(Disclaimer: This blog was written by a cisgender white woman and is speaking from her personal perspective only. )
Recently almost every woman I know, including myself, seems to be rethinking her past sexual experiences, no matter how obviously traumatic or seemingly trivial. The Kavanaugh hearings, the Me Too movement and our president's flagrant attitude toward sexual violation and women in general have brought our culture's insidious objectification of women to the fore. I am angry. And seeing too many previously mundane interactions as poisonous.
Just as this country's calculated and consistent racism has seeped so deeply into our national ethos so as to rear up in otherwise well-meaning interactions between good people, so has the sexualized objectification of women.
Any woman knows, and has felt, the look that certain men use - on the sidewalk, in the grocery store, at work. It’s one of judgment and entitlement, as if they were selecting a ripe piece of fruit. Not all men do this, and not all the time. And yes, people of all gender identities "check each other out" in an inviting, positive way. But the fact that every woman I know can relate to this creepy, unwanted appraisal indicates this is not an individual problem. It's a cultural one.
I remember in college sensing my vulnerability and the nonchalant entitlement of many young men around me, and “protecting” myself from this by dressing very modestly, not wearing makeup and generally making myself invisible in environments where I perceived there was a higher chance of being misunderstood. I was probably felt to be cold and bitchy because of this, and it was uncomfortable, shaming and limiting for me. I remember two instances where I was sure the man in question was going to rape me. Luckily, I wasn’t drunk. Luckily, I did not let him in my apartment. Luckily, they didn’t. But that’s what it was – luck. Back then, I liked to think that if I was just unattractive, untrusting and hypervigilant enough I would not have to defend the rights to my own body. That’s not how it works. No matter what we do, there is still the cultural assumption that women’s bodies are objects for sexual pleasure. I lived for years isolating myself from good relationships and from enjoying my own body in an effort to prevent others from “enjoying” it without my consent. And assaults still happen. This is an evil cultural problem; not an individual one.
Women in this culture seem to have only a few options, each of which is limiting, denigrating and unjust: to live in this hypervigilance; to be more trusting and potentially labeled a slut; to cultivate only relationships with a foundation of respect and be labeled a prude. In all cases, regardless of our personal sex lives, we walk down the street and have to deal with the objectification in the ether. Wrong. Just plain old, unequivocally wrong.
So what do we do? We do our damndest to create and live within a new paradigm - where people are whole, and not just body parts. And where any interaction, sexual or otherwise, is relational - an I and a Thou, not a subject and object, or doer and done-to. Every interaction, that's right. Sex is so compartmentalized. It used to be conceptualized only within the strict confines of a straight, Christian marriage and now it seems to be more often only within the confines of its isolated, body-parts-filled pleasure bubble, unrelated to the people involved. Both extreme, potentially oppressive, and still biased toward men. Sex can be a delicious way to relate to someone else, but only, in my opinion, if it is in fact full, whole people relating to other full, whole people.
So what does this new paradigm look like? In my mind it looks like NOT consuming media that objectifies anyone. It means teaching children to respect EVERYONE in all contexts, including themselves and their own body autonomy. It means holding men accountable who commit any form of sexual harm. It means respecting yourself at all times and assuming that there are many others who do too.
I want to see this culture change in my lifetime. I want healing, respect and safety for all women in all contexts.