Sexual Objectification And Our Media
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Politics and Activism

Sexual Objectification And Our Media

How objecification continues to rot our culture and ruin our mental health

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Sexual Objectification And Our Media
PC: Nicle Mason

Women face a constant bombardment of images constituting who they should be, what they need to look like, and how they are expected to balance their lives. The expectations are wildly presented beyond the means of most women, whether that's because of social class, financial limitations, or physical restraints which prevent a woman from achieving this “ideal” life and body. Women's magazines are huge perpetrators of this issue by displaying images of exceedingly thin women while also objectifying those women, both lessening a woman’s value to merely a body and simultaneously making the female reader feel worthless for not being able to achieve this image of “success.” The problem is that this image of success within such cultural norms is often unattainable and linked so strongly with the heterosexual male gaze, that it translates into telling a women success can only be achieved when she is valued by a male audience. Many studies completed by theorists have claimed this to be a problem mainly for two reasons: 1) this eliminates any value in the diversity of women or her other qualities, such as intellectual or artistic ability by focusing on sexual accomplishments only and 2) it lowers self worth not only by placing the determinant of success on a dominant male, but also by showing images that are physically impossible for many women to achieve. The effects of sexual objectification have been proven to lower self-esteem in everyone, not just women, but the culture of objectification and unrealistic body expectations puts women in a place of powerlessness and self-detriment.

The conversation on self-objectification is also an important aspect to how women treat themselves due to the culture we create in our magazines. The current nature of patriarchal-hetero-centric media and sexuality creates this cycle of being objectified and then self objectifying. Theorist, Berger wrote: "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. . . . The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object." As result, women base their power and sexuality on validation from men, mistakenly making women think they are sexually empowered when in reality they are still just conforming to stereotypes and images that have been impressed upon them.

On a more serious note, the consequences of systematic objectification and self-objectification among women can range from not only mental health issues, but also to a culture of victim blaming and sexual assault. The relationship between sexual objectification and sexual assault in Sexual Objectification and Sexual Assault: Do Self-Objectification and Sexual Assertiveness Account for the Link? by Franz, DeLillo, and Gervais, is described on the basis of how objectification affects both cultural reactions to assault and the victim's likelihood to defend herself. Men who “engage in more objectifying behaviors… are more likely to have committed sexual assault." This shows the danger in letting society as a whole believe that objectifying women is natural, but there is also a great danger in allowing a woman to self-objectify because this will encourage the culture as a whole to continue, and also affect how a women might defend herself in a situation where she is facing off against said culture. According to this study, when a woman felt more objectified or under scrutiny, she then felt more self conscious, and in turn was less sexually assertive. In this case, objectification leads to a loss of self-esteem, which then leads to a lowered ability to feel like she either can, or wants to reject someone sexually who is making unwanted sexual advances. Sexual objectification creates a culture in which women are treated like a commodity, and are taught to treat themselves in that way also. This is dangerous to our society as a whole, a problem that can only be solved through female empowerment, respect, and education.

How we affect young women is particularly impactful, and it shapes the future of our culture as the youth grows. We drive girls crazy with heteronormative statuses or markers of success saying that this is what men want so this is what you have to be. Sexual objectification and self-objectification work so closely together, that they cause a dangerous combination of lowered self-esteem and mental health issues in women, while influencing society to produce a negatively hypersexualixed culture of victim blaming and body shaming towards women- effectively attacking them from the inside and out. Magazines should instead be making a conscious effort to place emphasis on true body positive, sex positivity, and empowerment of the values personalities or the intellectual ideas of women, to ensure a safer community for everyone and healthier women.

The act of being sexually objectified by someone is demeaning and power-based, where one person is defining and controlling the other. Sexually subjectivity, on the other hand, is when the person in question is a subject of sexuality, not the object, and therefore has the power to determine how they are involved in the sexual viewing. They are in control. Which is most importantly making it consensual, but can also often be empowering. For women, being a public sexual subject is so often frowned upon in a culture where objectivity is more valued than subjectivity. I believe our culture makes it easier to popularize sexual objects since consent is not needed of an “object”, this leads to non consensual sexuality being popularized. This is A PROBLEM.

The solution is to move away from objectification and towards encouraging women to be their own sexual subjects. Placing control back into the hands of women, and removing it from the patriarchal consumerist male gaze, will enable women to shape themselves how they want to as opposed to how society dictates. For young girls, this is especially important to enact early on. There needs to be a larger representation in the media of minorities, people of color, homosexuals, etc. and self-empowerment of sexuality. Having a wider representation of women can create more options for young girls to identify with, and strengthen their personal identities as opposed to tearing them down for not living up to images they see on the paper. We can eliminate objectification, raise empowerment of subjectivity, and improve the overall mental health of our society. Let’s strengthen the identities of women today, and create a safer space for all genders and sexualities.


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