Objectification and Feminism

Once in awhile, women speculate that men respond negatively to feminist comments, claims, and complaints because they feel threatened by women. The threat may be as broad and general as a threat to their perceived (male) social power in today’s culture. I have wondered more and more why this speculation is made and if it is justified. Some male friends of mine have suggested that they are often very dismissive of cultural and societal themes of sexism and sexualization. Others express feeling uncomfortable with being blamed for sexism and supposed systemic issues that “apparently lower women’s value and perceived competence.” I would not want to be blamed either for something that I do not see myself as having a direct role or contribution, as many would wrongly claim to not play a part in systemic racism or prejudice. Yet, how these debates become personalized would be a worthwhile pursuit of understanding…
In my research process for my dissertation, I have learned from numerous studies that both men and women are responsible for sexist values and for objectification! In fact, when women perceive a sexualized woman, they tend to want to distance themselves from her. The mechanisms behind this apparent reality are largely unknown. But objectification certainly appears to be a lens through which we begin to formulate attributions and assign positive characteristics, such as worth and significance.
Perhaps it should have been obvious, but it recently dawned on me how san evolutionary perspective could explain to some extent the problem of sexual objectification. According to an evolutionary standpoint, women are drawn to men who have status and power to provide security and shelter; whereas, men are drawn to women who appear youthful, fertile, and are able to further the family line with bountiful numbers. In fact, I recently learned in social psychology that the most important characteristic men report looking for in women is physical attractiveness. In contrast, this quality did not make the top 10 for women when evaluating men!

An evolutionary perspective could explain how women perceive and why they distance themselves from other sexually objectified women, and perhaps it could even account for why men would respond negatively to feminist ideals and representatives who challenge those who are thought to and perceived as having social power. According to Fredrickson and Robert’s (1997) objectification theory, women’s appearances are evaluated and scrutinized much more than those belonging to men. The evolutionary perspective might help to explain why this occurs, but here is the question: Can it account for the negative impact this seems to have of women’s wellbeing and interpersonal functioning, as well-documented in literature?

Written by Nina Silander

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