Updated: Mar 9
“The brain sees women as parts and men as a whole. Everybody Operates this way. We can’t just blame men” (Scientific American, 2012)
Objectification theory is a theoretical framework for understanding the objectification and sexualization of women and girls from all cultures and countries around the world. This framework takes a sociocultural approach to understand people’s proclivities to sexually objectify women’s body parts. Both men and women behave this way (Scientific American, 2012). The purpose of objectification theory is to improve the lives of women and girls around the world by understanding what behavior theories apply to its cause, effect, and mitigation.
Pornography and Human Trafficking- A global Phenomenon
Women in almost all countries around the world experience violence every day because of their gender. Many of them and girls are sold into modern-day slavery and exploited for this reason. Men and boys are also sold into slavery in much smaller percentages (Un. Org, 2023). Because women and girls are the essential commodities of objectification and experience the most violence, this paper focuses on the causes, effects, and mitigation of biases against women.
To give perspective on how large the human trafficking industry is- During 2021, 49.6 million people were victims of trafficking (modern-day slavery) at any given time (US Department of State, 2023), and 79% were slaves to sex trafficking (UNODC, n.d). That number could be much higher because most cases go unreported (msn, 2023).
Human Trafficking is the use of a person and their body in exchange for money or basic needs such as food and shelter. Trafficking happens to both men and women but women represent over half of the victims at 51% and girls represent 20% of total cases Un. Org, 2021). I will also include men and boys that represent 21% and 8% of all trafficking cases (Un. Org, 2023).
How are pornography and sex trafficking linked to objectification?
Many women and girls are sold or manipulated through coercion into prostitution and the pornography industry (CBN News, 2016) (Psychology Today, 2017) (NBC, n.d.). Increased porn in an already hypersexualized culture is increasing the demand for sex trafficking (NBC, n.d.). Porn has also been linked to child exploitation (NBC, n.d.), and according to a study conducted on over 300 different porn scenes, 88% displayed physically aggressive behavior (BBC, 2017). The reviews are mixed about whether porn drives sexual violence. Some studies say yes, and others say no.
What is true is this -The behaviors that drive sexual objectification are driving the collective violence and dehumanization of women (Vasquez, Ball, Loughnan, & Pina, 2018).
We All Have Biases
By definition, bias is the “inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair”
90% of people are biased against women (BBC, 2020). That means the majority of men as well as women harbor prejudices about the female gender.
Implicit bias or unconscious bias is something we all inherently share based on socio-ecological and cultural factors.
Close to the entire population of human beings harbor biases toward women and this unconscious behavior influences the collective dehumanization, violence, slavery, and rape of women and girls around the world (UNICEF, 2023). I will also include men and boys that represent 21% and 8% of all trafficking cases (Un. Org, 2023).
I start to wonder where human beings got it so wrong and why equality is still at least one hundred years into the future (BBC, 2023).
Scholars today ponder gender equality and the possibility of women not being dehumanized by sources like the media, the porn industry, social media, advertisements, tv shows, and movies.
Why are women biased against women?
It is my understanding that the biases women have for each other stem mostly from women who self-objectify and therefore objectify others. Research shows that many women self-objectify based on subconscious and unconscious programming and aim to be accepted based on sociocultural standards. It is this focus on the physical standards of women that make women biased toward one another. This perspective causes women to perceive other women as objects that “lack mentality” and simultaneously are perceived as threats- All for the sake of sexual reproduction. That is- to keep the human species alive. Outside of procreation, sex seems to cause more damage to the physiological and psychological health of the organism.
This objectification and bias lead to self-objectifying behaviors that drive the plastic surgery and botox industry. Little do most of these people who engage in cosmetic surgery know, they are increasing collective objectification and self-objectification of women which leads to increasing biases towards the female gender.
Take for example the magazine industry and its fervent display of sexualizing advertisements. According to researchers at Wesleyan University, 58 magazines were studied and found that 51.8% of the advertisements featured women who resembled sex objects (Gresham, 2021).
Imagine a girl or woman looking at such an advertisement and objectifying the advertisement image and then having self-objectifying thoughts. These thoughts lead to impaired emotional well-being, decreased self-esteem, an increase in the likeliness of eating disorders, and behavior disorders like anxiety, and depression, as well as feelings of guilt and shame (UNICEF, 2023).
Why are men biased against women?
The answer is not linear but a good starting point could be to look at the genesis of social and cultural norms, intra and interpersonal beliefs and behaviors, biochemical differences between males and females, community, and country. One area that can explain the stifling formation of sexism, objectification, and biases is the birth of the patriarchy which dates back 12,000 years to the boom of the agricultural revolution (New Scientist, 2018).
