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tagged: objectification
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Objectification! It's Not Just Women's Studies Jargon, it's Evil Poisonous Bullshit

Or, How My New Music Video is Smashing The Patriarchy for the Good of All Your Sons and Daughters, You’re Welcome.

OK so, yeah, I made a music video of myself lounging in various corners of a mansion while hot men wait on me hand and foot. And yeah, it was fun. And sure, maybe it happened to satisfy a number of my personal fantasies. 

But I also believe that making this video was a radical act of revolutionary patriarchy-smashing moxie. It was a brick thrown through the window of The Man’s corner office, and I’m proud of it.

Because, my friends, most of the TV and movies and music videos we’ve been imbibing throughout our lives, despite the pleasant buzz, are full of objectification. And that’s not just a Women’s Studies jargon word, it’s Evil Poisonous Bullshit. And regardless of your gender, it’s ruining your ability to think, talk, and ever have decent sex.

Here’s how.

Evil Poisonous Bullshit Idea #1: Women’s bodies are for looking at.

On TV, all the women are beautiful. The heroines are beautiful and the villains are beautiful. The love interests are beautiful and the ninjas are beautiful. The leading ladies are beautiful and so are the extras. The moms, the daughters, the check-out girls, and the mean ex-wives are beautiful. The only women who are allowed to be less-than-beautiful are the comic relief: the fat friend, the crazy neighbor, and the grandma.

Thusly, we learn from TV that if you’re a woman, regardless of your other roles in life, your #1 job is to be beautiful at all times. Your only choices are between kinds of beauty: are you cute or lovely? Are you hot or pretty? Are you a Carrie or a Charlotte?

If you’re a man, on the other hand, you can choose from an array of jobs. You can be beautiful, sure. But you can also be strong, competent, funny, evil, brilliant, kind, foolish, geeky, gutsy, witty, or rich. Male characters are frequently endowed with the gift of complexity, female characters aren’t. Male characters are allowed to be unattractive, even if they are a lead character; female characters are not.

The implication is: if she’s not beautiful, at every moment and from every angle, how will we know that we like her?  

(Good news though: TV is changing. Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, the makers of Orange is the New Black and others are dismantling this bullshit as we speak, with panache. It doesn’t matter if you like those shows, they are improving your daughters’ futures, you should thank them.)

In other words, your main job as a woman is to be a decorative object. This is called “objectification”. Because that’s a jargony word, I’ll explain it more thoroughly.

There are at least three problems with living inside a body that is a decorative object:

1)   If your body is for looking at, it is not for doing things with.

A male body is a tool with which he can manipulate the world; a female body is a pretty thing for other people to look at.

And as Ani DiFranco pointed out, life imitates TV. Try to count the number of times you hear a female child being called “cute” or “pretty”, versus a male child being praised for a physical action like “fast” or “strong”. The difference starts young, and the contrast gets turned up as the kid ages. I believe this is at the root of why many women believe that we are inept at driving, lifting heavy objects, fixing mechanical things, killing bugs, etc.: we have been taught that our bodies are for looking at, not for using.

Here’s a partial list of other things that we believe a female body isn’t for:

  1. Climbing
  2. Running
  3. Eating
  4. Fighting
  5. Screaming
  6. Digging
  7. Building
  8. Contact sports
  9. Motocross racing
  10. Smashing the patriarchy.

If, by chance, a woman on TV is allowed to use her body for one of these activities, the need to be beautiful trumps the need to do that thing well. One of my favorite recent instances was the movie “Jurassic World”, wherein the female lead (Bryce Dallas Howard) runs from a series of life-threatening dinosaurs, through rainforest and rock quarry, for the duration of the two-hour movie, all while wearing high heels.

It’s as if the director was saying to us: remember girls, even when threatened by a velociraptor, your #1 job is to be beautiful.

2)   “It is better to look good than to feel good.” I stole that from a mid-80s Billy Crystal skit from Saturday Night Live, but it’s a perfect description of this problem. If you’re focused on how you look on the outside, you’re not focused on how you feel on the inside. (This concept is beautifully illustrated in Peggy Orenstein’s newest book, Girls & Sex, which I could not recommend more highly.)

If you’re talking to someone, and you’re thinking about how your lipstick might look on your mouth, you’re probably not deeply processing the words being said. If you’re having sex, and you’re thinking about how your cellulite looks from this angle, you’re probably not noticing the sensations inside your body.

