I am a feminist. I am a lesbian. To me, these are two of the most important aspects of my identity. I also abhor the objectification of women. I have been sure of this since I understood the meaning of the phrase. When I came out to myself as a lesbian a year ago, I was still sure of this. Now I’m having doubts. Over the last year, I have started to look more deeply into my attitude towards women.
This is what I have found: I have a certain ‘type’.
It doesn’t matter what that type is, what matters is this: my ‘type’ encompasses both a woman’s personality and her body. I am fairly unlikely to be attracted to anyone who falls too far out of these parameters. By extension, it can be understood that any woman whose body is very different to that which I am attracted to is going to be less interesting to me. So, to some extent, her physicality is a deal breaker for me.
Am I objectifying these women? I am coming to realise that, thankfully, the answer is no.
The dictionary defines the objectification of women as the act of treating or regarding a woman as just an object, in particular a sexual object. This does not mean that just any appreciation of the female form is objectification. Saying that a woman has a pretty face, a nice bum, or anything of this ilk is not objectifying, in the same way that saying a man has impressive abs and a beautiful jawline is not objectification.
These statements must be coupled with the knowledge that the person you are ogling is a living, breathing human being with feelings. So long as you are aware that these factors are, and always will be, infinitely more important than their face or musculature, I would argue that you are not engaging in objectification but appreciation. It just so happens that the language we must use to describe this appreciation is the same language that has been used to belittle and sexualise women.
Perhaps it is not always what one says, but the manner in which one says it.
Where the danger really lies is in the words and actions of those men (and probably some lesbians/bisexual women too) who view (other) women as a sexual vessel and nothing more. Charlie Chorley, 2015/16 CUSU Women’s Officer wrote a breathtaking poem addressing this issue.
Her poem captures the idea that a woman is something to be reeled-in, entered and discarded like something cheap and disposable: a negation of female humanity, a form of exploitation. I won’t even touch on rape and sexual assault – that’s an issue for another, angrier, article – but the fact that this treatment is sometimes not only consensual, but sought out, by women is a disturbing indication of what women have been socialised to think is expected of us.
Let me clarify. I am not referring to the behaviour of all men: some men are kind to women, some men are considerate, some men are loving and safe. In fact this is probably true of most men, at least in my society and world. On the other side of the coin, some women are absolutely awful – manipulative, cruel and malicious. This does not mean we can disregard the issue. Women all over the country (and the world) are being battered, rejected and exploited, their feelings disregarded and belittled, all because they ‘have a good rack’ and ‘look like they could deep throat’.
Appreciating a woman’s body does not equate to objectifying her – so long as you remember that a woman is so much more than that. She is a beautiful, complicated collection of brilliant, beating fibres, who lives and breathes and never ceases to amaze. To extend the tea metaphor of Emmeline
May’s article: just because you think a cup of tea looks like it will be delicious, that is not to say its actual flavour and aroma are not both better indicators of its quality.
Women are breath-taking, inside and out, and it’s high time they are treated as such by all members of our society – not just those that know better.
Rowan Douglas (GR. Sub Editor)