sex when I was a 13 year old walking home from school. I have had older men stalk me, follow me in their cars, harass me at restaurants…these are low quality men whom you wouldn’t want anyway….YOu’re not dumb enough to be brain washed by stupid ads… A lot of men aren’t either. There are still good men out there who have morals and values….

    • Marcia, I am so grateful for your comment on my article. I would love to answer some of your questions. First of all, I do believe that males are tremendously impacted by the objectification of females. I feel it important for you to know that this 1,000 word article is actually condensed from its original 9,000 word version. In the longer version, I was able to have an entire section dedicated to the impacts on males. It was very difficult to cut the paper down in order to fit in an online magazine’s blog and to try and find the main points. The objectification of women affects the genders in different ways. For women, we struggle to feel valuable in a culture that ties our value to our sexuality and the way we look. When a woman fits the narrow beauty and sexuality norms, she is being valued, but only for something superficial—for the object she is rather than the person she is. When she does not fit those norms, she is seen as invisible, which is another form of objectification. Women are certainly not the only gender greatly influenced and impacted by the phenomenon of hypersexualizing and objectifying women in our culture. There is also great impact on men. It is important to note that men are not evil perpetrators in this crisis. They, along with women, can be seen as victims of this complicated cultural epidemic. It is not men who are objectifying women. The greater system of our society is objectifying women. We, as a whole, are placing men in the position to be the sexual subjects and women to be their objects. There is a desensitization that occurs within the culture which impacts the ways men see women. As a result, there is an increase in sexual violence and harassment. In addition, men are experiencing sexual dysfunction at early ages. Men are also dealing with a sense of inadequacy, anxiety, and relationship crises. There is confusion around what it means to be a man. As women are being portrayed as less human, so are men. Men are being roped into a “caveman” role in which they are depicted as un-evolved animals unable to connect with their emotions and respect the value of humanness. Men are being taught that disconnective sex leads to satisfaction and fulfillment. They are shown that being a “real man” means wanting sex with women rather than wanting relationships with women. They are bombarded with messages that being a man means being sexually aggressive or coercive. Their identities depend on the objectification of women. Ultimately, men end up suffering. They are being starved of real human emotional connection. This popular cultural perspective of men is perpetuating an idea that men are driven by the organ between their legs. It is presenting men as un-evolved animals who are not interested in real human connection. In a sense, our culture is “dumbing down” men through the objectification of women. Men are bewildered when they struggle with connection in human relationships. It is no wonder there is a struggle there. Our society is telling them they are not capable of achieving that level of connection. It is indeed very challenging to raise a son in this society, trying to be a force greater than his cultural milieu, trying to teach him a different way to be a man.

    • Okay first off I get it. What I don’t get is how this doesn’t apply to men? Or some of it. How often do I open a magazine and see oversized unhealthy men? How often do you see unhealthy unattractive men in a leading role? Anytime you do it’s because their funny. Sex and funny sells. Men have to be tall, lean and 200lbs of muscle and well endowed. The latter is kept a bit more under the radar. Men spend obnoxious amounts of money to make it bigger for YOU. And as both men and women are human theirs traits handed down to us from evolutionary traits for survival and reproduction. Why do women like men with money? To be rich and have everything they want? Kind of. Women are wired to respond to status. In the cave man days our options for reproduction were minimal. Women had to choose the most likely candidate to protect her and her spawn. The muscular and social king the alpha male. Best chance for their DNA to reproduce. That’s why you see hot women with men who have money. Yes, some are actually gold diggers, majority say a strong candidate for reproduction and survival. Men are wired to spread their seed. Get as much stuff as pregnant as you can so we can live on. That would be what our DNA is telling us 24/7. Both men and women find beauty to be generally a symmetrical face and a person with a nice body, which shows good genetic reproduction capabilities. So I don’t feel replacing women with larger women will do much. Because while they may “accept” their body they are atill gonna be depressed because A) Kids are assholes and B) they may still be unattractive and wonder why they never get the hot guy. And you didn’t even come close to covering the issue of women’s dating habits. Most women never take a nice guy who’d treat them well. They want the fun asshole. That’s fun by the way being nice and respectful to women only for you to just be friend-zone and then hear them complain about how their bf is an asshole.

