We're happy to present this story from one of our favorite sites, The Good Men Project. Today Jayson Gaddis explores objectification.
I get this question a lot and it's one I've explored for years. "Why do we (men) objectify women so much?" Sometimes men will follow that question up with "And, what can I do about it?" (sure, women objectify men too, but that's not what this post is about).
I posted this question on my Facebook wall and got quite the range of responses. I included a few short responses below and the longer, stand-out responses I have included at the bottom of this post if you are interested.
A few men also asked me to define objectification, which to me seems prudent. So, we’ll start there.
Defining Objectification in the context of this blog post:
Objectify: To stare, gawk, or check out women and their bodies and body parts. To see them as objects (instead of real people) and to think of them in a sexual way.
A guy named Alex added,
"I think what we are calling “objectification” is its own line of development and that “picturing myself f*cking her,” is a limited sliver of what the interpenetrating faculties which cause a man’s bodymind to go there can actually unfold into."
In other words, Alex is pointing out that how we define objectification will depend on where we are psychologically/spiritually/developmentally in life.
Here are some classic male responses to the question that I have received from the boys and men I’ve worked with for over 20 years:
- It’s biology.
- Because we just want to have sex.
- Because I’m a guy.
- I’m an animal, I’m supposed to want to have sex with every woman I see.
- I’m just horny.
- It’s normal male behavior.
- I don’t objectify women . . .
Then, here are some more sophisticated responses I got on Facebook:
- “To avoid the terror of annihilation — being reabsorbed back into the feminine. To avoid kicking up unhealed dependencies on mother.” –RF
- “I objectify women cause it’s “safer”. I receive an immediate gratification, a thrill if you will, albeit superficial, it does keep me safe at least for a time, (and I will jump in with Richard here) from annihilation — from a treacherous road of intimacy and vulnerability — the risk of being really seen and connected with– or actually rejected!! Yes, that’s it — it’s an avoidance of rejection… Intimacy takes a lot of work, courage and commitment. Objectifying is an “easy” road out of the potential of rejections — at least for the moment. A slice of breathing room if you will, though illusory and ultimately unfulfilling and painful — it’s still or at least has been a strange sort of unconscious haven for me…” –R.
- “I’m stuck in the belief that that feminine essence is outside of myself. I’m alienated from the larger truth of my Completeness as a human being. That sexy, juicy, radiant paradise is not inside myself, therefore it’s an object I obsess about outside myself and I treat it like entertainment. This insight leads me to believe I haven’t spent enough time balancing the relationship with My (whole) Self.”
- “First of all, I love this thread. I feel no shame in my feelings of lust for women. I suppose that if I thought they were ONLY good for sex, that would be an issue. I have an beautiful wife, and I have two daughters. I love women. they are an inextricable part of my life. I love what these women bring to my world. but god, I love looking at women. they’re just amazing. It’s part of my biological make up to think that they’re beautiful. Is that objectifying them? Maybe, maybe not. I just love them. and at some point men will have the same feelings for my daughters. If that comes with a respect for the beautiful people that they are, then I think that lust is part of a beautiful package.” –KB
My personal response? “Because I’m avoiding something.”
I unpack this down below . . .
Is there any truth to the first lists above? Sure, and in my experience men who have done personal work on themselves and have the ability to self-reflect and take ownership have more insightful responses. They know there’s more going on in the picture.
So when I check out women, what is really going on with me? Is it just normal because I’m a heterosexual guy that likes women?
I took this question to my personal therapy many times. I was never satisfied with my therapist’s response, so then I took it to the meditation cushion and my male friends. I contemplated it for many months and had many, many discussions with my male friends and mentors. Our aim was to get underneath to the deeper truth going on.
Here’s what I/we came up with:
Yes indeed men want to procreate and plant our seed, so naturally we look for mates constantly. True. Biology is indeed a factor. We are indeed animals. It’s in our DNA to want to have sex and be sexual with other human beings. We will objectify the sex we are attracted to and it’s perfectly normal and okay. In fact, it can even be glorious, alive, fun, and enjoyable.
