Expanding Objectification Beyond Gender

Objectification is one of those topics I love to discuss. Between the different, cultures, religions and gender roles out there, there are a lot of opinions. In June, I asked who is responsible for objectification. If a woman wears a mini-skirt, is she ‘asking for it’? Should she expect objectification or only dress that way if she wishes to be objectification?

As Weight3Lose2013 pointed out in a related blog post, a person chooses to wear certain things expecting something. Whether consciously or otherwise, choosing to wear a mini-skirt vs. jeans out in public is a choice on how you want to be perceived. The problem is, what the person expects and what other people assume they expect are often two different things. When it comes to women, who are under a lot of pressure to be beautiful (a pressure which is increasingly put on men as well), wearing a mini-skirt to a bar or a bikini to the beach may simply be the clothes they think they look beautiful in. They might not be dressing for attention, even if people who look at them think they are.

Either way, they don’t deserve to be objectified. Objectification is disrespectful. The more I explore the phenomena, the more I am convinced it has more to do with class and equality then the clothes a person wears. This is easy see when we look at countries where women are seen as less than men. Many have rules about how women can dress, forcing them to be well covered at all times. Despite how covered the women are, typical rates of rape and violence against women are far higher than other countries.  This objectification, viewing women as nothing more than an object, has nothing to do with dress and everything to do with how human and equal society views her to be.

I use women for all these examples because it’s what I know. There are so many examples to choose from, many of which people have some familiarity with. Abbie’s Tree House then pointed out others who are often objectified, such as waiters, waitresses and janitors.

This photo, “Working hard for the money” is copyright (c) 2014 Satish Krishnamurthy on Flickr and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “Working hard for the money” is copyright (c) 2014 Satish Krishnamurthy on Flickr and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

These are people who are often seen as being on the bottom of the societal food chain. After thinking about it, I’ve come to realize these and similar occupations are just as objectified. While they may not be seen as sex objects, they still face the disgrace of being treated sub-human. They’re job is to serve people, to clean up their messes and attend to their demands. A person using their services can either be mindful of their humanity or act with complete disregard. After all, it doesn’t matter how big of a mess they make or how rude they are. Their server will still have to put a smile on their face and serve them.

Do you ever stop to consider the humanity of your server or janitor? What about the umpire of a baseball game? There are probably many other examples out there of people who face a lot of rudeness and abuse because they are seen more as objects than people.

It makes me wonder if objectification is a sort of defense mechanism. Is it possible to treat a person like they are below you without also objectifying them? Are there situations where it’s easier to objectify then it is to accept a person as human.

One of my good friends, Nerd of the Sands, once told be about a stripper he knew. He explained the objectification there goes both way. While we all know the stripper is probably being objectified, something that allows those in attendance to get the sexual entertainment they desire without thinking about the woman as a person, with children to feed, bills to pay and a family who loves her. At the same time, the stripper objectifies the audience, seeing them as money machines, and not a people who might be lonely, hurting or going through a rough break up. On both sides, I think the objectification happens here because they stripper wouldn’t be able to do their job and the audience wouldn’t be able to enjoy the performance without objectification.

I think we should add occupations and classes to the discussion on objectification. People who are too used to objectification of women being acceptable don’t always understand the issue. Perhaps pointing out all the different people who are dehumanized for one reason or another would be beneficial. Like a lot of feminist and gender issues, objectification expands beyond women and gender. It’s not an issue that is specific to one gender or another. Gender is too simple of an answer. More than anything else, I think objectification has more to do with how equal one person thinks they are to another. It just so happens that women throughout history have long been seen as below men, which is why there are so many examples of female objectification. It’s time to expand that, though. It’s time to include all the people who are treated like machines or objects instead of human.

No matter what a person’s gender, occupation or lot in life, they are still human. They still deserve just as much dignity and respect as anyone else.

I’ve mentioned women, servers, janitors and umpires. Do you think there are any other occupations that are frequently treated as sub-human? What can a person do if they see a person being objectified? Outside of gender equality, which can only help with gender-based objectification, what do you think would need to happen to erase objectification of those in certain occupations?


21 thoughts on “Expanding Objectification Beyond Gender”

  1. I like the idea of reframing the discussion about “objectification,” which seems to raise hackles, as one of “dehumanization.” In addition to your great examples of service based occupations, I would add the way people view people in countries with high levels of poverty. Either they are objects for pity, self promotion through service/mission trips etc., or political fodder. Great post!

