Monday, August 08, 2005

Internalizing Objectification, Take 2 ... Not surprisingly, my "one part culture, two parts wiring" theory for why women objectify themselves didn't play too well.

Since I'd discussed women's mags in particular, the most relevant response was probably this:
I think it is more about cultural programming than biological programming, especially given a recent experience I had.

I was meeting a friend and was reading a personal finance magazine on the train. I meant to tuck the magazine into my bag before I arrived, knowing that it wouldn't be culturally acceptable (for a number of reasons, one of which is linked to being female) for me to be seen by my friends with such a magazine. Of course, I forgot. And within five minutes of arriving, one of the guys made what I interpreted to be -- although maybe I just read it as such because I was nervous about being "caught" with the magazine -- a snide comment about my reading choice.

I doubt he would of made such a comment if I had been reading a fashion magazine or something of the like. No?
Enough of you have had experiences like this to be thoroughly convincing. The women's mag phenomenon -- and more specifically, the process by which women objectify themselves -- would indeed seem to be more a matter of nurture than of nature.

Of course, that still leaves us with the following question: we know that objectification owes more to society than biology, but where exactly is the line at which they intersect? For it's not until we can answer this, after all, that we'll know where to begin trying to effect genuine change.

And the answer begins, I think, with the commonplace assertion that our society is heavily commercialized. Capitalism is so thoroughly ingrained in our lives that pretty much any point of social contact -- from boardroom meetings to a night at the movies -- occurs in the shadow of a sale. Further, since sales are driven by advertising, this means we're left with a world in which ads are nearly as ubiquitous as cash itself.

Therein is where nurture meets nature. Since advertising must appeal to human psychology, and since human psychology is dominated by sexual impulses, ads that appeal to our sexuality end up dominating the advertising industry overall. Even worse, this logic only serves to set in motion yet another logical sequence: since men have more disposable income then women, and since visual images most easily stimulate male sexuality, the specific form ads acquire tend to include the image of a beautiful woman.

Thus does the pop culture, mass-market objectification of women begin. To maximize sales, advertisers rationally plaster "dead space" with pictures of women with the same three features: high cheekbones, a symmetrical face, a waist-to-hip ratio of .7.

Unfortunately, these ads are as unavoidable for women as they are for men. And the more of these ads that women see, the more likely it is that they will unconsciously define female beauty accordingly. As a result, when many women respond to sexual impulses of their own, they revert to the ads as the standard for how they should appear -- thus internalizing female objectification. Further, once these images have repeated themselves often enough to inform gender roles too, many women also begin to actively reinforce that image or role by, for instance, buying your typical women's magazine.

Now, for many of you I imagine all this will likely strike you as clumsy or crude or grossly oversimplified. But I really do think that all that is the gist.*

And yet ... I really don't find that answer particularly satisfying. For if women do internalize objectification primarily because of the prevalence of advertising, then how do you change that? Male biology is about as genetically immutable as it gets. So is, economically speaking, the role of advertising.

How in the world, then, do you effect change?

*Please note that the scope here was limited to objectification only, not to the origins and processes of cultural sexism itself. That is a much broader question and would have to account for, among other things, just why men have more disposable income in the first place.


Post a Comment

<< Home