Abuse, Alienation, Alienation From Self, Authenticity, Bad Ideas, Being True To Yourself, Community, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Miscellaneous, Obligations to Society, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Knowledge, Sexuality, Sexualization

The Objectification of Young Women and Something that Might Help

(About a 6 minute read)

As loyal, long-time readers of Café Philos might recall — supposing, of course, they are still able to recall anything besides the trauma of reading Café Philos over a foolishly long period — about two decades ago, I was quite strangely befriended by dozens of young men and women in their teens and early twenties.

One of the ways in which those years opened me to new realities was this: I had not been at all aware of  how much younger women these days can be devastated by our current culture — which so strongly encourages them to sum up their value to both themselves and others almost solely at times in terms of their looks and sexuality.

As it more fully came to me what was going on, I at first became concerned, then more greatly concerned, and at last frightened.  And I am still frightened.  Yet my chief reason for that might not be what you would at first think it was.

Yes, I believe it is true that the objectification — for that is precisely what it is — the objectification of young women is causing untold emotional suffering.  The sort of suffering that is so often purposelessly hidden from casual view by the women who suffer because it would just be all too crippling to announce it publicly.  And sure, that’s a  concern of mine, but it’s not the chief reason the moral stupidity of objectifying women concerns me.

What most concerns me is closely related to, but not quite the same thing.  That is, objectification, when it is internalized by a woman, robs her of one of the most precious things in life: Her authenticity.  He right to be reasonably true to herself.

And that is an evil thing.

Or — for those of us who object to the word “evil” as too vague — it is something that threatens to destroy both the quality of her life, and the fullest possible realization of her individual potential.  Neither of those two points is intended to be an exaggeration.  Yet, for now, I won’t discuss what all they mean for the simple reason it would distract us from more important matters.

The first of those matters is to make as clear as possible just what is meant here by “objectification”, for many of us are confused about the term.

Some folks mistakenly believe that objectification occurs whenever a man looks at a woman in a sexual way.  That’s not what is meant here by the term.  I do not doubt for even the fleeting moment required by a mouse to pass a fart that men have been looking at women with sex shining in their eyes since our noble and esteemed species of fur-challenged poo-flingers first arose in Africa about 300,000 years ago — and yet women have not suffered from it — at least, not to any extent similar to their suffering from true objectification.

So what is objectification?  Simply put, it is seeing a person as valuable only in terms of just one or a very few of their traits and qualities.

Ideally, we appreciate a person for perhaps almost everything they are.  For their kindness, for their wit, for their creativity, for their rationality, for their brains, for their generosity, and so forth.  If we truly appreciate someone then there is even a sense in which we appreciate their so called “negative” traits too.  In other words, we ideally appreciate the whole or complete person.

But when we objectify someone, we reduce that person in our view of them to just one or a few traits.  And those traits can be anything.  They can be a person’s looks, for sure, but they can also be her brains, or her kindness, or her passion for living.  Reducing a person is just as bad no matter to what you reduce her, because doing so is always a denial of the whole or complete person.  It is the moral and psychological equivalent of chopping off most of her body parts.

But of course, objectification only begins with the mental reduction of someone.  In practice, it involves treating that person as if her whole value lay in just those traits you have reduced her too.  So, for instance, if you were to date a woman you had reduced to her sexuality alone, you would be likely to treat her as if she was no more than tits and ass.

It gets worse, far worse, because women are prone to internalize such messages if there is enough felt pressure to do so.  That’s simply because women, like men, are social animals.  We evolved to pay attention to each other, and perhaps even to some extent see ourselves as others see us.

All of the above raises to my mind what, if anything, can be done about objectification?

Obviously, quite a lot of things are currently being tried to combat it. For reasons of space, I won’t get into those here because a few google searches can lead you to articles on them.  Instead I would like you to consider a solution — albeit only a partial one — that I have seen no where else.

Mix the ages!  That is, do whatever you reasonably can to socially bring together older men and women with younger men and women.

Sound too simple?  Consider this, the ages have increasingly become segregated.  That segregation has led to a number of consequences, but among them I believe, is the consequence of furthering or facilitating the objectification of young women.  But how?

Imagine a woman in her 50s meeting up with a woman in her 20s to enjoy some coffee together and slyly ogle the more attractive men (Yes, your Uncle Sunstone sees all).  Forget all about the older woman giving the younger woman advice.  Who on earth wants a lecture on being true to yourself?

No, imagine instead the older woman setting a positive example for the younger woman.  The very fact the older woman is most likely to be interested in such things as the younger’s aspirations, dreams, and accomplishments might alone be enough to relieve the younger woman of some anxieties.

I hope now you can begin to imagine the possibilities.  Over sufficient time and contact, the younger would could greatly benefit from being treated as a whole, more complete, person than she’s accustomed to.  For I have seen the sad fact that — in general — young women of the same age do not always support each other to the extent they need to in this matter.