    1. I could see that, although I have to believe some people help out those less fortunate out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps they get paid to do it or gain something from doing it. So long as that is not their only motivation, perhaps they are not objectifying.

      Like a person who engages in a sexual act with another for sexual gratification may also feel love, respect and adoration for the person. They still see them as human while also seeking their gratification.

      It’s certainly more complex then women being objectified by men.

  2. Objectification happens all around us. No one deserves to be objectified despite what he or she is wearing. A person should be conscious, however, that what he or she is wearing can influence the way somebody treats them…or even objectifies them. The act of objectifying is overall the fault of the person who is looking at someone, not the person being looked at. But if a woman doesn’t want to be objectified, and she doesn’t want men to objectify her for the sake of helping men to NOT be naughty, she also assumes the responsibility in which she helps men to focus on her as an entire person, more than just a body for them to use. This is a very deep topic, and I wish we could discuss it in person…
    Is it okay to objectify each other? Let me ask if it is okay to steal from each other. If a company gives consent for a thief to rob a warehouse, does that mean it is okay? Stripping for money is a sad way to live. A woman’s body is meant for her husband alone. Just because both she and the audience are consenting to objectifying each other, is it really a form of love? Can it be good for the other? I don’t think that you can argue it is right, but perhaps understandable (mainly because you mentioned the stripper was doing it to provide for family, etc) I hope this helps http://chastity.com/question/how-does-pornography-hurt-people

    1. What a person wears can influence how other people percieve them, but that’s all subjective. One person may thing wearing leggings, for example, would do little more than cause them to fade into the crowd. Another person may think wearing leggings to be far too revealing. As such, the wearer nor those looking upon them have any idea what the other’s intentions may be.

      The woman, like any other person, is under no responsibility to prevent another from being naught. Any human being should be seen as human, no matter how much clothing they have on. As we see, countries where women are treated as less than human are often forced to cover themselves far more than women in the western world. They face more rape, more violence and more discrimination. Clearly what a woman wears, what any person wears, has no effect on whether she or he is objectified. That’s just an excuse.

      As so your questions, if a thief is given permission to steal, can he said to be stealing at all? Is not the definition of stealing taking something without permission? I don’t think stripping is are particularly healthy occupation, and the objectification involved on both sides certainly is a problem. I don’t think it’s intended to be a form of love at all. It’s a form of entertainment. The objectification bothers me, but if the world were such that a stripper did not dehumanize the patrons and the patrons did not dehumanize the stripper, I wouldn’t really have a problem. I still wouldn’t think it was a good idea, but I wouldn’t call it wrong. Now, whether or not a world like that is possible is another question.

      1. I agree with a lot of the things you said, and while some of them are questionable, I disagree with “Clearly what a woman wears, what any person wears, has no effect on whether she or he is objectified. That’s just an excuse.”
        If you wear a bikini to the beach as opposed to wearing a one-piece suit, the chances of a man objectifying you will be higher. Why? Because modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It teaches others to say “I’m more than just a body, so you should respect me” Obviously, the decision for a man to have dirty thoughts about your body, despite what you are wearing, are totally his responsibility, but you can have influence over whether or not those thoughts will be incited. You may not be the cause for him entertaining such thoughts–that’s his problem–but you do have the ability to make him desire to lust over you.
        Ah, my “stealing” analogy wasn’t very good 🙂 Perhaps I should have just said “taking”, or more specifically, “taking what someone shouldn’t have”. If two people consent to take from each other, does that mean it is okay? Are they doing what’s best for the other person? The only behavior that humans deserve, the ONLY, is love. People who take, even with consent, are not loving each other.

        In your recent post about marriage, why believe in marriage? Because it is indeed better for the couple. At least in the Catholic Church, when a couple is married before the altar, God gives them graces to be the best they can be for each other. There’s more to this topic than that, but this is a long comment!

        1. Modesty i subjective. What you think is or isn’t modest won’t be the same as what another person thinks. Clothing is not an excuse. Men are not animals. They are perfectly capable of noticing a woman, admiring a woman and/or being attracted to a woman without objectifying her. God is not magic. I’ve seen enough Catholic divorces to know marriage guarantees nothing. The Bible Belt has some of the highest rates in the country, further proving faith in a deity does little to guarantee anything. A couple dedicating their lives to each other is just as blessed as any other, regardless of the ceremony or lack there of that they choose to salute that commitment.