      Replacing hot women with their counterparts is going to do what? Give women the faulty beliefs that being unhealthy is acceptable and their problems will go away? Men aren’t just going to find them attractive. They will still be on the ocean just in a different boat wondering why the men don’t find them attractive.
      What if men just replaced all men with big members in the porn industry to men with tiny ones? Sure they’ll be happy until he realizes that most women still won’t sleep with him.

      Men experience the EXACT same thing. Only difference is we ARENT ALLOWED to complain.

      Why not just teach both men and women to be healthy? And accept all people as people. Or we can promote the number one killer of obesity as beauty.

      • jemimah says:

        Men do that to themselves, there are more picsof women in womens magazines than pics of buff men,and size is a guy issue also, and bullshit you arent allowed to complain, I’m in australia and a clothing store once took down a poster of men with no shirts and pulling thier pants down running into the sea,it got taken down because so many men complained about it being degrading it was even on the news, more like thier girlfriends were getting exited, men hate it whenwe treat them the way they treat us

    • This isn’t Mr. magazine website

  3. Great article, thank you.

  4. For those of us in the field of assisting couples in difficult relationships, we know that the social cost of this problem is mind-numbing. Researchers are more often than not thumping volumes of research on the table with damning evidence of the effect of hypersexulaized imagery on young (and old) brain development. The link with violence is also a concern.
    Most troubling for me, when I speak with other males, is the complete lack of balance on the subject. Men are terrified to explore the subject in any kind of logical or critical context. Men are either ready to defend the status quo as AOK or they feel completely powerless around porn and the male society’s expectations around the treatment of women. The more we talk about this the better. We have to have these discussions every day, with each other, with our kids, with our neighbours. We can do much better.

  5. Personally I avoid Dove because they are really only advertising that way to sell product. It’s got nothing to do with caring about women. Their parent company is Unilever, who also sell Lynx deodorant, and their ads are so objectifying and degrading. Boo Unilever!

  6. Shadia, thank you so much for a refreshing take! I find these are often hard to come by. Thank you too for the work you do helping men and women. We need more like you.

  7. Agree with the criticism of Dove – they are manipulating the market place just as much as the next sad arse company. They don’t care. But companies go with whatever brings in the dollar so its a matter of what works – the consumer MUST speak with their wallets and sadly, the majority of those don’t care either. As for the young boys, of course they are influenced by the environment we have created for them and it is just as sad as what it is doing to our girls but the difference is in the outcome. Boys may end up socially defunct and starved for affection but girls will end up dead! I liked the author’s positive spin at the end but I am sad to say I do not share that optimism at this point. Each generation is a product of the one before – if this generation has been programmed on mass to view hyper sexuality, violent pornography and dumbed down everything as normal, how can they be expected to teach the next one any better?

  8. Marcia,
    I recommend checking out “Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory” by Judith Keegan Gardner, and other books on the subject. They will help you understand what the article discusses. While it is not the job of other women to educate men on their privilege and entitlement, it is your job as your son’s mother. It is also the job of your son’s father, if he is in the picture. In this way, the two of you can model behavior that leads to a healthier identity for him, as well as his friends. You can be healthy support to him as he confronts the teasing he will inevitably get from other boys. As an ally to women, he can reach his family members and friends with the ideas described in books like the ones I described. What feminists need is men to educate other men on toxic patriarchy, and to support each other against the men who will react negatively. I’ve known men who were kind, nurturing, and loving. My aunt’s husband is one that comes to mind. He was firm but loving. He was also very hands-on. You are so right that boys need compassion and care, too. We need both genders to embrace their “masculine” and “feminine” traits. This is what will lead to healthier, happier people. And isn’t that what we want for our kids?