It’s difficult or impossible to focus on both at once; and if you’re a woman, you’re programmed to prioritize how you look. In other words,

3) Being a decoration is distracting. When it’s my job to look pretty – which TV would have me believe it always is – it’s harder to concentrate on a problem or task in front of me. This phenomenon has been studied and documented, and it only works on women.

The study linked above shows that when women are asked to solve math problems in a swimsuit, their math performance suffers significantly. When men are asked to do the same, theirs does not. That means our poisonous programming has been so successful that we can no longer turn off the sense that if we are being watched, we must make it our top priority to improve our physical presentation.

Add to that the stereotype about women and math, and you’ve done stupefied more than half of the human population. Nice work, The Man.

In Vim & Vigor, I attempt to create a scenario where male viewers of the video can have a taste of how objectification works. Ie: we objectified the male bodies in the video, and avoided objectifying the female one (mine). The men in the video are improbably hot and muscled because I want male viewers to question their own physical fitness and attractiveness. I touch all the men’s packages in the video, because men’s penises are one of the only physical attributes they are culturally programmed to be insecure about (as women, on the other hand, we are programmed to feel insecure about literally every part of our bodies – from the volume of our hair to the size of our “thigh gap”).

I want male viewers to feel that they are being sized up physically, and may not measure up. I want them to wonder, “am I thin enough? Strong enough? Handsome enough? Do I have a big enough dick?” I want them to feel that tremble in the pit of their stomach, and to wonder whether they are worthy of a woman’s attention. I want them to think they might be dismissed, ignored, or humiliated, simply because of the shape of their physical form.

It’s not that I’m a sadist, though. It’s all in the interest of creating empathy. I want you to feel this way, gentlemen, and I want you to recognize that this is what it feels like to walk through the world as a woman, every fucking day.

Evil Poisonous Bullshit Idea #2: A woman’s value is based on how desirable she is to men.

As TV would have it, any female character worth a damn is some dude’s love interest. This applies to superheroes as well as house wives, and it’s hazardous to our health in a variety of ways (it gives us a weird and tragic sense that a single woman is a worthless woman, for example). For now, I want to focus on just one aspect: on TV, a character’s value is correlated with her sexual desirability.

This is what it means to be a “sex object”; we believe that our value is based on our usefulness as a tool for men’s sexual pleasure. There are at least two major problems with this one.

1) We are unwilling to do or say anything that might make us less desirable.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why do we need to train men to ask for consent? Shouldn’t women be able to say that they don’t want sex?” this is the reason. And believe me, I am at least as frustrated as you are. Tragically, this particular poison has rendered many of us speechless in situations that involve suppressing or interrupting a man’s desire. We’re taught to believe that our value as a person is linked to our desirability, so if you want us, that’s good! If we say “stop”, and you lose your boner, we have just downgraded our desirability, and thus, our value as human beings.

Again, big thanks to The Man for that one. Really nice job.

Date rape aside, though, it’s worth noting that our need to be desirable to men applies to ALL MEN, even those we are not attracted to, don’t want sexual attention from, or don’t like. We feel driven to maintain a backlog of male desire, or we start to feel worthless. This is why many women won’t say “no” or “leave me alone” or “fuck off, drunken douchebag” to a drunken douchebag who is harassing them in public. We are taught to believe that all male attention, even drunken douchebag male attention, increases our value.

Less crucially but still worth noting: it’s is also why many women don’t like to eat in front of men, or wear something unflattering, or fart, or mention that we take shits. We are supposed to be sex objects, like a porn cartoon or a blow-up doll. And sex objects don’t take shits (unless that’s the kind of porn they’re appearing in).

2) We prioritize men’s pleasure above our own pleasure.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: women like sex just as much as men. There is no biological reason for women to be less interested in sex, or less turned on, or less easily sexually satisfied. I repeat, NO BIOLOGICAL REASON! (And don’t come at me with the latest evo-psych, either, because this particular crock has only been served for the past couple centuries. Before that, the crock was that women were insatiable hysterical sex animals. So which is it, science?)  

Regardless of our libidos, we’ve been poisoned, since birth, with a hallucinatory drug that makes us believe that sex is something we do for the benefit of men. And who’s going to tell us otherwise? The men believe it, too. Our own desires get buried deep beneath our many concerns about the pleasure and satisfaction of our male partner, or even an imaginary male witness.

