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objectification and its effects on women
August 28, 2014 8:02 AM   Subscribe

"If a woman is objectified in a relationship, the research indicates, it's more likely that her male partner will sexually coerce and pressure her."
After analyzing the survey results, Ramsey found that among the men, the more they thought about the way their partner looked, the more likely they were to pressure her sexually. Additionally, the more these men focused on their partner's looks, the more they scrutinized her physically and felt shame about her appearance -- factors that also correlated with sexual pressure and coercion.

Overall, the researchers found only a moderate level of objectification and low rates of sexual coercion, but the link between these two variables was statistically significant: The men who objectified their partners were also the men who sexually pressured and coerced their partners.

As for the women, those who reported that their partners stared at their bodies frequently were more likely to believe that "it's a woman's role to satisfy her partner sexually." They were also more likely to have experienced sexual coercion in the form of violence or other behavior-controlling mechanisms. One such coercive practice is "commitment manipulation," which researchers measured by offering statements like "My partner hinted that if I loved him I would have sex with him" and asking the women how often that had happened to them.

An atmosphere of objectification also seems to inform the way women view their own bodies. The study found that women whose partners stared at their bodies frequently were more likely to feel bad about themselves and adopt a "third-person perspective" of their bodies -- meaning that they began to view themselves as objects, too. This body insecurity made the women less comfortable in front of their partners, which in turn made them less likely to refuse sex, communicate their sexual needs or actually enjoy sex.

"Objects can't speak up and assert their desires, and so [women who feel like objects] don't either," Ramsey said.
*full paper at The Object of Desire: How Being Objectified Creates Sexual Pressure for Women in Heterosexual Relationships (PDF)

Identities/Mic - Scientists Have Determined What Really Happens When Men Objectify Women
Another study conducted by Washington State University researchers establishes a similar idea. It says that men who read magazines that tend to objectify women are less likely to respect sexual boundaries because their content gives them a false impression about physical experiences and consent. While there may be no direct correlation (all Maxim-reading men certainly aren't predators), there's definitely more damage done in looking at women as your personal entertainment and pleasure machines than as empowered individuals.

...Pop culture has long been fueled by the male gaze, but as Caroline Heldman once wrote for Ms. magazine, "this latest era is characterized by greater exposure to advertising and increased sexual explicitness in advertising, magazines, television shows, movies, video games, music videos, television news and 'reality" television.'" In short, despite the best efforts of gender-equality advocates, objectification is still very much widespread.
The Atlantic - Study: The Objectification of Women Is a Real, Measurable Phenomenon
"People objectify women in sexualized photos, but not men."

The Atlantic - Study: Proof That We Sexually Objectify Women
"The cognitive process behind our perception of objects is the same that we use when looking at women, and both genders are guilty of taking in the parts instead of the whole. When we look at men, we use global processing to see them more fully as people."

Nature World News - Eye-tracking Study Finds Men and Women Objectify the Female Body

Scientific American - How Our Brains Turn Women Into Objects (previously on MeFi)
"...[O]bjectification might not lead to perceptions of women as inanimate objects but as different kinds of humans—ones that are capable of feeling but not thinking... While this might initially seem modestly encouraging in that the objectified are perceived as humans and not objects, there is a disconcerting side effect of perceiving entities as high on experience—we see them as more capable of being harmed and, therefore, as more in need of protection... It seems that when we see bodies we tend to also see potential victims. And though victimhood might be endearing to some, it certainly won’t help win elections."

TechHive - Study: Sexualized game avatars may cause self-objectification in real world women

Raw Story - Objectification suppresses women’s desire to engage in social activism, study finds

Medical News Today - Coping skills help women overcome the mental anguish of unwanted body evaluation and sexual advances
Their findings show that young women experience increased psychological distress when they are being sexually objectified. Women with low resilience are especially vulnerable, and tend to internalize such behavior. Some women feel confused and shameful, and reason that their own inferiority is the cause of such bad experiences. They therefore blame themselves, rather than the perpetrators, and this causes psychological distress... "Resilient women may see gender-related oppressive experiences as challenges - rather than barriers - that can be overcome," says Szymanski.

...The University of Tennessee researchers stress that clinicians should explore how their female clients experience and cope with sexually oppressive behavior. "Psychologists can help their female clients to identify and explore various ways by which they can better cope with sexually oppressive behavior. In addition, we need interventions aimed at decreasing individual and cultural practices of sexually objectifying women," advises Feltman.
Not Exactly Rocket Science - How objectification silences women – the male glance as a psychological muzzle
"...[T]hese behaviours don’t go unnoticed. They could be major problems if the same detrimental silencing effect in Saguy’s study applies in real-world situations where being vocal is important for success – job interviews, work meetings, networking sessions, classrooms and more. There will always be hardened lechers among us but often, objectification happens without us thinking about it or becoming aware of it."

Bustle - Why Is Objectification Bad? The Sneaky Way Women's Bodies Are Cropped To Pieces
"Roberts and fellow researchers asked both women and men to take math tests while sporting either a sweater or a swimsuit. Most people wearing swimsuits experienced self-objectification — but only swimsuit-clad women’s exam scores took a significant hit. When women and girls are targets of objectification, they begin seeing themselves through others’ perceptions. Self-objectification breeds shame and anxiety, draining mental resources, and even compromising physical abilities."

previously on MeFi: "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves." Laura Mulvey's original 1975 essay on Male Gaze in cinema.

previously on MeFi: Women vs. Tropes in Video Games - Women as Background Decoration Part 1 & Part 2 (pullquote from Part 2)
...[T]he pattern of utilizing women as background decoration works to reinforce the myth that women are naturally fated to be objectified, vulnerable, and perpetually victimized by male violence. These games also tend to frame misogyny and sexual exploitation as an everlasting fact of life, as something inescapable and unchangeable. This dominant narrative surrounding the inevitability of female objectification and victimhood is so powerful that it not only defines our concepts of reality but it even sets the parameters for how we think about entirely fictional worlds, even those taking place in the realms of fantasy and science fiction.
posted by flex (106 comments total) 122 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can I just say, very very quietly, "well, duh"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on August 28 [15 favorites]


This is a(nother) fantastic post, flex - thank you for making it.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:18 AM on August 28 [11 favorites]


well, duh

My thoughts exactly. Surely this research is interesting and so it's good to have umm.. intellectual data behind it but really.. isn't it obvious?
posted by ReeMonster at 8:21 AM on August 28


It's only obvious to the people it's obvious to. Peer reviewed papers are useful to point the people it isn't obvious to towards.
posted by jaduncan at 8:24 AM on August 28 [25 favorites]


Thanks for the links to actual empirical studies on objectification. Personally I feel that most discussions around objectification are really around sexualization, which is easier to identify and talk about. But it's interesting to see actual evidence that objectification is a real low level perception phenomenon that is unrelated to the gender of the observer.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:25 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


"My partner hinted that if I loved him I would have sex with him" and asking the women how often that had happened to them.

Honest question here, but isn't that... true? Isn't sexually intimacy an important part of a relationship and a reason to leave if you are not experiencing it?

I only ask because though I certainly don't condone violence or coercion, I also think a certain degree of objectification is inevitable in a sexual relationship. It's kind of important, actually. And I have to admit that I find the idea that there isn't some sexual obligation in a relationship sort of odd.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 8:27 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


While yes, sexual intimacy is a key part of a relationship and mismatched needs in this regard is a serious issue, that does not change that using the relationship to shame someone into sex is an exceptionally dick move.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:31 AM on August 28 [38 favorites]


Isn't sexually intimacy an important part of a relationship and a reason to leave if you are not experiencing it?

A healthy relationship involves two people mutually satisfying, and with full consent, their sexual wants and needs. This involves the ability to say "No" for any reason at any time.

A relationship in which one partner is told -- or it is hinted at-- that they should have sex with their partner, despite whether or not they feel like it at the moment, or that any refusal of sex means that "you don't love me" is not a healthy relationship.
posted by damayanti at 8:33 AM on August 28 [25 favorites]


Honest question here, but isn't that... true? Isn't sexually intimacy an important part of a relationship and a reason to leave if you are not experiencing it?

It totally is.

The man in that example needs to move from 'hinting' he expects more sex in a relationship to explicitly asking.

It's another example about how men's sexual needs are constantly shamed, especially when it comes to relationships. He feels that his request isn't legitimate so he's reduced to 'hinting' about it rather than being direct about his needs.
posted by unixrat at 8:34 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


I think research that examines stuff that we consider "duh" is very important: it examines why things "just are"; it interrogates "common sense" ideas and de-naturalizes them. Research like this uncovers how pernicious certain paradigms are and examines it scientifically, with data and statistics and all that stuff to quantitatively support theories.

Most importantly, the cumulative result of research suggests: "This is the world we made. This world is constructed. It doesn't have to be this way."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:39 AM on August 28 [27 favorites]


Honest question here, but isn't that... true? Isn't sexually intimacy an important part of a relationship and a reason to leave if you are not experiencing it?

I mean, is it true that at some point in an adult romantic relationship, generally the participants will have some kind of sexual contact? Sure, yeah, in most cases that is true.

Is it true that any refusal of sexual contact within a relationship, at any time, basically negates the relationship entirely? Um, no, and fuck off.

The whole "if you loved me you'd do it" is pretty much exclusively used by men seeking to bully their virgin partners into sexual contact for which those partners are neither ready nor willing, and as such has nothing whatsoever to do with "love" of any kind.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:39 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


The whole "if you loved me you'd do it" is pretty much exclusively used by men seeking to bully their virgin partners into sexual contact for which those partners are neither ready nor willing, and as such has nothing whatsoever to do with "love" of any kind.

I think you're underestimating the amount it happens in adult relationships.
posted by jaduncan at 8:43 AM on August 28 [19 favorites]


I think you're underestimating the amount it happens in adult relationships.

Well, in that case I'm gonna go curl up in a ball and drink for the rest of the day, because that's appalling. I had no idea so many adult relationships were based on manipulation and coercion and so utterly, utterly devoid of any human connection that such a thing would be possible.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:45 AM on August 28 [9 favorites]


I also think a certain degree of objectification is inevitable in a sexual relationship. It's kind of important, actually

I think that's where the discussions between sexualization versus objectification kind of diverge. With sexualization, there's a much more clear implication that it can be good in certain situations and bad in others. You wouldn't want to view your coworkers as sexualized in the same sorts of ways that you view your relationship partner, for example.