  9. What is strange about the pornification of our society is that the United States is considerably more restrictive probably in due part of the Puritan influences in early American life (Ess, 2014). With that being said, I feel it has greatly influenced today because people had been so restricted sexually, now the media has pushed the envelope in the opposite direction–sexualized everything. Do you think that media and women who partake in SEM (Sexually explicit materials) “serve to help emancipate especially women from gender roles and prescribed notions of sexuality that subordinate them to the power and preferences of men, or help women explore and determine for themselves their sexual identities and preferences?” (Ess, 2014). As many have stated above in the comments, we all feel that it is hurting the youth of our society, which in turn, is hurting the adult population in bodily autonomy, relationships, and daily lives.

    What is hard for me to believe is that all of the above that you mentioned in your article is completely accepted by society, yet, for example: a breastfeeding mother is shunned for nursing her hungry child on demand? How backwards is our society that sexualization negates actual function and purpose?

    I am thankful for companies like Dear Kate that are beginning to show real women in their raw beauty. Now, if only we could get ads to portray significant respect between two lovers and their bodies and emotions. Wishful thinking, I know, but there are people out there that are contributing to the movement that cat-calling is not okay and is disrespectful, that women are not perfect–stars like Keira Knightly and Jennifer Lawrence fighting against the editing of their photos to where they are no longer themselves, and so much more. Progress is progress, even when not everybody is on board.

    Ess, C. (2014). Digital media ethics (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.

  10. Larry Yates says:

    Violence and sex have the ability to excite us and so get our attention. Big money is invested in keeping us excited and interested in their products by emphasizing how exciting and sexy bodies are, and especially female bodies. This steady escallation is not likely to be reversed by the good intentions of special interest groups. I find it interesting that some women are rebelling against their sexualization in their insistence on public breast feeding and others believe they should be able to “free the nipple” without receiveing unwanted attention nor comment from others, particularly men. Sadly our culture is too far down the hyper money fuelled road to see how things will change or reverse anytime soon.

  11. Shelbey D says:

    Thank you for your research and thoughts! I am studying this kind of material in class, and this served as a wonderful voice into it!

  12. Great Article.
    You should also mention the spiritual aspect of sexuality and how it promotes sacred intimacy with your wife/husband. The spiritual aspect complements love, sex, intimacy, friendship and achievement.

    Even Ghengis Kahn during his rule as an emperor was known to conjure gods (through Spirtualism) for his quest.

    Seems like your (American) society is moving backwards after a hard fought battle in post WW2 – era. The family lineage, religion, spirituality and material possessions were all balanced at one point — then somewhere along the lines American policies refused to place restrictions on what can be sold, purchased and televised. Then your corporations lobby and use the freedom card – and your officials give in. Pretty sad. USA’s last election basically sheds light on your backward motion (trump vs clinton) – how can your nation not select credible, intelligent, family-oriented candidates to run a democratic nation?

    Thank you for the article. It was really well written.

  13. Shadia,

    Great information and statistics! From a young age I grew up getting catcalled by men of all ages. It, especially, grossed me out when I had middle age men doing it. I have always felt that our society is the one who needs the fixing rather than the individuals with personal issues and body image. We subconsciously are not aware on how we focus more on fitting the Eurocentric body image rather than loving ourselves for who we are. Furthermore, a lot of the advertisements are conditioning men and women to feel like you have to look a certain way in order to be get recognized by the opposite sex. Women are constantly being displayed as sexual objects, which I believe it reinforces this culture to where men believe they have the right in which they can speak to women any way they choose to or that their needs come before the woman’s needs. This is something that definitely needs to be changed. Perhaps if we can get the marking companies and the way in which they advertise products, it could slowly but surely change things. I also believe perhaps more sensitive and awareness training from a young age can come a long way. Women shouldn’t have to feel like they can’t dress a certain way because they don’t want to attract the wrong attention.
    Keishla S.

