Men are usually seen as the worst offenders when it comes to objectifying, and it’s not like they don’t engage in objectifying women, sometimes to the scary degrees.
However, women are quite able to do the same, and it often goes both ways. They often objectify themselves (and other women), as well as men. Those who think women rarely do it or that it’s a relatively new phenomena don’t really think about what objectification really means.
In short, to objectify a person means to see her, or him, as an object that can be in some way useful to you. What it means to be useful varies, and is not strictly related to sexual aspect, though it often is, when it comes to inter-gender objectifying.
It makes you fail to see another human being as a person in a full sense of the word. Even if you do understand they are fully human, you still don’t… really care. All you care is your benefit: this individual’s personality, hopes, dreams and needs become irrelevant.
Objectifying for security
Historically, the most common way women used to objectify men is to see them as providers and supporters. The more money and success the guy had, the better. Who he was as an individual was irrelevant. This sort of objectifying exists to this day. So even women who have careers and are capable of providing for themselves will often value rich men, or men with better careers and success higher than the nice guys with great personalities who don’t posses material wealth or success. Yes, this is objectifying.
Is raw objectification possible for women?
And there’s, of course, another form of objectification: the straightforward sexual objectification, in which an individual is seen as a mere object of your sexual desire. Women do this, too. In the same raw, straightforward manner men do to women.
Some people say it can NEVER be the same thing, because of the whole gender imbalance: not matter how unfair women are, they still don’t have the same power as men, and they can never do as much harm; and plus, they’ve suffered so much historically. Also, due to double sexual standards, it can never be the same thing. A man who is objectified is never so dehumanized as an objectified woman. Etc, etc.
It is true that women are still oppressed on so many levels, and that men still have more power. Still, on an individual level, doing a bad thing is, well, doing a bad thing. And women are sure not immune to objectification.
Is it harmful?
One thing that need to be discussed (but it’s not the subject if this post) is whether objectification is as harmful as people claim it to be. Of course, taken to extremes, it is one of the ways to dehumanize people. But it’s also somewhat unavoidable. After all, what is sexual attraction if not a basic objectification? Isn’t certain (unconscious) objectification instinctive?
So yes, on a certain level, it might not be harmful at all. But it often turns into a mechanism of oppression and dehumanization, and that is a bad thing. Women know very well how it works. They all know what is like not to be seen as a subject, a whole human, but an object seen through a male gaze. They all know what is like to have your own values measured by how men find you attractive.
Raw sexual objectification and women
The thing is, women are equally capable of doing the same thing. Due to historical gender imbalance- and double sexual standards- it sometimes seem that women are “above that”. Wrong. Women are capable of thinking pure sexual thoughts, and they can objectify men just as easily.
It often goes to the simple “seeing a man as a sexual object”. His thoughts, beliefs, character, integrity- anything that makes him a human being- are irrelevant. Even his sexual needs are irrelevant. All that matters is how a person doing the objectification sees him.
Plus, due to double standards, women have no guilt over doing this. In fact, some women find it quite empowering. Women go into great detail describing (or thinking) about a man’s physical features that they find arousing, and they’ll fantasize about all sorts of sexual stories involving the guy. They also transfer some of it to reality, so they pay more attention to attractive males, while ignoring or ridiculing the ones that they don’t find as attractive. And let’s not even mention the short guys. They don’t exist, for all we care, right?
However, this objectification is still shaped by double standards that make women embarrassed about openly expressing their sexuality. That’s why their way of objectification takes an unique form.
Usually, it presents itself in a form of focusing to more than the guy’s physical appearance. So the women will emphasize the man’s other qualities, for example, how nice he is as a person, or how great he is at what he does. You can see it with celebrities: many women lusting after a hot actor will point out how nice and great person he is. As if they know him. But don’t be fooled: it’s all down to simple objectifying, really.
Teenage sexual fantasies
Another very popular example offer teenage fangirls (a subject that deserves its own post). Teenage female fans are good for studying objectification, because they are quite honest (they are pretty straight about what they like), but are also already indoctrinated with double standards so they can’t express what they feel in straight terms.
While 14 or 15 year old boys know quite well why they like an actress with huge breasts, fantasies of their female counterparts appear to be more romantic and complex. They want to go on a romantic date with Robert Pattinson. They want to marry him. They want to go on a tropic adventure where they have to solve the mystery of ancient gold, escape world class criminals and fall in love.
But essentially, it’s all down to one simple thing: they want to bang him, hard. But they are not allowed to say it that way, because 14 year old girls are not supposed to be sexual beings. That’s why they develop their (sometimes rather unhealthy) obsession with actors and musicians (instead of simply taking them as sex fantasies, like boys of their age do with their celebrity crushes). That’s why the only way they can write about sex and men they’re obsessed with is through slash fan fiction. It’s not the coincidence, I think, that most writers of slash fanfiction are heterosexual teenage girls. Because you seem less sexual if you write about members of your favourite band having sex with each other than with you.
Empowering… Or shallow?
Simply put, women are quite capable of objectifying men. And many, who get quite mad about men objectifying women, do that without any guilt. I suspect many don’t even realize what they’re doing when they want to watch a movie in which their favourite actor spends suspicious amount of screen time shirtless.
Because female sexuality can never be so raw and strong and simple like male sexuality, right?