Monday, May 5, 2008

Gender transcendence: Antidote to the sexual objectification of women?

Recently I read a very interesting article concerning the increased momentum toward gender transcendence or moving beyond traditional notions of gender. Advocates for the movement argue for the importance of raising “nonsexist,” “gender-neutral,” or “gender-aschematic” children in an effort to prompt social change. Gender schemata (a mental codification of experience that includes a particular organized way of perceiving cognitively and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli) contributes to the formation of gender stereotypes, social roles based on sex or narrowly defined and exaggerated concepts of what is acceptable as masculine and feminine.

There is widespread disagreement among social scientists about whether raising “gender-neutral” children is even possible much less whether development of gender aschematic thinking is inevitable. Yet I have to think that if it is possible it would certainly be a positive development. Let’s face it, the gender schemata of our slowly changing patriarchal society and its contribution to the formation of the narrowly defined and exaggerated concepts of what is acceptable as masculine and feminine is largely to blame for the sexism in our society decried against so bitterly by feminists and is also at fault for the existence of the rather distasteful practice of sexual objectification of women by men. In their view, the objectification of women involves disregarding personal abilities and capabilities, and focusing instead on attributes relevant to women's role as sexual partners, such as physical attractiveness, sex appeal and submissiveness.

Sexual objectification occurs when a woman's body is treated as an object especially as an object that exists solely for the pleasure and use of others (men), and is illustrated interpersonally between men and women by men engaging in lascivious, lustful and aggressive staring and the shouting of lewd comments at women. It also includes the manner in which women are represented in the media, especially with respect to modern “sex sells” advertising. Since such sexual objectification is not within a woman's control, very few women are completely able to avoid contexts that may be potentially objectifying.

Sexual objectification of women is particularly insidious for a number of reasons. First objectification is an image that denotes passivity, vulnerability, and chattel, all of which combine to increase the likelihood that the person objectified, in this case females, will be subjected to victimization. In extreme cases this victimization can include rape and the battery of women. Objectifications of people make the use of violence against them seem more legitimate. Another negative consequence for women resulting in sexual objectification is that over time it can condition women to self-objectify. They can become abnormally preoccupied with their body image and dissatisfaction with perceived flaws. This is one of the primary causative factors in negative psychological effects such as development of eating disorders, depression, feelings of hopelessness and development of negative self-image by females. Many women feel pressured to conform to the beauty standards of our culture and are willing to go to great lengths to manipulate and change their faces and bodies feeling that their bodies and faces are in need of alteration, augmentation, and disguise by means of plastic surgeries.

I am not saintly by any means and never considered myself to be particularly special but I can honestly say that I have never indulged in sexually objectifying women. Perhaps because I grew up as the only male among four siblings and later when I was married lived with a wife and two daughters, I simply was never conditioned to view females in this derogatory manner. I have always seen females as people not things and it never occurred to me not to treat them with respect and deference. When I have had the privilege to engage with a woman in sexual intimacy I have viewed that act as a treasured gift she bestowed and never viewed using her for sex as some inalienable right due me as a male.

As an emerging submissive man I find only further affirmation of the correctness of my long held views towards women. Treating women with respect, kindness and deference is simply the common courtesies due one human being from another. In a sense feminists and submissive men are natural allies in the struggle against sexism and both groups would benefit by the development of a gender aschematic society. Women would be less likely to be victimized by sexual objectification. Submissive men could feel the freedom to be more open about this part of our nature without fear of rejection or of being ostracized by society because of our innate and deeply felt need to submit to and serve a dominant female within a loving female-led relationship. We could feel comfortable openly rejecting the antiquated patriarchal societal definition of masculinity.

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