Tag Archives: Objectifying Women

Friday Find – Friday, March 6, 2015

Enlightened Sexism


Recommended By: Rachael

Our theme for March is all about International Women’s Day; we hope to simultaneously celebrate women’s accomplishments, but take a look at the work we still need to do for equality. You may think that in North America Feminism’s work is done, but Susan Douglas makes some very compelling arguments to the contrary! Read it for yourself on Sunday!

Also, check out this great Maclean’s article about the topic! A great Feminist, Friday Find!

From the Cover:

Women today are inundated with conflicting messages from the mass media: they must either be strong leaders in complete command or sex kittens obsessed with finding and pleasing a man. Isusan douglasn Enlightened Sexism, Susan J. Douglas, one of America’s most entertaining and insightful cultural critics, takes readers on a spirited journey through the television programs, popular songs, movies, and news coverage of recent years, telling a story that is nothing less than the cultural biography of a new generation of American women.

Revisiting cultural touchstones from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Survivor to Desperate Housewives, Douglas uses wit and wisdom to expose these images of women as mere fantasies of female power, assuring women and girls that the battle for equality has been won, so there’s nothing wrong with resurrecting sexist stereotypes–all in good fun, of course. She shows that these portrayals not only distract us from the real-world challenges facing women today but also drive a wedge between baby-boom women and their “millennial” daughters.

In seeking to bridge this generation gap, Douglas makes the case for casting aside these retrograde messages, showing us how to decode the mixed messages that restrict the ambitions of women of all ages. And what makes Enlightened Sexism such a pleasure to read is Douglas’s unique voice, as she blends humor with insight and offers an empathetic and sisterly guide to the images so many women love and hate with equal measure.

Time To Holler Back

It’s a warm day and I’m walking down the street for an appointment with my trainer. I’ve got my sweats on and my iPod playing music with a motivational beat. Just walking down the street minding my own business.

And then it happens.

The guy in front of me stops, and after I pass him he mutters: “Nice —–.”

What the? I’m taken aback. Did he just say…yes, yes he did. It’s not my first encounter with my neighbourhood street harasser. It’s not even my first instance of street harassment, but as I’m getting “long in the tooth”, I had somehow mistakenly assumed vile comments and veiled threats from people on the street would not follow me into my dotage. It was an odious reminder that street harassment has no boundaries. It is sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, sizeist, ableist, and classist. It is unwanted and unwarranted.


My neighbourhood street harasser has managed to creepily insert himself and his inappropriate comments into my walk before. But this time, he’d uttered a vulgar word that entered my ears and immediately brought me to a place I did not want to be. I was shocked, yet not shocked. I was both angry and fearful. Three steps later I stopped in my tracks and the words “oh God” tumbled from my mouth. That’s it. That’s all I could muster. I don’t even know if it was an invective or a plea. I walk on and immediately pondered…was it my faded, sweaty, Wonder Woman t-shirt? My baggy, paint-stained, androgynous, knee length sweats? Now, I know his behaviour had nothing to do with what I was wearing, what I was doing, my location on the street, in the city, or time of day. I know that. But I went there anyway. I went to “what did I do” and to “what didn’t I do”. I went there even though I knew the problem wasn’t with me. The problem was with him.

My shock, discomfort, and fear made him feel powerful.

But not for long. No more, buddy. I won’t change my neighbourhood walking routes (though I may cross the street), what I wear, or how I act. I will not smile for you because you tell me to. You have no right to ask me. I will not say hello because you insist that I do. And the next time you do it—the next time you feel a misogynist compulsion to put me in my place and intimidate me with your words or actions, I will (from a safe distance), in clear and simple terms, tell you to stop harassing me.


I can also now report my street harassment on a number of websites dedicated to street harassment. One of my favourites is Hollaback www.ihollaback.org an online movement and social activism organization that allows women to document their experiences, access resources, and educate their community. Hollaback is a world-wide movement, with a Niagara page at niagara.ihollaback.org

A Hollaback poster makes it clear how insidious street harassment is.

I had no clue that March 30-April 5 was International Anti Street Harassment Week until I started writing this post and checked out: www.streetharassment.org

That organization also offers tools and resources to people who want to launch safe public spaces campaigns in their community, or to people who witness street harassment and are at a loss on how to act against it. The site also makes it clear what street harassment is, including “unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons which are motivated by gender in public spaces that invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.” I would add that street harassment also transects class, race, age, ability, and sexual orientation. It is about asserting power and as such is as academic Hawley Fogg-Davis says, “a terrorism of the mind”. Fogg-Davis notes that women, and those who identify as gay and transgendered, know street harassment will happen in their lives, but they don’t know for certain when or how it will happen.


The Everyday Sexism Project offers another harassment reporting site. It allows contributors to document instances of harassment and sexism on the street as well as in private spaces, at work, and at school, through its website at canada.everydaysexism.com or via Twitter @everydaysexism


There are many more street harassment sites that provide resources and reassurance. The stories posted on these sites are both disturbing, and affirming. They are disturbing because they are real and current. The harassment is perpetrated by people who know better but gain power from acts that are menacing and threatening. The stories are affirming because the people who post them can feel free to express their pain, fear, anger, and frustration without recrimination.

