When feminists decry the objectification of women, most people immediately think of the images that saturate our magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in varying stages of undress, dolled up and presented for the male gaze. Yet, while sexual objectification is a huge problem, it is, in fact, only a fraction of the objectification of women that permeates our world.
Because it is all too obvious and difficult to ignore, people tend to focus on sexual objectification. The difference between the way women and men are portrayed in national newspapers and other media is stark – women are too often reduced to the sum of their body parts, heavily Photoshopped to fit into an ever narrowing ideal of female beauty.
Yet, an overemphasis on the ‘sexual’ aspect can obscure the much more problematic aspect of ‘objectification’, the iceberg of which sexual objectification is the visible tip. After all, being presented in a sexual way doesn’t always mean objectification.
Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of all this is that we are socialising generation after generation to view the world, and the women in it, from the point of view of men. As a result, only men are seen as full and complete human beings, not women. Women are objectified – this means women are denied agency, and are seen from the outside, their own consciousness, their thoughts and feelings, utterly overlooked. This is a far greater problem than ‘just’ a provocative image here and there.