Objectification:Alive and Well, Unfortunately for Women

In my job as a teacher of adult male inmates, I often find myself searching for that homogeniety factor or those factors that seem to predispose these incarcerated men toward acts of criminality. Since they seemingly come from all walks of life and age categories, the standard demographical data don’t appear able to be distilled down to any meaningful or distinct set of characteristics. Perhaps that’s the truth of the matter, yet I can look at my own life and see that, while I may have been given many reasons to resent society and to seek my revenge upon it, I can choose otherwise- and many, many others have done the same, often in extremely challenging and tragic circumstances that easily dwarf my own. As long as no factor accounts for 100% of it’s “victims”, there is always the possibility of choosing another path. Also, as long as there are ex-felons that exit prison and buck the recidivist trends, there is choice on the other side of a stint in prison as well. Thus I find myself asking what factors seem to be most able to be generalized to the adult male prison population as a whole.

One might ask what the point in asking such questions would be. I mean- who really cares? I would argue that we all should. The old adage “There but for the grace of God go I” has merit. Some of us may be only one or two choices away from finding ourselves in prison blue. Some of the issues that could get us there go to the root of criminality, others are just surface manifestations of deeper causes. I believe that the distillation that occurs when society separates out those who cannot or will not accede to group standards creates a microcosm of “wrong-path” possibilities, and if we examine the homogeneous factors of that microcosm, we can learn from them and avoid those behaviors, factors, or issues that point, for one reason or another, to the coarsening of our civilization as a whole.

Well, if any of the above made sense at all, I would like to offer what I believe is one of the major issues shared by a vast majority of inmates I’ve encountered- the objectification of women and the resultant “deformed” perspectives that result.

A few years ago (OK- quite a few… before DVD’s, anyway) someone released a couple of videos called Dreamworld and Dreamworld II, I believe. I seem to recall that the author was a sociologist( which made these significant videos all that more miraculous, but that’s another story…) who pointed out that, at least during the early days of MTV, female characters were designed solely as objects for sexual titillation (I recognize the rude pun, and I don’t intend it, but the word is right nonetheless), and they were often compressed into some near-Jungian archetype, albeit of a sexual nature, such as the Catholic schoolgirl. Of course, the repressed Catholic schoolgirl wanted to be taken by one of us males- and that was ALL she was about, or so a song might suggest… and she was ripe for the picking. Whatever the situation, the girl, even if she was the singer in the band, would be obsequious in front of her “man”. The videos were truly eye-opening, and I recommend them to anyone interested in this issue.

The inmates I’ve encountered tend to mirror this perspective. For example, if a woman in a movie is in an isolated situation with her possible paramour, most of the inmates will be disgusted with the male character if he does not immediately act, saying, “I woulda tapped that! What the h___ is wrong with him?” They seem to universally believe that the female characters mirror real life and that, as in real life, the females are all “asking for it”.

Inmates still mourn the removal of “pornography” from this state’s institutions; however, all is not lost for them. A number of magazines are available that pander to the state’s particular requirements for no frontal nudity by keeping “modest” girls in lingerie or only showing them naked from behind. Even Maxim magazine is now a favorite, since the magazine seems to be adept at getting “sexy” famous women to do “almost naked” spreads. This all again reinforces the idea that a woman’s value is dependent on her ability to sexually stimulate a man, regardless of her acting “ability”, or whatever other non-sexual talent she may possess.

The latest in the women’s movement has done nothing to correct this distorted perspective. It seems that women are being told to celebrate their sexuality, and even some bastions of the feminist movement have been quoted, apparently telling their adherents to use their sex as a tool to manipulate others as a means to success. To me, this would be more like a concession, and a poor one at that, to those who said the feminism of the 70’s had failed. It’s tantamount to saying that, since “we women” couldn’t successfully compete in the realm of ideas and decisions head to head with men, we have to fall back on using our “feminine wiles” to get what we want. Of course, I refuse to believe this , and I lament things like junior high girls wearing variously- colored bands to denote what sexual act they’re willing to perform for the boys, or women like Danica Patrick, who don’t have the constitution to stand on their talent as, say, an Indy race car driver, but denigrate themselves by displaying to others that, “Hey, if I can’t compete with the boys in a race car (and third place at Indy was not a win), I can at least display what I do (and they don’t) have, which is this sexy body”. In other words, Danica, and women like her, are saying that they have nothing to offer as people, so they willingly concede that their only perceived value is that of an object- a thing to be used by others as they see fit.

What does this mean for the average male inmate, and what can we generalize to society at large? It certainly means that objectification of women was a factor prior to institutionalization, but that this distortion is heavily reinforced in the prison setting. It also means that dehumanizing a woman makes her an easier, more permissible target. Of course, I don’t know if such dehuminization occurs prior to a crime, especially one against a woman, or if it happens afterwords as an excuse for some criminal behavior but, in either case, it makes the crime easier to bear. I also suspect that making women objects for men’s satisfaction is a similar effect for child predators, where the child’s innocence is used against him or her as evidence of the child’s inability to perform as an equal actor in the realm of ideas; thus, they may be perceived as “less human”. This is just a suspicion, obviously, but could be important in the goal to eliminate sexual abuse against those least able to defend themselves against such animalistic behavior. This last example may be seen as a digression, but in reality, it is just another symptom of the effects of objectification. If, for example, serial killers consistently discuss their penchant for turning their victims into “things”- amoral objects that, upon their removal, constitute no more of a moral issue than throwing out the garbage, shouldn’t we in society be doing all we can to stop objectifying any person or group of people?

I believe the goal of objectifying a person is to remove the moral inhibitions that naturally occur to all persons who are not sociopaths. To a lesser extent, when a person chooses to rob a store, for example, he must put away from himself that he’s taking away from a person. Instead, he argues that a system owes him, or that a particular people group discriminates against him, or that a store makes so much money ripping off the disenfranchised that it has a built-in buffer to provide for so many “legitimate” robberies. The choice of excuse is endless, but it comes from a common source- rationalizing the action by taking away any sense of humanity on the part of the victim- and that is the homogeneous factor I see amongst many inmates, and why I suspect many find it easy, even necessary, to make a woman or women into objects- the gratification of the offender is assured while his guilt is assuaged. The most unfortunate thing of all is that we in society promote this with our promotion of sex and the female object of that sex in the media. We virtually tell the individual that sees women as only things to be used that his perspective is justified. The most disgusting part is how many women are complicit in denigrating their own gender, nearly guaranteeing the desperate abuser’s belief in his right to so abuse a woman, seeing her flagrant displays in TV shows and films as the stamp of approval for his perverted perspective. Here’s hoping and praying that women will call themselves to account and stop giving ammunition to the warped among us… and here’s hoping and praying that men of character will insist on promoting those women noted for their talents not associated with sexuality, and that such people of integrity will become the solution and not further the resultant evils associated with objectification.