Calogero, R.M., S. Tantleff-Dunn, and J.K. Thompson. 2011. “Objectification Theory: An Introduction.”

Calogero, Rachel M., Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, and J. Kevin Thompson. 2011. “Objectification Theory: An Introduction.” Pp. 3-22 in Self-Objectification in Women: Causes, Consequences, and Counteractions, edited by Rachel M. Calogero, Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, and J. Kevin Thompson. York, PA: Maple-Vail Books, American Psychological Association

“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relationships between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male; the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Berger 1972:41).

Western societies tend to treat people as objects, as a type of commodities. However, this practice becomes gendered and heteronormative, aiding to organize gender power relations and gender practices. Women are frequently evaluated and treated though their use, service, and pleasure to men – something that men often do not face.

Objectification to Baker Miller (1986), “When one is an object, not a subject, all of one’s own physical and sexual impulses and interests are presumed not to exist independently. They are to be brought into existence only by and for others – controlled, defined, and used” (60).

Bartky (1990): “A person is sexually objectified when her sexual parts or sexual functions are separated out from the rest of her personality and reduced to the status of mere instruments or else regarded as if they were capable of representing her” (26) – sexualized fragmentation of women has many different forms: sexual violence, sexual gazing/inspection – a range which is “largely not under women’s control and [is conducted] in such a way as to reinforce the subordinate status of women in relation to men” (Brownmiller 1975; World Health Organization 2005).

Objectification comes from interpersonal/social arenas (catcalls, checking out, commenting, harassment) as well as media (extend to structural) depictions of women’s bodies/body parts which construct them as targets of nonreciprocated male gazes. Interpersonal interactions can objectify women by many actors – family members, friends, employers, etc., or even by strangers – beginning at very early ages. Elementary and middle school aged girls are more frequently targets of sexual harassment than boys (Murnen and Smolak 2000; Murnen, Smolak, Mills, and Good 2003). AAUW: Adolescent girls are nearly  5x more likely to be afraid at school, and 3x more likely than boys to be less confident after experiences of sexual harassment (Bryant 1993) – (kx^ PDB established at very early age, and the fear continues into teen years and beyond). Adult women report more explicit sexual objectification than men – takes form of sexually degrading jokes, harassment, sexual names, having body parts ogled, experiencing unwanted sexual advances (Swim et al 2001; Moradi, Dirks, and Matteson 2005; Macmillan et al 2000).

Mainstream media’s sexual objectification of women is nearly unavoidable and impossible to ignore in its overtness. In addition to women’s objectification and subjection to sexual gazing, (sexual) violence becomes eroticized and normalized (Wolf 1991), where scanty or nude models are physically bound, contorted, bent into sex positions, restrained by (groups of) men — sell every time of commodity and item. These are apparent across multiple types of media – TV series, commercials, music videos, magazines, etc. Objectifying images of women have been increasing over time (cite this text) – impacting how men think about women.  Heavier media use by men has been linked to more traditional gender ideologies (which serve to treat/view women as sex objects, viewing women’s body parts as good when sexualized by inappropriate when used as reproductive function) – (Ward, Merriwether, and Caruthers 2006).

The practice of objectification is so pervasive that it is normalized, with its consequences minimized or altogether dismissed – from this environment “women are encouraged to […] feel pleasure through their own bodily objectification, especially being looked at and identified as objects of male desire” (Lee 2003:88) – kx^ relies heavily upon presumptions of gender binary, heteronormativity. Women thus internalize the roles and rules of objectifying practices to guide behaviors and monitor selves – “In contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women: They stand perpetually before his gaze and under his judgment. Woman lives her body as seen by another, by anonymous patriarchal Other” (Bartky 1990:72).

