Last week, feminist actress Emma Watson was confronted with questions about her boobs with regard to her feminist views. It might seem ridiculous – it does to me – but at the same time this gave me a reason to think about two difficult issues – especially their intersection.
Shortly put, this is the idea that a person is seen as an object as opposed to a full human being – insane as that may sound.
Looking at history, it is hard to deny that women have not been seen as full human beings. In medieval times we were either pure virgins or witches – or prostitutes – but never actual human beings. We then became merely virgins, mothers or whores, but had no function beyond that. After both world-wars (where it was proven women could do all kinds of jobs) the myth of the housewife came into full play. Women ought to be women and women cooked and cleaned and kept house – it is the one thing that always annoyed me about Annie in the adventurous five!
Although you’d never hear me say that these were good times, it is debatable if women were objectified during that time. I’d say seeing a women as a mere cleaning womb would be objectification, but I wouldn’t push the point as semantics are not what I am after today.
The objectification I want to address here came after the second feminist wave. When women began to free themselves from the traditional roles they were forced into, a new myth about women began to emerge. I can’t describe it as well as Naomi Wolff – read her “the beauty myth! – but shortly put a new view of women began to emerge and become dominant. Women as primarily beautiful objects. Women who should not be prized for what they do – at least we were prized for giving birth or cleaning and raising children, sad as it is to claim only that – but for how they look.
Beauty became the one defining thing that made a woman worth something – or so plenty of people would claim. Now I do not like to generalize, but it does seem to me that this statement contains a kernel of truth.
Examples can be found in many places. From the one female party leader in the Dutch elections first being asked which male party leaders she likes the most – as opposed to the questions regarding the actual election the male party leaders were asked – to female anchors being judged on their legs, not their skills in presenting the news. From Amal Clooney fighting to make sure war crimes committed by IS are punished, only to get a storm of criticism – about wearing heals as a pregnant woman – to the scandal of the US Marine closed of Facebook group displaying and asking for nude pictures of their female colleagues. And last week Emma Watson’s boobs that were the subject of gossip.
Sadly, women’s appearance still comes first, not their incredible achievements.
The above may be regarded as stupid and ridiculous. I certainly find it astonishing that what a woman is wearing or who she might fancy is more important that her fight for human rights! However, clearly, it still happens every single day.
The issue becomes a bit more complicated once we factor in internalization. This means that a person – or a group – comes to believe external views of themselves to the extend they start to believe it. It would be what we’d call it if men only saw themselves as objects of beauty after having been told that is all that they are for decades.
Now of course, there is a fine line between free will and internalization.
What I mean is, there is a fine line between you simply believing your greatest value lies in your beauty because you just believe it and you believing it because it is what society has told you to believe from the moment you were born.
I certainly don’t want to claim that wanting to be perceived as beautiful is wrong. But it is striking to see how as a group, most women in the public – and I am assuming therefore also in private – are displayed as first beauty and only second – or more like tenth – as capable.
Sexual objectification and sexual freedom
Taking these issues, one can see why Emma Watson’s true response to Beyoncés visual album was so perfect (on my part leaving out any further comments on society bend on believing women can only fight against each other, not with each other).
Since the sexual revolution of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, we have seen women becoming not just objectified for their beauty, but more and more as sexual objects. What I mean is, they are more and more seen as objects for men’s sexual pleasure while at the same time appearing to come to terms with their own sexual pleasure.
It is why music video’s by female artist are so ambivalent to me. On the one hand I fear that their sexiness as adhering to the internalization of being a sexual object – men like to watch sexy women and I want to sell records and am at my best being sexy – and on the other I applaud women who say fuck it! I have just as much a right to sexual pleasure as a man.
Objectification is fucked up
And that is where I stand now. Aware of the issues of objectification in this sense and stuck. Because as women, we are dammed if we do – perceive ourselves as beautiful or sexy, because it becomes all we are – and dammed if we don’t – fighting to be taken seriously for our skills because how can a woman achieve anything without being pretty first?
So here’s my wish. Can we please, PLEASE, just recognize that women are more than one thing. We are not objects to be given a single adjective. We are human beings, same as men. We are rounded characters, different from each other and the same in many ways. And all I want, is to be seen as all that I am. I am guessing it is what most of us want.
And if we could then put that into practice in both media and the upbringing of girls coming into this world, that would be perfect! Thanks.