Many people are rubbed the wrong way when they read or hear a statement such as “women are sex objects and men are too”.
Reactionary assumptions are that the writer or speaker is a ‘sexist’ or a ‘chauvinist’ or at least attempting to be provocative, but I assure you this isn’t the direction we’re headed.
We will, in our quest to ponder deeply and objectively, delve further into the meaning of this statement and explore some of the complexities that is humankind in the process.
Women and men are sexual objects, this is true. We are sexual beings; but that’s not all we are…
Humans are multifaceted and have the ability to perceive each other equivocally, variously at different times, or in multiple states simultaneously.
For example, a woman is a sexual object, however, we may also view her as an architect, an artist, a lawyer, an engineer, a mother, or a daughter etc. at specific, appropriate times or simultaneously.
The latter does not negate the former.
In physics an object or substance can be amorphous or in a solid state depending on variables and conditions (such as water turning into ice when decreasing temperature.) Or, as Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and Erwin Schrödinger revealed in quantum mechanics, the idea that electrons can be at two places at once.
This broader minded approach at qualitatively assessing individuals is often eschewed or condemned by sects of radical feminism, factions of religious fundamentalism, or antiquated conservative ideology that refuses concepts of sexual liberation or female individualism, but it is nevertheless a more enlightened, objective view of humanity.
The stigma surrounding the concept that a woman or a man (particularly woman) is a sexual object stems directly from the individual being presented as only a sex object.
As noted in the APA’s research, Szymanski, Moffitt, and Carr quote Sandra Bartky: “[Objectification] occurs when a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object
of male sexual desire (Bartky, 1990) ”
The key word to remember there is “primarily.”
Women have largely been presented, invariably, as sexual objects in media, entertainment, advertising, and general society.
As a counter to that, an effort to exhibit women as something other than a sexual object ensued (Feminism, equal rights, egalitarianism), whereby a disdain for the former provoked an overall denial of the original assertion.
In other words, women didn’t want to be viewed as only sex objects, but rather as professionals or equally contributing members of society. Because they were angry (rightfully so) at those who presented or present them exclusively as sex objects, some rejected the act of being viewed as a sexual object to any degree.
Some say women are not to be viewed sexually at all, or until given explicit permission to.
This is simply not possible.
The propagation of our species relies on the natural instinct to procreate, which most heterosexual, post-pubescent individuals possess.
It’s not only natural in heterosexuals to, but also near impossible not to, see members of the opposite sex as potential mates; it occurs consciously and subconsciously.
The ancient instinct to reproduce and have sexual feelings is far too powerful for the frontal cortex (the logic and rational thinking area of the brain) to supersede it.
This doesn’t mean that behavior cannot be controlled, only that the instinct itself is present.
Whether it’s a high school boy having sexual thoughts about a classmate, or a woman fantasizing about a coworker at the office, it is absolutely normal for a human being to view another human being in a sexual perspective.
The overall rejection of the idea that men and women are both sex objects may be attributed more to the word ‘object‘ itself, and a misunderstanding of its definition, rather than the idea that we should embrace our sexual nature.
The word object is often conflated with the term ‘inanimate object’ and as a result people confuse the two unintentionally. This is why when people hear that a woman or a man is a “sex object” they are instantly repulsed.
The actual, and most relative definition of the word ‘object’ is “anything that is visible or tangible and is relatively stable in form.”
In conclusion, I believe it’s paramount to remain objective and showcase integrity when examining human sexuality and its correlation and integration with society at large, particularly when teaching new generations.
We should not teach our students that women and men are only sexual objects, however, we should also not avoid the reality that sexuality is a natural component of humanity.