We’ve all heard the terms ‘objectification’ and ‘sexualisation’ of women and girls, but what does it really mean?
Dr. Caroline Heldman from the USA addresses these questions and why they’re important, explaining, ‘women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others.’
Many of us are sent messages through mainstream media that women are meant to be ‘sexy’ whilst men are meant to be ‘sexual’. Studies show that not only can these messages be harmful to individual self-esteem, they also have negative impacts on how we treat each other. Showing women as sexual objects not only leads to people thinking of them as ‘less human’, but exposure to these images and messages make male viewers more tolerant of sexual harassment and violence supportive attitudes.
Heldman sums it up:
‘Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others. At the same time, being sexual, is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up. Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.’
To this end Heldman has devised the CHIPS test, a way to spot sexual objectification of women. If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, the image you are looking at is sexually objectifying.
- Commodity Does the image show a sexualised person as a commodity, for example, as something that can be bought and sold?
- Harmed Does the image show a sexualised person being harmed, for example, being violated or unable to give consent?
- Interchangeable Does the image show a sexualised person as interchangeable, for example, a collection of similar bodies?
- Parts Does the image show a sexualised person as body parts, for example, a human reduced to breasts or buttocks?
- Stand-In Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object, for example, a human body used as a chair or a table?
Heldman also offers tips on how to stop participating in a culture of sexual objectification and how women and girls can engage in interrupting damaging beauty culture scripts. Find out more on Heldman’s blog Coffee At Midnight or watch The Sexy Lie: Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego
- Stop consuming damaging materials
- Stop competing with other women/girls
- Stop seeking attention for your body
- Be a supportive ally
- Don’t evaluate girls/women based on their appearance
- Speak out about objectification
There are many ways you can speak out if you notice something that sexually objectifies women using bystander strategies.
Here is what I did:
My local pool plays music videos on televisions throughout the complex showing women as sexual objects. I spoke to the manager and told them it was inappropriate and was sending the wrong messages.
After hearing about the CHIPS test I saw a photo in a family café of a woman’s legs in high heels and fishnet stockings. I realised it was sexually objectifying women and asked them to reconsider their choice of art, I’ll be going back to see if they listened!