Are Women Nothing More Than Sexual Objects?

We can't achieve much-needed reform regarding the sexual abuse of women if we don't look at the larger issue of sexualizing women in our culture.

By Michael Brown Published on December 11, 2017

If an attractive young woman walks down the street wearing lewd, revealing clothing, that does not give anyone the right to touch her or abuse her or rape her. Absolutely, categorically, not. And if an attractive young actress who is willing to appear nude on film meets with a powerful producer or director, she is not thereby giving that person the green light to take advantage of her sexually. Absolutely, categorically not. This is beyond debate or discussion.

When it comes to the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, there is no excuse or justification for their actions. Period. Case closed. End of subject.

My question, though, is this: Isn’t it hypocritical for a woman to present herself as a sexual object — clearly, intentionally and unambiguously — if she doesn’t want to be seen as a sexual object?

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To repeat (and I request that my critics quote me fairly): I am not saying that a woman who presents herself as a sexual object deserves to be abused or is asking to be abused. Those who abuse her are guilty, plain and simple. They are responsible for their actions. No woman in her right mind is asking to be raped or molested.

My question has to do with the larger psyche of our culture, one which rightly ridicules sexual abusers but rewards those who sexualize women.

Criticizing Hugh Hefner While Partaking of His Culture

Think of the celebrities who heaped praise on Hugh Hefner when he died in September. They ranged from Larry King to Norman Lear and Jenny McCarthy to Kim Kardashian. Now ask yourself: How can a society that condemns Harvey Weinstein glorify Hugh Hefner?

To be sure,  many did not praise Hefner’s legacy, including feminist writer Meghan Murphy. She tweeted: “HUGH HEFNER IS GONNA OBJECTIFY US ALL TO FREEEEEEDOM.” And, “The amount of people treating a porn mogul as some kind of civil rights leader who ’empowered women’ online rn is gonna make me barf.”

And there were more than enough articles written by other women with headlines like:

But I find it odd that the same voices which are rightly condemning Hollywood’s sexual predators are not at the same time condemning the larger sexual culture of Hollywood. It’s one which makes billions of dollars from female sexuality, often of the most degraded type. (It’s not just HBO that glorifies prostitutes and pole dancers.)

Fathers and husbands, would you want your wives or daughters taking their clothes off for millions of people to see? Would you want them simulating sex acts to flame the fires of male fantasies? Isn’t that just another form of voyeurism, if not prostitution? And what of the massive abuse of women through pornography?

Our culture rightly ridicules the sexual abusers, but then rewards those who sexualize women.

To say it once more: If women choose to make a living by stripping naked or having sex on camera, that is between them and God. It does not give anyone the right to touch them without consent or coerce them into unwanted sex. That, to repeat, is a separate subject.

But what of the hypocrisy of the larger culture? Are we not trying to put out fires with one hand while starting new fires with the other?

Put another way, why are we (wrongly) cultivating a culture that objectifies women as sex objects while (rightly) criticizing those who treat women as sex objects?

We Need to Reform How Women Are Treated — And Viewed

A case in point: Taylor Swift’s recent music video, “Ready for It.”

In response to the clip, my colleague Larry Tomczak penned an article titled “7 Guidelines for Youth after Taylor Swift Near-nude Video.”

He wrote,

As a father and a grandfather, it grieves me to convey some breaking news regarding music superstar Taylor Swift. This multi-gifted artist has now decided to advance her career further by disrobing to a nearly nude image in her just released music video, “Ready for It.”

This sweet young starlet who’s been a role model and inspiration to millions of youth portrays a sci-fi cyborg prancing around in a state of seeming undress. I viewed the “shock” presentation one time in order to raise awareness and caution moms, dads, and youth leaders.

Yet Swift was one of the women honored by Time Magazine as “Silence Breakers” for their role in the #MeToo movement. And while her inclusion sparked some controversy, none that I’m aware of (see here for example) focused on the contradictory messages she was sending.

Tomczak added,

Many of us, upon reading this, ask the legitimate question, ‘Why is Taylor doing this?’ Her persona has always been distinct from that of a Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj or Beyoncé. We always felt comfortable recommending her music, posters and YouTube videos. Why?

Your guess is as good as mine, but in today’s competitive music world, compromises and concessions are made for fame and fortune. It’s a sad reality.

What’s unsettling is that Taylor is doing this despite her past statements affirming modesty and responsibility to young girls who admire, imitate and look up to her in such an adoring way.

To say it once more: No matter what kind of video Taylor Swift (or anyone else) puts out, no one has the right to force themselves on that person sexually. Ever. Under any circumstances. Have I made myself clear?

But I seriously doubt that a culture wanting to bring about a much-needed moral reform regarding the sexual abuse of women will reach its goals without looking at the larger issues as well.

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