Do All Women Really 'Want to Be Objectified'?
At least one actress (and a bunch of advertisers) think so
It's not always acknowledged, but women are often objectified in—and by—the media. Advertisements featuring the accentuated body parts of frequently faceless females, or female body parts used as interchangeable stand-ins for otherwise inanimate objects, populate commercials, billboards, and magazine pages worldwide.
Objectification is described as the treatment of a person as an instrument. But when it comes to women, the additional element of that tool being used solely for one's sexual pleasure and gratification is employed.
And while the condemnation of such images has hardly hindered their prevalence, there are some who aren't at odds with the idea.
In a recent interview with the United Kingdom's "Sunday Times," actress Cameron Diaz said: "I think every woman does want to be objectified. There’s a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified, and I think it’s healthy." (She also added that she finds revealing photo shoots to be "empowering.")
Could she be right?
"I have to wholeheartedly disagree," said Jill McDevitt, a sexologist. "Many women dress sexy, do nude photos shoots, etc., because they want to be subjectified, or be empowered from within. Sure, attention can be nice, but being turned into less than human is a frightening thought; this attitude leads to rape culture, as well as slut-shaming for women who do dress sexy."
Los Angeles-based image consultant Farrah Parker, however, believes Diaz makes valid points -- points that Parker says are supported by societal norms.
"Diaz's sentiments reflect an American culture that, from day one, teaches and constantly engrains in little girls these bold gender themes: to be beautiful, delicate, frilly, and polite," said Parker. "Women learn that their worth is directly connected to being the subject of the male 'gaze.' The wardrobe, make-up, and sass is all in vain if it does not yield the attention of a man, and their self-esteem becomes directly proportional to the amount of compliments [they receive]. The majority of women in our society have been subjected to powerful reflections of what they 'should be' and how men should view them."
Still, Diaz's comments rubbed some readers the wrong way. Wetpaint's Gina Carbone wrote, "She probably shouldn't speak for women as a group...Don't send out a personal message and say it's from all of us." And MadameNoire's Brande Victorian declared, "I prefer that she not...give a pass to those who choose to practice this behavior which women have been fighting for centuries now to undo."
Earlier this year, the European Journal of Social Psychology found that the brain often processes images of women in parts (i.e. their chests, or their waistlines), as opposed to men who are seen as a whole.
Such findings only further support claims made in 2009 by MIT philosophy professor Rae Langton that objectification can include the treatment of people being "identified with their body parts," or treated as if they are silent and/or lacking the capacity to speak.
Fellow philosopher Martha Nussbaum offered other objectification qualifiers: the treatment of a person as lacking self-determination, activity, or boundary-integrity; as something that is owned by another and can be bought or sold; and as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.
Still, it is the exercise of self-objectification, the kind that Diaz seems to applaud, that Silvia Dutchevici, a psychotherapist, finds can be most detrimental.
"Self-objectification happens when a woman begins to see herself as an object to be looked at," said Dutchevici. "We no longer respect ourselves as subjects—a human being with agency and rights. We don't value ourselves for what we can do, achieve, or know. Rather we value ourselves for how we look and how we can 'sell' ourselves sexually. This behavior can lead to devastating mental health consequences, like eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, and can allow for others to use us as tools and abuse us."