This socialization takes the form of an internalized control: “That is, socialization of subordinates in a dominant culture achieves a type of colonization of the mind that ensures self-imposed powerlessness. So too socialization of girls and women in a sexually objectifying culture achieves self-objectification” (Roberts 2002:326). This social control can be manifested through physical and social means, creating feminized appearances through an investment of resources and time, in expectation of this sexualized gaze (see also Bartky 1990; Dworkin 1974; Jeffreys 2005; Young 1990). Thus, women and girls’ learning to view and value themselves as sexual objects becomes “a psychological consequence of regular exposure to sexually objectifying experiences” (here 8). However, current feminine beauty ideals are unrealistic, creating impossible forms based upon natural women’s attributes (Orbach 2010), at least without surgical intervention, yet many attempt these goals through chronic self-surveillance and self-monitoring. In this dedication, self-objectification takes away from women’s cognitive, physical, and financial resources – time, physical energy, health, money – which could otherwise be used for competence-based activities or achievements  (Saguy et al 2010; Tiggeman and Rothblum 1997, Wolf 1991, Zones 2000).

Women’s milieu in a sexually objectifying world creates situations where “the potential always exists for their [women’s] thoughts and actions to be interrupted by images of how their bodies appear” (Frederickson and Roberts 1997: 180) – and, despite differences in race-ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, physical/personal attributes, these psychological and real-world situations have united women’s experience across multiple social locations.

“Objectification theory takes as the starting point that cultural practices of sexual objectification […] create multiple opportunities for women to view themselves through the lens of an external observer. In particular, it is the subtle and day-to-day practice of sexualized gazing that women encounter as they move in and out of a variety of social contexts that coaxes girls and women into adopting this evaluative gaze on themselves, or to self-objectify. Most women experience transient states of self-objectification in situations in which attention has been called to their bodies, such as receiving catcalls or catching someone staring at their breast, or where their gender is a salient feature of the proximal context. For some women this objectified lens becomes internalized, and they come to take a view of themselves as objects virtually all of the time, whether they find themselves in public or private settings” (10) – thus, having the trait of self-objectification, instead of being in a transient state of self-objectification. This is not a gendered narcissism, but instead “reflects a psychological strategy that allows women to anticipate, and thus exert some control over, how they will be viewed and treated by others” (10) – although not necessarily a conscious decision, this practice does reflect a type of agency.

“She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life [….] Men survey women before treating them. Consequently, how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated. To acquire some control over this process, women must contain it and interiorize it” (Berger 1972: 40).

This practice is based in social comparison, often resulting in a dislike of her own body, or body part – inferring that her body belongs “less to them and more to others” (Frederickson and Roberts 1997: 193). Physical attractiveness may serve as a type of currency for women benefitting them in social and economic ways (Dellinger and Williams 1997; Eagly et al 1991).

However, self-objectification can result in severe psychological consequence: body shame, appearance and safety anxiety, disruption of mental/physical tasks, removal from hunger, fatigue, emotions, sexual dysfunction, depression, eating disorders— all disproportionately happening in women and girls (Frederickson and Roberts 1997).

Self-objectification is:

  • Harmful to the health of women and girls (Moradi and Huang 2008; APA 2007)
  • Based in political, economic, and cultural systems that favors men over women, and seeks to preserve practices of (self-) objectification (Wolf 1991; Keltner, Gruenfeld, and Anderson 2003)
  • Serving the outcome where men reap sexual, economic, and social benefit from women’s self-objectifying practices and concern with their appearance (Bartky 1990; Jeffreys 2005; Wolf 1991).
  • Where women’s view of themselves as objects promotes men’s pleasure, legitimizing traditional gender stereotypes about women – bodies, abilities — promoting (self-) perception of women as primarily bodies (Calogero and Jost 2010; Saguy et al 2010, Ward et al 2006)
  • A manifestation of broader sexism within patriarchal societies that perpetuates the cultural and individual disadvantaging of women (Bartky 1990; Calogero and Jost 2010)

“the beauty practices that women engage in, and which men find so exciting, are those of political subordinates. […] The fact that some women say that they take pleasure in the practices is not inconsistent with their role in the subordination of women” (Jeffreys 2005:26-27).


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