    • Keisha — you said ” Women shouldn’t have to feel like they can’t dress a certain way because they don’t want to attract the wrong attention.”
      Women’s empowerment is about personal responsibility. If I show up to work in sweat pants, torn T-shirt, and messy hair, I will attract the “wrong attention,” and be perceived as slovenly and less capable.
      If I dress in yoga pants that leave nothing to the imagination, should I be surprised when men make comments about my body parts on display. Sure it’s none of their business and they should avert their eyes, but our choices impact other people….
      If you want to be treated like a lady, the first step is to dress and act like a lady. True, you are not responsible for how other people treat you or react to your self-presentation, but you can certainly do your best to take personal responsibility to present yourself in a way that inspires the kind of reaction you hope to get.
      Why would you want to temp a man who is not your significant other? Why would you want to flaunt your wares….you’re not responsible for how others act…but do realize your role.
      Think about the messages women are sending out…women dont want to be objectified but then proceed to objectify themselves…

  14. Amelia Reiling says:

    Excellent article.

  15. Emily Molina says:

    Great article! Since I was a little girl I was always teased for not being tall enough, or having the voice of a man (wasn’t true, I just had a deep voice). Even by my own sisters I was teased. As I grew up I was always self-conscious about my look and how I approached people. Guess thats why I never really had friends. When I would see those advertisements on the streets and/or magazine I always dreamed to be like them. I always thought that was the only way to be, feel and look beautiful. I never accepted myself and I never thought no man would accept me as me. When I meet my husband it was different. He liked me but there was always one thing he hated from me, my acne. I wasn’t a pizza face but he just didn’t like it. And i caught him one day saying he didn’t like me because of it. Above all that he still married and there are still times he questions my appearance and wants me to look like the girls in magazine. Or like the girls today will all that make-up. Its difficult to image that one day my girls will maybe go through the same things I went through and not feel accepted. But this article comes to show that woman are seen as sex objects and that man will never be satisfied with how woman look because they will have the image of what they see in ADs or magazines. They will always want more and it no one could be like the women in a magazine not even the girl that is pictured in it. It comes to show that the media really does have an impact on woman and how “they should look”. And no man or woman will every be satisfied with themselves.
    Really enjoyed this article.

    • I knew men like that…they have the problem, not you. They feel insecure thinking men are judging them by having a woman who was airbrushed..thinking that reflects on their status and thinking you reflect poorly on him as a result. That is his problem. What you should be asking is..why you married a man like that….Sounds like you had low self esteem and didn’t think highly enough of yourself to pass him by…or to find someone who likes you as is.

  16. Berea Fair says:

    I absolutely agree with your statements in this blog. Unfortunately, in our culture, women are hypersexualized and learn from a young age that our looks are everything. As we grow up, things do not change, and the pressure to be perfect looking (according to impossible standards) becomes even more difficult. Now that I am nearing 30, I recognize it everywhere. When I was younger, I did not realize how unhealthy it all was and how it was all a marketing scheme. I was always considered attractive by my peers and I never understood how much this affected my perception of myself and others. I always bought into all of the hype. Looking good was my goal, at the expense of other qualities about myself. When I got married at 23 and had my son at 24, things changed for me. I no longer was obsessed with my looks and I stayed home with my son for 2 ½ years. When I re-entered the workforce at 27, I worked with much younger people for the first time in years, though now I was a “older” single mother. I began to see how I had used my looks my entire life to get what I wanted from others and neglected so many parts of myself that were important. So many parts of myself were underdeveloped. I am so glad to be out of this sick cycle, though I do recognize my inner desires to still be attractive. I dislike how often I realize that I am brainwashed. I went to the hairstylist the other day who told me that I had gray hairs coming in and I told her that I don’t mind it one bit, which is true. However, I was still there getting my hair done…because I still want to look attractive! I think, that as you mentioned, another huge problem comes down to that boys are also exposed to this, beginning at a young age. We are then fed the ideology of “love” and told what “attracts” mates. It’s all a brainwashing scheme to keep people stuck in consumerism so that we buy more of the products that need to be sold. It keeps women locked in a place where they feel they need to look a certain way to “buy” love and not be isolated, which is a normal psychological human fear. Women, who are then insecure, keep this cycle going and look down on other women, so that they can make sure they get the “eligible” men available and aren’t the ones left out. Character, integrity, and personal attributes not related to looks get lost and deemed as not as important. Now that I’m raising a son, I see every day how important it is to instill good values into him and to show those values in myself so that he will not get caught up in our sick culture. As I work on my degree and plan to either become a Therapist or Lawyer myself, I see that, YES, it is our culture that is sick. No wonder people are suffering so deeply with depression and anxiety. No matter how “good looking” one can be, someone else can still come along and be better. Especially as women age, a younger woman will always be deemed more attractive, especially since older women are virtually invisible in our society. What is the answer then? As you mentioned, awareness is incredibly important. I think that as adults who recognize this, we need to be active in shielding our children from the consequences of this mindset and being aware of what they are exposed to. As you mentioned, pornography is a huge issue for men. Most men are exposed to pornography at young ages. If things are going to change, adults need to be the ones to stop this sick cycle. Unfortunately, again, many adults are stuck in this because of the constant reinforcement by ads their entire lives! The media will never be helpful in eliminating these issues because it keeps money in their pockets.

