How can I objectify women

Part 3: what actually is objectification?

What has happened so far: In the past htu_info issues [ archive] you will find the first two articles in this series, which mainly deal with the definition of the term “sexism” and frequent discussion points. One of the things this time is about why some things are sexist.

Anyone who begins to deal with sexism sooner or later comes across the term “objectification”. This is the reduction of people (especially women) to sex objects without free will or the ability to act independently. Rather, the sexual desirability and availability of the (female) body for other acting entities (especially heterosexual men / protagonists) are in the foreground.

We encounter objectification so often in everyday life that we hardly notice it actively. There are several distinguishing marks, but not all of them have to be true. Martha Nussbaum defines the concept of objectification with the following features:

  • instrumentality - representation as a tool for others,
  • denial of autonomy - no self-determination,
  • fungibility - representation as exchangeable,
  • violability - displayed "may" be injured / damaged,
  • ownership - representation as owned by others, and
  • denial of subjectivity - no representation as an independent person.

[Source: Martha Nussbaum, "Trading on America’s puritanical streak", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution , March 14, 2008]

Sexual attraction is often confused with objectification, and portraying people as objects is justified in terms of attractiveness - one has little to do with the other. In order to find a person attractive, it is not necessary for him to be objectified.


Objectification and sexualized portrayal of women are particularly widespread in advertising. awards lemons for sexist advertising subjects from Austria, but there are also plenty of examples from other countries. A certain deodorant brand often advertises that a man / protagonist / subject sprays himself with the product after showering and is then followed through the city by breasts on legs / objects that cannot do otherwise.

Women's bodies are used to advertise a variety of products that have nothing to do with them, such as cars, games, tools, food or even potted plants. Objectification also occurs when advertising products that are directly related to bodies. In the fashion sector, for example, advertising can sometimes not be distinguished from pornography at first glance [“Fashion or Porn” - sometimes NSFW, turn off the sound!].

To objectify women in video games, there is the highly recommended video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” by Anita Sarkeesian, which deals with the topic in detail. Frequent examples are, for example, the very different armor for male and female characters typical of MMOs [Dueling Analogs - Gearing up the Hero (ine)]. Especially in games that are made and marketed for young, straight men, the kidnapped girlfriend / mother / daughter / princess is often the only drive / reason why the adventure is denied. Regardless of whether the object of desire was strong, intelligent, powerful, ... until then, it can now do nothing but allow itself to be saved. Often there are also scantily clad women who can either be used directly as a sex object or act as pretty clothes racks.


Negative consequences

Objectification of women negatively affects both women and men. Objectification of men is much less common, so we do not discuss it in detail, but it can have similar effects.

One of the biggest consequences is the different perceptions of men and women. For women, appearance is communicated as being much more important, and there is great pressure to adapt to existing ideals of beauty. At the same time, personality and character take a back seat. Women are perceived as less capable, but more emotional and irrational.

Women are raised from childhood to be passive objects, the aim of which is to gain the favor of a subject. Ideals of beauty should be adhered to - otherwise the person will be seen as less worthy and treated as such. “Street harassment”, the harassment of women on the street, happens under the guise of the kindness of wanting to pay “just a compliment” to those affected. However, the fact that everyone feels empowered and entitled to publicly comment on a person's appearance is an effect of objectification. The often rapid escalation from “Hey Sexy” to “What's wrong with you” (or actual threats) also shows a lack of respect for those addressed.

Man-woman friendships are seen as abnormal and show that man is not enough of a man and has been put in the “Friend Zone” [wikipedia], which is why the woman should be replaced as soon as possible. In addition, many men do not perceive women as equal people, but rather think that women owe them sex and that every encounter ultimately boils down to sex.

Interesting links:

also interesting is “The Hawkeye Initiative”:

Laci Green (@ gogreen18) on Objectification:

This article appeared in the issue 04/2014.