Whereas objectification is much more of a unambiguously negative concept and is harder to pin down as particular behavior. For example, the article mentions a focus on physical appearance of their partner as being correlated with other negative behavior such as expecting sex without considering their partner's feelings and needs. It's hard to separate that overall negative view of the partner being a means to an end instead of an equal with the concept of objectification. But it should be possible for people who have more healthy concepts of relationships and gender to still have feelings of sexual attraction based on physical appearance.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:47 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


I think the difference between a request and a demand is important here, when it comes to healthy communication versus unhealthy coercion.

In my limited understanding, objectification is where sexualization meets dehumanization. This is why there is plenty of sexualized art and fashion that is fine because the person in question is still being fully expressed as a person, rather than as an object.

It is OK, in my book, to think that a person has a fine ass, as long as you also imagine them complexly, and they manage to see that you are doing so. It is worth noting that there are responsibilities on both sides of this equation, at least if you want to fight the trend. Repressing this kind of thing entirely is a different form of dehumanization, where the complexity of sexuality is removed from observed and observer.
posted by poe at 8:47 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


(The thing is, if your relationship is such that "if you loved me you would have sex with me right now regardless of what you want or how you feel" is primary way of getting sex, you have a bad relationship. There are all kinds of ways to have reasonable amounts of sex in a relationship, from directly negotiating to being in tune enough with each other that you both tend to want to have sex a reasonable amount of the time and are both happy. Believing that you should be able to pull the trump card of "oh, well, you're really tired/I'm really sweaty and gross/you are studying for the bar/your mother has cancer/you have cancer but if you loved me you'd put out right now" is the sign that you are at best pretty emotionally immature.
posted by Frowner at 8:50 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


Well, in that case I'm gonna go curl up in a ball and drink for the rest of the day, because that's appalling. I had no idea so many adult relationships were based on manipulation and coercion and so utterly, utterly devoid of any human connection that such a thing would be possible.

It would only be possible if a proportion of people lacked the communication skills and maturity to have advanced past that stage of bargaining and manipulation as a strategy to get their needs met.

See: abusive relationships in general.
posted by jaduncan at 8:51 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


The "Psychological Muzzle" one is extremely disheartening. Jesus. This needs to be followed up with a list of approved ways to say "fuck off" without getting fired or attacked.

I disagree with the researcher's conjecturing on "why" though:

... Treat someone like an object, and they’ll behave like one. Alternatively, worries about their appearance might simply distract them from the task at hand.

I think it's more likely that women feeling actively objectified silence themselves so they can't be accused of encouraging it. It's a protective move.
posted by travertina at 8:52 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Scientific inquiry of "obvious" hypotheses is extremely important. Otherwise right now we'd all be watching the sun rotate around us in the sky and stressing out about miasma.
posted by threeants at 9:02 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


See: abusive relationships in general.

If it seemed like people generally considered that kind of coercion abusive it would be much less depressing.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:03 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


In my limited understanding, objectification is where sexualization meets dehumanization. This is why there is plenty of sexualized art and fashion that is fine because the person in question is still being fully expressed as a person, rather than as an object.

I think it's more complicated than that though. An image of a watch on a nondescript wrist as an advertisement for a watch isn't problematic dehumanization, even though the wrist is disconnected from any sort of complex humanity of the person who models the watch. This is mainly because culturally, there is not a tendency to reduce a complex person down to what their wrist looks like with a watch on it. Whereas an ad for a necklace that prominently focuses on a woman's cleavage can be more problematic, because there is a cultural tendency to only see women in terms of how sexually attractive they are. It's not the lack fully expressed people itself that is the problem, but how culturally we internalize those sorts of reductions as being appropriate. And it's possible to run into the same problems with fully expressed characters, such as fictional works that reduce female characters to being prizes or goals for male characters.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:05 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


I will say that the paper does a better job that the article of putting the questions in context (duh, I guess). It sounds from the outset that the statement "If you love me, you'll have sex with me" is immature manipulation, but without context that's an assumption. It's something a reasonable person might say in marriage counseling, say. But the paper, which I've now reviewed, puts the question with things like how often the statement occurred, what the woman felt about herself, etc, which helps to better flesh out where the line between coercion and reasonable communication is.

And I don't think that's a hard line. A person with a low sex drive or one who's personally uncomfortable with anything but the missionary position with the lights off will have a very different feeling about reasonable sexual needs than someone who's into BDSM, but I feel the study does a good job of selecting objective statements and measuring their objective frequency that just offering general impressions. Something the article doesn't do a good job of communicating.

I have seen people struggle with sexual mismatched expectations in their relationship and seeing that really does make the question of coercion versus communication one that needs to be clearly established.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:09 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


Do we really need to spend money "researching" things with such a duh factor?

As a feminist and a researcher: YES. THAT IS HOW SCIENCE WORKS.

Current scientific investigation progresses out of past scientific investigation. You must have a solid foundation before you can move on to the next step. You don't base your research on "stuff everyone knows is true."

And often the things we think are simple turn out to be more complex than we realize once we attempt to investigate them empirically. Especially it's something as difficult to pin down as "objectification." For example, using research, we can tease out the difference between men and women being objectified to different degrees, and objectification of men and women having different effects--while the consequences of these two might be identical in many lived experiences.

sure wouldn't want any miasma around the house!!

Once upon a time, miasma was common sense; it was what the majority believed to be true. It was based on real patterns. Things that smelled bad could make us ill. Crowded areas tended to smell worse, and diseases tended to be worse there too. People who shared quarters with people who were sick got sick.

People identified the right problem (the spread of disease and its relationship to filth and proxmity), but the mechanism was wrong. What seemed obvious turned out to be wrong, which we found out through actually investigating those basic assumptions.

Now no one needs to establish the germ theory of disease before working on antiviral medicines for a certain disease. That's not because germ theory is "obvious" and "everyone knows it," but because germs have been firmly established, using scientific investigation, as the mechanism behind many diseases.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:12 AM on August 28 [66 favorites]


threeants, it would have been better if, instead of editing your comment, you had just made a follow-up comment to clarify that you were joking. Now my comment is out of context.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:15 AM on August 28


I didn't edit my comment; it was deleted by the mods, so I wrote a new one that expressed the idea more on-the-nose.
posted by threeants at 9:21 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I think often these discussions get derailed by the difference between "If you loved me you'd have sex with me [right now]," and "I feel like you don't love me if you rarely want to have sex with me, in general." Which are not the same thing.
posted by ctmf at 9:23 AM on August 28 [30 favorites]



It's another example about how men's sexual needs are constantly shamed, especially when it comes to relationships.


This... might be a thing among some people, but it is not something I'm used to, nor is it the norm when weighed against the sexual expectations foisted upon women.
posted by mikeh at 9:23 AM on August 28 [14 favorites]


I think often these discussions get derailed by the difference between "If you loved me you'd have sex with me [right now]," and "I feel like you don't love me if you rarely want to have sex with me, in general." Which are not the same thing.

Yes. I think the insta-polarization upthread on this issue was because some people were silently assuming the "right now" where the original asker of the question was reading it more in the marriage-guidance-counseling-session mode: "if you loved me, we'd have a sex life; but as you've ceased to love me, you no longer have any sexual feelings for me." That strikes me as a complaint equally likely to be made by a woman as a man. The "if you loved me, baby, you'd let me have my way with you right now" thing strikes me as classic (male) creep material.
posted by yoink at 9:27 AM on August 28 [9 favorites]


This actually does not seem totally obvious to me. I'm having conflicting feelings right now. My husband regularly "surveys my body" and I kind of love it. I feel like it's a really great for my confidence to know that he's super into me all the time, whether I'm all dressed up or in my pajamas with dirty hair. Maybe the difference is that he's aware enough to only visibly ogle at the right times and that it's always super positive.
posted by carolr at 9:29 AM on August 28 [8 favorites]


Maybe the heterosexual dynamics are different. But in my experience with men, it's more than possible to stare at one's partner and be blown away by how beautiful they are without said action being dehumanizing or leading to sexual coercion. I mean, if you're with someone and you love them, part of that love is physical, no?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:31 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


My experience being ogled by my loving, supportive partner who can initiate sexy times and then stop if I don't want to participate... is very different from being ogled by a past borderline abusive partner who initiated sex and didn't care if I didn't reciprocate but it was time for sex and he was going to have sex until he was done the end. The difference between love and ownership in those looks (and sex) was palpable.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:37 AM on August 28 [18 favorites]


Maybe the heterosexual dynamics are different. But in my experience with men, it's more than possible to stare at one's partner and be blown away by how beautiful they are without said action being dehumanizing or leading to sexual coercion. I mean, if you're with someone and you love them, part of that love is physical, no?

Partly, it's not as reciprocal between men and women. Women aren't encouraged to evaluate men physically in the same way or to the same degree that men are encouraged to evaluate women. Women are much more socialized to take into account personality, style, voice, speech, etc - and if anything, to de-prioritize anything that is inherent to the body. (Which is why, as I have said elsewhere in these pages, it took me a long time to realize that I didn't even want to sleep with men at all.) Men are...not socialized this way.

A man and a woman looking at each other are in a very different position from two men looking at each other.
posted by Frowner at 9:37 AM on August 28 [12 favorites]


This is important. I'm sending a link to my niece - who, while whip smart about things like math and science, didn't have the best role models while growing up and needs to hear this.

(And boy do I wish there had been an Internet when I was younger so I could go back in time and read posts like this. I was smart and creative in my teens and twenties, but being objectified and manipulated in relationships was normal to me. Not all men and women automatically 'get' this right out of the gate due to environment/etc. It's learned and this post is educational).
posted by marimeko at 9:38 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


Maybe the difference is that he's aware enough to only visibly ogle at the right times and that it's always super positive.

It could be that, but another difference could be - I'm assuming you're confident he also is into you for other reasons, yeah? As in, he also trusts you to talk about problems with, and asks your opinion on things that he's trying to decide, and all that stuff, yes?