  17. Jazmine Yancey says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article I would say that it is our culture that is sick and people’s minds are absorbing it’s infirmity. I have traveled some and I have noticed that in Europe you don’t really see women with boob jobs or other common cosmetic work, including the perfect white smile. I am not saying that it’s not happening there be it’s definitely not as prevalent as it is in this country. I live in Miami and you constantly see objectification of women as you drive down the street. Objectification of women has only become worse in the recent years because media is only becoming more and more aggressive and uses sexuality as the most important marketing tool. I am afraid of what is going to happen when my children are teenagers, just this week something occurred in her school that I have not been able to get over. A little boy in her art class was openly talking about girls behinds!! I could not believe the things my daughter was telling me ….they are in the 2nd grade! I had to bring this to the teachers attention. They said “Well he comes from a very good family and I am very surprised that he would say such things” Right…. Sure as if people only from bad families talk about inappropriate things! Who knows, maybe he is watching something he is not suppose to and as I mentioned its all over the place…On another note, after having children I have experienced feeling insecure about my body and most specially my breast after having two kids. I was afraid that my husband was not going to find me attractive specially when we live in a place where physical beauty is so important. I relate to the meaning of the word self objectification, I felt at some point that I had to do whatever it took to make myself skinny. I was not eating well I was sick. Thankfully, as I have grown older and wiser, I have learned that being true to yourself and loving yourself just as you are is the real and ultimate beauty. Only those who truly care about you accept you as you are. Women who are constantly seeking a way to make themselves look better, usually end up very unhappy and many times regret what they have done to themselves. As mentioned in the article “ Emphasis on appearances encourages people to separate the body from the individual” I like the marketing approach in the Dear Kate add, this type of advertising will make people feel accepted and understood as they are. I hope to be seeing more of that in the near future.

  18. Jorge Rodriguez says:

    This is a powerful article in the sense that we see this happen in our everyday lives. This article talks about women’s appearance and the way people judge each other on the way they look. When reading this article, I thought about my sister’s friend and the fact that she played multiple sports in high school. People would call her all sorts of names, like tomboy. I imagined being in her shoes, being called these names and how she can handle it, but it didn’t faze her. She kept on doing what she loved and ended up playing collegiate sports. In this article, it states that women are the only gender greatly influenced and impacted by the phenomenon of hyper-sexualizing and objectifying them in our culture. Although this is partially true, there is also great impact on men. We have to consider that men are not the evil one’s in this crisis. They, along with women, can be seen as victims of this complicated cultural epidemic. It is not only men who are hyper-sexualizing women, but rather it is our society that is objectifying women. I believe that this articles is portraying that women are viewed as sex objects. Men, on the other hand, see these ads of beautiful women and can’t seem to be satisfied with their own spouse. The media plays a huge role in this crisis, as it portrays women in a way they should look. In my opinion, not all men fall under this circumstance but it is true that both man and women will never be satisfied with themselves. Which comes to show us that appearance is a very important factor to oneself. Instead of judging others on their appearance, we have to take into account that we are all equal no matter our appearance, race, or ethnicity.