It’s not that we don’t like sex, it’s that we’ve don’t get asked to consider what we like. It is not our job to have desires, let alone pleasure or satisfaction.

Conversely, in Vim & Vigor mansion, my desire is the only desire that matters. The men who surround me may or may not desire me; that is beside the point. I don’t care to titillate or satisfy them; I don’t even allow them to display desires of their own.

This was a thrilling and mind-bending point to discuss on set. When talking through our roles in each scene, any suggestion that involved a man looking turned on or pleased had to be quashed immediately. If anybody was gonna do “blowjob pose”, it was gonna be me (and, it was me, thank you).

I wanted my value and power as a character to come from something other than my desirability to men, and I wanted my own pleasure and satisfaction to be prioritized 100% of the time. 

In this case, my value as a character comes from the fact that I am the queen and owner of this mansion, and every man in it, and I can do and ask for whatever I want. My value had nothing to do with how many men want to fuck me. Quite the opposite, in fact: the men are only allowed into my mansion if I want to fuck them. Otherwise, they are worthless.

In other words: “I don’t give a fuck if you find me foxy.”

This very statement, my sisters, is a battle cry.  I hope you’ll put on your favorite ugly outfit, take a messy bite out of giant cheeseburger, and say it with me. We don’t have time to be a pretty object or a sex toy, we’ve got a patriarchy to smash; grab a brick and join me.


Special thanks to:

Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Dietland by Sarai Walker

The whole cast & crew of Vim & Vigor for executing my vision selflessly and without ego, especially director Andrew Rozario.



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How Not To Be A Nice Girl

Something about me is perpetually sweet. Despite the tattoos, the songs about sex and whiskey and meanness, and the ferocity bubbling just beneath the surface, I seem to strike the average stranger as some breed of twee little big-eyed mammal. Every waitress over 22 calls me “sweetie”, every Petco employee insists on carrying my dog food to my car, and everybody’s grandmother wishes I would wear a dollbaby dress with sailboats on it. People I just met tend to describe me as “sweet” or “cute” or “so nice”.

I am resigned to being sweet, and cute doesn’t rankle me like it used to (usually). But here’s the thing: I’m not nice. Niceness is not something I’m into. I try to be kind, and thoughtful; I hold doors open, I give rides to the airport, I take my friends out for waffles when they get broken up with. But to me, “being nice” involves clamming up, putting on a happy face, and forgoing one’s own convictions and desires to avoid rocking the boat. 

I am no clam, people. I love to rock the boat. 

Let me rephrase that, actually. Rocking the boat is incredibly uncomfortable for me - it gives me stress dreams and sweaty hands - but I was born to rock the boat. Making other people uncomfortable is one of the byproducts of my best and most satisfying work, including many of the thoughts and feelings I have every day. Anything inside me that says otherwise is usually not me, but the years of be-a-good-little-girl conditioning that I accidentally absorbed from the air around me (in spite of my parents’ best intentions), like most women, in most of the world. 

If you’ve been smoking what I’ve been smoking (sugar and spice and everything nice, Disney Princesses, rom coms, etcetera), you may be asking the same question. What do we do about all the bullshit we’ve inadvertently inhaled? 

I think the antidote to this variety of bullshit includes a lot of real-world, large scale, external changes (like access to education and birth control for women everywhere, equal pay for equal work, and for people to stop acting like douche bags (and for that matter, selling them)). But I also think that we have opportunities to combat bullshit with the magic of our own minds. 

So ladies (and gents… but mostly ladies), I hereby invite you to make yourself comfortable in your own life. I want us all to feel that there is no need to apologize for the size or intensity of our bodies, our minds, our feelings, or our choices. 

I have a few ideas about how to implement this. We all got different bullshit cocktails, growing up, and we’re all equipped with different bullshit-filtration devices, so I don’t expect that everything in this post applies to everybody. Here’s some of what I’m grappling with, and how. 

1) Cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement. 

Entitlement has a bad reputation, and it’s mostly well deserved. I don’t enjoy being shoulder-checked by a trustfund dudebro (stumbling down the middle of Royal street texting, like a blind yeti) any more than the next gal. But there are some things we are entitled to: 

We are each entitled to our bodies, our experiences, and the choices we make about our own lives. 

When I say, “I’m entitled to my life”, I mean that I hold the title: I am the captain, the President, the head honcho, and the sole stockholder. Nobody else holds even one share. 