For me there's a big difference between "I think you're bangin' hot but I also think you're smart enough for me to ask you for your advice on tough job stuff and whatever", and "I think you're bangin' hot, but I'm gonna keep my job problems from you because you shouldn't worry your pretty little head, just sit there being hot".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:39 AM on August 28 [5 favorites]


I definitely agree that staring at a partner's body in the context of a consensual relationship doesn't strike me as necessarily equivalent to "objectification". Which makes this research's findings, actually, non-obvious and thus edifying. At least to me.
posted by threeants at 9:40 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Partly, it's not as reciprocal between men and women. Women aren't encouraged to evaluate men physically in the same way or to the same degree that men are encouraged to evaluate women. Women are much more socialized to take into account personality, style, voice, speech, etc - and if anything, to de-prioritize anything that is inherent to the body. (Which is why, as I have said elsewhere in these pages, it took me a long time to realize that I didn't even want to sleep with men at all.) Men are...not socialized this way.

A man and a woman looking at each other are in a very different position from two men looking at each other.


I feel like this opens up, in an interesting way, inquiry into a feminist ethic of heterosexual partner-gazing-- like, how and what would it look like?

as a side bonus, somewhere out there, a conservative culture warrior's head just exploded from that sentence
posted by threeants at 9:50 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Haven't even followed any of the links yet but just the quoted bits in the OP have made me think about a variety of feelings of passivity I (as a guy) have felt in my life, which I've usually associated with the psychological phenomenon I've read about called locus of control (read about really briefly, i.e. I know far less than what it says in the Wikipedia article). I'm realizing from this material how seamlessly, were I a woman, those same feelings would socket into all of the cultural tropes and constructs that revolve around objectifying women. So yes, thank you flex for a thorough and enlightening post.
posted by XMLicious at 9:53 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I definitely agree that staring at a partner's body in the context of a consensual relationship doesn't strike me as necessarily equivalent to "objectification".

Well, yeah. That's also kind of a "duh" for me.

"Objectification" isn't as broad as "looking at a girl and thinking she's hot". The meaning of "objectification" is right there in the name - you're kind of treating a person as an object, something to be looked at and used but that's it, as opposed to treating them as a person, who also has a brain and goals and motives and desires and thoughts and opinions.

The whole problem with "objectification" isn't necessarily that people dislike being found to be attractive - it is that people tend to dislike feeling that their attractiveness is their sole source of worthiness. I have a pretty great ass, but I have an even better brain, and I got no time for guys who only want to deal with the ass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on August 28 [7 favorites]


This actually does not seem totally obvious to me. I'm having conflicting feelings right now. My husband regularly "surveys my body" and I kind of love it. I feel like it's a really great for my confidence to know that he's super into me all the time, whether I'm all dressed up or in my pajamas with dirty hair. Maybe the difference is that he's aware enough to only visibly ogle at the right times and that it's always super positive.

This was actually not entirely transparent to me early on in my relationship with my wife. I always felt vaguely scummy because the sight of her made me feel inclined to have more than long conversations (despite the fact that she's an excellent conversationalist). I blame the interaction of conservative religion and liberal politics in my upbringing.
posted by Octaviuz at 10:26 AM on August 28


I think I was/am reacting to this sentence from the abstract of the first paper: "An online survey of 119 heterosexual men in the United States demonstrated that men who frequently survey their partners’ bodies are more likely to sexually pressure and coerce their partners." My reaction was that like it when my husband surveys my body. However, I think the key is the next part of the sentence which says that this can give rise to shame, which is a coercive force. So if there's no shame involved, you're probably fine. And if not, I pretty obviously check him out too, so maybe we're being equally coercive!
posted by carolr at 10:54 AM on August 28


As for the women, those who reported that their partners stared at their bodies frequently were more likely to believe that "it's a woman's role to satisfy her partner sexually." They were also more likely to have experienced sexual coercion in the form of violence or other behavior-controlling mechanisms.


I suspect this runs the other direction: Men who view women as nothing but sex objects will stare more because her looks are all that really matter to him and will also coerce her and so on. I really don't think a man looking at his partner's body per se is causative of any of this.

I knew an older man for a time who liked looking at my body -- for hours at a time even, while we had long, intellectual conversations about other things prior to sexy times happening. He treated me more like a whole human being than any other man I have ever known. I adored him. The relationship did me a lot of good. I did not feel objectified. I felt made whole by him.

Objectification is when the person interested in your body doesn't care what you want, what you think, what you feel, or what is going on in the cohesive fabric of your life. They only care about getting at you sexually and they do not care if getting at you sexually tears apart the fabric of your life, makes you feel like shit, etc. You are merely an object to use to gratify their unhealthy sexual impulses.

My relationship to the aforementioned man went a long way toward teaching me that what was wrong with me was the way that being objectified had separated me from my feelings and separated my sexuality from the rest of my life. He taught me that my feelings mattered. In fact, they were crucial. My sexuality was not just about my flesh. There was more too it than that. He wanted a relationship to my feelings and to my mind too, not just my body. Those things mattered to him. They mattered deeply.

Women who get objectified get silenced because they get socially stripped of any means to express their needs or even relate effectively to their own feelings. If you are objectified enough, you simply don't know how to deal with those parts of yourself. Everyone else turns a blind eye to them as if they do not exist. It gets hard to figure out what they are and why they matter, harder still to find a means to express it to others.
posted by Michele in California at 10:56 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


Martha Nussbaum sums this up nicely. Any time you use your partner's stomach as a pillow you are using them as an object, literally, but as all good Kantians know you haven't moved into unethical territory unless you start using someone merely as an object. What you do to your partner should reflect his/her desires, choices and preferences.

So, stare away. It's OK to take pleasure from your partner's body, so long as being oogled (at times like that, in ways like that) is something your partner wants.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:57 AM on August 28 [5 favorites]


I think the "feeling shame about their partner's appearance" is an important aspect of objectification that won't be present if you're engaging in healthy ogling. If I have some guests over and the house is dirty, I'll feel a sense of shame about that because the house is an object that belongs to me and I want other people to think I have a nice house that is taken care of.

If you enjoy the way your wife looks and like to appreciate her appearance, that's different from feeling & acting like her appearance is something that you own and control and which would reflect poorly on you if it wasn't up to some standard.
posted by annekate at 11:04 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


I also think a certain degree of objectification is inevitable in a sexual relationship. It's kind of important, actually.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 4:27 PM on August 28


"Everyone is a sex object sometimes, or else mighty lonely in bed." - Charles Shaar Murray
posted by Decani at 11:16 AM on August 28


unixrat >

The man in that example needs to move from 'hinting' he expects more sex in a relationship to explicitly asking.

I think this is a good suggestion. People should be open with their partners about their needs and wants.

It's another example about how men's sexual needs are constantly shamed, especially when it comes to relationships. He feels that his request isn't legitimate so he's reduced to 'hinting' about it rather than being direct about his needs.

I'm not so sure about this. I don't think men's sexual needs, themselves, tend to get shamed; though there is a definite bias, popularly held, that men want more sex than women do, I've rarely ever seen that itself be used as a basis to shame a man. And I don't think that being unable to find a willing partner, or having potential partners respond negatively to requests for sex, necessarily count as shaming.

What does get criticized (which is importantly different from shaming) is men's sexual aggressiveness and apparent sense of entitlement toward women, and the callousness towards women's humanity that often accompanies it.
posted by clockzero at 11:21 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


Martha Nussbaum sums this up nicely. Any time you use your partner's stomach as a pillow you are using them as an object, literally

Yes. I often feel that the word "objectification" blurs some important boundaries. It really needs to be something like "reductive objectification" or "abasing objectification" to really get at the point. Michelangelo's David is entirely "objectified"--but that is clearly not the same thing--and does not have the same ethical implications--as the "objectification" going on in sexy anime figurine.
posted by yoink at 11:25 AM on August 28


Yes. I often feel that the word "objectification" blurs some important boundaries. It really needs to be something like "reductive objectification" or "abasing objectification" to really get at the point. Michelangelo's David is entirely "objectified"--but that is clearly not the same thing--and does not have the same ethical implications--as the "objectification" going on in sexy anime figurine.

On the other hand, though, "objectify" arguably has that connotation because modern feminists have pushed back against objectification itself, and not necessarily with much qualification along the lines suggested above. The genuine, public assertion of the desire (from at least some significant plurality) of women to not be objectified, period, shouldn't be elided out of the equation or implicitly characterized as somehow mistaken.
posted by clockzero at 11:33 AM on August 28


We need these studies for all the men who try to use pseudo-science to justify coercing or even physically forcing their partners into sex because "men are like this." We need these studies for those of us who feel wrong for feeling wrong [when having an unwanted sexual experience]! We need these studies, unfortunately, to prove to people that we, women, are people too and have a valid reason to object to our objectification.

On a personal note, it is this very issue that makes me want to get a mastectomy and shave my head. I am very serious. I have been dealing with lecherous men since I was ten years old and it has never stopped. It never will stop. I have tried to make it stop. It is no use. From being in fifth grade and the boy who sat next to me very obviously staring at my boobs and making slurping noises and obscene hand gestures for almost a whole year, and when I told my mom: "boys will be boys." Being looked up and down by men on the street at that same age and feeling scared. Getting the same looks a few years later from my own dad. Being told in explicit and implicit terms by both parents that my only aim upon growing up should be to please a man. In present day, feeling naked constantly no matter how much clothes I wear. My ex-boyfriend -- though we had sex many times, only a small percentage of those times were ever truly "consensual" in the strictest definition of the word. Always wondering if I made "too big of a deal about things" though I have PTSD from the sexual abuse. Feeling stupid that as a grown woman I didn't know better. I feel disgusted by these things every single fucking day. And why did all these things happen? Why do these things perpetuate? The false truths about women and men that we lazily let fester every single day.

It is hard for me to write a coherent comment about this now as my roommate has his fiancee staying for a week or so and every time I come home I am reminded of the fact that I will never experience love. I come home and see my life as a relief image against that of two people who do have the privilege of that experience. Two people who don't want to puke when they think of heterosexual relationships, two people who don't feel like they could seriously hurt someone if they ever again got touched when they didn't want to be touched. I am severed from that whole part of life. It is like there are masses of scar tissue built up on whatever part of my soul would otherwise experience love. Wounds that will never heal.

