Every other day, I hear about "objectification," and what I hear is that men, as a group, objectify women, as a group, and that this is wrong and terrible and we need to teach our men better. There's a whole lot of subtext involving "rape culture" and "victim blaming" and so forth, and the general message is that if you don't condemn the "male gaze," you are complicit in the general oppression of women everywhere.
A friend of mine recently shared this link on Facebook, with a hearty endorsement of the contents. I could tell from the title, "Seeing a Woman: A conversation between a father and son" that it was going to annoy me, and I was not disappointed.
Let's start with the false assumption that there is no middle ground for a man to appreciate a woman's physical appearance without automatically treating her like a piece of meat. And there's this idea, inherent in the rush to not "blame" women for "tempting" men, that women dress and act and speak in a vacuum; that they are completely unaware of the image they are projecting or how they will be perceived.
This, quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, is bullshit. We ladies know EXACTLY what we are doing. We spend hours cultivating that look. We spend untold angst over our figures and our skin and our hair. Tweezing, waxing, shaving, curling, straightening, painting. Now, whether we should go to all that work over attracting a partner is a completely separate topic, but the fact is that we do. And then to turn around and pretend that men are somehow criminals in intent, if not in action, by looking and, godforbid, appreciating all that hard work and self-torture, is ridiculous.
Now, the vast majority of women simply want to look nice. Attractive. Tasteful. Every so often though, you come across someone who obviously wants to push the envelope. For anyone who may still question whether any woman actually tries to objectify herself, I've got two words: Miley Cyrus. And as for the idea that the issue of objectification is solely one of men treating women as T&A-- I offer exhibits A, B, and C for your examination.
You know what I find far more insulting and infantilizing than being leered at, whistled at, and/or propositioned? Having someone trying to "protect me" by assuming what I want and then, based on that assumption, attempting to tell men, on my behalf, how they should or shouldn't act toward me. As a young woman, I was fully aware of exactly how much cleavage I was showing. And I was fully aware-- nay, counting-- on the effect this would have on the average male. If we want to relegate the quaintly Victorian idea that women have a responsibility to dress in a way that does not attract the "wrong" kind of attention, let's also stop pretending that guys have some kind of moral obligation to regard attractive women-- especially those showing some skin-- with the same inattention they'd give a light post or tree.
The idea that we shouldn't treat other people as objects, that we should look past superficial differences to see the person inside, is not without merit. When I was a kid, we learned it as, "don't judge a book by its cover." It's timeless advice. It's just not gendered advice.