Here’s what that means: if I have a feeling, and somebody else doesn’t like that I had that feeling, that’s tough titties for them. I should no more apologize for that feeling than a weed should apologize for growing in my garden. Maybe I don’t like the weed, maybe I wish the weed would grow somewhere else; but the weed has no responsibility for any of that. It’s there because of the sun and the wind and the bird that shat it out, and the whole course of the evolution of the universe. It’s entitled to be there. 

 Similarly, your body takes up the amount of space it does, it’s shaped how it’s shaped, and it feels how it feels. It gurgles and sweats and aches and farts. Your body is entitled to do all these things, and you, as the Chief Executive Officer of your body, are entitled to these things as well. 

Your thoughts are in there, strung about like confetti after a party, and your memories, and your feelings. You are entitled to them all. You are entitled to everything that has ever happened to you, and all of the choices you’ve made, and all of the choices in front of you. If you fuck up, it was your decision to fuck up, and nobody else’s; and now it’s your decision whether to apologize for it, or fix it, or not. 

I can remember most of this, most of the time, but occasionally I still get confused. Who decides if I should get another tattoo, for instance? I forget. Is it my husband, who’s not particularly keen on tattoos? Is it my mom, who’s acutely creeped out by them? Is it the old lady sitting next to me at this café, scowling? Is it that one loudmouthed fan of mine, who insists on airing his opinion of tattoos every time I post a picture on facebook? Well, let’s see…. my body is the one being tattooed, and I am entitled to my body. Nobody else is. 

I have brainfarts in this area professionally and artistically, too. For example, who am I to write this post? I’m writing about topics that the feminist movement has been dealing with for years, and I’m not very well educated on the history of feminism. I haven’t read Gloria Steinem. I don’t have a degree in women’s studies – in fact, I don’t have any degrees in anything. But on the other hand, I am me. I am a human woman, and I have thoughts and feelings about that, and a blog to post them on. I’m entitled to my thoughts and feelings, and nobody else is. 

A lot of people, mostly women, pick up the habit of prefacing their sentences with “well I kind of think that, like, sometimes…” or another excruciatingly long and self-immolating prefix. To me, this says, “I have a thought, but I don’t believe that I’m entitled to it.” 

I hereby invite all of us to cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement to our own bodies, experiences, and choices. For clarity’s sake, here are the things we’re not entitled to: other people’s bodies, other people’s experiences, other people’s choices, and other people. They hold the title to their lives; we hold the title to ours. 

2) If you have a problem with the way you look, find a bigger problem. 

Like most women I know, my feelings about my own appearance vary widely from day to day (and from moment to moment). Sometimes, I look in the mirror and see a total sex bomb. Other times, I see a blubberous ogre. In almost thirty years of research, I’ve only found one way to combat that Cosmo-reading, trash-talking, mean-girl demon in my head: find something more interesting to worry about. 

The way we look is probably one of the least interesting things about us, and unquestionably one of the least interesting things about the world. Your head, regardless of its shape or accoutrements, is carrying inside it the most complex phenomenon in the known universe. 

So next time you look in the mirror and scowl, or see an unflattering picture of yourself, or catch a peripheral glance of your blubberous ogre thighs, remember this: the world is chock-full of stuff that is infinitely more fascinating than the girth of your thighs. In this corner, we have AIDS and climate change and abject poverty. In this one, we have the Grand Canyon, wombats, and Mary Oliver. Pick any of these, think about them for twelve seconds, and laugh at yourself.

Let’s all begin to consciously prioritize our own pleasure, satisfaction, and self-expression over sitting and looking pretty. Here are some tricks: 

Eat what you want. 

Food is one of the primary sensual pleasures that the gods have allowed us, and if you’re reading this, you are living in a time of unprecedented culinary abundance and variety. You can very likely walk out of your house right now, and within an hour be back at home eating oysters, or chocolate ice cream, or bacon-wrapped dates, or a grapefruit the size of your head. You could be sipping a mango lassi, even though it’s February in New England. This, my friends, is a fucking miracle

If I hear one more woman making her culinary choices based on the girth of her thighs alone, I’m going to drown myself in mango lassi. Sure, eat a salad sometimes, for health reasons or cosmetic ones. But other times, eat the bacon-wrapped dates, because they are a fucking miracle. Choose joyfully from the menu of your life – it’s long, and broad, and sacred. 