I almost got hit by a car today. The thought almost made me relieved.
posted by sevenofspades at 11:36 AM on August 28 [10 favorites]


My face is one that even my very closest friends readily describe as "an acquired taste," which is, I guess, what they think is a 'polite' way of acknowledging the fact that I'm ugly. I love being ugly and would not trade it for the world. Being ugly is the most reliable and accurate flag possible to alert me to the presence of a loathesome douchebag. It's like a goddamn homing missile. Of all the men I've ever been involved with, which is decidedly more than a few, exactly two have ever had anything positive to say about my outward appearance -- a refreshingly low number, considering the facts at hand. So while I don't have much experience with being ogled (or otherwise gazed at in any way that is distinct from the way people stare at you when they can't tell whether you're a woman or a man), I do have tons of experience with being objectified.

In my experience, objectification frequently has very little, if anything, to do with the perceived beauty or attractiveness of the object. Mostly it just means that a dude has ascertained my gender and, having noted said gender as female, has come to the natural conclusion that I am available for fucking or, at minimum, being told I should be fucked -- and, barring that, helpfully informing me that I am ugly and thus no good for fucking at all. (Again: Homing missile.)

So the objectification doesn't happen because any part of my appearance has been deemed sufficiently attractive, it happens because someone has realized I'm a woman and is thenceforth moved to spew out sentiments acknowledging the Global Accords, e.g. that the correct and proper function of any human deemed to be adequately female is inextricable from sex itself. This is, I think, a very distinct course of action from simply ogling a particular hottie.
posted by divined by radio at 11:37 AM on August 28 [27 favorites]


burkas and chadors would seem to be the solution, and yet they aren't.
posted by Fupped Duck at 11:41 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


I definitely feel like objectification is one of those words that might benefit from the rhetorical exercise of "banning" it in a given discussion and instead having to construct the more nuanced concept that you're actually trying to evoke. That's not to say that it isn't a useful word in general conversation; but I have to admit it seems a little messy to me for academic application. (Unless it has wide consensus as a specifically-defined term of art in a given field-- I don't know.)
posted by threeants at 11:48 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I want to know why it seems like among my friends men are the ones doing this to women. Why is it that it seems men tend to want to have sex faster, with less emotional commitment, having built trust for a shorter period of time? It seems obvious to me that women bear a much greater burden of risk, due to pregnancy risks, male strength and willingness to use force, and the fact that receiving penetrative sex really really horrible and painful and uncomfortable if emotional security isn't there, whereas I've never had a male partner not have an orgasm from sex, I have never had an orgasm from penetrative sex.

The other thing is, that I DON'T experience the desire to objectify males in the way they claim to "need" to do women, and I don't really understand it very well. Like, I mostly want love and affection and I really don't understand turning someone into an object to be used to achieve an orgasm. So is it ALL men that have to do this? I mean surely if there are some women (and I know many women who don't view sex in this way, or want to watch porn or objectify or even sexualize people's bodies with their eyes to the degree that many men claim is a NEED), is it a male need in a way that's different for females? Is it JUST social training or is there some actual basis in hormonal instincts? I mean, animals figure out how to have sex regardless of training, so I would imagine there are instincts that exist regardless of training and maybe they really do manifest differently as a result of hormonal factors and biology related to sex hormones.

I just feel like it's so often that the sex stuff gets thrown in way before I, and many other women I know, are quite ready for it, and then it gets treated as a social thing that should be fixed by women learning to put out sooner like men do and realize the relationships involve traiding sex, but it seems like what men want out of sex is not about equality, it's like the rights to degrade and overpower your body in a way that involves them taking what they want out of it, while the woman gets... what exactly out of sex? For me, often I want a lot more physical intimacy that is not sexual than men are often interested in, and I feel like what is defined as normal "needs" tends to be based on male expectations that a lot of sex is a right to demand, and less sexually focused intimacy needs or trust building or statements of commitment and willingness to say.. help rear children that might happen and such- are things that are considered weird niche urges that are not EXPECTED in a relationship while sex most certainly is assumed to be expected.
posted by xarnop at 11:59 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


The genuine, public assertion of the desire (from at least some significant plurality) of women to not be objectified, period, shouldn't be elided out of the equation or implicitly characterized as somehow mistaken.

Except what if it is, in fact, "mistaken." That is, take the Martha Nussbaum example above. Nobody is saying that it's a grievous moral error to lie with your head on your girlfriend's lap (consensually), right? But that is, also, clearly "objectification," no? My point was not "silly feminists, complaining about objectification when it's no big deal." I think the vast majority of the cases of "objectification" that feminists complain about are, precisely, "reductive objectification" or "abasing objectification." My point is that calling these just "objectification"--and defining "objectification" in ways that don't exclude it from ethically neutral instances unhelpful blurs the lines--and allows for smart ass comebacks along the lines of "well, no one complains about the objectification of Michelangelo's David."
posted by yoink at 12:07 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


burkas and chadors would seem to be the solution, and yet they aren't.

That's because the problem isn't in the body, but in the gaze. And the argument that those garments make dehumanizes us all - reducing women to objects and men to beasts.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:17 PM on August 28 [12 favorites]


I want to know why it seems like among my friends men are the ones doing this to women. Why is it that it seems men tend to want to have sex faster, with less emotional commitment, having built trust for a shorter period of time?

2000+ years of societal habit have trained them that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


This is timely for me, because last night I was reading a scene in a novel where the Women's Study Major was criticizing the Rubbernecking Guy for objectifying women, and I was wondering what exactly that meant. (and am I guilty?) It's a phrase I've heard for decades without really having a precise definition before. And I appreciate the Martha Nussbaum line as a clarification. I've been married to a feminist for 40+ years, so I like to think of myself as sensitive to this issue, but I would certainly not want my eye-tracking study results made public. (Being highly introverted and somewhat on the autism spectrum, why would I look at someone's face?)

So- "the act of viewing a person as an object with an emphasis on their physical appearance"- I guess I still don't know what to make of that. Is that only referring to boobs/ass/whatever, or can it mean posture/clothes/activity as well? When looking at a stranger, what else do I have to go on than appearance? Can I still be respectful to him/her while still only reacting to appearance?

And as to why men behave the way they do, I don't have much of a clue, since I don't hang out with them. I can only judge by my own experience, which I put down to hormones. I feel like I spent my teenage years totally obsessed with sex, but not really interested in it. It's a confusing state.
posted by MtDewd at 12:23 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


I was thinking about how I've been "objectified" all my life - even though I have never been sexually attractive to very many men, and now am basically sexually invisible as a butch person of indeterminate gender. But the reason I say that I've been "objectified" is that my worthlessness as a person - to most men - is pretty much all about the fact that I am unfuckable. Most men don't treat other men as worthless/boring/etc because they don't want to fuck them, and yet all my life my entire value (or lack of value) in male-dominated settings has been entirely determined by whether I am worth having sex with. It's like, I'm certainly not a sex object, but I am treated as an object. I don't even want to discuss, here, how that has impacted my life - but I certainly feel seven of spades's comment about a mass of scar tissue separating you off from normal life stuff. There are whole realms of feeling that I just...don't have any access to. Every once in a while, I'll have some kind of realization, like "oh, many people hug others because they like hugging" and it will occur to me that hugging people really isn't something that...would even occur to me most of the time, because hugging is physical contact, and as an ugly and unwanted object I learned very young not to notice or seek to participate in any kind of physical contact, because it was Unfitting For Ugly And Unwanted Objects.
posted by Frowner at 12:24 PM on August 28 [39 favorites]


Not to improperly punctuate what is a pretty grapply intellectual conversation, but Frowner, I'm really sorry that you have been treated that way.
posted by threeants at 12:29 PM on August 28


flex, thank you for this post.

I will devote time necessary to identify any and all ways in which I my be perpetuating the damaging state of patriarchy. I do my best to ensure that I do not actively participate in actions and behavior that I find deplorable. But as this was the state of things in which I matured, there will be ways in which I am inadvertently contributing.

This research will allow me to identify those ways.

I want a better world for all of us.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 12:35 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


So- "the act of viewing a person as an object with an emphasis on their physical appearance"- I guess I still don't know what to make of that. Is that only referring to boobs/ass/whatever, or can it mean posture/clothes/activity as well? When looking at a stranger, what else do I have to go on than appearance? Can I still be respectful to him/her while still only reacting to appearance?

I think that last sentence of yours, the one that I've bolded, is the key there. Because yes, it's true that if you've only just met someone, the only facts you really "know" about them are how they look.

However - I imagine that you are at least aware that the person you're meeting has a brain and opinions, even if you don't know what they may think of things just yet, and you will treat them accordingly. Meaning, if start a conversation with them, you will talk about things like "hi! So what's your job and what is that like" or "have you ever tried sushi and what do you think" as opposed to only talking about things like "you have great boobs" or "you must get a lot of dates".

You can indeed be respectful to him/her, even if all you know about them is their appearance at first - because you've accepted their basic humanity as a given. You know that there is more to them than their appearance, even if you don't know those details about them yet.

By contrast, "objectifying" someone would be more about -- you look at them and all you make note of is the appearance, and you don't even bother to learn about any other fact about them, or take any other fact about them into consideration. Objectification would be if you WEREN'T respectful to them, and ONLY were reacting to their appearance.

Does that help a bit?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


What I was really thinking was "what is objectification", and it occurred to me that "objectifying" is usually framed as "using something as an object of desire" and that's where the confusion comes in, because it's sometimes fun to be desired. So I was thinking about being made into an object, and how that happens to women/non-men-people in all kinds of ways, and that [sexual objectification] is a subset of objectification in general, and can be understood usefully in this way.

(As a broad generality, I'm okay with how things have been in my life as an Unwanted Object - there are a lot of pluses, in terms of not having to deal with a lot of garbage relationships or have men try to manipulate you for sex, and really, I think of myself more as a sort of a Donna Harroway-ian not-quite-human anyway, because so many of my formative experiences of embodiment were quite different from the norm. My experiences would be pretty disappointing if I were trying to be a regular human, but once I abandon that ambition, I have it pretty good.)
posted by Frowner at 12:48 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


xarnop: but it seems like what men want out of sex is not about equality, it's like the rights to degrade and overpower your body in a way that involves them taking what they want out of it, while the woman gets... what exactly out of sex?