  19. Britney Brice says:

    Reading this article opened my eyes up to so many things that I did not realize. I enjoyed and learned a lot from this reading. One thing that really struck my attention and bothered me was when the young lady was walking and was screamed at by a man, “suck my cock baby”. I think it is actually quiet sad and disgusting that someone would scream something so vulgar out loud like that. I think this was a perfect example of how so many men are dehumanizing woman and society just sees it as a normal and an ok thing. Often at times when I go to parties or I am out with my friends, men like to his at us and even go about getting our attention by grabbing onto our hands. This is something that has always bothered me and made me feel uncomfortable. I actually think its is very rude and hissing at us reminds me of how you could call a dog to get its attention. Grabbing onto a strangers hand is also very awkward and uncomfortable. No one wants someone that they do not know grabbing onto their hands and arms. For a lot of men, this is normal. Its important for me to speak on things like this because maybe to men it may not be a big deal but to a lot of women it is. Much of societies in America normalize these things, when in actuality it shouldn’t be. Something that also stood out to me in this article is when the author touched upon the porn industry. In American alone, the porn industry brings in 13 billion a year; while worldwide it brings in 100 billion a year. This shows us how much that woman are looked at as sex objects. Many restaurants around the world like hooters and twin peaks, has woman dressed up in a more sexual manner. Before they hire you at these places, the first things they look for is a “good” body and a pretty face. They wouldn’t hire anyone who is of a certain weight or looks a certain way. This goes to show you that so many people and companies judge a woman off of her looks and her physical appearance rather than what she actually brings to the table. I feel as though all my life I’ve always been self conscious about certain things with my body. “Is my stomach flat enough” “Is my butt big enough”. Much of these things that I have become so hard on about on myself is due to seeing many girls in magazines and on the TV screens. I think that it is important that we talk to so many young girls around us and let them know that beauty comes in different shapes, sizes and colors. Just because one girl looks a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to look that same exact way as well. It is also important that we let young girls know that she is just as beautiful as the girl standing next to her. Beauty has no definition.

  20. April S. Miralles says:

    I find this article to be very informative and interesting. It really made me reflect upon our culture and the way we are raising our children. Children are our future and in order to address and change the problems in our society with the sexualization of women we have to start with the children.
    I am currently taking a Global Woman’s studies course and we have been learning about the immense disparities in all areas when it comes to women’s rights or shall I say lack there of. One of the topics we have studied is the objectification of women. In particular one part of the article struck me and reminded me of what we learned in class. Ms. Duske refers to the ads in our society all over magazines, tv and billboards that objectify women being almost invisible. These sexual ads are brain washing us and we do not even realize it because they are almost invisible we are oblivious to it. As part of an assignment for class we had to look up an objectifying Ad and post it and discuss how it objectifies women. This is when my eyes were opened to just how many ads I could find and some were down right pornographic and others even promoted violence against women. There were so many to choose from it made me realize just what a thwarted society we live in. Women who are our mother’s and grandmother’s that God created as the ones who have the most important job of creating life and caring for it . The ones that we should esteem in the highest place value, love, protect and respect have been brought down to a place so low that they are not even treated as people, but as objects. An object, a thing, that can be used at one’s disposal and then disposed of.
    Unfortunately, I believe that women participate in this act of devaluing themselves as well. Women let themselves get brainwashed by societies unreal expectations. The media leads women to believe that by exposing themselves inappropriately, selling their bodies, and getting cosmetic surgery, to achieve the perfect body and face, they will be loved and desired by all. Women are led to believe that this is what being a women is all about. Women subconsciously start believing that their value is in their physical appearance, if they do not have the perfect face, body, or are not sexy enough then we are not good enough.
    Raising two boys of my own, I understand what Marcia was saying, we sometimes forget that males fall victim of societies trap also. We have to realize that in order to fix a problem we must, focus on all the factors. The objectification and sexualizing of women is a problem that is affecting everyone in all society, men, women and children included. It is a problem impacting our culture and our families. Without families there is no future. I absolutely agree that we need to change the way we teach our children. We need to teach our girls the true meaning of beauty. Real beauty is on the inside. The bible says, ” Do not let your adorning be external- The braidery of hair and the putting on of gold and jewelry, or clothing you wear, but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart..” 1 Peter 3:3
    As women we must focus on our inner beauty and not be so concerned with our looks. We must learn to respect and love ourselves for men to love and respect us. Men need to be taught to remember the value of a woman and not judge upon outward appearances. We must teach our boys to love and respect women and our girls to respect themselves. Respect is what society is missing, let others know how you feel and boycott these ads and companies that sell sex, depravity and the objectification of women, by simply not purchasing these products and use social media to tell others our thoughts and spread the message. I am sure many men and women feel the same way but are afraid to voice their beliefs for fear of being an outcast. We can change our societies course one child at a time.

