Objectification

Years ago, my ex-husband took me to see a performance by a legendary woman stripper. Her name was Tempest Storm…she was from my parents’ era. “Do you remember her?” I asked Daniel. He wasn’t familiar with her.

Me: She was popular during the fifties, sixties and into the seventies–dubbed “The Queen of Exotic Dancers.” She was a burlesque star and also starred in a few films. I think that she was in her late 60’s or early 70’s when we went to see her performance. She had long white hair. Her skin was translucent-white; she was famous for her milk baths. Her image was projected onto a larger-than-life screen behind her as she stood on the small stage dancing and doing her act. The whole two hours, I couldn’t stop crying. The tears flowed and flowed. I tried to muffle them…but I couldn’t. My husband didn’t know what to think. Nor did he offer support or comfort. Years later, I realized these weren’t my tears. They were her tears that I was crying. I didn’t even know her! Here she was still performing, both beautiful and objectified…a body.

No wonder those tears couldn’t stop, I was feeling her. This was an empathic response from within me. Nothing about the mind.

Daniel: That is the attunement that you have with certain people. You’re very sensitive to frequencies and to being impacted. You are susceptible, vulnerable. This sensitivity is pushing you to self-mastery to control the frequencies that you surround yourself with–discernment and knowing so that you won’t get blasted.

Me: Yes, otherwise I’m buffeted by everything. I need to find ways to maintain my balance no matter what is outside of me. This all somehow has to do with mother, my mother in the care home, my daughter giving birth, this woman dancing–objectified woman…somehow it all has to do with woman or some aspect of mother. How do we bring honor and reverence? It’s the same old stuff–bringing honor to the World Mother if you want to call it that. Why do we have so much objectification of women in our society?

Daniel asked me to explain what I meant by the word objectification. Steeped in this view of woman across the world and over time, it might have been difficult for Daniel to see outside of this box. The idea of woman as an object of desire and that there is no person beyond that…no intelligent, wise, funny, flawed, wonderful whole person.

Daniel offered the term depersonalization rather than objectification. (I recently looked this word up and his word isn’t the correct one for what I’m intending.)

Me: Playboy magazine is another example of what I mean by the term, objectification. Glossy images, a centerfold displaying a woman’s fully nude body as if that is all that she is. They give a little bio to the side…but there is no sense that she is a woman of depth with emotions and with her own thoughts. This fantasy version plays into the psyche of men (and women). Women are seen primarily as objects of desire. If she falls short of that glossy perfection, she’s failed. If that’s all that he wants in a woman, he isn’t truly interested in her wholeness. That’s what I mean by objectification. Such objectification shapes a woman’s self-perception and a man’s perception of women.

Daniel: The object of desire. Hollywood has done a tremendous amount to support this idea…it regards women as inferiors…now that’s a topic to discuss…how men regard women as inferior. The predominant male attitude towards women. Why do men behave in a negative way towards women? Because they regard them as inferior.

An Attractive Woman at the Table

…and the battle of two male egos.

I went to a garden party. There were people I knew and people I didn’t know. I sat at a table with strangers
–a man, his attractive wife and also a man I’ve seen in passing. Daniel was there too. He made a beeline to my table…not because I was sitting there but because he noticed the attractive married woman sitting across from me. The men were in conversation. Daniel, wanting to impress the woman with his intelligence and wit, anchored himself into the conversation. Pretty quickly, the conversation turned into a battle of egos between Daniel and the one other man, not the husband. If I had a recorder, it would have been a great record of runaway egos.

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Later in the week when Daniel and I had our weekly conversation, the topic of the party came up. Daniel brought up the battle of the egos. After the fact, he was aware of his behavior at the party. However, in the moment, it seemed to me he was caught by a primal male instinct. To be the smartest male…the one that a woman might want to go home with.

Daniel: “I wasn’t hitting on her. I wouldn’t go there, but at the same time, in all honesty, I found the woman attractive and I didn’t walk away. In fact, I stayed at the table and one of the reasons that I stayed was because of her–apart from the fact that I like the sound of my own voice…” (he laughs)

Daniel admitted to feeling more comfortable talking to women.
“If there’s a woman around, you kind of focus on her, the better looking, the…you know what I’m saying?” he semi-queried me.

Reflecting on this incident later, he recognized himself and the other man as two battling egos trying to impress an attractive woman.

Daniel: “I didn’t feel for one moment that he was listening to me and I sure as hell wasn’t listening to him.”

Me: “I had some opinions that I wanted to express–there wasn’t a bit of room between the two of you for me to get a word in.” (I don’t think the wife made a single comment either.) At one point, the husband said something. The only way that I got to say one thing was to interrupt the husband, to throw my voice into the mix.”

Daniel: “Ironically, him.”

Me: “He was the easiest one to interrupt before the two of you started up again. And I thought this is not good because men need to learn to listen! Women need to be included in the counsel of opinions, otherwise nothing will change! Everyone really needs to practice deep listening and hear the other.”