I really, really don't think most guys feel this way. I don't think most guys think of it as 'degrading and overpowering' their partner (certainly not the ones that aren't also horrible people) and most of them would at least hope their partner gets something out of it. Unfortunately, as a guy, this is often difficult to accomplish.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:56 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


You know, I've been thinking a lot about how these dynamics work in long-term relationships. Last night I was preoccupied with a project while my husband was getting ready for bed, and he had been (apparently) walking around naked for while, which I had not noticed or thought much of.

He: I'm naked, you know.
Me: Oh... did you want to have sex?
He: Well, no... but I was hoping you'd notice and appreciate it.

It was a really interesting and surprising moment. There is a form of objectification in this context (perhaps that's not the right word — an appreciation of the surface element, the body) that he associates strongly with a healthy attraction & sex life. He felt disappointed when I did not respond in the way he perhaps would have if I'd been walking around naked.

He is very demonstrative of his appreciation for my body, but what is notable is that those demonstrations do not change along with my body — there is no particular body I have to have in order to get this attention from him (I can say this confidently having gone through many bodily changes in the course of bearing children). To him, love is not just an appreciation of the person and the mind but the body the person lives in, as it is an irrevocably linked component of both.

Taken that way, I can completely understand why he might be looking for similar behavior from me, even though as a woman it feels totally foreign. I've grown accustomed to the idea that a man staring means that the man wants sex, and that women don't/shouldn't look at men that way at all. The problem is it's pretty tough to distinguish the loving form of bodily appreciation from straight-up objectification, and by adulthood women are so very much on the defensive that it can be very triggering either way.

It's a delicate tug-of-war that I bet all sexually active couples bump up against. In my own past it's interesting to note that I have a history of choosing not-very-sexual men (or at least, men who did not want to be sexual with me) and while that was a terrible thing for the relationship it's a pretty defensible choice if you consider the world that women live in generally. It took a lot of maturing and experience before I could live comfortably with someone who was actively attracted to me.
posted by annekate at 12:58 PM on August 28 [17 favorites]


Didn't read the other comments, but did the studies linked take into account the philosophy/religious tenet that the body and the mind are different and independent subjects? At least in Christianity that I know of, the flesh and the spirit are independent of the other, so it would seem likely that the man who views the woman's body as an object (instead of the whole package as one) would consider the woman's spirit to be separate from the temporal body that houses it, as he would also of himself...
posted by Quarter Pincher at 1:01 PM on August 28


and I was wondering what exactly that meant. (and am I guilty?) It's a phrase I've heard for decades without really having a precise definition before. And I appreciate the Martha Nussbaum line as a clarification. I've been married to a feminist for 40+ years, so I like to think of myself as sensitive to this issue, but I would certainly not want my eye-tracking study results made public. (Being highly introverted and somewhat on the autism spectrum, why would I look at someone's face?)

I married a man who was probably ASD. We had two kids. My experience is that my ex and my sons actually treat people less like objects. They don't have the same social orientation I have but I married my ex in part because he did relate to me more like a human being and not a ...talking blow up doll to acquire for his sexual gratification.

I will suggest that one of the things you might find interesting is reading about body language and how appearance can signal a lot about social class, personal interests and so on. This is something ASD types tend to be oblivious about. I talk about stuff like this a lot with my sons and they are fascinated. So, appearance can give you clues to other information. It can have more depth than mere aesthetics.

In my experience, as long as you are not assessing women as "is she fuckable or unfuckable?" based solely on her looks in the first few seconds after meeting her, you are probably not treating women as mere objects. Men who make that assessment upon meeting women are treating them like objects regardless of which conclusion they draw (see Frowner's remarks about being treated like an object while also viewed as "unfuckable").

Men get this right or wrong to varying degrees. Some men treat me like a human being until it occurs to them I am attractive (for whatever reason), and then, whoa nelly!, they suddenly have trouble dealing with me like a whole human being because they are married (or whatever) and OH MY GOD! WHAT IF PEOPLE REALIZE I HAVE A HARD-ON FOR HER?????!!!!! And then, suddenly, I get a lot of shitty behavior while they freeze me out socially or whatever because protecting their reputation is suddenly the only thing that matters and they will happily watch me starve from afar to make sure no one notices their ginormous boner for me. Ugh.
posted by Michele in California at 1:02 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


...and most of them would at least hope their partner gets something out of it. Unfortunately, as a guy, this is often difficult to accomplish.

Wait, what? Why would it be difficult for a man to a) please his partner, presumably a consenting heterosexual adult woman, and b) confirm that she did, in fact, get something out of it?

I have certainly known men who did not care about those things, but the ones who did care could accomplish it rather easily.
posted by annekate at 1:03 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


yoink >

Except what if it is, in fact, "mistaken." That is, take the Martha Nussbaum example above. Nobody is saying that it's a grievous moral error to lie with your head on your girlfriend's lap (consensually), right? But that is, also, clearly "objectification," no?

That's a very, very literalist conception of what "objectification" actually is, though; what's more, that line of reasoning seems to make no distinction between what the term objectification can mean in a literal sense and what objectification refers to in this context.

My point was not "silly feminists, complaining about objectification when it's no big deal." I think the vast majority of the cases of "objectification" that feminists complain about are, precisely, "reductive objectification" or "abasing objectification." My point is that calling these just "objectification"--and defining "objectification" in ways that don't exclude it from ethically neutral instances unhelpful blurs the lines--and allows for smart ass comebacks along the lines of "well, no one complains about the objectification of Michelangelo's David."

I disagree. And, although I suppose it was meant facetiously, the potential for smart-ass comebacks is a pretty low threshold for prompting new standards in feminist thought, no?

But more seriously, I think there's a subtle conflation of objectification (which, let's not forget, has a specific, contextual meaning already) with the material nature of embodiment going on here, and while I assume it isn't in bad faith, I think it's doing at least as much to blur lines which should not be blurred as it is to correct the same. I am also put off by the implication that, now that these analytic wrinkles have been pointed out, it is incumbent on everyone else to use this terminology or risk being "wrong" on a technicality, more or less, which (perhaps inadvertently) directs attention away from the dimension of lived experience and refocuses it on the question of whether or not someone is speaking correctly enough about that lived experience.
posted by clockzero at 1:11 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


annekate: Wait, what? Why would it be difficult for a man to a) please his partner, presumably a consenting heterosexual adult woman, and b) confirm that she did, in fact, get something out of it?

I have certainly known men who did not care about those things, but the ones who did care could accomplish it rather easily.


Because women are complex and require different things. Furthermore, they have vastly different levels of sensitivity. So there are a lot of things that could be wrong and a lot of potential solutions (going all the way from emotional or relationship concerns to just trying different things in bed.) And some women just have trouble reaching orgasm through sex, or at all.

It varies a lot on the individual, so that it could be accomplished easily for you by a partner who cared about it shouldn't be taken as representative for every woman.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:11 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I want to know why it seems like among my friends men are the ones doing this to women.

My first thought is that it's much more frequent that men are doing this to women so that's a pretty good reason why it would seem this way.

My second thought is to ask if the friends you're talking about are a mixed gender group. Like your male friends are the ones doing this to women and your female friends are the ones receiving this treatment from men? Is that what you meant? Or did you mean that your friends are all women? If you're more likely to be friends and talk about this sort of thing with people who wouldn't do it then that could be part of it too.

But probably mostly the first thing.

For me, often I want a lot more physical intimacy that is not sexual than men are often interested in, and I feel like what is defined as normal "needs" tends to be based on male expectations that a lot of sex is a right to demand, and less sexually focused intimacy needs or trust building or statements of commitment and willingness to say.. help rear children that might happen and such- are things that are considered weird niche urges that are not EXPECTED in a relationship while sex most certainly is assumed to be expected.

Hm, this is interesting. Yeah, it does seem like the sexual needs come before the emotional commitment and that's considered "normal". The emotional needs you listed don't sound like "weird niche urges" at all though. They sound like bog standard needs in a long-term heterosexual monogamous relationships. As an example of how strong the conditioning of the current "normalcy" is, I'm having a hard time imagining women even being comfortable with statements of commitment, willingness to help rear children, etc in all of their romantic relationships.
posted by ODiV at 1:38 PM on August 28


Frowner: Most men don't treat other men as worthless/boring/etc because they don't want to fuck them, and yet all my life my entire value (or lack of value) in male-dominated settings has been entirely determined by whether I am worth having sex with.

I once literally had a man tell me that if I would not dress in more revealing clothing so that he would find me sexually attractive, he wouldn't bother speaking to me or getting to know me. In some cases it's subtext - the automatic dismissal or condescension - but there are cases where it is text as well.

The entire concept of "the friendzone" is predicated on women only being of value if our bodies are available for sex. The entire concept of "Game" is about treating women explicitly not only as objects, but as non-sentient objects. The continual focus on the appearance and clothing of women in public is about reinforcing that our primary purpose is decorative. Some examples are extreme enough that most people will reject them, but in reality this is pervasive and continual, and used to dismiss women as people all the time.

It's like how if you learn the red flags of abusive relationships that you can't enjoy 90% of romcoms anymore because they seem like little fields of red flags with a happy ending tacked on at the end; once you see it, the world sucks a lot more.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:43 PM on August 28 [18 favorites]


Because women are complex and require different things.

Men can be pretty complex, too - it's just minimized in the cultural myth of "men are like this" and "women are like that," while women's complexity is increased and exacerbated by both socialization for women to not like our bodies (which makes it hard to enjoy our bodies sexually) and to not be selfish (which makes it difficult to expect sexual reciprocity). Not only does this also ignore that men and women don't necessarily have the expected physiology for a variety of reasons, it reinforces objectification of women as "strange, difficult to please creatures" rather than people who run the gamut from able to think oneself to orgasm in church to an hour prep and props.