Gender norms shifted once nomadic lifestyles became obsolete and people no longer required hunting and gathering food sources. Owning farmland and livestock resulted in settled living and with that, men and women’s roles shifted due to needs requiring resources to defend land and property. This gave impetus to the need for strong male power and influence. Males pass down their power through their name and that results in the erosion of a woman’s self-sufficiency (New Scientist, 2018).
Men spend their lives in the group they were born into and bond through time and shared experiences, and this creates a culture where the men remain at the hierarchy of the family and the women are married off to start over with a new family and take that family’s name and property.
Another area to consider is the way the male brain is wired. Evolutionists theorize that it stems from the males comparing and objectifying the female body in a sexual way as a need to gauge the woman’s fertility. Once again, this behavior occurs for the sake of procreation and to carry on the species (Jeroene, 2011). Based on a scientific journal article I retrieved from Purdue’s library, “a male who de-humanizes and sexually objectifies women does so on the basis of his attraction towards the object.” In other words, the more sexually attracted he is to a female, the more likely he is to dehumanize her and sexually objectify her (Jeroene, 2011).
Lastly, it seems the way men compartmentalize information also plays a role in the sexual objectification of women. According to an article from CNN, men objectify women in swimsuits and this has to do with certain areas of their brain which are linked to using tools as well as the intention to engage in action (CNN, 2016). This happens on subconscious and unconscious levels and the key is to observe one’s behavior (CNN, 2016). According to a psychologist professor from Princeton, Susan Fiske, "It's important to recognize the effects” because "They're not fully conscious responses, and so people don't know the extent to which they're being influenced.”
Three things I want to state-
one – No one is to blame, per se. Both men and women see women’s bodies as parts and men’s bodies as whole entities. We cannot blame men for this problem.
Two- being nude is different from being sexual. We need to stop sexualizing nudity. Let women breastfeed in public! And stop turning every naked body into an object for self-objectifying thoughts or sexual impetus.
According to a professor of Sociology, Erin Hatton PhD, and to quote- “Sexuality is very much a social construction and, thus, a product of a particular socio-cultural environment.” (PBS, 2013).
Sexuality is created. It is not something we were born with, like nudity.
And finally, three- a person is allowed to represent their identity in any way they see fit so long as it does not interfere with or cause harm to another person’s body or identity. A person is free to dress in any way they choose and if a person is conscious and aware, they are going to be aware of the programming that is resulting in their choices. The point I am trying to make is, it’s not up to you to fix the world, it is up to you to understand and become aware of your own biases that increase the collective prejudices on the planet.
Perhaps the crux of the issue lies in the neuropsychology of the brain and the way most contemporary cultures view appearance and aesthetics as fundamental to our identities (Galfano, 2015). And regardless of the way a person chooses to dress their form, it is the mind alone that sexualizes based on sociocultural conditioning and biochemical responses in the body (aka hormones!).
This programming can absolutely change and evolve when we begin to make the unconscious conscious.
How Do We Stop Objectifying People?
Because sex trafficking represents the bulk of all trafficking cases, I wonder- could hypersexuality be to blame?
The media reinforces the female form as an entity for sexual stimulation and the more we buy into the “sex sells” theory, the more we contribute to the biases against women. Women’s bodies were never meant to be used as a means for driving commerce and if this behavior changed, fewer women would self-objectify and objectify other women.
My advice is stop purchasing products that push representing the female body as a sexual object.
The key to stopping engaging in the behavior of objectifying and self-objectifying is to become aware of how we are engaging in it in the first place. Are we representatives of self-objectifying thoughts and actions? Do our choices increase the collective prejudice of the woman population that comprises close to half of all humanity?
Through introspection and awareness of interpersonal influences that shape self-objectifying thoughts and unconscious biases, we can come closer to the truth about who we are and what our purpose is on this planet. I promise you, it is much more alive, rich, and joyous than anything you will find in sexual gratification and low-energy states that keep the form trapped in seeing human beings as objects.
And if you witness others out there “spreading their truth” but using nothing other than objectification through images to do so, you may want to consider if the behavior is Increasing collective biases or not.
I understand the challenges and plastered aestheticism in the design of western culture, and social media platforms, and as a health and fitness coach it can be challenging to navigate the parameters of objectification, so I will continue to practice self-inquiry and gravitate towards raising awareness and being the best version of myself.
May that be the standard that we all gravitate towards in ourselves and others- Being the best versions of ourselves by increasing our self-awareness.
Vasquez, E. A., Ball, L., Loughnan, S., & Pina, A. (2018). The object of my aggression: Sexual objectification increases physical aggression toward women. Aggressive behavior, 44(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21719