April 29, 2015

Subjectify Me Baby


What it is, how it hurts people, and why it needs to stop.

Growing up as a dancer, I had a lot more on my mind regarding my feet than whether they were pretty. Painting my nails and toes happened, of course, since polish had been introduced to me before the first grade. But looking at my feet and evaluating whether my toes were...attractive? It never occurred to me. Not until high school when my dancing got more serious, and due to pointe shoes and modern dance techniques that required bare feet, my feet would occasionally get cut, bruised, etc. This was immaterial to me so long as it was nothing serious that would prevent me from dancing. It was my father who brought feet-as-attractive-objects to my attention. "Your poor boyfriend," he would say, when my feet weren't trussed up princess style. Not, "your boyfriend is so lucky that you're such a beautiful dancer". No, he wasn't. My boyfriend was unlucky, because my feet, while fully functional and undeniably impressive, weren't nice to just...well...look at. 

My junior year of high school I'd grown quite pleased with my piano playing and was ready for a new challenge, so for my birthday my mother bought me a guitar. Never one to play by the rules, I skipped the simple chords and scales and jumped straight into more advanced playing. It was rough on my fingers for the first month or so - I'd never touched a guitar before! My fingers blistered a little until they became calloused and tough. "Ugly feet and ugly hands?!" my father exclaimed, when I told him of my new musical instrument. "Come on! Give the guy a break!" 

I was never a huge fan of laundry growing up, but once I got to college the situation evolved and I realized that I didn't have to do laundry as often when I had a job and money. Suddenly I could just go to the mall and by new underwear and socks. My roommate and I made a game out of it. When I told my father, he warned me that I would have a problem finding a husband if I refused to do laundry. 

Sophomore year of college I got my first significant tattoo. It wasn't tiny and negligible like the first two. This one started at my bra strap and went down to cover the rest of my back. "And what happens when you meet a guy that doesn't like tattoos?" I was asked, by more people than just my parents. 

Comments like these have been pushed on me from all directions from the time I was a young girl. Some were absorbed more than others, and some remain more deeply embedded than others. The thing that all of these comments have in common were that they objectified me, and not only that, they attempted to teach me to self-objectify. 

What is Objectification?

Subjects act. Objects are acted upon. People are subjects, and objects are things like cellphones, purses, hats, shoes, etc. Objects exist to do things for people. 

Objectification is when a person is treated like an object rather than a subject. It is when a person's existence is thought to be for the purpose of doing something for someone else, rather than the person existing for themselves. In our society women are usually perceived as objects rather than subjects, and this objectification is usually of a sexual nature. 

This is a tremendous problem. 

Why Does Objectification Hurt People?

Objectification hurts people because it teaches them to neglect themselves, their true wants and desires, and instead focus on making themselves the best possible objects for the pleasure of others. It teaches them that their wants and needs aren't important, and even confuses them into believing that the wants and needs of others are their own wants and needs. 

Thus, instead of thinking,

How can I become a person that I like more?

people who internalize objectification and learn to self-objectify think,

How can I become a person that _______ likes more?

Objectification promotes low self-esteem. Women especially are prone to low self-esteem as a result of objectification, being fed the message that their only value lies in how attractive they are to men while simultaneously being bombarded with impossible standards depicting the "perfect" woman. Women often suffer from depression and body shame in addition to low self-esteem as a result of messaging from all different channels of society.

Women who self-objectify have trouble establishing a sense of self. Viewing themselves, their bodies and their personalities as projects to be constantly improved upon until perfect, women are endlessly adapting to what they think the opposite sex wants. Women's magazines are constantly telling women how to be thinner, sexier, what doctor to go to for their breast implants, how to make their hair shinier and silkier, how they should be putting on their makeup. Self-help books may be teaching men how to win friends and influence people and about the art of saying no, but they target women and teach them how to think of romantic life through a man's eyes so that they can adapt to men's expectations. Women are taught how to act like a lady but think like a man. They're taught about why men love bitches. They're told to accept when he's just not that into her. 

At no point are these magazines, books and ads on TV telling her that she will be happier if she looks inside herself and finds out what really matters to her. At no point is it advertised that a man is not the key to her happiness, and finding a husband is the spoken or unspoken goal of all of this propaganda. The message that is being conveyed is that right now as she is, she isn't good enough, and if she works really hard to change she just might have a chance at finding a husband. But every day she will continue to be bombarded with advertisements featuring female outliers. Every day she will open up magazines, or see a fleeting commercial, or a bus will go by with a woman on it who has been photoshopped to measurements that are actually anatomically impossible. All of this will reinforce the idea that she will never be enough of something. And without a man in her life to shower her with approval and let her know that all of the change, self-improvement and sacrifice was all worth it, she may very well end up feeling like her life lacks meaning altogether. 


The sexual objectification of women teaches people that men want, and that women should want to be wanted. That men are subjects - who act, and that women are objects - who are acted upon. 

Sexual objectification makes inappropriate behavior seem acceptable and normal, such as cat calling, street harassment, sexual harassment and abuse. 

Because of sexual objectification women who are raped when they are intoxicated, out late, or simply walking outside alone are compared to cars with the keys left in them. If you leave the keys in your ignition do you really expect that no one is going to steal your car? Sexual objectification results in a society that accepts rape as a understandable, natural occurrence that women need to go out of their way to protect themselves against. 

Objectification also makes it more difficult for women in abusive situations to recognize them for what they are and get out of them. When women think of themselves as objects, they believe that perfection is attainable through becoming the ideal object for the pleasure of men. Thus, when a woman is met with neglect, hostility, anger, infidelity, or even physical abuse, she assigns responsibility to herself for these actions instead of her partner, believing that if she had just been more ______ then this wouldn't have happened. Fill in that blank with: thin, sexually available, quiet, agreeable, obedient, grateful. 

As for me? I am not an object. I am a subject. 

I dance and will continue to dance and I will not let the appearance of cuts, bruises or corns stop me. 

My hands are tools for moving through the world, picking up things with, holding, pushing and pulling things with, for typing with, playing instruments with, holding microphones with, caressing my lady parts with, firmly stroking my lover with.

My hands are not sculptures for gazing at. 

I will do laundry (or send it out to be done) when I run out of underwear - not to find a husband. 

I will cook when I am hungry - not to impress a man. 

I will tattoo (and have) as much of my body as I see fit, regardless of what anyone else thinks because anyone else is not me and this is MY body.

I will not date someone who does not like who I am. 

I will not change myself to fit the wants, needs or expectations of another person. I am enough. More than enough. Just the way I am. 

I will not compliment women and especially not young girls on the way they look. Instead I will replace adjectives like "pretty" or "cute" with ones that matter, like "smart", "courageous" and "determined".

I will speak out against objectification to friends, family and even strangers, and encourage others to do so. 

Because women are people. Not objects. Not cars. Not pretty things to be acquired and used. 

And it's about damn time we were recognized as such. 

Spread the word.



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