But don’t stop with just an older woman and a younger woman.  Mix them all up!  Older men and younger women, older women and younger men, older men and younger men.  But why the men too?

Well, I think older men can teach younger men quite a bit about how to see and treat women as individuals.  That’s been my own experience, at least.  Younger men will even eagerly approach an older man for advice in those matters.

And older men and younger women?  In a way the same thing: Younger women can benefit greatly from men who are willing and able to treat them as whole persons, and — whether one knows this or not — most older men are not skilled lechers. I myself proudly stand out as one of the few true lechers I know of.

We have a cult of youth that I believe is in part responsible for dividing and segregating the ages.  In the old days, the myth was that all older people were wiser than younger people.  That myth has been shot down. But it has been replace by an equally dangerous myth that older people have nothing of value to teach younger people — even by example.

So I’m here to say: Rant all you want about the consequences of objectification, but be sure to take a few steps to actually combat it too!

I fear all the rants in the entire atmosphere will do little or nothing, in part because they tend not to focus on practical solutions, and because they are fighting against billion dollar industries.    Those industries are no more going to quietly cave in than did the Southern planters voluntarily gave up the foundation of their own wealth — slaves.

Get busy! Do something real!  Befriend an older or younger person today.  Take them to coffee, go with them to a movie.  Make a real friend — test to see if I’m right about this.


Please Note: This post was in part inspired by a conversation over at Jen’s Life.

10 thoughts on “The Objectification of Young Women and Something that Might Help”

  1. From the way you are describing objectification, why can’t men experience that too? Maybe I’m being a bit too liberal here, but reducing someone’s traits too just a few characteristics that one likes seems to be a natural flaw in human relationships. But I agree about what you said about mixing the generations. I’ve learned a lot from older people throughout my life, and one valuable lesson I learned is how quickly societal expectations change and how stupid they really are.

    1. If you think about it, Kat, the process of objectification is certainly not limited to women, but can be done to any group, and what makes a “group” can be real or imagined traits.

      For instance, you can objectify men, Jews, Blacks, the poor — the groups are endless.

  2. Darn it, Paul, you’ve done it again! I was resolved to catch up on my e-mail, focusing on the all important (but intrinsically dull) “ASHP Daily Briefing,” when you popped up with another of your irresistible posts! Anyway, from my perspective I’m not sure that objectification is as deep and ubiquitous as you think. At least it is not in my world. The young women I know (my daughter and several young women whom I supervise at work) certainly display signs that their self image is well balanced. I think you are right about it being good to mix ages in social contact, and come to think of it, I believe at least some of the young folk I work with and have social contact with take my example to heart. pats self on back

    1. I would be astonished, Carla, if you told me you knew some young people but that they were learning nothing of value from your example.. That would just be unbelievable — at least, based on what I’ve learned of you as a person over the years.

  3. I agree and support the mixing of ages! Yes, all older people are not 100% guaranteed to be wiser than younger people, but that doesn’t mean ages should be segregated. I see society today like a drunk man with its societal views: very unbalanced and tumbling everywhere. There is no harmony and we don’t value it. It’s become unachievable in the minds of many.

  4. Seconding Kat and being of the queer persuasion, it is important to realize doing it (objectifying somebody) and then taking action. Being a victim of abuse myself, I think it is crucial for me to find the trust in other people, that treat me as a human being instead of being a pound of flesh.

    Parts of the gay subculture are extemely shallow that way and looks are everything. Of course enforced by the industry you mentioned.

    Meaningful exchange with others, no matter their age or gender can help to vaccinate us against this evil. And it is clearly an evil, too often downplayed.

    “Don’t be such a prude! Are you frigid? etc.”

    Thanks for that post.

    1. You know, I would suspect there might even be a sense in which some straights sexually objectify gays, such as when a preacher insists they are immoral people because of their sexuality, ignoring all else about them. Does that make sense?

      1. Absolutely. Also some people wanting a “gay best friend” or reducing gay men for their sense of style, or a classical approach (often by straight cis men) “you have it so easy, you can just have sex…” These would be forms of “positive” objectification.

        I think many people fetishize gay/lesbian folks. But again this also happens to people of colour or people who are being disabled.

        Have you heard about intersectionalism, respectively intersectional feminism? This is a concept I find most logical and try to apply as much to my life as possible. It means strengthening solidarity between marginalized groups. Some of my best friends, including myself are neurodiverse, queer, being disabled. You learn so much, once you stop letting one aspect of a person overshine everything else about them.

        That’s my whole idea of feminism, it being intersectional and trying to bring a better and more just world for EVERYBODY.

  5. I’m familiar with intersectionalism, and I consider myself a strong proponent of working to created a better world informed by feminism and other things.

    Beyond that, it seems there’s a nearly infinite number of ways we can objectify others. Maybe some measure of objectification is inescapable.

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