Society Says Your Body Not Your Mind!
The Process of Self Objectification, and Sexual Objectification
By Hwaa Irfan
The right to do something is a curious notion that everyone assumes means the same thing. In Islam a right carries with it a responsibility or a duty. In the laws of nature this “right” is echoed in our lives as it is expressed in Islam. For instance, pertaining to the individual “right”, it comes with the right that the family has over that person, and the right that the body has over the same person. In other words there are repercussions to that “right”, as in the right to not marry means diligence over the body, because the body has needs, as well as the heart and the mind. Man as a god unto himself assumes that we are in full control of that right – the secular “right” to not get pregnant, means taking contraceptives, if one assumes the “right” to have sex, except the right to take contraceptives, means the rights of the body are denied, and become enslaved to the arrogance of the ego which assumes that there are no repercussions. However as evidence proves there are repercussions, and the kind of repercussions that re-shape a person’s life detrimentally emotionally, and physiologically.
The reasons why the repercussions can be so disabling, is because, in the process of stealing the rights of the body, a process of self- objectification takes place. This means eliminating one’s own belief’s, values, as if the only contribution that one can make is through the eyes of the beholder.
What is Self-Objectification?
Self –objectification is the process of viewing one’s self and one’s environment through the eyes of others. Some people live their lives like this never really holding their own opinion/thought/belief about an experience, a person, an event, themselves, the people they know etc – they will only echo what they have been told to see/believe.
And then there is Sexual-Objectification when a person (more likely a woman though increasingly men), sees themselves through the eyes of others which only see’s only their bodies as an object of pleasure, and their whole worth is judged by their body. In a society which has become increasingly obsessed with appearances, and thus physical perfection with the aim to please the beholder. As a result a female might spend most of her time on her body image: weight, color, hair leading to constant diets, makeovers, cosmetic surgery, and consequentially a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with the physical self.
The body is perceived as simply biology, disregarding the rights that the rest of ourselves have i.e. the psychological and emotional self. In fact, it is a form of gender oppression, and is referred to as sexual objectification. From the women’s point of view, she is just a body one that many Muslim women argue against being reduced to in support of wearing the hijab. A woman is measured and evaluated by not only men, but also women. This often occurs in public spaces, where the gaze of the onlooker deems a woman’s physical attributes in terms of pleasure. This is reflected in a powerful way by the media, to the extent that self or sexual objectification happens at an earlier and earlier age, and has fed the ever growing pornographic, and human trafficking industry, and may even include incest. For women of colour sexual objectification has become a trait of colonialism/racism with the perception of women of color as being more exotic, and is now infused with racial stereotypes. Some of those racial stereotypes might come across as a bonus, because they contain characteristics that are not prevalent in another race, but In some societies sexual objectification is so pervasive that a female student’s grades will be influenced, successful entry into university will be blocked, and promotion at work will be impeded if the woman was fortunate enough to be accepted in the first place.
A female might learn to feel ashamed because she does not come up to the accepted notion of attractiveness at school, university, or work. The fact that more people of color in both the U.S., and the U.K., are going in for cosmetic surgery than the dominant culture, gives some indication of the depth of that shame, and the racism involved. How many people of color will you find in advertising, and when one does, it is likely that certain distinguishing features will have been acculturated to look white.
Where is the Evidence?
In this case, the evidence is right in front of you, and if not, you see it every day, it is the process of socialization that sometimes makes the pathological seem normal. For instance, in the war on Afghanistan, the West has gone overboard to emphasize a depravity, which is actually cultural. Not all women want to spend hours in the coiffure, wear makeup, go to work, and then return to work art home, bear children and look after the husband all by themselves, and then at the end of it all to feel unattractive and worthless. Well. What am I talking about? The war on non-Western women who do not behave in a “western” way has been waged, albeit in the name of “terror” in the form of terms like “democracy”, and “freedom” etc. One could say there have been many ways in which that “war” has been waged, but unfortunately one cannot! If you have ever seen the film (the original) “Stepford Wives” you will know what I mean.