I had a fascinating experience with a one-week-stand. He had told me beforehand that he was frequently the best lover a bunch of women had been with. I found him a bit too... large. I didn't communicate that as well as I could have. Some of the problem might have been that he didn't know what a clitoris was or that it was actually important. As soon as we hit a position where I could take things in hand, so to speak, I was faster than him in enjoying myself and he was absolutely shocked. I was bemused that he was shocked, as I assumed the best lover ever would have a basic knowledge of anatomy.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:58 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Well I think anyone having sex should be willing to care for children if they happen, due to contraceptives there is reduced risk but it's still a risk and no woman should be expected to agree to an abortion before facing the actual pregnancy. Meaning the fact that many men assume they have an innate right to impregnate a woman and then require she have an abortion or abandon the child is probably a deterring facto in women wanting to have sex with a guy early on among many factors.
posted by xarnop at 2:02 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Ah. Listed along with the other needs like commitment and trust building I had read it as a joint rearing which seemed like it would be incredibly presumptuous.
posted by ODiV at 2:08 PM on August 28


But see, I personally feel the opposite is presumptuous, and it really hurts women who are left with a very difficult load when the default us that they have to risk pregnancy before any commitment to have a partner helping them.
posted by xarnop at 2:11 PM on August 28


Yes, that's what I meant by the strength of the conditioning of the current "normalcy".
posted by ODiV at 2:13 PM on August 28


To be clear I found it interesting looking at it the other way. It does feel like it would go very much against the grain to declare commitment to raising children prior to sexual intercourse. Like to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if some women to reacted negatively to it (along the lines of how is their uterus any of his concern this early in their relationship or just because she's interested in him right now doesn't mean she wants to have lifelong contact with this guy). I wasn't trying to argue at all. I am very appreciative of your comment and I was finding value in noticing how conditioned I am against the viewpoint.
posted by ODiV at 2:22 PM on August 28


Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting women can't agree to take on such risks, just that the fact the default is that they must in order to ever have relationship, let a man try them out before they even feel ready, doesn't seem woman friendly. I'm not saying people can be certain a relationship will work but on a woman's end especially if she has any uncertainty about going through with an abortion, it makes sense to feel a little more certain it's at least possible or likely a partnership could work if an accident occurred. There are many very legitimate reasons women might want to delay sexual activity until trust is built more often than men. The fact that a woman may be hesitant doesn't mean she wouldn't eventually want sex. Also I kind of wonder if women don't sometimes want the emotional aspect of support more than sex, and they may be willing to have sex or able to enjoy it but only when that end of their needs are matched. Which might take longer to assess than a man's assessment of physical appearance (for men who are more objectifying). Also sex is really scary and hard for me. I'm a survivor of assault and a rather unfortunately large number of women are, but imagine sex might be harder for women with new partners, or I wonder if it commonly is.
posted by xarnop at 2:55 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


> I want to know why it seems like among my friends men are the ones doing this to women.
> Why is it that it seems men tend to want to have sex faster, with less emotional
> commitment, having built trust for a shorter period of time? It seems obvious to me that
> women bear a much greater burden of risk, due to pregnancy risks, male strength and
> willingness to use force,

Didn't you just answer your own question? Unequal risk in the state of nature, and not an inequality that can be made less unequal except by emotional commitment from the guy.
posted by jfuller at 3:01 PM on August 28


Didn't you just answer your own question? Unequal risk in the state of nature, and not an inequality that can be made less unequal except by emotional commitment from the guy.

It can occasionally be surprising and startling for women to remember that in the year 2014 we have to basically operate as if it is still unfettered "state of nature" out there.

The inequality could be made equal by like the tiniest little itty bitty bit of thought and effort on the part of the men involved. They could actually just think for two fucking seconds, "hey! you know, I just remembered, women can get pregnant. Maybe THIS woman, who's a person after all, might not want to have sex right now just yet because, you know, it would be pretty scary to get pregnant when you barely know someone. Maybe I won't guilt her into it."

This wouldn't even be an effort at all, actually, except that most men don't see women as fully human, so they gotta get over that apparently impossible hump first.

That's it. No "emotional commitment," just the ability to think of a woman as a human, and to be an adult who is prepared to take 'no' for an answer.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:21 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]


> The whole "if you loved me you'd do it" is pretty much exclusively used by men seeking to bully their virgin partners
> into sexual contact for which those partners are neither ready nor willing, and as such has nothing whatsoever to do
> with "love" of any kind.

Not at all. That's only one extreme end of it. The other end of the "If you loved me..." continuum is "...you would have had sex with me sometime in the last year of our marriage." It's not at all uncommon, and in that circumstance to ask "Do you actually love me at all?" is not only understandable, it would be crazy not to ask.


> It can occasionally be surprising and startling for women to remember that in the year 2014
> we have to basically operate as if it is still unfettered "state of nature" out there.

You know what state babies are born in, right? Every single new generation now and into the distant future needing complete and total education? With many and maybe most of them not getting much?
posted by jfuller at 3:37 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


You know what state babies are born in, right?

The hospital?

Every single new generation now and into the distant future needing complete and total education? With many and maybe most of them not getting much?

This is an incredibly weird argument - in the sense that "education" is relevant here to not get much is to be a feral child or something. Every human being gets an education from day one out of the womb it's just not the one we necessarily believe they ought to be getting.
posted by atoxyl at 4:29 PM on August 28


I think Frowner's post and experience, as shitty as it is, is integral to understanding objectification. It isn't just 'you're hot and I wanna bang (without thinking of you as a human who exists outside me getting my end away)' it's 'all women are judged against a standard of fuckability'.

On the weekend I was trying to explain why sexual innuendo in game exhausts me - I said something about when I have to deal with yahoos screaming shit from their cars, or hitting on me in the library while I study, or shop, or take the train home, it's real and doing it again in my hobby is not fun. And someone at the table was all "oh ho ho listen to you 'I get hit on all the time and I'm so hot'" - missing my point entirely, but most of those instances, all the perpetrators knew was that I am presumably a woman. That's it. I'm woman shaped, adult-ish, average sized. Nothing else. And it's not about my attractiveness in any case, it's about the way I am reduced from a human being (sitting at the bus stop with her child) to aforementioned human adult female shaped target. Being a target is not a compliment, is not anything other than an ugly way of interacting with other human beings.

I know certain people treat me differently because my body shape and size triggers their arousal. That's gross and horrible, and sometimes I don't think they're aware of it, but it's true. I watch them interact with other men, with other women, and *I* get to be 'special' and it's unsettling and vaguely threatening.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:33 PM on August 28 [17 favorites]



You know what state babies are born in, right? Every single new generation now and into the distant future needing complete and total education? With many and maybe most of them not getting much?

You're typing these words on a glowing screen powered by an amount of technology that is so far advanced as to be basically indistinguishable from magic. You're not going to convince me that "civilization" doesn't exist.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:49 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


What if women actually want to be the object of desire? Why would that be so hard to believe? The New York Times reported a few years ago on the scientific research and everyday observations to back that up:
Intimacy isn’t much of an aphrodisiac in the thinking of Marta Meana, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Meana ... entered the field of sexology in the late 1990s and began by working clinically and carrying out research on dyspareunia — women’s genital pain during intercourse. She is now formulating an explanatory model of female desire that will appear later this year in Annual Review of Sex Research. Before discussing her overarching ideas, though, we went together to a Cirque du Soleil show called “Zumanity,” a performance of very soft-core pornography that Meana mentioned to me before my visit.

On the stage of the casino’s theater, a pair of dark-haired, bare-breasted women in G-strings dove backward into a giant glass bowl and swam underwater, arching their spines as they slid up the walls. Soon a lithe blonde took over the stage wearing a pleated and extremely short schoolgirl’s skirt. She spun numerous Hula-Hoops around her minimal waist and was hoisted by a cable high above the audience, where she spread her legs wider than seemed humanly possible. The crowd consisted of men and women about equally, yet women far outnumbered men onstage, and when at last the show’s platinum-wigged M.C. cried out, “Where’s the beef?” the six-packed, long-haired man who climbed up through a trapdoor and started to strip was surrounded by 8 or 10 already almost-bare women.

A compact 51-year-old woman in a shirtdress, Meana explained the gender imbalance onstage in a way that complemented Chivers’s thinking. “The female body,” she said, “looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal. The female body always holds the promise, the suggestion of sex” — a suggestion that sends a charge through both men and women. And there was another way, Meana argued, by which the Cirque du Soleil’s offering of more female than male acrobats helped to rivet both genders in the crowd. She, even more than [Meredith] Chivers [another researcher described in the article], emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.

The critical part played by being desired, Julia Heiman observed, is an emerging theme in the current study of female sexuality.
Three or four decades ago, with the sense of sexual independence brought by the birth-control pill and the women’s liberation movement, she said, the predominant cultural and sexological assumption was that female lust was fueled from within, that it didn’t depend on another’s initiation. One reason for the shift in perspective, she speculated, is a depth of insight gathered, in recent times, through a booming of qualitative research in sexology, an embrace of analyses built on personal, detailed interviews or on clinical experience, an approach that has gained attention as a way to counter the field’s infatuation with statistical surveys and laboratory measurements.

Meana made clear, during our conversations in a casino bar and on the U.N.L.V. campus, that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders,” that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.

She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving. About the dynamic at “Zumanity” between the audience and the acrobats, Meana said the women in the crowd gazed at the women onstage, excitedly imagining that their bodies were as desperately wanted as those of the performers.

Meana’s ideas have arisen from both laboratory and qualitative research. With her graduate student Amy Lykins, she published, in Archives of Sexual Behavior last year, a study of visual attention in heterosexual men and women. Wearing goggles that track eye movement, her subjects looked at pictures of heterosexual foreplay. The men stared far more at the females, their faces and bodies, than at the males. The women gazed equally at the two genders, their eyes drawn to the faces of the men and to the bodies of the women — to the facial expressions, perhaps, of men in states of wanting, and to the sexual allure embodied in the female figures.

Meana has learned too from her attempts as a clinician to help patients with dyspareunia. Though she explained that the condition, which can make intercourse excruciating, is not in itself a disorder of low desire, she said that her patients reported reduced genital pain as their desire increased. The problem was how to augment desire, and despite prevailing wisdom, the answer, she told me, had “little to do with building better relationships,” with fostering communication between patients and their partners. She rolled her eyes at such niceties. She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.