  21. Yanelli Montefu says:

    Great article Shadia!
    It’s crazy to know that our society has objectified women the way they have. We tend to blame men or get upset at them for looking at us or treating women a certain way. I have experienced this first hand myself. I too have been told things by men in which I find disrespectful and have also made me feel uncomfortable. And yes, I have gotten upset and felt as a victim but after reading this article I have realized that they too are a victim of this. Men are not the ones who are objectifying the women, our society is objectifying women. This makes men think it’s okay to treat women the way they do. They are exposed daily to all of these sexualized images of women that it gives them the power that they can be a certain way. This ultimately leads to sexual violence and harassment against women. Pornography is another factor that leads to this, making men feel more empowered towards women in sex and just viewing them as a sexual object. Through all of this men are being taught to be more disconnected towards women and lacking any emotions. Society as a whole is at fault for all of this. If us women wouldn’t dress certain ways or act in ways that might sexually objectify ourselves men would respect women more and not just see us as a sex symbol. The problem here is that it has all just become “normal”. It is normal to go to a restaurant now in days and see half naked waitresses. It is normal to dance in a way that you are having sex out in the public. It is normal to dress with your boobs almost completely out just because “it’s the trend”. Since things are changing and all of these acts are now seen as “normal”, men act in a way that is “normal” in their eyes and we take it as disrespectful. We shouldn’t place the blame soley on men, we too are to blame for putting ourselves so out there. I can really relate to this myself. I am in the process of dating, and I tend to question why men act the way they do, and why it is that they find it normal to speak to me so direct ( sexually) without barely knowing me. In fact, men have actually looked at me weird if I have rejected them or even questioned them for doing something I believe was too up front or disrespectful. In their eyes it is normal to do this, and Why? Because other women have given them the right to act a certain ways by portraying themselves a certain way which objectifies them. We don’t serious relationships now in days, and to say the least long lasting marriages. It is only going to get worse from here on out. Unless our society begins to change the way they objectify women, starting with the way women are used in TV to grab the audience attention Men are never going to stop seeing women as a sex symbol.

  22. Shelby Lerida says:

    Like many women, I have been catcalled way to many times while walking down the street. I have never understood what exactly are men trying to accomplish by catcalling. Do they expect us to turn around and have a conversation or for us to go home with them? What is the point? I have never felt good about myself after being catcalled, on the contrary I almost feel dirty or like a piece of meat. Although men can choose to act differently and it is their decision, I believe it is mostly societies fault. We are all taught from a very young age to objectify women. As mentioned in this article by Shadia, “In a 2010 U.K. study, one third of 14 to 16 year olds reported they had first seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger.” This is the sad truth and as young women and future mothers it is up to us to be the change we want to see in the world. We have to educate ourselves to be able to educate our children. After seeing the film “Killing Us softly 4” I realized more than ever that women sexualization and objectification are truly seen everywhere in everyday life. We are taught that women should look pretty for the man, care for the man and never question the man. But by objectifying women in ads and magazines we also condition our young boys to grow up with the idea that the body is separate from the person. Many times this objectification of the woman’s body leads to agressive and violent men. Another thing that has become more popular as images continue to hypersexualize women is plastic surgery. The idea that women need to be big breasted, with a small waist and wide hips is something that is driving many women to turn to surgery for the “perfect” body. I really am excited to see that more designers are using plus sized models and hope to see many more designers join in.

