Today I was reading a blog post discussing objectification of women. I’ve been reading a lot of posts like this lately, especially with the womens’ marches going on around the world.
The author’s perspective was this: when women show their bodies off in public by dressing provocatively or posting pictures of their bodies on social media, they are doing it for themselves, not for the approval or attention of men. She was angry that men would see her as a sexual object because of the way she dressed. The female author was calm in discussing her perspective but underneath her words I felt anger. Normally, I felt that too. I never liked how female bodies were objectified in the media and advertising. As a woman, I resented being seen as a sexual object. But something changed today.
I saw parts of myself that I’ve never seen before. I became aware that I am a mass of contradictions and conflicting desires.
I always ate up what women like this were saying about objectification because I was just like them. I was angry at those who see women as sexual objects and abuse their sexuality. This morning as I read this woman’s beautifully written words, something inside me was shifting. Something was opening up. Suddenly, these words no longer resonated with me because I was now seeing something clearly – I too was an objectifier of women AND I also wanted to be objectified. I was the one I was judging so harshly.
I know this sounds crazy but let me explain…
In that moment, I realized that I too objectify women. I enjoy looking at womens’ bodies that I see on social media – not the airbrushed, photoshopped fake ones but the real, untouched ones. I think female bodies are beautiful and I like looking at them in real life and in pictures and videos. I look at images of strangers’ bodies and admire them. Isn’t this seeing women as objects? I couldn’t believe what I was suddenly aware of. I was one of those people I was angry about.
The realizations didn’t end there. I again felt something shift inside me and I became aware that I too have the desire to be objectified. I want to be seen as beautiful, sexual and attractive. I want to be desired for my body, for my sexuality. I want men to see me as a beautiful, alluring woman that they want to have sex with. I want to be desired for my physical beauty.
I looked deeper at myself and the way I dress and portray myself in public. I saw that whenever I wore more revealing clothing or posted a picture of my body on social media, I was doing it for attention – to be seen as a sexual being and for my body to be admired. I was definitely not doing it just for myself. I saw that this has to be true for most other women, and I realized that we are kidding ourselves when we say we are putting our sexuality out in public just for ourselves, as a show of empowerment. If we were really only doing it for ourselves, we would wear our provocative clothing in the house, look in the mirror or take a picture and never show it to anyone or never leave the house in our revealing clothing. But we don’t do this. We want to be seen and admired. We want to be desired. We want our bodies to be looked at – isn’t that the definition of objectification?
I must not be the only one who feels this way. There is a massive beauty and fitness industry catering to these desires. Most women I know want to be considered attractive. Do we all want to be objectified while at the same time resenting and fearing men when they do?
I sat with this mass of contradictions within myself and understood why men sometimes feel confused about how to treat women. No wonder they can’t figure it out if I can’t figure it out myself. Am I a woman who wants to be seen for her body and her sexual nature or am I a woman who wants love and to be seen for all of who she is, not just her sexuality?
I think it’s both. I have all parts within me. I am the prostitute and the virgin. I am the objectifier and the victim. I want to be admired for my body, my physical beauty and my sexual nature and I also wanted to be loved, appreciated and seen for who I am beyond that. For all the parts of me that are afraid of having my sexuality abused or taken advantage of, I realized that I have just as many parts that want to express it and be admired for it. I want to be objectified and I want to be seen for who I am beyond my body. This is a tall order for the men in our lives who must navigate these conflicting desires deep within ourselves that most of us women are probably not consciously aware of.
I decided to look deeper at this anger that I previously had towards men that objectify women and what I found surprised me. Underneath the anger was a woman, me, who had been rejected based on her physical appearance. It wasn’t a fear of being abused or taken advantage of – it was the pain of rejection. This part of me felt that I could never be beautiful and attractive enough to be loved by someone. This isn’t my reality, but a part of myself that is wounded. I’m sure many of us feel the same – that we can’t measure up to the ridiculous standards of perfection that advertising and media set with photoshopping, airbrushing and disturbingly thin models or, simply to another woman who has caught the attention of our lover.
Maybe the anger we feel towards men and those who pursue physical beauty above all else is the pain of being rejected based on our physical appearance. Maybe the anger we feel is our way of rejecting a system of ranked beauty that is purely physical and mental as opposed to looking at the whole of a person and how they make us feel. Maybe we are trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt by denying that we do indeed want to be admired for our bodies. Maybe we feel it’s safer to pretend that part of us doesn’t exist so we don’t have to feel the pain of not measuring up.
Whether this is true for everyone or just my personal experience, the most important thing I realized is that there is nothing I am not. Everything that I’ve ever judged about someone else, I am that too. There is a part of that within me.
These parts aren’t bad or wrong, they are part of the human experience. I can label them as good and bad or I can embrace them all as an experience – as valid, acceptable parts of myself in this crazy, sensual life on earth as a human.
You can also find this story here on Elephant Journal.