In the early days of the “war on terror”, Laura Bush participated by stating in a national radio address:
“The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists.”
Washington,s perception of Afghan women, were at the time reports. Even when Lauara Bush went to Afghanistan, she learnt about girls who were prevented from going to school through reports, but the effect resulted in a CNN documentary “Beneath the Veil,” an undercover investigation on the lives of women under the Taliban. Five and a half million viewers later, and ten repeats within the same season led to the establishment of many beauty parlours as forms of resistance to Taliban rule. In response to the documentary, the typical response of Americans was as follows:
This is so sad! These women and children are suffering so much. Also the innocent civillians do not deserve this. Good documentary!
The sad thing is much the same was repeated by Muslims
salam to all beloved muslim , brother ,and sister . well , i have somthing to say , islam is not like this . woman in islam has got right to work and feed her kids and participate in her society . yet , what we see in this film is horrible , woman are worse then animals , this is not islammm. may allah give them the right sight .
salam alah alaikom wb.
However one thinking response, put it into context:
This is totally a misleading documentary!! Playing sounds of violin and editing it in such a way to make the uninformed person draw the desired conclusion.
1) Yes, the justice system of the Taliban is barbaric and crude, but they don’t do it with any more different motive than the U.S where prisoners are executed. The only difference here is the method! That they do it in public for all to see as required by their religion. It is not mentioned what crimes the woman was accused of!
2) The Taliban treatment and view of women is backward, and that is how it has been and still is in many muslim and non-muslim countries. It wasn’t long ago that woman were not considered a “person” in the west. So they are behind? Due to economics?
3) The documentary is too eager to show the injustice without putting it into context, so the Afghans are now a victim of it.
4) They are not doing this to be evil!
“It wasn’t long ago that woman were not considered a “person” in the west,” said Casan, and the process of self objectification and sexual objectification has brought women in the West right back to that point, of being non-person! Ignore the continual occupation of Afghanistan which would disrupt any progress being made. By 2003, Stepford women descend upon Afghanistan (Americans, and one Briton), to open a beauty academy in Kabul. What man wants his wife to be the object of attraction to other men, is a man who has undergone the sexual objectification of women including his wife!
Purnima Bose points out in her essay “From Human Intervention to the Beautifying Mission”
““Identified in socialist ideology as a corrupt bourgeois practice oppressive to women,” Kathy Peiss observes, “cosmetics-use then marked a turn away from totalitarianism to Western-style individualism and autonomy” (101). I am interested in what we might call “feminist neo-imperial individualism” in the film, an individualism which enables the white American and British beauticians to understand their work as a beautifying mission that will socially and economically empower Afghan women and compel their entry into modernity. Feminist neo-imperial individualism abstracts Afghan women as individual subjects from their larger familial and social contexts, universalizes a bourgeois form of feminism dedicated to capitalist empowerment, and conceives of modernity as rooted in American consumer practices. In several scenes of the film, the beauticians commend their Afghan students for refusing to dwell on the past, thus, presenting imperial modernity as an unusual mode of forgetting and the beautification process itself as a means of powdering over the terrible blemishes of the Taliban era and the history of U.S. covert actions in the region that contributed to the emergence of the Taliban”.
In a study of 221 undergraduate women in the U.S. IN 2005 aged 17 -45 years, 64% were white, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were black, 8% were Asian-American, 1% native American, and there were 8%. others. The focus of the study was:
• Reported sexual objectification experiences
• Internalization of socio-cultural standards of beauty
• Self Objectification Manifesting as Body Surveillance
• Body Shame
• Eating Disorder Symtomatology
• Body mass
In general there were no low scores, but white participants had lower internalization of sexual objectification. It was found that there was direct correlation between internalization of socio-cultural standards of beauty, body surveillance, body shame, and eating disorder symptoms.
What is the Effect?
