Being Sexy vs. Sexual Objectification

I have actually been asked by well-meaning guys (bless them) if finding a girl sexy, or being sexually attracted to a girl, meant they were thinking of her in a disrespectful way.

My answer was, of course not!  But I can see where the waters get murky.

Usually, when people comment on the sexual objectification of women – they are referring to the sexual objectification of women in media.  Of course, sexual objectification happens in real life, too: in terms of street harassment, disregard for a woman’s personal feelings, rude comments about her physical appearance, etc.  Although in my opinion, I attribute a lot of these behaviors to media influence.

Sexual objectification is portraying someone as a one-dimensional character who is only an instrument of sexual pleasure and physical beauty.  Fact is, women are disproportionately portrayed this way in popular media while male characters tend to be more multidimensional.  Also, in many mainstream films excluding romantic comedies/romance genres, the proportion of male characters is much larger than that of female characters.  (I will write a separate post addressing this particular topic.  But if you are interested, Google the terms “Smurfette Principle” and “The Bechdel Test”.)

The Other Side

Men don’t escape sexual objectification in media, either.  At the end of the day, both men and women are pawns and commodities of the entertainment industry.  Chiseled men with waxed chests are used to advertise Calvin Klein products.  In fact, one of my male friends once pointed out that nude female bodies have become normalized to the point that showing a picture of a penis or male rear end is considered to be pornographic.

I mainly blog about women’s issues from a woman’s perspective, but it does not elude me that body negativity flies both ways.

Women Objectifying Themselves, or Empowerment?

A valid question is, if women are being objectified, then why are women themselves volunteering to pose naked in Playboy, wearing bikinis, and getting breast enhancements?

What you are seeing is sexual objectification in action.  There is a difference between a woman deciding to dress sexily on a night out, and a woman artist deciding to use her sexuality to market herself.  The fact that women are strongly encouraged to gain influence first and foremost through her physical appearance, even when she is genuinely talented in acting, singing, dancing, etc., is problematic.  Remember that entertainers also work under publicists, managers, and agents.  Chances are, female artists are strongly encouraged by these figures to advertise themselves through their sexuality in order to gain publicity and revenues.  A lot of the women themselves end up equating sexual influence with overall influence.  Being given the title “Sexiest Woman Alive” is an honor that makes headlines in entertainment news.  Hollywood producers and managers promote sexual advertising as “sexual liberation” and sexual “empowerment” of women.

This type of attitude about women’s appearances surround even women who do not work for the entertainment/glamour industry.  Female politicians, authors, and scientists constantly have to deal with snarky comments about their physique and appearance, even when it is not at all relevant to their line of work.  I do not see this occur as regularly regarding male public figures, although New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie did fall victim to harsh fat-shaming comments.

However, that being said, I still cannot speak for every woman.  There is a difference between a woman who feels pressured into portraying herself sexually, and a woman who comfortably and intentionally portrays herself sexually.

Towards Sex and Body Positivity

In conclusion, when we try to protect female public figures from objectification and body-snarking, we are not trying to punish those who admire their appearance or find them attractive.  We also do not want to punish women who flaunt their sexuality by wearing lipstick and a curve-hugging dress.  Ideally, both women and men should feel comfortable in their sexuality without social pressures limiting otherwise morally neutral personal freedoms.  The point is to not publicly humiliate people for failing to fit narrow definitions of beauty, and to simply respect other people and their personal boundaries.

Reducing a woman’s worth to just her physical features is dehumanizing, because this is something she largely cannot control.  Everyday, many women are doing and achieving wonderful things – from scientific research to taking care of their families – but are being harshly judged, and publically bullied, about their appearances.  It’s like they never get to leave high school.

Once, when I was around seven years old, I made an insensitive comment about my slightly chubby friend.  My mother heard and swiftly reprimanded me, saying that it was rude to make any comments about another person’s physical appearance.  It is about time that, as adults, we all exercised this courtesy.

**I want to share an excerpt from Joy Goh-Mah’s article in the Huffington Post, which I really liked.  The title is “The Objectification of Women – It Goes Much Further than Sexy Pictures“, and explains how far objectification goes for women.

“…because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that Stephen Hawking can declare women to be “a complete mystery”, and have newspapers gleefully latch on to this, declaring women “the greatest mystery known to man”. It is a common refrain for men to bleat about not understanding women, but this is because they have simply never tried, because society has trained them to never look at life through the eyes of a woman.  …

It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that even good men, when speaking out against violence against women, tell other men to imagine her as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” it never occurring to them that maybe, just maybe, a woman is also “somebody”.”

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6 thoughts on “Being Sexy vs. Sexual Objectification

  1. Pingback: Feminist Belly Dancing? | Women's Comedy

  2. Pingback: When is it okay to NOT be sexy? | Women's Comedy

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