  23. Adrian Hermida says:

    I completely agree with pretty much everything that you talked about in your post. I am a male, so like your percentages show, we often encounter less of these degrading and demeaning things that are posted on things such as billboards and social media. A question I do have is that you mentioned that “Researchers reviewed over 1,000 Rolling Stone cover images published over four decades and found that 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women appeared in sexualized images in the 1960s, compared to 17 percent of men and 83 percent of women in the 2000s.” The second percentage adds up to 100, but the 1960’s percentage adds up to 55. What other 45% appeared in sexualized images?

    Something that really irritates me is when I see another man whistle calling a girl like you mentioned happened to when you were going to get lunch. I feel that that this is much more demeaning and disrespectful than any ads that are posted or ignorant social media posts that are uploaded. The way I see it is that I would never want anyone doing that to my daughter or spouse, so I see no reason to do it. I feel that men that take part in doing these things are insecure people that are low class and have no morals. I feel to prevent these type of things and decrease the amount of people that are taking part in these things, education on the topic has to be increased like you mentioned. I believe that to stop a big problem, you have to start at the root of it. The root of it would be to increase awareness at a young age and slowly the problem will deteriorate. Things such as blogs, including your post, are also a great way to increase awareness and allow others to express themselves.

  24. Emily Escorcia says:

    This article speaks very deeply to what I have personally experienced as a young adult growing up in an athletic environment. I was constantly being told that I was too heavy, too short, or too voluptuous to be a professional or even successful swimmer. Advertisements constantly depicted the ideal female and male body to be perfectly sculpted and lacking any visible imperfections. However, as is often proven, those models don’t even naturally look like that due to the immense amount of photoshop and airbrushing that goes into the process. Marketing and advertising is completely based on what sells, if we stray from what society has deemed “normal” then we can easily make changes to what we see in the media. If we as an audience create a normality of health and happiness before weight and the pursuit of perfection, then we can make a difference in what main stream media portrays. Often times, insecurities are targeted as a point of sale for companies and easy in for a target audience. If weight loss is the products main purpose then commercials and advertisements will focus on heavier set individuals and the difference their product has made for them. If we continue to use weight loss as an example, some products often have serious adverse effects on the body but succeed in helping to lose weight. Obsessive consumers will ignore the harmful side effects and focus on the possibility of acquiring that “perfect body”. In a consumer driven society, the goal is to sell no matter what the cost. In the case of body image, the cost will often be the sanity and health of the consumer. Makeup, weight loss pills, plastic surgery, etc. all feed off of the societal need to be “perfect” but what the media will always fail to advertise is that we are already perfect and don’t see it for ourselves.

  25. Great post !

  26. Hello, I loved your article. I hope you don’t mind but I listed it as a source for a project I am doing for school on the oversexualization of the female body.

  27. Kasandra Casillas says:

    I completely agree with you! This society saddens me so much sometimes.

  28. Colleen says:

    I found your article interesting. How many times do we watch television with our children and not think about what is being shown. We talk ourselves into believing that just because it’s a kid’s show or a commercial that it is fine. What kind of message does that send to our children? We see clothes in stores getting shorter and smaller as each year passes. I cannot even recall how many stores I went to just to find a bathing suit I believed was suitable for my toddler daughter. Ess states, “Obscenity, or repeated public exposure to sexual acts, might impair our capacity for pleasure or for response to desire” (p 172). There have been many questions raised about the apathy of our aging youth toward sexuality. This includes the way our children view each other and respect others and themselves. I like how you can suggestions on how to address sexualization in television shows. One suggestion I believe that we need to implement is about educators working with media literary resources to inform children about sex and ethics. That can be done by encouraging students to deal with sexuality appropriately. It seems that we throw sex out there in media but try to brush it under the rug in school. As educators, we cannot be prudes when it comes to this topic. While we have to handle it with care and precision, it needs to be talked about.
    Colleen Sullivan
    Drury University
    Student
    Ess, Charles. Digital Media Ethics. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity, 2015. Print.

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