Can I get some fries with that shake?
The wonder of my conversations with my niece returns. Much to her delight might I add. I mean, who else wouldn’t be ecstatic having their ranty aunt call them on a Friday to discuss feminism at a time when she knows you’ll be free because she may, or may not, have downloaded your class timetable from your university website…? Let’s move on.
I like to think these conversations are having an impact and a little while ago I got a little feedback to support that. I got my niece’s first feminist rant via text. I don’t think I have ever been prouder of anything or anyone. Here’s what she said (note: this is edited for grammatical reasons – less proud):
“Something that’s really been annoying me is the topic of women posing for FMH/Maxim etc, all the boys think it’s ok to talk about these women in a really derogatory way, they think it makes them ‘lads’* I find it really disrespectful. I think it makes boys think it’s ok to openly degrade women – not just the ones in the magazines” Turning point number 1.
*Note: the topic of lad culture will be discussed next week, do tune in kids.
So taking this text we discussed, what we always would have at some point, objectification.
It’s a strange word and one that I’m not sure lends itself very well to the cause – mainly because it doesn’t sound offensive enough, but then again, few words end in f*ck.
Sexual objectification refers to the practice of regarding or treating another person merely as an instrument (object) towards one’s sexual pleasure, and a sex object is a person who is regarded simply as an object of sexual gratification or who is sexually attractive. Objectification is an attitude that regards a person as a commodity or as an object for use, with little or no regard for a person’s personality or sentience. (many thanks Wiki)
I gave my niece this definition and her reaction was fascinating. She concentrated and read over again the words ‘instrument’, ‘commodity’ and ‘no regard for person’s personality’. I could tell she was trying to digest it and figure out why this felt so cold and factual. I interrupted her concentration by explaining that objectification is fraught within society and that is why there is such a definition. Her reply?
“For god’s sake, if it has a definition like this, why the hell are people still arguing about feminism? Of course we need it!” Turning point number 2.
I could use this blog to talk about why objectification is bad, but you probably all know that. From the stereotype of a builder whistling at a busty woman walking down the street, to a bunch of ‘lads’ talking about how fit the cover of Maxim is; objectification belittles women into nothing more than anatomy to be used for sexual purpose. It can be the cause of violence against women and creates an unhealthy society, where woman are judged on their appearance and disrespected. Fact. Oh and for those of you wondering, pornography also comes into this definition and is not, in my eyes, sexual liberation for women. That is unhelpful feminism. Also a fact.** So we know this and we agree? Good.
It is her reaction that interested me most. Apparently it struck a chord. Someone calling her an instrument or commodity, made her feel self-conscious. Made her feel less worthy of something. She internalised what the outside world is at fault for, not her. How often does this happen? Women feeling that it is their fault for what they were wearing, how they were acting and how much they were drinking. On how many levels had sexism won there? Somehow, it wins in society but also in our psyches. She then asked about clothing and remarked that maybe wearing provocative clothing is asking for you to be objectified. “Should I dress a certain way?”
Immedietly I said NO (except, kindly informed her that it’s time for the UGG boots to go and orange is a very difficult colour to co-ordinate). It is not the woman’s fault for what she wears, it is sexism’s fault for how it interprets it.
Our conversation ended on an empowered note about how we could change this together. I hope she left feeling strong and then immedietly went to the library to study…obviously.
The purpose of these conversations is to support my niece who wants to learn more about feminism and politics, but also for her to teach me more. And she has. Her reaction taught me something invaluable. To get across the importance of feminism to young women, objectification might be the topic to start with – because it is so personal and because it is everywhere. Her reaction created a lot of internal conflict, a lot of personal discussion and a sudden sense of ownership of her womenhood. THIS is the beginning. This is the turning point at which many young women would sit up, listen and think: that’s not ok.
Think of the debate it could start? A lot of young women suffer from self esteem issues linked to their appearance. Imagine if we could turn that on its head through feminism. Encouraging them to re-think what appearance means and who defines it: Their boyfriends? That billboard? The airbrushed naked picture in FHM, or in fact, Cosmo?
We could have a generation of strong, young, budding, feminists, eager to learn more, all of whom have a healthy foundation and understanding about themselves and how they should be treated. Ahh the hills are alive with the sound of….well, feminism.
It can be done. Follow the rainbow.
**I state my opinion like it is fact. Just so you know.