The next thing to note is that men are conditioned to objectify women. It’s ain’t just nature working here. In men’s culture, it’s acceptable to objectify women. Men bond around it.
And, the less developed a man is, the more animal-like and unconscious his behavior will be toward women. In other words, for guys who have very little ability to self reflect or a limited self-awareness, they live seeing the entire world as object where they can get something, rather than seeing object as a relational interplay.
For example, marketing companies prey on men who are stuck in their animal brain. We are taught over and over to see women as objects. I can barely go on any male-focused website now without being hit at some point by a tiny, physically attractive, disproportioned airbrushed woman looking at me. Someone took the Hooters business model and applied it everywhere to everything. Seriously.
And, it’s pervasive and all around us. Notice where men buy stuff, there are often photos of women present.
- Pain Avoidance
Here comes the deeper cut. I objectify women because I feel a hole in me and I want to fill that hole. For example, I notice that I find myself checking out women when I feel like shit. I’m in a funk, bad mood, triggered, and most importantly, disconnected. It happens almost always when I had stuff to feel deep down that I simply didn’t want to feel.
Take R.F.’s comment,
“As I have sat with it a little longer, the simple answer is that I feel it will make me feel better. If i am feeling some sort of unrest within myself, I will seek to get something from “her”, to “suck her beauty” in some way; And that will somehow feed me / nourish me, and help me get me by for a time . . . ”
My own experience?
Yes, I love beautiful women and I appreciate them in an ongoing way. This experience feels good in me and I feel alive. I do this with anyone I find beautiful, from a small child, to men and women, to folks that are eighty years old. I appreciate their human beauty and specific characteristics. And, when it doesn’t feel good or it feels off, that’s my cue that something else is going on.
When I used porn semi-frequently, I was doing so whenever I was disconnected from myself. When I’ve had lovers in the past, I would be most interested in sex with them when I was feeling flat and in a funk. I had no tools back then to feel my pain, so sex most often helped take the edge off a little bit and it helped me connect to myself again and even connect to my partner again. Similarly, one of the main reasons why so many men surf porn is because it’s a temporary stress reliever. It’s medication.
Since I used to suck at feeling my feelings and I was emotionally constipated (due to my conditioning), I resorted to the limited tool belt I had; stuffing, distracting, avoiding, masking, hiding, masturbation, f*cking, or projecting it outward through blame.
So objectifying women is temporarily helpful for me when I want relief, even though it’s comes at a cost and it ultimately doesn’t help me in the long term.
I also noticed that it ultimately doesn’t feel good. It certainly doesn’t feel good for women (I’ve asked many times). In relationship workshops I lead, women often give the men feedback about how painful it is to be on the receiving end of their stares, looks, peeks, and glances. Women know when a man is checking them out. While some women report they are okay with it and even like it, the majority of the women I interface with are not cool with dudes staring at their body alone. They also want to be seen for who they really are.
How to do this differently
Explore the cost. Remember that objectifying women isn’t bad or wrong. It just comes at a cost. It’s up to each of us to figure out what that cost is. Get honest about the cost. For me it is just medication and food for my ego.
When I’m in pain or avoiding feeling something, I default to habits such as objectifying women. That doesn’t mean it’s okay or not okay. You be the judge of whether it works for you and your relationships to women. Ask the women in your life and get a range. Ask mature women, older women, younger women, and ask your partner. Ask them what the impact of what your behavior is like for them.
Get connected. When I objectify women, it’s because I feel disconnected, less present, less in my heart, and less in my body. The remedy is simple now. Get back in my body and heart. Connect to me, all of me. This requires I meditate, connect to someone I love and slow down. It requires I feel what is going on deep down inside of me.
Appreciation. Once I get connected to me again, I notice how I can appreciate a beautiful woman and I’m in my body, connected to my heart. It has a totally different quality. She feels it and I feel it.
What about you? What is your relationship to objectification?