Having always related to people across generations, both male and female due to the nature of the community I grew up in, and the type of work I have done, over the years, it has become more apparent that men in general are not what they used to be. Their identity has become more confused, and they have been left to discover their individual manhood for themselves without any guide posts on the journey, and this runs parallel with the increasing jurisdiction of secularism in our lives. Men are more free to do less, and therefore have less the kind of challenges that can awaken them to their true selves. One of those challenges is a social construct of city life which engages in flirting, dating and the like, as a means of testing one’s virility. As families become increasingly dysfunctional, the emotional nurturance that is supposed to take place in one’s early years is becoming less and less; and in some cases it is becoming quite violent (child abuse, incest etc). However, how a male finds the predicament should be best said by a male:
“It is no secret that men have a lesser degree of access to their emotions and feelings than do women. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and the topic, in and of itself, could fill pages. Suffice it to say, that where women are more likely to express emotions and feelings directly, men are more likely to express emotions and feelings more indirectly, if at all”.
“Pornography itself is about the objectification of women. In this context women are treated as things, receptacles and socially dissociated objects to be used and tossed aside. They are, in a word, not real. In fact, most men who indulge themselves in pornography would be appalled – despite the immediate response — if their wife or girlfriend walked into the bedroom wearing fishnets, stilettos and a latex corset and wanted to get nasty”.
“The genesis of pornography addiction is driven by this emotional disconnection – plainly put, a pervasive and on-going feeling of loneliness. If a man matures in an environment in which he is emotionally isolated, especially from female affection, he will develop an expectation that this experience will be consistent.
“So, in treating pornography addiction, rather than stopping the behavior because the behavior is destructive, it is more important to redirect the needs driving the behavior into something more productive. This begins with teaching men how to access their emotions and express them in a way that is relevant to their lives and experience” Michael Formica – “Pornography, Emotional Availability, and Female Objectification”.
Robin Gay and Emanuele Castano in their recent study “Your Body or Your Mind” found that women’s cognitive ability is being undermined when subject to sexual objectification. Not new by all means, as studies on girls performance in schools found a link between:
• Pretty girls who pay much attention to their appearance were not only getting more attention from the teacher, and sometimes better grades, but also that pretty girls pay less attention to learning.
However, in “Your Body or Your Mind” experiments were employed that mimicked the everyday experience for women. Testing 25 women aged 18 -35 it was found that of those women who when placed in a situation whereby they were being watched by men, made more mistakes on the cognitive tests. Authors of the study pointed out:
“A woman in this situation simultaneously sees herself as a unique individual and a generic sexual being. Dividing the psyche in this uncomfortable way “is likely to increase cognitive load, with a resulting decrease in the availability of cognitive resources for the tasks the individual engages in,”
The mind-body relationship cannot be understated here, because what effect the mind palys out in the body, especially with women. How many stresses do we suffer daily which impact upon our immune systems in one way or another. As a long standing expert in obstetrics and gynecology, Christine Northrup has witnessed enough evidence as to why women today have so many health problems. She comments:
“Female’ s naturally have more body fat than men, and because of better nutrition than in the past decades, women today are also bigger than were their mothers and grandmothers. Yet, the average fashion model, our cultural ideal, weighs 17% less than the average American woman. No wonder anorexia nervosa and bulimia are ten times more common in females than in males…
“This denigration of the female body has made many women either afraid of their bodies and their natural processes or else disgusted by them…”
Note that Anorexia Nervosa began as an illness that happened to young girls who wanted to be unappealing to men or to seek the missing parental attention; then it moved onto to becoming the precursor of other illnesses the focus of which is to be as thin as one can.
It is generally considered to be normal for a woman to suffer from PMS, and menstrual cramps etc, but that is more indicative of the society in which one lives, because women have learnt to see their bodies as machines/objects that must be instructed what to do, when instead PMS, and menstrual cramps are a sign that a woman has problem in how she relates to her own body. Some problems of a reproductive nature can be traced back to a woman’s relationship to herself as a woman or is as a result of sexual objectification including frigidity.
– Husbands and Wives
Previously mentioned is the disturbing trend in how the sexual objectification has a disturbing influence on the nature of the marital relationship with their wives. Below is one example from a wife about her husband:
“Please help me. I can’t decide what to do about my husband. He has love and sex addiction and it’s destroying our relationship. He spends hours online, and on the phone talking to other people. We have been going to counseling, but I don’t feel like its working fast enough. We have a baby together, and I am having to bring the baby up alone while he attempts to resolve this problem. Unfortunately, he falls back into this problem over and over again.