“Female desire,” Meana said, speaking broadly and not only about her dyspareunic patients, “is not governed by the relational factors that, we like to think, rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s.” She finished a small qualitative study last year consisting of long interviews with 20 women in marriages that were sexually troubled. Although bad relationships often kill desire, she argued, good ones don’t guarantee it. She quoted from one participant’s representative response: “We kiss. We hug. I tell him, ‘I don’t know what it is.’ We have a great relationship. It’s just that one area” — the area of her bed, the place desolated by her loss of lust.

The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that, in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it. “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.”
posted by John Cohen at 6:28 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


it's 'all women are judged against a standard of fuckability'.

For me this is a helpful distinction in separating the good kind of happy semi-objectification of finding one's partner hot (as well as smart, funny, etc) and the not good kind that we all know too well.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


What if women actually want to be the object of desire?

Yeah, that's pretty much covered by Mulvey's 1975 essay. Women are taught to look at themselves as objects. The study linked shows the negative effects of doing so. Feeling sexy is not worth a culture in which one-quarter of women are forced or coerced into sex.
posted by jaguar at 6:34 PM on August 28 [16 favorites]


As a woman, I've found it interesting to try objectifying men. It's disturbingly easy. Just collapse your assessment of every man you see into a shallow appraisal of their sexiness. Hot or not. It's a deeply unpleasant way to approach the world, and it makes it hard to relate both to plain men and to handsome men. But it does feel powerful.
posted by Kilter at 6:38 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I'm picturing some sort of infographic: "By living in a society that refuses to challenge the Male Gaze, one woman gets to feel super-sexy, five woman feel mostly ok, ten women feel kind of ok and insecure, forty women feel insecure, thirty women feel absolutely shitty, and twenty-six women get raped!"

We can do better.
posted by jaguar at 6:51 PM on August 28 [13 favorites]


(Also that was supposed to add up to one hundred and stand in for percentages, like most infographics, and I suspect my arithmetic is bad so move women between categories as needed.)
posted by jaguar at 6:52 PM on August 28


Desire is not fuckability.

You cannot, in good conscience, desire me when you see me on the street. You may form a somewhat educated opinion of me, you may be attracted to my form, you may want to fuck me, but you do not desire me. You desire this lumpen fleshsack I inhabit, with little to no knowledge of me as a person, other than the mirage you've created in your mind.

And it's disturbing that internalising the male gaze, 'women's desire is narcissistic', is seen as a reason to continue the dominance of the male gaze.

(seriously though, it's not women snarling "you love that don't you?" in porn...)
posted by geek anachronism at 7:34 PM on August 28 [16 favorites]


xarnop: Well I think anyone having sex should be willing to care for children if they happen, due to contraceptives there is reduced risk but it's still a risk and no woman should be expected to agree to an abortion before facing the actual pregnancy. Meaning the fact that many men assume they have an innate right to impregnate a woman and then require she have an abortion or abandon the child is probably a deterring facto in women wanting to have sex with a guy early on among many factors.

I think one interesting problem with this would be that a lot of people can't meaningfully give that guarantee; they're not financially able to deal with it and won't be in the predictable future. For instance, this would encompass nearly all college students, and most people in their first few years out of college while they're still underemployed and buried under student loans. I would bet that the majority of people wouldn't pass that boundary until after 25, and a lot of professionals wouldn't until well into their thirties.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:52 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Totally, reproductive justice is about facing those inequalities in access to resources and support to rear children given our different economic issues, and differences of abilities, and the specific needs which come up within that.

One thing is certain, if adults make choices that result in children, it's not the child's fault, and they really deserve those were making these choices to do their best by any children that result (note I am speaking specifically about born children that result from these decisions).

The fact that our culture treats "pro-sex" ideologies as totally divorced from the creation of children is a step we haven't actually achieved with our technology or our ability and comfort levels with using that technology.

Regardless of how close we could be to eliminating the risk, the risk is simply still there and recently guttmacher found that half of unmarried women pregnant in their twenties didn't plan and half those pregnancies resulted in live births. We have a cultural blind spot here were we pretend we are free from this reality, but we are not, and being forced to choose between abortion, parenting without adequate internal or external resources, or adoption- is not FREEDOM. It's still being trapped in a circumstance in which each of the options may not be something a woman wants, but she will be the one stuck there.

It's short sighted to claim that our technology has freed us from this. What that implies is ignorance that many women have terrible side effects from birth control options available, or have a hard time using existing methods effectively for various reasons, and that some women are not comfortable with abortion when faced with a pregnancy, even if they have access to one. Our model currently assumes that women WILL be getting abortions when accidents happen-- and we're still in denial about the fact that many women feel differently about abortions once pregnant.

These kids are happening, and claiming they should all be aborted doesn't actually help them or their families as much as it might make people saying it feel superior about the situation, and I'm not sure morally that all of these kids SHOULD have been aborted, that there's some clear evidence based proof that women aren't ALLOWED to find abortion problematic for them or entities they should be allowed to consider children growing inside them.

All I'm saying is that the current dating model assumes that women will either be getting abortions or rearing these children without a partner whether they want to be single moms or not, and I resent that that's the expected dating model when I do not want to sign up to have an abortion or more children I have no partner to help me raise. Like I said, I'm not saying women can't take those risk onto themselves, but depending on the person, these are huge and terribly undesirable and scary risks to contend with all for someone who may or not have any meaningful interest in a long term relationship anyways- they want to fuck you first to find out whether they want to even bother considering that with you.
posted by xarnop at 5:08 AM on August 29


On the objectification end, I can't believe the claims of narcissism, as if this whole set up is somehow serving WOMEN's selfish urges rather than mens. As evidenced by the effect this has on women, even if women can be made to have arousal or orgasms over their own harm and dehumanization, the idea that that serves WOMEN's narcissistic urges is ridiculous.

It's evidence that even something so fundamental as women's pleasure is taken from them to use against them in their own subjugation, and then used as proof they deserve it and "like" it. Arousal is not consent. A person can be aroused by something that does not serve them, and when a person is being harmed by their own urges (and this study merits serious consideration of very real harms involved here) and that is all for the benefit of someone else- it's extremely problematic to assume that the whole set up is about "women's narcissism".

Ridiculous.
posted by xarnop at 6:55 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


IIRC, Freudians were very big on female narcissism, right?

Of course, there's a very simple explanation for female sexual "narcissism" - if you grow up being taught that being desired is the measure of your worth, and you receive almost no models for being actively desiring, and you receive almost no information about actual pleasure in being touched as part of sex, and you receive lots of messages about how most women most of the time are disgusting failures who are not sexy and no one would want to touch those women - why then, it's very very erotically powerful to be desired....at least until the thrill wears off, which can be pretty damn quick if there's nothing else to anchor sexual desire.

And if you think that female sexual "narcissism" is just awesomesauce for men since all they have to do is show up and express lust - well, I can tell you that I myself in my young day did a tremendous disservice to several perfectly nice straight dudes, because once I felt confident that they did in fact want to have sex with me, it stopped being interesting. My "narcissism" - or rather, the charge I got out of successfully doing what our culture wants women to do, ie, be desired by a man - was satisfied pretty quickly, and I was ready to move on long before the dudes were. Of course, I stayed for a while out of guilt, which was lots of fun all around, let me tell you.

It's ridiculous to talk about women's sexuality as if we pop from the womb already straight, compliant and "narcissistic".
posted by Frowner at 7:16 AM on August 29 [14 favorites]


What if women actually want to be the object of desire? Why would that be so hard to believe?

Why is it so hard to understand that this is a matter of whether or not you are only seen as an object of sexual desire?

We're not saying it's a zero-sum game here. I really, really dug it when my ex looked at me with naked lust in his eyes. But I also really, really dug it when he also started conversations with me about politics and science, and I really, really dug it when he said that he liked playing Scrabble with me "because I like watching you think".

It was the fact that he saw me as a complete human that was key. If he never did the Scrabble bits or the politics bits, and the naked-lust bits were all that happened, that would have changed everything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]


And it's worth considering that in the US, at least, straight dudes are not expected to be the objects of desire. The straight male body is very often framed as disgusting, something that women put up with - the official narrative that straight men are hairy and smelly, etc etc., men's legs look gross in shorts, male genitals are smelly and of no interest. And of course, the fact that straight men are virtually always discouraged from any kind of beauty/body work (other than building muscle, although this is seldom framed as being about sexual desirability) - women are expected to consider their appearance all the time in every detail, straight men are expected to schlump around in cargo shorts and polos. (There are certainly male subcultures where there's beauty/body work done for sexual attractiveness reasons, but in general it's still ill-fitting cargo shorts and polos.)

On the one hand, that's about power - as a society, we expect that a woman would be thrilled to sleep with the fascist, zombie-fleshed Henry Kissinger, for example, and we don't expect him to do any body/beauty work because he is powerful and important and that means he doesn't need to worry about pleasing his partners with anything except his mere condescension in having sex with them.

On the other, it's also about teaching straight men that their desirability is mostly irrelevant to women - that their bodies are basically blah at best and ugly at worst. "Being desirable" is a feminine thing, like being a nurse or a kindergarten teacher, and while there may be male nurses and male kindergarten teachers, people look at straight men kind of funny if that's their ambition.
posted by Frowner at 7:35 AM on August 29 [13 favorites]


And one last thought that I meant to include in my previous comment, and then I'll knock it off - there's something really perverse in the "men are so gross" narrative, because it teaches men that women should have to have sex with men who are assumed to be gross and hairy and coarse and incapable of any form of bodily or sexual refinement (because men are "just like that" etc). It's basically saying "sex is categorically not fun for women, because men are gross, and that's totally okay".

