Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Understanding the Sexual Objectification of Women

Sexual Objectification of Women

There is currently a lot of conversation in our community about the sexual objectification of women.  Many dancers have written eloquently on why it is an important issue.  We hope to add to this dialogue by defining the term and giving some examples.  Unlike our average blog, this one will contain citations and a bibliography.  Because of the nature and timing of this blog, it is important that we not just share our own experience, but also point you in the right direction if you are interested in reading more. 

To objectify someone is to view them as an object, rather than as a subject, or a human with feelings, thoughts, opinions and value.  To sexually objectify someone is to view a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure.  Objectification occurs in interpersonal relationships and in the broader culture as pornography, prostitution, sexual harassment, and sexualized representation of women in mass media.(1)  Sexual objectification is not the same as sexual attraction.  Sexual objectification occurs when the individuality of the desired person is not acknowledged or recognized.

The dehumanization that results from objectification can cause a host of problems for the subject, object and community.

Impact of sexual objectification on the person who is being objectified

When people are objectified, they are denied personhood.  Research indicates that objectified women are seen as less competent, sincere, moral and intelligent.(2,3)  Further, exposure to sexualized images of women negatively impacts how the male viewer perceives other women (not just the woman being pictured).(2) Objectification not only harms the women who are objectified but also harms women in general.

Impact of sexual objectification on women in general

Each individual act of sexual objectification has consequences. When many representations of women are sexualized (i.e., objectified),  a “rape culture” develops, where women are blamed when they are victimized and rape is trivialized.(7) 

Further, women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to internalize those messages.  This is called “internalized self-objectification.”  If you grow up in a culture that objectifies women you will do this to some extent without even realizing it.  This internalization can result in issues including eating disorders, depression, body shame, sexual dysfunction, depression, and substance abuse.(4)  

Impact of sexual objectification on the person who is objectifying another:

There are negative implications for the person who is doing the objectifying as well.  If you discount a person’s feelings, thoughts, and dreams, instead focusing on their appearance, they become less than real to you.  Carole Heldman, PhD, has found that exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.(5)

What can I do?

First, remember that people who are objectified respond in different ways.  Some, particularly those with a history of sexual violation, may be deeply impacted by an instance that another person might consider a nuisance.  You can respect each person’s unique response and offer support accordingly. 

Second, remember that the impact of objectification extends far beyond the people targeted to the entire community. Just as the ones objectified have varying responses, so do those in our community.

Third, remember that demonizing the people who acted in ways that objectify others is a form of objectification in and of itself.  Holding people accountable for these attitudes and actions is appropriate.  

This is a deep topic and we will be exploring more facets of this issue over the next several weeks.

Be kind to yourself and others, breathe and let us know if you need anything.

Terri and Lisa

If there is a topic you would like us to blog about, just let us know.


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