Objectification kills the spirit

I’ve been encountering sexual harrassment on a fairly regular basis since I was 15. My English teacher made an advance at me (he actually told me “how to get an A”) and I remember feeling so stunned I just froze. I was praying that he was joking, with the sickening feeling at the same time that I knew he wasn’t. We were alone in the room so I was a little scared but more shocked. I remember him looking at me for a while and when I didn’t respond after what seemed like an eternity he let the matter go. Thank God.

I’m only realizing now that I should have told somebody about the event to spare another girl the same fate. Whether or not anything physical comes of that kind of exchange you are left feeling dirty and ashamed; damaged in a fundamental way. Because of that abuse of power and another soon after in which my boss did the same thing in his office (I was still 15), my view of men changed radically.

Until that point my father had been the primary man in my life and he was honest, hardworking, responsible, always there for me, if a little emotionally detached. So my image of a man was somebody who protected you and whom you could look up to and count on. After those two sorry incidents I began to see men as predators, not to be trusted, and who only ever want one thing from me.

Sadly, I’m not too far off in that estimation. A comment by a male reader backs up my fear.  He says that when men look at us they are indeed only thinking of sex. For that reason, I am doing my best not to let the looks bother me as I don’t want to punish myself for somebody else’s bad behaviour. The thing is, though, that men do not realize the harm they are doing when they look at us that way.

A BBC series in the 70s called Ways of Seeing addressed the topic of men gazing at women in this way. Narrator John Berger said that women grow up with the feeling that they are being looked at and judged by men constantly, that in this gaze a division is created in which the man is the subject (watcher) and the woman is objectified (watched).

Instead of gazing back at men in the same way, women instead internalize this male gaze and see themselves being watched. It is the reason why women have 14 “I hate my body moments” per day. They did a study. Women hate their own bodies because they are taught to believe that their value lies in what men think of their appearance. Since men are force-fed idealized images of women that only 5% of the female population resembles, the other 95% feel they are failures in a fundamental way.

When women look in the mirror we objectify and judge what we see. I’ve done it and I still do even though I’m working really hard to stop. And I look fantastic. (That’s not an ego thing; just some perspective on how ridiculous this business is.) In the post “Women: Humans or Objects” scientific proof is offered of the way the male gaze silences women in its grasp. I’m working on stopping the self-objectification. It will require a massive and fundamental shift in my psyche but I like a challenge.

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 4:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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