Objectification is the "process of representing or treating a person like an object" rather than an equal human being with rights:
[Objectification can be defined as including] portrayals of women in ways and contexts which suggest that women are objects to be looked at, ogled, even touched, or used, anonymous things or commodities perhaps to be purchased, perhaps taken - and once tired of, even discarded, often to be replaced by a newer, younger edition; certainly not treated as full human beings with equal rights and needs.
A recent study proved what many knew: Women are sexually objectified.
People "look at women the same way we look at houses and sandwiches: as composites of attractive parts" that are isolated. In contrast, when "we look at men, we use global processing to see them more fully as people."
Historically, women were objectified and dehumanized under the laws that classified married women as property of their husbands and daughters as property of their fathers. In fact, the father was entitled to damages when his daughter was raped because his property had been damaged. While the face of the law has changed, the GOP has kept the spirit of these laws alive today when they compare women to property, such as cows, pigs, and chickens and when they continually deprive women of rights under the sexist, misogynist rationale that men know better than us what we need.
The advertising industry makes tons of money each year objectifying women by showcasing a particular female body type selected to appeal to men. The women are not presented as complete, multi-dimensional people, but in a manner that de-emphasizes individuality: "The effect visually reduces a woman to a body, or in some instances, to parts of her body, as if she is not a real, whole person."
Objectification is one tool used to dehumanize, control and abuse women. Part of its power is that some objectification pictures/messages might seem innocuous. One bikini picture might not seem offensive on its face, but the message is usually that this is the way women should look, and the focus on our bodies says our complete person is not important. However, the individual picture/message is not viewed in isolation but also includes the cumulative impact as the "average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every single day" and will spend 2 years of their lives just watching TV commercials. A common response is "Oh, I don't pay attention to ads. I just tune them out. They have no effect on me." Many feel this way because "advertising's influence is quick, it's cumulative, and for the most part, it's subconscious." Even if the onslaught of objectifying images and text does not personally affect you, it does affect women and girls of all ages:
Forms of Objectification
There are different forms of objectification, ranging from images that some might find innocuous or inoffensive to those where the damage and harm jumps off the page. The different objectification types also show a visual progression where women are gradually transformed from a human being to part human and part inanimate object and then into animals. The harm flows from all pictures/messages because none exist in an isolated bubble but each is interlinked or interconnected with all the ads people see each day and the objectification messages embedded in all of our institutions.
There are the "mainstay" objectification pictures of women in bikinis or scantily dressed where the ad is used to sell cars, promote awards, or any of the multitude of "reasons" that have nothing to do with a woman being a complete person with human rights.
A 2009 study confirmed that some men see bikini-clad women as objects. Another study in 2012 similarly found that men and women "perceived near-naked men in sexualized ads" as human beings, but could "only see attractive women as objects."
Women are literally graded on a curve. Pictures of thin models in bikinis and tight clothes tell women that they can never have the "perfect body." Less than 5% of the population genetically has this body type that fashion/advertising industries view as "acceptable or desirable," thus excluding 95% of all women. The message is "women are acceptable only if we're young, thin, white, or at least light-skinned, perfectly groomed and polished, plucked and shaved."
One model was 88 pounds when she died of anorexia. When the models can't physically become thinner, then the executives bring out the photoshop. This picture of a model (what she actually looks like in right pic) was digitally altered (left picture) to make "her head bigger than her pelvis, an anatomical impossibility."
Here is another picture of the same model that was fired because fashion designers think she is too fat. Yet, some magazines have to "retouch photos these days to make the models look larger than they actually are."
In 2007, New Zealand banned bikinis from Burger King ads for being sexually exploitative in violation of an "industry code of practice forbidding the use of sex appeal simply to draw attention to a product."
There was another advertisement where the "women are depicted as wearing bikinis in professional jobs, and then dropping everything they are doing to ride to the nearest Burger King." Yeah, bikinis are the perfect clothing for professional women!
More countries need to follow New Zealand's lead. The harm from bikini objectification can be seen from a 1999 study that evaluated how our bikini objectification affected girls' views of their bodies in Fiji. "You've gained weight" is a "traditional compliment" in Fiji, but after just a few years of American television shows with the "slender stars of 'Melrose Place' and 'Beverly Hills 90210,' eating disorders that were "once virtually unheard of" are "on the rise among girls."
In this objectification, the message is that women and girls should be silent because what counts are our bodies, not our minds or our skills. The fashion industry introduced the new sizes of O and OO for women, but not men. Jill Kilbourne, who has focused for over 40 years on what ads say about women in our culture, notes that these sizes send the message that women should aspire to become nothing, to disappear. This ad shows a woman whose body language says she's trying to disappear.
It's not just an obsession with thinness. "Cutting girls down to size also means silencing them." Girls are often pictured in ads with their hands over their mouths:
or other objects covering her mouth:
or with copy that women should "score high on nonverbal skills:"
The political and socio-cultural invisibility of women is a subject for its own diary. However, ads send the clear message that women should be and are invisible, excluded from rights and opportunities allowed men, and generally marginalized, reserving power for straight white men. Two studies show how invisibility is worse for Black women.
Body Parts Objectification
Another form of objectification focuses on women's body parts or the headless women. The picture may crop off the woman's face or cover her face with a paper bag or other object to obtain the same headless "creature" that is not a complete woman. Headless women make "it easy to see them as only a body by erasing the individuality communicated through faces, eyes and eye contact."