Daniel: “Yes, that was all ego. It was nothing about listening, honoring, nothing about acknowledging. And it wasn’t giving service and respect to what was being said.”

About the man who was engaging this battle of wits with him, Daniel said sarcastically “He’s the teacher…we’re all supposed to listen. Screw that. And I did the same thing. I’ve got a powerful intellect. Listen. I’ve done it my whole life.”

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I remember too well those occasions when my ex-husband, as we were being served by an attractive waitress, would carry on a flirtation right in front of me. I used to say that he had one of those swiveling necks–whenever an attractive woman walked by his head would swivel to blatantly follow her while I was present. Once, we were talking to an attractive woman and he actually scooted in front of me to screen me out.

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As I listened to this recording and recalled the party experience, I realized how entrenched and primal certain behaviors are. I wondered if Daniel would do this any differently today. Same circumstances–an attractive woman, a man of equal intellect to engage in a conversation. I think he would have to be super conscious to change this pattern of behavior…or perhaps too old and/or too tired to rise to the intellectual battle of egos. I can only wonder. While Daniel and I were hoping to focus on new ways of relating, we decided it was necessary to bring to light some of these unconscious patterns of how men and women relate. We can’t change anything if we aren’t aware or conscious of it. So, it seems that’s the first step. Awareness or naming it.

Male Privilege

What does that mean?

My sisters and I sometimes discuss male privilege. Over the course of our own lives as women, we have seen how systems favor the man over the woman. One ongoing theme has been determining acceptable social behavior by people in the workplace. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. Both my sister and I experienced inappropriate sexual advances from men more than once over the course of our careers. Note that this law was passed in 1964. When I was working in an administrative position in a school district in the 90’s, the director of personnel who was in charge of enforcing the district’s sexual harassment policy made direct advances to me. We were both married. His words were: “I’d like to get to know you in every way possible.” There was no mistaking his intention.

Our society, through magazines, televisions, films etc., objectifies women. Our bodies are portrayed as objects of desire. Unconscious and gullible men and boys believe that is all that we are. When I was newly married, my ex-husband used to leave his Playboy magazines lying around. When he went off to work, I’d browse through them and wonder how I could possibly compare to those glossy images. I was nineteen and wondered if this was what a woman had to aspire to in order to win and keep a man. This, once again, was me as a young woman seeing myself through his eyes.

Equal pay for equal work is one valid point of contention. The gender pay gap still exists although according to recent studies, it is less than in previous years. In the film Made in Dagenham (England), taking place in the late sixties, the women had to prove that their labor was skilled labor. They were pretty much ignored and placated by the management of the Ford Motor Company until they went on strike. These women sewed the seats and other leather interior of the car. Their strike shut down the entire production line. They proved their worth. In 1968, the women received 92% of what the men were earning. By 1984, they received 100% of what the men were earning.

While men could advance on a job, women were not given the same opportunities for advancement. If she was young and married, there was the possibility that a woman might get pregnant and her priorities would change, therefore, she was not promoted into a position for which she was qualified. I don’t know if this is true presently…but it was so in the sixties, seventies, eighties and even the nineties.

In a nutshell, “Male privilege refers to the sociological concept that men are automatically granted certain privileges and advantages in politics, society and the workplace based entirely on their gender.” (Greenhaven Publishing) Additionally, a man’s access to these privileges could vary based on how closely he matches his society’s ideal male norm. In my opinion, male privilege is basically a class system. It allows power over…within the male privilege itself, there are layers or levels of power…white male being at the top…discriminating against men of color, men of other gender identification, men with lower educational advantages, men of poverty, etc. Women fall below all of these on the scale.

This favoritism has been a given within a patriarchal system. The underlying belief of man’s superiority and women’s inferiority is systemic and notable throughout societies and cultures.

I asked Daniel “If the world is working for the man, what’s his incentive to change himself or the way that things are?”

Daniel is at a stage in his life where self-awareness is a priority. He values his personal evolution. In his opinion, therein lies the hope for mankind. As people, male and female become more conscious, then large-scale change for the better is possible. But, how do you motivate that in men who see no need for change and don’t care about evolution. They can be the very ones with money and power on this plane at this time.

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A journal writing from November 20, 2015
As a rule, across the world, are men less “evolved” than women? Since they, within each culture and tribe or family system, are typically the privileged ones, does it seem then less necessary for them to evolve? If things are working for them (or seem to be as compared to women), why should they choose change? Evolution? Change often comes because something isn’t working for a person, for a civilization, culture or tribe. Out of necessity. What necessity is forcing the privileged male to change?
So long as women, whose evolution has been different, allow men to rule without consequence, then there can be no immediate growth even in the face of dire circumstances which are denied or minimized or mocked in some way.

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Do you have experiences of male privilege in your own life? Please do share them.