Let’s Also Stop Objectifying Women

“And for those adolescent boys who are trying to be chaste and to treat their female peers with respect, it becomes that much harder. 

“I’m talking to parents of 12 and 13-year-old boys whose girlfriends are getting mad at them because they won’t do sexual things,” 

These girls are pushing their boyfriends sexually, and yet we’re still talking about sexual engagement in terms of boy respecting or disrespecting girls.

Of course, any kind of sin denotes, in a certain sense, lack of respect for oneself or others; but that paradigm wouldn’t explain the bizarre, gendered framing: when men and women sin together, the man uses the woman, and the woman is used by the man.

The implicit assumption seems to be that men (unlike women) are sexual creatures whose desires necessarily any degrade any woman they involve.

In fact, Stimpson makes this framing explicit: “Rather, modesty is a virtue, one which recognizes that the Fall made men more prone to using women and women more prone to letting themselves be used.”

In this worldview, the sacrament of marriage somehow sanctifies male desire and exculpates women from the  attendant humiliation; otherwise, it remains primarily a pitfall. Female desire is non-existent.

This discourse constitutes the sexual woman as primarily or solely the object of male desire; in this schema women are by their very sexuality objectified. Women are passive, and sexual women are used objects; the only hope for women is to adopt a posture of protective frigidity and call it modesty.

A great deal of pearl-clutching around the infamous Fiske study revolved around an ostensible* male tendency to associate bikini-clad women with first person verbs (“I handle,)” and fully clothed women with third person words (“She handles”).

Accepting for a moment this extremely tenuous link, is this actually news to anyone? Erotic desire involves the self’s relation to an other, and in a society that dictates varied levels of coverage depending on social context, erotic desire will probably be on average more present in the contexts that require fewer clothes. Certainly my response to a shirtless man is different from my response to one in a three piece suit. There is nothing scary or dehumanizing about this tendency in itself.

All erotic desire requires an “object.” Eros only becomes the pernicious phenomenon of “objectification” when the object of desire becomes an object in a total and primary sense: when the lover’s gaze becomes the only gaze that matters, the only relevant piece of information about the desired; or when “object of a particular desire” becomes synonymous with status as a sub-human object inconsistent with with agency or reciprocal desire.

Whatever the straw feminists in your closet tell you, the male gaze is not inherently malignant. The patriarchy in which it it garners an overwhelming amount of power is malignant; the misogyny that conceptualizes it as a unilateral imperialistic force is malignant.**

And yet we find nothing wrong with speaking about sexual desire as something men do to women, and sexual engagement as if it were something foreign and detrimental to womanhood.

With all the good intentions in the world, pieces like the OSV’s reinforce this oppositional and sexist understanding of sexuality. They normalize sexual violence by framing male-female sexual engagement as an inherently harmful encounter. They demonize male desire and neuter female sexual potency.

We need critiques of the many and perverse ways girls are taught to perform and subjugate their sexuality. We always need efforts  to instill sexual virtue in young men and women. We definitely need someone to tell those girls in the article that pressuring their boyfriends for sex is a wicked and predatory thing to do.

But we don’t need another reductive, objectifying analysis dressed up in the language of respect and dignity.

*I need to keep saying this: this study really didn’t conclusively demonstrate anything

**On its own merits, I think its rather wonderful


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