Wear what you love. 

Similarly, wear things that make you feel happy and wacky and soulful. Wear things that remind you of your childhood, or the beach, or mind-blowing sex. Don’t automatically resort to the thigh-fatness metric. If a dress makes you feel delighted and creative and full of magic, but your thighs look like overstuffed sausages, so be it. Now they are magic sausages. 

Don’t just sit there and look pretty. 

If someone snaps a picture of you doing something important or funny or inspiring – say, scaling a fish, or painting a house – and the demon in your head says you don’t look pretty, tell him to fuck off. Post that photo online. Instagram needs to be reminded that we are complex creatures; a woman can be pretty sometimes, and other times she can be happily (and greasily) scaling a fish. There is no law requiring perpetual prettiness, THANK GOD. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

We are entitled to our faces and bodies, however they are composed, whether anybody finds them pleasing or not. Post a picture in which you’re not pretty, but full of some other kind of light. 

 3) Become a sexual subject. 

Sexual objectification is a big, nasty, complicated problem. As women, we bear the brunt of that problem most of the time. Here are just a few of the things that suck about it: 

We objectify ourselves and each other

As alluded to above, most women (yes, even us creative, smart, professional movers and shakers and doers and thinkers) have a deep–seated conviction that we’d be better off in life if we were prettier/thinner/taller. This is maddeningly stupid, and we know it, but it’s all smashed up in our subconscious primordial ooze, with the Disney Princesses and the Nationwide Insurance jingle, and we have a very hard time rooting it out. 

We enable each other’s self-objectification by sizing up our friends (and enemies), commenting about their appearance, and complaining about our own appearance. When we say “have you lost weight?”, or “my thighs are getting so fat”, we are feeding each other’s demons. 

I’m working on this one by putting the kibosh on all appearance-monitoring of my female friends, and all discussion (complainy or otherwise) of my own appearance. If that sounds really hard (like it does to me), remember the wombats and Mary Oliver.

Self-objectification makes us dumber

Self-objectification results in a phenomenon called body monitoring, which literally makes us dumber. Body monitoring means thinking about how we look, imagining what we might look like to the other people in the room, fidgeting with our hair and clothes, and arranging our face and body in order to look more attractive. It happens so often, and takes up so much brain space, that it has a measurable effect on our ability to focus and perform

This one is tough to combat, but my current approach is this: when I’m in a public place, and I notice I’m sitting in a way that might not look cute, I bite the bullet and keep sitting that way. I’m trying to train my demons the way I train my dogs: no rewards for bad behavior.

When we objectify ourselves during sex, we don’t get to have sex.

Sexual objectification makes us feel that we are not the subjects of our sexual encounters. I’m using “subject” here in the grammatical, sentence-diagramming sense, as in “the entity that is doing or being”; as opposed to the “object”, the “entity being acted upon”. 

It’s simple grammar, folks: when we’re being sexually objectified, we’re not having sex. We are being sexed at, or in, or upon. 

So here’s my challenge: the next time you have sex, verbalize a sentence in which in which you are the subject. That sentence should probably start with the word “I”, as in, “I want you to…” or “I like that”, or “I don’t like that”. (Interestingly, it seems like the most commonly-depicted phrase of dirty talk uttered by women in movies/books/porn is “fuck me”, or some variation of it - a sentence in which the speaker is still the object).

Of course, sometimes, sexual objectification can be fun (fear not, Fifty Shades devotees). I’ve been known to enjoy a helping of it from time to time. I’d argue that if it’s something you can openly discuss and ask your partners for, you are in fact acting as a sexual subject. (When you ask to be objectified, you have to make yourself the subject of the sentence, eg: “I want you to tie me up.”).  

For extra credit: orchestrate a sexual encounter wherein you’re the subject. If someone were writing a story about the encounter, you would be the subject of most of the sentences (“she took off her dress” or “she climbed on top of him”). I am challenging us all to initiate more of the sex we have, and initiate more of the things we want during sex. 

Join me in the pursuit, ladies: we’ve been getting fucked for millennia. Let’s start fucking. 


Thanks to Kerry Genese and Lauren J. Andrews for co-creating and collaborating on these ideas with me. 

Thanks to Caroline Heldman for her work on objectification and body monitoring. Watch her brilliant TED talk for more. 


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