I am frustrated. I’ve had yet another conversation with men full of rape apologism and no remorse. It all started, as it always does, with objectification.
Candidate number one is a repeat offender on this front – you could set a timer from the point he walks into a room and when the talk about women’s body parts. I’d estimate it’s about two minutes (max.) before something is said, and then he goes for it, full steam ahead. Today it was because of the Olympics, which is ironic, because I had just managed to sort of, maybe, get over the commercial capitalist machinery of it all and had been enjoying seeing women given an equal platform to men in something. (Ok, it’s been riddled with sexism – with women flying economy and men first class, and commentators getting carried away talking about women’s hair or over-masculine appearances – but I was trying to see some positives.) I will admit that this is the first time I have experienced a competition where the general public seem to be equally encouraging towards the women as they are to men, so that’s pleasing. And then the talk started about how you can Google Jessica Ennis’ bum, how she’s ‘really fit’ (British slang for attractive) except her shoulders are ‘just a bit too broad’ and her husband just isn’t ‘fit enough’ for her. People are ridiculous. This escalated to evaluating every athlete in the line-up on the basis of her appearance (‘oh yeh, she’d get it’). When I pulled him up on it, he said he probably spent 96% of his time talking about his perceptions of women’s sexual attractiveness. What a sad life. (Knowing him, this probably isn’t far off, either.) Funnily enough, I’m not interested in the minutiae of who he finds attractive (the list is endless, it seems) and why (this never involves evaluating their faces). Now, I could just write him off as an arsehole. But that isn’t helpful for anyone.
Because his opinions don’t exist in a vacuum, he isn’t a one-off and his attitudes have wider repercussions – especially when we live in a culture that fosters rape and does not punish it when it occurs. (You all know the pitiful conviction rates and stories about juries being biased by the fact the woman was wearing a skirt, and therefore ‘invited it’ – or whichever particular rape myth they rolled out on that particular day. For the Truth About Rape, see here.) I tried to explain how viewing women as objects, and therefore dehumanised, is one of the major reasons why perpetrators of sexual violence are able to commit their crimes. Because if you saw that woman as a well-rounded human, equal to you, considered them as someone you had respect for, you wouldn’t be abusing her or touching her without consent. I tried to explain about the normalising of sexualised attitudes to women in society (at least partially) accounting for the prevalence in rape. Objectification is by no means a small thing, happening in the private sphere without wider implications. Your attitude is heard and absorbed by the next person, and if it’s horrifically damaging, you might want to think about that. He wasn’t bothered, as long as he was unaffected (this is a similar argument that men who buy sex tend to make), and claimed not ‘to understand me correctly’. Basically, me telling him he held similar atttidues to a rapist slid off him like melted butter. So I’m afraid I have to come to the conclusion, sir, that you are not overly intelligent. It’s a no-brainer that women presented as sex objects, existing for the male gaze and not for themselves – with a life beyond men, relationships and sex – and the acceptance of this sexualisation as normal, is not going to result in a healthy societal attitude towards women. Because we are bombarded with thousands and thousands of adverts using this tactic daily – the estimated number we see in a day is astounding. We are also very susceptible to implicit cultural rules and norms, as Cordelia Fine explores in her book Delusions of Gender – even people who report progressive opinions, when their implicit attitudes are tested, are very affected by basic black and white stereotypes such as women = weak, men = powerful, women = empathisers, men = strategisers. We carry gender stereotypes around with us in our subconscious, even if we don’t consciously subscribe to these beliefs. What a silly world.
Anyway, candidate number two chipped in with his tuppence about how girls must like it when men comment on their appearance and how they can’t hear us anyway – they’re on tv. Hate to break it to you, but being constantly evaluated on the basis of your appearance is a poor existence. It’s pressure many constantly fight against, for fear of being found lacking when held up to society’s unforgiving standards of what is ‘beautiful’. Being scrutinised on the basis of appearance is a fundamental cause of many women’s insecurities with their body, resulting in multifarious psychological problems including eating disorders, self-harm, body shame and depression – it has all sorts of adverse effects. Women are trained to see beauty as success, but with beauty being so elusive and ever-changing according to fashion, we can never win this war. So we are constantly assessing ourselves as not good enough. This can also lead to us undernourishing our other areas for potential: by spending all that time, effort and money on the upkeep of our exterior, rather than our interior. In addition, I, and women in general, do not exist for the purpose of your visual titillation. So to answer that astute rebuttal to my points about rape culture, no – I don’t want your opinion on my appearance, I’m not flattered, and well, give me some credit, for Christ’s sake! It is conceivable that I don’t care what you think. To be fair, this is the man who told me that he went into a department store for the sole purpose of perving on the women behind the make-up counters, adding that he knew that’s why they’re at the store front, and felt it was the store’s fault for using that tactic to draw him in. (Funny, I’d just go with you needing to change your attitude to women, rather than it being their fault; although aggressive marketing using women is two a penny.) To add insult to the injury of him telling me this perverse story as if it were appealing conversation, he added that he had gone on the escalators for the sole purpose of getting an aerial view of said women on the make-up counters. He also mentioned their awareness of him looking. And he’d ended up buying two shirts because the escalators had landed him in menswear – this also the store’s fault. Now, the storeplanners are good, they may use the women to draw you in, potentially, but they’re not THAT good – they didn’t know about your debased aerial view technique. So again, I’d come back to you having the problem.
Can you imagine me, alone, in a room with these guys? This is how I find myself, no friendly boyfriend anywhere in sight to defend my side. I ended up, frankly, very angry and frustrated. Because I feel like I read so much sensible literature, I meet all these sensible feminists who know how badly sexual violence is dealt with in the legal system and by the police in this country (broadly), how we’re failing survivors of rape, sexual abuse, prostitution and so on. They know the stats, they know the facts, they know the reality – and often, sadly, have the lived experience to boot. And then in an instant, a couple of flagrant misogynists can come along and make me feel impotent in the face of such huge societal attitudes and the mechanisms of capitalism clicking away and profiting off the mantra ‘sex sells’.
This is why it’s so important for us to all work together to say we’re not having it. I called these guys out, and I hope, despite their resistance, that something I said got through. We need to continue to do this in our personal lives, and we need to continue all the wonderful campaigning. Don’t let the objectifying bastards get you down! Objectification is a giant, massive, gargantuan issue feeding into so many others, it’s no small fry.