Body parts objectification sends the clear message that the whole person of a woman is not important. Getty images of this year's Olympic beach volleyball illustrate the body parts objectification: Each picture at this link shows a female player by only taking a picture of her ass. Another magazine showed how this objectification would look if done to male athletes in other sports by taking headless pictures of men, focusing on their chest, ass or groin area.
It's not just Getty. NBC celebrated our incredible female athletes with a video of visual objectification accompanied by porn music, and then NBC pulled the "creepy" video after backlash from women:
“Bodies In Motion” was an online video produced by NBC in which women competing in various Olympic sports were featured in softcore, fetishist slow-motion highlights, while porn-tastic jazz music played on the soundtrack.
The video is still available at Jezebel
(some sites have partial videos, and even with different music). The video starts out with one woman removing her shorts and another smacking her lips. Then it moves on to:
taking footage of conventionally attractive female athletes competing in sports that require them to be scantily clad, slowing it way down as the camera lovingly caresses their butts, breasts, and bouncing ponytails, and playing some soft core porn music over it. Apparently NBC is too busy focusing on jiggling ladies' asses to notice ladies kicking ass.
… Not every moment in the 2 and a half minute-long fap fest … is totally gross; footage of the runners clearing hurdles is a beautiful showcase of Olympians competing in the moment for which they've spent their lives preparing. But what's the point of slowed down shots of beponytailed runners jumping up and down and blowing kisses to the crowd? Of tennis players' asses as they just stand there waiting for a serve or beach volleyball players as they encouragingly smack each other on the rear? What's with the bizarre fixation on the female ass as it clears the high bar? And what in the name of Olympian fuck is going on between 1:36 and 1:41, when one semi-anonymous field hockey ass is shown diving and flexing very slowly?
… NBC's quest to win the gold medal in the sexist pig decathlon is especially disappointing when you consider the dozens of more worthwhile stories they could be showcasing with video. For example, American women have basically been carrying the medal count for Team USA; ladies are responsible for 23 of the country's 33 gold medals, and without ladies or swimming, America would only have three golds.
Inanimate Object Objectification
In this objectification, women are depicted as the whole or a part of an inanimate object, like a table or bottle. One feminist friend stated that the Curel tree ad was not so bad relative to the other pictures. That is another power of the ads/messages: Some objectification images/text might become more acceptable or less offensive simply because other images are so much worse.
Women are incapacitated in a sexualized position, glamorizing and sanctioning the possibility that she has been attacked and controlled by subduing her.
The woman might be lassoed just as horses and cattle might be caught:
Or, the power and force of men might be used to hold her down:
The commodities objectification is a little different from the inanimate object objectification because the message is that women are everyday commodities or objects that can be bought and sold. Canada denied a permit for this 2010 ad with Pamela Anderson based on the grounds the ad is sexist.
The visual focus of this 2009 ad is on women being sold in a vending machine as compared to the tiny space afforded for the product advertised, the shoes:
Captured and Caged Animal Objectification
Here is a 2012 cover story and picture to "glamorize" the submission of women.
It's hard to tell what's more offensive. The haute couture style of the cover photo, which presents the blindfolding of a woman as elegant and refined. Or the accompanying article, … [that theorizes that women are] drawn to the idea of "sexual surrender."
Then, there are pictures of women who are caged like animals, fully under control of man.
Ads that promote or sanction violence against women:
Porno & Sexualized Objectification
Over the last several decades, there has been a Marked Rise in Intensely Sexualized Images, even "pornified," of Women, Not Men. The problem is, once again, not depicting women as sexy but as "passive objects for someone else's sexual pleasure." These "sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys."
It's not just women. One of the newer forms of objectification are the ads that use porno with teenagers:
and the increasing sexualization of little girls:
Padded bras and thongs for 9-year olds:
High heels for babies:
"Pimp squad" t-shirts for baby boys:
Sex is used to sell everything and has for years and years, but it is far more "graphic and pornographic today than ever before."
So, what's the harm?
In addition to the harms mentioned thus far for women and girls, objectification harms society. For example, men's "objectifying gaze" caused women to perform "significantly worse on math problems after being ogled -- a concern for advocates of improving women's roles in male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics."
There is also internalized harm for women and girls who self-objectify:
This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual dysfunction, access to leadership and political efficacy. Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.
There are now more ads that objectify men.
But there's a major difference between objectified men and objectified women. When men are objectified, they are "generally bigger, stronger, more powerful" whereas objectified women are usually "more fragile, more vulnerable, less powerful."
But more importantly, men do not suffer the same consequences as women. From birth, men in all levels of society have de facto power and inherent rights not afforded women. Straight white men are not as likely as women to be raped, harassed or beaten. The men do not have the history of sexism and misogyny that continues today with the War Against Women. Laws favor men while women still do not receive equal pay or have an Equal Rights Amendment.
Moreover, any dehumanization of more people is not the answer. As Kilbourne concluded: We need to change the ads/messages objectifying women, and the attitudes that "run so deep in our culture and that affect each one of us so deeply, whether we're conscious of it or not." Similar to the young girl in Miss Representation, Kilbourne says:
It can be frightening to speak out, to stand up in this way but as more and more people – men and women – find the courage to do this, the environment will change.
For more information, here are 4 short videos illustrating the objectification of women: Jill Kilbourne addressing Killing Us Softly
(Parts 1-4) --
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