International Women’s Day has just passed. This year’s theme was “Make it Happen” and used the color purple to signify justice and dignity, values associated with women’s equality. Giving women a special day is intended to generate support for equality between the sexes and to honor women’s accomplishments.
But can we undo in one day what is acceptable on the other 364—objectifying women? How many women want to feel that a man watching her from across the room sees a collection of body parts rather than a fully formed human? Yet we women know that occurs regularly. And the fault is not exclusive to males.
Consider the annual swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated Magazine. That issue sells ten times the number of copies of any other. The swimsuit issue was introduced 50 years ago. As John Oliver asked on Last Week Tonight, “How is this still a thing?” And I add: How is this illustrative of sports? Hannah Davis, the young women on this year’s controversial cover gave this response: “It’s a girl in a bikini, and I think it’s empowering. I’ve been hearing it’s degrading.”
Consider also older men’s profiles on matchmaker websites. Almost every man in his 60s and beyond (and many looking every bit their age) is seeking a woman from twenty to at most five years younger. The only way for me to make sense of that is to realize they are not looking for a fully formed human, one with whom they can share beliefs and interests and life experiences, but for a female with a collection of body parts that fit the media mold.
Now let’s consider how objectifying women’s bodies affect our struggle for equality. When a woman’s worth is primarily equated with her physical appearance and sexual functioning, gaining equality in the workplace is nearly impossible. As stated Margaret Foegen Karsten’s Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace (2006), “The perception of woman as sex objects is inconsistent with the perception of them as professionals.” Many of us thwart our potential because we don’t believe in ourselves. Noticing the discrepancy between our body shapes and the media mold—think movie star and Barbie dolls—we don’t demonstrate how well our minds and bodies can perform when we’re less compliant and more authentic.
We can make equality happen, but not without significantly changing the 50+ year portrayal of women as objects. That has to begin with both women and men loving ourselves enough to stop competing and instead delight in the natural beauty and genius within us all.