“I am torn up inside. I can see he needs help. He is like a child who has never grown up. He has told me he’s always had relationship problems all his life. He can’t seem to connect with people on a deep level. He prefers relationships from a distance. But I need him to be in a relationship with me. I feel so alone. And I’m fed up of giving him chance after chance.
“He is also unemployed. He could try harder, but he doesn’t. I am so frustrated with him. I sometimes think it would be better for me to leave him and concentrate on making a life for my son and myself. I just don’t know what to do, because I want to help him, but he’s hurting me so much by having these awful relationships (some completely haram) that I just feel at least to keep my own sanity it may be better for me to leave now. I mean, say if I stay and try to help him, how do I know that in 5 years time he might not just run away with someone else, and leave me with nothing anyway – he hasn’t given me anything anyway.
“We don’t have a home. He has no job. No money. He has debts, which are accumulating. It feels like I should just give up. I don’t trust him. He has lied to me often- I think he still does. I don’t know if I will ever truly trust him. So what is there, if there is no trust? Please advise me. I’m at my wits end. I feel so stupid”.
One of the questions received is from a husband who loves his wife, but because if the process of sexual objectification he has undergone, he cannot be intimate with her because his past habit of indulging in soft porn has made him feel able to be intimate with the types of women portrayed. The husband had identified the cause for himself, but did not know how to overcome the problem. Also, increasingly husband’s find that they cannot relate to their wives, but can only relate to women from a distance, i.e. chat-rooms, porn, phone-sex etc. This emotional distancing begins with seeing women in a certain way, without realizing the emotional psychological, and human cost in doing so.
To be a mother to a newborn child in the west today might seem quite normal, but it comes at a cost to the bonding relationship between mother and child. An Egyptian woman can travel on the underground in a women’s carriage, and feel no anxiety at being able to breastfeed her nursing child. However, in the West this can only be done in the comfort of one’s home, because breastfeeding is looked upon with some disgust, because the breast is seen as an object of pleasure, and not as the natural means by which to feed an infant. In some countries, some women do not even want to breastfeed because they are concerned with how it will affect the shape of their breasts. In this context a woman can be everything to a man, but not to her child. In this case a mother is being asked to choose between her body or her heart.
A New Day
Only women can heal themselves, no one else can do it for them, of they are to reclaim their femaleness, and their womanhood as a gift as given by Allah (SWT). The problem is exacerbated by the fact that women are complicit to the problem, as women who sexually objectify, like any addiction, will continually seek means to support that addiction. Pressure will be placed on women who are happier with themselves to conform in some by being asked to wear something more revealing in some way, or with make-up, but these are easier to handle than the type of conversation that is only about worsening the problem of self/sexual objectification. So like most things, the first step is to spend more time with one’s self to reflect and discover what one really wants, likes, dislikes, and needs. In this way one is developing one’s own identity enough to be able to distinguish it from somebody else’s identity!
Bush, L. “Laura Bush Remarks at U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council Roundtable” http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2008/January/20080117164204eaifas0.3944055.html
Bose, P “From Humanitarian Intervention to the Beautifying Mission. Genders Journal # 51. 2010. http://www.genders.org/g51/g51_bose.html
Jacobs, T. Sexual Objectification May Hinder Some Women’s Cognitive Ability: Study http://www.sott.net/articles/show/205877-Sexual-objectification-may-hinder-some-women-s-cognitive-ability-study
Friederikson, B. & Roberts, T. Towards Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. University of Michigan. Psychology of Women’s Quarterly 21 (1997) 173 – 206
Moradi, B. et al. “Roles of Sexual Objectification Experiences and Internalization of Standards of Beauty in Eating Disorder Symptomatology: A Test and Expansion of Objectification Theory”. American Psychological Association. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2005. 5: 3. 420-428
Northrup, C. “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” 1998. Bantam Book. U.S.
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