I don't think that this mirrors actual individual lived experience, of course, but it's a powerful cultural narrative - women are dainty angels, men are coarse beasts, and the normal and appropriate way of doing straight sex is for the coarse beasts to have their way with the delicate angels even if the delicate angels might prefer them not to be, like, hairy and stinky and unrefined, because you can't expect the coarse beasts to be anything but coarse beasts. It is a narrative which biases straight sexuality toward male pleasure since it presumes that straight sex is only appealing to women if they can "put up with" the essential nature of men.
posted by Frowner at 8:01 AM on August 29 [10 favorites]


Just to add to that -- men who are either naturally very attractive or attempt to buck the trend WRT personal care are most definitely categorized in the "potentially gay" bucket (by both women and men -- in fact, I've heard the equivalent of "he's probably gay" more often from women and gay men -- hetero men generally don't talk about male appearance).

The most obvious explanation being that in our society you are beautiful or beautify yourself to attract men, you do not do it to attract women.
posted by smidgen at 11:28 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


Just to add to that -- men who are either naturally very attractive or attempt to buck the trend WRT personal care are most definitely categorized in the "potentially gay" bucket

That doesn't fit at all with what I see of young adult men today. I mean, I recognize that these are all extant and powerful cultural narratives ("snips and snails and puppy dog tails" vs. "sugar and spice and everything nice" etc.)--but cultures often have several sets of contradictory narratives going on at once. Watch any contemporary movie or TV show about young heterosexual romance--chances are the male character will be anxiously showering, primping, Axe-body-spraying etc. on the night of the Big Date with the Girl of his Dreams. And that seems to fit with what I see--and what I hear from my friends with teenage sons. There's an immense amount of personal grooming and careful self-styling and image-shaping that is framed entirely in terms of making oneself appealing to a feminine "gaze."

It is, of course, true that you can activate the "real men don't deal with this frou-frou shit" counter-narrative (and you'll see that in the movies and on TV too), but I would say that it's definitely the minority position now. In a typical high-school movie or TV sitcom or what have you the man who thinks he has no responsibility to "perform" his desirability to the opposite sex is decidedly framed as the clueless loser.
posted by yoink at 11:47 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Not my experience, but I should avoid generalizing -- I'm probably just getting old. :-)
posted by smidgen at 12:47 PM on August 29


Eh, I am kinda old and I prefer men who aren't what I think of as "pretty boys" but I do have some expectations concerning dress and hair and so forth. I mean I have expectations of neat, clean, smells good (not in a perfumey way, just in a clean and healthy way), etc. My parents were super ultra old fashioned and my father was career military yet my mother also had expectations about how he dressed and so forth. She was quick to criticize when he put on weight or dressed like a "slob." (Yet, I imagine she would have had a cow had he grown his hair long, worn nail polish, etc.)

So I really don't think it is as clear cut as old vs young or anything like that. And I really don't think there is any one thing that makes a man get read as what you were describing as "potentially gay." You don't have to "be gross" to be read as an old-fashioned "manly man" (or whatever term you want to use here). I would argue that any actually attractive man, even if he is basing that largely on "I have money and power," is meeting some kind of standard in terms of his appearance. Politicians cannot "be gross." They wouldn't get elected if they were.

I knew a man whom I felt was too effete/"pretty boy" for me to find attractive. Then he took up weightlifting and my feelings changed. He continued to be a Dapper Dan type in terms of hairstyle and clothing and in terms of being a smooth-talking, charming sort. The only thing that changed was how much muscle he was carrying. Yet, I went from feeling like "Yeah, don't flirt with me. Aren't you gay?" to "Uhhhh....you are scandalously younger than me and I really should not find you so head-turning, but daaaannnng." So it wasn't any one thing that was making me read him as "not really Man Enough to date" (or whatever some part of my brain was concluding).

If a man has a professional job or is career military, I assure you, he stays clean, he is particular about how he dresses and so on. In the military, you can't pass inspection if you don't pay attention to detail concerning your uniform. This is a big thing and takes substantial time and effort in the off hours.

I have discussed this with people I know IRL and one of our conclusions was that men can have like 20 pairs of pants or whatever and spend just as much time, money and effort on being presentable for the office as women, but because women can wear pants or dresses or skirts and can radically change their hair from one day to the next (etc), it is just much more obvious that women put in the effort. That doesn't mean men don't do it. They do. It just isn't quite as eye-catching. Those 20 pairs of pants are likely to all be in shades of blue, gray, black and similar conservative colors with generally similar conservative styling. So we can see the same guy every day and be sort of oblivious to the fact that he is more of a clothes horse than the women in the office because his 20 pairs of pants don't look all that different from each other.
posted by Michele in California at 1:48 PM on August 29


I agree, yoink, young men definitely talk about their appearance and the appearance of other men today. I hear it and see it all the time among my college-aged sons and their peers. They talk about clothes and how ridiculous skinny jeans are, tease each other over their hairstyles and also, rather touchingly, give advice on styling and how to use hair gel and what to do when they want their hair a little longer but it looks weird between cuts, the whole deal.

There was one kinda fun discussion I remember recently about a high school classmate of theirs. A German exchange student, this young man--we'll call him S--dated one of the young women in their peer circle back then, took her to prom, etc. He and my son were in Advanced German together (which S got a lot of ribbing about because yep, pretty sure you've got this class aced, way to challenge yourself!).

S was pretty popular; I remember my son mentioning in passing the girls all liked S because he dressed in "nice" clothes, like, actual outfits instead of the standard jeans and t-shirts the other guys wore. And also the accent didn't hurt. S and my son would chat about soccer, which they both played and followed, in S's native tongue, and that helped my son improve his own German language skills. Nice guy. Anyway, as an exchange student, S was only here for a couple semester and then went back to Germany at the end of their junior year, which was two years ago.

So anyway, S came up in conversation again recently because the girl he had dated, who is a close friend of my son's steady girlfriend, had learned through Facebook connections or some such that S had recently come out as gay.

Having had no inkling at the time they went out, she was a bit nonplussed, and she was basically polling the group for their feedback: Did everyone else know? Had she just had blinders on? Why did S date her if he was into guys the whole time?!

The group was rallying around and being generally supportive like, huh, nope, we didn't have a clue either, and it sucks you found out that way, but maybe he wasn't sure himself yet, you know? My son's girlfriend joked, to cheer her up, that she could just look at it like she was so great that after dating her no other women would do.

And somewhere along the way, someone, I don't remember who, cracked the group up with, "Wow, I can't believe he looked so fashionable all the time, and I never thought he was gay, I just thought he was European!"
posted by misha at 1:53 PM on August 29 [4 favorites]


So we can see the same guy every day and be sort of oblivious to the fact that he is more of a clothes horse than the women in the office because his 20 pairs of pants don't look all that different from each other.

Watching my partner, who is probably the best dressed out of our little circle, gonna say a big ole nope to this. Even the slobbiest of the ladies puts in far more effort, far more emotional labour, into dressing than my partner does. Part of that is fitting - he can buy based on size, mostly, but none of us lady-types can. I put significant effort in to match his level of style. The most stylish woman of our acquaintance puts magnitudes more effort in than the most stylish man, even down to daily grooming.

The advantages of 20 identical pants = stylish vs 20 identical pants = boring cannot be understated.

I also have to agree with Frowner (again!) about the common discourses surrounding the male body. I hate being in conversations about men's bodies because I genuinely enjoy them. Cocks are attractive! As is body hair! There is nothing inherently awful about any human body, but when you say that in conversation it acts like a record scratch. I'm somehow excessively sexual because I don't think the male body is unattractive.

The gym bunny/weight lifting movement is making a difference I think, in the way we look at bodies in general. Having to stare at yourself to watch your form invites a kind of narcissism at the same time it's an active mindful concern for the physicality of the action. So the young blokes I know into lifting are all about their gains, post pics of themselves, talk about their cocks a lot (which is gross all over my facebook, cuz, your mama is there) and fling around a fair bit of body shame and judgement. Moreso than the young women, but it's rare to see the same sort of self-loathing, or performance of self-loathing, in the male conversations.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:19 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]


Let me put that another way:

I have discussed this with numerous women who griped that their partner spent plenty of time, money and effort on their clothes/appearance, but when he did it, it got chalked up to "necessary work expense." When she did the same thing for the same reason, it was viewed as "indulgent/vanity/personal preference."

Even when men put in a lot of time, money and effort, it gets viewed differently than when women do it. And it seems to generally get less notice in some sense. It gets read very differently even when the behaviors are the same.

I am a woman who, in some sense, puts very little time and effort into my looks. Though I studied clothing and other things when I was younger, so to be fair I get acceptable results without putting in a lot of resources. I have repeatedly been in situations where I was dressed up and ready to go and waiting for my bf or husband to finish getting dressed, finish primping, etc.

And then I also had to put up with unfounded accusations that I was the one who did shit like that. For example, when I and my husband returned from Germany and visited relatives, my father-in-law made some assholish comment about my suitcase being the largest and heaviest one "because women always have all that make-up, clothes, etc." No, my heavy suitcase had things in it like photo albums that I didn't want shipped with my household goods. My husband was much more vain than I was and often spent considerable time combing his extremely short military crew cut. I have long tended to wear little or no make-up, jewelry etc.

I am sorry your female friends find it so burdensome to get dressed. But I and my friends have had somewhat different experiences from what you describe.
posted by Michele in California at 4:45 PM on August 29


xarnop: It's short sighted to claim that our technology has freed us from this. What that implies is ignorance that many women have terrible side effects from birth control options available, or have a hard time using existing methods effectively for various reasons, and that some women are not comfortable with abortion when faced with a pregnancy, even if they have access to one. Our model currently assumes that women WILL be getting abortions when accidents happen-- and we're still in denial about the fact that many women feel differently about abortions once pregnant.

Does our model assume that? With child support obligations and such, I don't think our model actually does. I think the model allows for that, but also allows a woman to compel a man into helping financially at least (since you can't really compel emotional performance and expect to get something positive out of it). So the model is at least more complex than that.

Also, I don't think guys always avoid thinking/talking about these issues because they're like 'oh, she'll get an abortion, it'll be fine'. I think a lot of it is for the same reason I don't worry about becoming a quadriplegic from a broken neck before I go mountain biking; it's really unlikely if proper precautions are observed, it's really fucking depressing, and you can't let fear rule your life.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:58 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why we're talking about pregnancy risk anyway since this is about the objectification if women, and simplifying women's reactions to the double standard by chalking it up to evolutionary biology is a shitty copout anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:46 AM on August 30 [4 favorites]


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