By JAYSON GADDIS
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 fucking 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 twenty 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.
3. 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, fucking, 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?
Here are a few other unedited shares from the awesome facebook thread:
“Why do I “objectify”? It’s a loaded term for me as well and I’ve felt a good deal of shame about it for a while. Still do to an extent. I like to think of it as a form of appreciation. Appreciation for a woman’s physical traits that for whatever reason I’m energetically drawn to. Yes, I can “lose myself” in it for a while, and I’m noticing a little charge for me there as I say that. Like its easier for me to shame myself there before anyone else can (not saying they will… just my projection). And yeah, what I’ve found works best for me so far is being a yes to everything in my own experience and in what’s happening AND at some point in my development simply realizing that objectification is not enough for me. I love appreciating and experiencing another human being for more than just her physical traits. What I prefer physically doesn’t in itself inspire me to want to connect with a woman, and doesn’t in itself have me feel attracted. The attraction and inspiration simply are there or not independent of how she looks.”
“If I may add… we objectify women for the same reason women objectify men: to be able to see our personal fantasies in them.”
“it happens in the hungry ghost realm I live in most of the time…..for me its about seeking approval, biological instincts, unmet needs, and grasping for wholeness outside myself…….the most fun and exciting and ego gratifying times in my life have been when i have embraced it and danced with it and gave myself permission to play with the illusions, projections, feelings, etc……..”
“When I objectify a woman, I am not ignoring that there is more than her body, I am just filling up the rest of my perception of her with my fantasy of her.”
S.P (a woman) said…
“I don’t know any women who don’t like being appreciated! (I consider “admired and desired” as part of appreciation) as long as it is grounded in reality, not based purely on projection, and from a place of wholistic seeing. Some women feel scared of it, or long for it but don’t know how to take it in, or push it away because it has come with strings in the past, or push it away because it comes with strings in the present (the other person’s need for approval, the other person’s need for something to be fulfilled in them etc.). But underneath all this, I believe it is safe to say that all women (and in fact all people!) have a basic human desire and need to be wanted, appreciated, and loved! Some generalizations are just true! ”
“The thing I just discovered was that the women I would typically objectify were the hardest ones for me to understand completely. They seem to have the thickest mask which triggered my desire penetrate that mask.
The next thing I noticed was how easily such a mysterious woman could fit into my ideal partner that I subconsciously created as a child. This was my “Fairy Tale Fantasy” about how such an ideal women would behave and believe about herself. Typically, the “exterior beautiful” women would trigger this belief because I had assumed they must be special and I wouldn’t have to completely let go of my fantasy.
My fantasy would then project this image onto her and I would react to that image. The image had a belief that these women would always be honest and had a much higher level of personal integrity than me. That would keep me in a cycle of self judgment in comparison to this belief which triggered me to hide behind my mask even stronger.
The other part was my unwillingness to believe that someone would have good intentions toward me if I had good intentions toward them. That made it easier for me to dismiss their “bad” behavior as being an unintentional mistake. In turn, I could continue to have this running story going on about them that had no foundation in truth simply because of my unwillingness to see past their mask and see them as a real person.
The answer for me was to stop trying to get this woman but use that energy to make myself the best possible me I could become. A me that now has confidence because I am self assured, self respecting, and full of self accepting unconditional love. Part of becoming that man means that I must accept and own the truth of my motives and be willing to see the motives of others. That is when I was finally able to let go of the fantasy and see this woman for who she really is inside.
My biggest life breakthrough and victory came as a result of that growth. Once I saw this woman for her true self and fully let go of my fantasy about her, I no longer felt any desire for her.
As a result, something incredible is happening to me now. Something wonderful has started growing in the void where my fantasy use to live. It’s a genuine curiosity and appreciation for all woman. Especially for all the women who actually live and display their authentic self and freely give their love to all as an expression of their femininity.
I no longer see women as a simple desired object constructed in my fantasy that I need to get, I have only appreciation of all of her (both good and bad). I now know that if I trust myself to drop my mask and reveal all of myself, most women will follow my lead and appreciate me for having the courage to create a safe place for her to let herself go.
I now see these amazing women everywhere in my life where I could not before. The fact is that they have been there all along, providing me their example as living models of what I have been seeking in my life. Until that time, I had never really appreciated them for that love and the joy they bring to my world.
To all of you who have watched me struggle with this, Here is a heart felt thank you for your patients, encouragement, and support for me to let go and wake up.”
V. (a woman) said…
“Love the discussion here. Thanks Jayson. I have a passion for this subject. I believe that society offers to us the message that if there is deep connection or even attraction, then its MUST BE expressed in a romantic manner. Thus “the Romantic Myth”. What this robs us of is experiencing each other deeply, honoring each other as sexual beings, but not having to act on that or “objectify” each other. It is sad when the expression “Just friends” is used. We are robbing each other of the depth of connection that can be experienced in the most honoring way. I especially experience this as a married woman who is open hearted, committed to honoring my husband, and yet have experienced deep, meaningful connection with male friends. I stand strong when romantic feelings are expressed and am not surprised the way our culture programs us. I’ve said, “I do not feel the same way. But I am not running away. I honor your processing of it.” Some have run feeling like there is no room… thus if it can’t be romantic then there is no other option. But the closest friends have processed through what it means to respect, honor and not “objectify” and have a safe place to be. Many of the men I work with love that I can express appreciation and yet never desire… they show up more powerfully in the world walking in a new level of honor for themselves. Also, importantly these relationships are an expansion of the marriage rather than outside of the marriage. This has been a big journey for my husband and I. But as we’ve grown we have learned what loving others can really look like regardless of gender. So the answer to When Harry Met Sally, can men and women be friends without ending up in bed (if there is attraction), the answer is yes. Wisdom, emotional and spiritual maturity, and transparency, all must exist, no doubt. But the safety of rich friendship, without objectification, is such a gift.”
The Good Men Project is a cerebral, new media alternative to glossy men’s magazines. Founded by Tom Matlack in 2009, it’s become a social movement: an ongoing in-depth discussion asking “what does it mean to be a good man in these modern times?” Proceeds from The Good Men Foundation are used to support organizations that help at-risk boys.
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