This iconic photograph, American Girl in Italy, 1951 by Ruth Orkin, has always seemed a bit menacing to me, though I believe the photographer and human subject saw it as an expression of freedom. I've always wondered: whose freedom does it most express? I think I first saw it as an "art poster" and something people put on their walls as an expression of their artistic taste. It is both compelling and repulsive because it shows a woman essentially running the gauntlet. The whistling man, with his hand on his crotch can hardly be described as "non threatening".

Human Beings or Ornamental Cars??

Today I read an article about comments Alex Bilmes, editor of Esquire UK, made at a recent conference on Feminism in the Media. The comments themselves are vile, nasty, and have dangerous consequences for women – although he fails to recognize that. But what I find most frightening is the public reaction to these sexist comments. Men – and women too – seem to be celebrating him for telling the “truth” about women in the media rather than exposing him as the chauvinist that he is.

But what exactly did he say? He begins by explaining that “what we do at Esquire is produce amen’s magazine, and it has a male gaze…This is the controversial bit that people don’t like but I always say the truth about it: The women we feature in the magazine are ornamental.” He goes on to respond to a woman’s objection by saying, “Well I could lie to you if you want and say that we’re interested in their brains as well, but on the whole we’re not, and they’re there to be beautiful objects. They’re objectified.” Apparently he believes that’s justifiable because “heterosexual men regard women in many, many ways: They’re our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our mothers, and we do see them as three-dimensional human beings. But there are certain times we just want to look at them because they’re sexy… One of the things men like is pictures of pretty girls, so we provide them with pictures of pretty girls.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, he believes women “are ornamental. This may sound even worse, but it’s the same way we also provide them with pictures of cool cars.” Pictures of pretty women are the same as cars? Come on! 

I find it deeply disturbing that we exist in an environment where this man feels he can not only say such demeaning things about women, but say them proudly! He avoids acknowledging the consequences of the objectification of women. How have we regressed so far?! Was there not a time when this kind of opinion would be met with outrage and ridicule? I scrolled down to the comments section of the article expecting hordes of people to call him out as the dinosaur that he is, but instead I found comments like these: 

The truth hurts – some people at least. i highly respect this guys (sic) honesty.”

“Bikini-clad models are indeed like cars. Men like to look at them and to dream about getting inside a nice one.”

“Why does this surprise anyone? This man speaks the truth. Women ARE objects in the eyes of the media and in the eyes of media consumers. Look around, women of any societal “value” are commodities. They’re waxed, spray-tanned, plucked, polished versions of the real thing. And we’ve accepted that…”

And from a woman:

Women perpetuate this stereotype themselves. Look at the way men are dressed for award shows as compared to the way women are dressed. they had to introduce a dress code to keep stars like J-Lo from revealing too much flesh. Any dress codes for men revealing too much flesh?”

So, not only has society “accepted” that women are sex objects, but apparently we have created this situation ourselves? Sometimes I just feel like screaming at such people: perpetuating the objectification of women has real life consequences! It is not the same as objectifying men. When was the last time you heard of a group of high school girls gang raping an unconscious male? Thinking of women as objects desensitizes us to this sort of brutality. If a woman is just like a car, she is a chattel to be owned and treated in whatever manner her owner desires.

There is nothing wrong with looking at fancy cars, pretty girls, or a piece of art. There is nothing wrong with looking. But we need to remember that people are not things – that way madness lies.


You’ve Come a Long Way Baby…

As women, have we? Before this past summer I would have said an empathic yes, absolutely.
What has made me question my stance on equality? A Beer Ad.
There was a billboard on a street close to where I live, that I passed in my daily travels this past summer, that not only shocked me when I first saw it, but annoyed me every time I drove past. I refuse to name the brand, I am not giving them advertising, but the can has a young blonde woman in an old fashioned swimsuit, with the caption, ”better than looking at your buddies” What?
How long will we tolerate this?

I get that sexy sells, but have we gone so far backwards that advertisers are willing to sell the intelligence of both men and women short to make a sale? Businesses buy these concepts and want their products promoted in this way? Call me crazy but I think the only thing we are selling is ourselves short.

I truly believe, and I will say right now that the beliefs expressed here are mine and mine alone – I own them – I believe that today, equality is about moving forward together, women, men, transgendered, homosexuals, you name it. All equals, end of story. Isn’t one stronger supported by the whole?
I guess the trouble is each individual is unique and so….each one of us has our own idea of what EQUALITY means. This personal definition is shaped as strongly by our gender as from our life experiences, so the question lies in, where is the common ground – a universal meaning of equality.
Maybe this is the time that the “women’s movement” commits to continue to educate young women and men on the “equality movement” perhaps then we will not see a beer ad objectifying women and a movie featuring male strippers as entertainment. Equal?
We have a long way to go still, baby!

Written by Donna