The term objectification has been around my entire lifetime. It has become so ubiquitous that everyone uses the word assuming listeners understand all the explicit implications. In a morning filled with election coverage and the media’s ever self important role of shallow ex-plainer they still had time to cover some other stories in which the term objectification was mentioned. This is not by way of complaining but rather to note the importance of the subject to popular culture. This article from 2009 from National Geographic on-line appears to be the best evidence yet that objectification is a real physical phenomenon – Bikinis Make Men See Women as Objects, Scans Confirm
Fiske and colleagues asked 21 heterosexual male volunteers to first take a test that scores people based on different types of sexist attitudes. The subjects were then shown pictures of both skimpily dressed and fully clothed men and women.
Most of the men best remembered headless photographs of women in bikinis, even if they’d only seen the image for two-tenths of a second, Fiske reported this weekend in Chicago during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
And the men who scored higher as “hostile sexists”—those who view women as controlling and invaders of male space—didn’t show brain activity that indicates they saw the women in bikinis as humans with thoughts and intentions.
Scientists have seen this absence of activation only once before, in a study where people were shown off-putting photographs of homeless people and drug addicts.
There does seem t be an opening for interpretation. Men inclined to see women as objects have a slightly heightened sense of those feelings when there is less clothing. It might be tempting to blame the modern bikini, but than one would have to assume objectification is a phenomenon which stated in the 1960s. One of the obvious things wrong with this study – besides not testing women for instance where they objectified men – is the lack of controls. In a world without bikinis or any other types of fashions which modern culture defines as risque, would this absence of activation in the brain be initiated by other outfits. Sense modern gender roles did not appear over night there have probably always been some objectification of the human body. While some attitudes can be adjusted through education – lets be generous and assume hostile sexists are probably not hopeless – that a brain function strongly correlates to feelings can mean that such attitudes may have served a societal or survival function at one time. Culturally, in the west anyway, our cultural attitudes have outpaced a concurrent change in biology. With a media saturated in women’s magazines and TV programs, newspaper sections and internet sites devoted to issues relevant to women they are acutely aware of the objectification phenomenon. Bikinis, lingerie, high heels and so forth continue to have brisk sales ( The lingerie industry had almost $30 billion in sales in 2009). While it might be a fine line there is one between wanting to appear appealing to one’s partner and being objectified. Much of the later is often thought to be a product of social pressure. One that might be catching up with men – Pressure to be more muscular may lead men to unhealthy behaviors
New research suggests that men feel pressure to have muscular bodies, and that influence can lead some to symptoms of eating disorders, pressure to use steroids, and an unhealthy preoccupation with weightlifting.
“Men see these idealized, muscular men in the media and feel their own bodies don’t measure up,” said Tracy Tylka, author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University ‘s Marion campus.
“For some men, this can lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors to try to reach that ideal.”
Tylka presented her research at a symposium August 10 in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
[ ]…For example, men who were not happy with their muscles were more likely to say that their weight-training schedule interfered with other parts of their life, that others think they work out too much, that they used protein supplements, and even that they thought about using steroids.
Men who were dissatisfied with their body fat were more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders, such as avoiding certain foods, being terrified about being overweight, and being preoccupied with a desire to be thinner.
Tylka said there is a difference between men who exercise and watch their diet for their health, and those who do so because they feel pressure to change their bodies.
Both of these studies bring up some interesting issues regarding self expression and artistic expression. Lets say that Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres – who painted the classic nude La Grande Odalisque or Michelangelo who carved the classic nude of David, were, respectively very sensitive to the objectification of women and men as sexual objects. Would they have been honest in their artistic vision if they had created their works draped in loose sweat suits. It is obviously possible over time to change a culture and it’s mores, but it is also obviously a long and difficult road. In modern times we tend to whine or notch, though there is till plenty of demonizing and criminalizing cultural taboos. It is difficult but easier to make personal changes. Accepting one’s flaws and developing a sense of worth not so dependent on the opinions of others. This might be described as the externalists versus the internalists view of developing self esteem. Most of us conscientiously or subconsciously are a little of both. A male pure externalist, for example, would make Michelangelo responsible for the part of their low self esteem connected to body image. Mike would only be able to produce works that did not make male viewers insecure about their bodies thus putting a huge constraint on the freedom of one person’s imagination.
Because I’m not William Faulkner this may come across as strong advocacy rather than some philosophical or cultural issues to ponder. The intention to consider the sometimes delicate balance between personal freedom versus ever changing cultural mores and dictates. Boundaries and excesses are frequently not distinct or easy to identify. Imagine a painter, a film director , an actor, a poet, a photographer or a sculptor having to pass all their creative thoughts through a filter of what might make one or ten or a million people have negative feelings about themselves. On the other hand imagine a totally insensitive culture where every base thought is expressed without the slightest consideration of others.
Paul has fashioned himself a protector of the privileged class, for instance arguing repeatedly against regulating BP in the wake of its oil disaster. But an honest look at American society reveals a world divorced from Paul’s rhetoric. Many of America’s most profitable corporations, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and ExxonMobil, paid essentially nothing in corporate taxes in all of 2009. In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available from the Federal Reserve Board, the “richest 1% of U.S. households owned 33.8% of the nation’s private wealth.”
There is some truth in the view that some of the wealthy make their money via their intelligence and ideas, but that number is not reflected in 34 percent of the nation owning 1 percent of the wealth. If intelligence were the most valuable asset in our society than the wealthiest would all be scientists and philosophers. Paul has probably never asked himself – what with his John Galt complex – where wealth in America comes from. No to very little wealth is possible without rank and file workers. That wealth in the U.S. is so unevenly distributed to a testament to some screw-up in the structure of a system that rewards wealth disproportionately to what it rewards work. A good send up of Atlas Shrugged would be toward the end where everyone is looking up to the god-like Galt and one guy asks – are you going to personally make everything yourself or you think you might NEED someone to help. Paul and Ayn Rand bitterly detest the mere idea that while great ideas deserve large rewards they do not exists in a vacuum. Until someone can make them real they’re like an airplane without wings.