  3. Hi TK 🙂 Your last question is really difficult. I think one of the answers there is to educate people, hmmm … but I do know some educated people who are still quick to mistreat other people … hmmm … this is really tough. I guess it all boils down to how much compassion we have towards our fellow men. Now how do we imbue people with compassion? I don’t really know how …. LoL 😀 I don’t think I’m much of a help here.

    1. I think it starts early. It’s not about gender, degrees, money or class. It’s about, from day one, being taught that every human deserves respect no matter who they are or how different they may be from you.

  4. Enjoyed your perceptive piece. Apparently, the human tendency is to objectify people outside one’s group (gender, tribe, race) as the Other and to project all sorts of negative qualities onto Them. There is another approach, of course. As Hamlet said of the Ghost: as a stranger, bid it welcome. I’d think his advice is particularly apropos in gender relations, as we search for a new equilibrium while women’s identity continues to evolve and strengthen.

    1. Perhaps it is that other that we objectify. Maybe we can change that once we start thinking of other people not as others but another one of us.

  5. As a web designer who is a small female, I am objectified by every male I encounter in my field. They always assume I have no idea what I’m doing. Even when I’m introduced and we discuss my degree and my years of experience, I’m still somehow not as knowledgeable as the men who do my job and similar jobs. It gets to me, it really does. I work hard, I educate myself on changes happening everyday to keep up with the latest SEO tricks to up our sites rankings and still STILL I go to a meeting and some guy thinks he can do better. That our company really needs his help because I probably don’t know this and that about things like he does. Of course when it’s my turn to talk I kick that pedestal right out from under them with my vast knowledge of things SHOCKER that he doesn’t know. The smile on my boss’ face is the icing on my cake 🙂

    1. I’ve read many accounts of women in tech and gaming industries who face a lot of situations like that. I once saw a comic where two men were doing math. “you’re good at math,” said one to the other. In the next square, a man and a woman were doing math. “you’re good at math, for a girl,” said the man to the woman. As if it was a surprise and as if her math skills while ‘good for a woman’ were still not up to a man’s skills. There’s stuff like that all over our culture. I think it’s worth discussing why. Just stop and think, what brings a person to think that way. Why can’t a woman with the right degree be just as knowledgeable as a man with the same degree?

  6. Hey,wanted to let you know I nominated you,and that I enjoy reading your words,continue to be a voice for those whose need to hear 🙂

  7. I think that these are really good points, which I’ve often thought before, such as the way shop staff and wait staff all wear uniform, to make the essentially the same.

    Following conversations this week, I’m also amazed that there are still well educated, intelligent men out there who find it impossible to imagine what it is like to be part of an oft-objectified population and therefore understand the outrage women might feel because of it.

  8. Hey TK. Great post on the awareness of this issue! I was just thinking, at least in regards to women, any occupation can be objectified by someone frequently or infrequently. I think this is particularly true in fields where men dominate the higher positions and have that “men’s club” with the no “girls” allowed attitude. Judging. I feel that snap judgments we make about each-other really does boost this attitude of objectification. I’m currently thinking about makeup as an example. Whether I wear too much, too little, or none at all I can and will be judged regardless and placed in some sort of category because of it. That snap judgment has already devalued me as a person. Also relatively, what if a guy wears makeup? Does that make him less of a man? less of a person? Certainly not. Our society can be very ruthless with judgment and I think that has a hand in objectification. Love your posts, you’re always on point with these issues. ❤

  9. Celebrities! I feel like in general many celebrities are objectified, thought of only in terms of their performance, or as super-human and not a complete person with their own lives and things going on. Case and point, this following stream of images I saw a couple days ago shows Paul McCartney chilling on the streets of Omaha. He’s just a guy enjoying a nice evening, and buying some ice cream, and yet he’s constantly being monitored and not looked at as a person trying to relax on an evening walk, but as someone who we can stare at and faint over. Looking at these, especially the fourth picture down, I can’t help but feel this must be obnoxious for him. He probably just wants to get ice cream and sit on a bench in peace. But all people are going to see is an idol of sorts to stare at, at the end of the day he’s just a person like anyone else; granted, a talented musician, but then he become objectified as just that, and all other aspects of him as a person seem to be stripped.

  10. The objectification of anyone is based on a belief that one living thing is superior to another. Clearly, some humans think other humans are less if they are of a different gender or skin color. I think the same thing happens with non-human animals. Who believes that dogs are not as relevant as humans? Only humans could think such a think. A dog might have a different opinion.

    Fighting sexism automatically results in fighting racism, ageism, sizeism, moneyism, and speciesism. I believe that all of these things are false beliefs that we grow up around and don’t even know how wrong they are.

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