Today’s guest post comes from Rick – it’s long and completely worth it! These guys are awesome!
I read this blog the other day, written by my friend Maureen, and it made me think of another female friend of mine. She had recently received an e-mail from someone she barely knew.
It was a solicitation for sex.
In it, the sender figures that because my friend is interested in yoga, she must know that “the only yoga that’s not ‘bullshit’ is tantra”…which he is really “good at”, by the way…if only he could find a steady “partner” (because tantric sex is apparently a sport like racquetball). He goes on to illuminate her about why sex is so important to him in his situation at that moment and how, since he recently acquired a new phone, and a bit of money, some sex might just be the final piece of the puzzle that is his fulfilled life. So she should call him…
This was an actual letter. Someone actually sent this.
Forget for a moment the wildly inappropriate nature of sending a letter like this to someone at all, let alone someone you barely know. Forget also the juvenile silliness of attaching fulfillment to the acquiring of a new toys and money. What really struck me when reading it was the lack of a single reference to HER, except as a device for achieving sexual satisfaction. He not once even thought to mention what SHE might get out of this deal. I’d never known someone to so brazenly objectify another person like that. It was actually kind of chilling to read, and to contemplate where exactly the female fits into this person’s perception of the world.
Then, of course, the inevitable question surfaced “is this how I think too?” I mean, was this guy disturbed or just painfully honest? After all, what man has never ogled a passing woman before? Who doesn’t have their favorite anatomical feature? I’ll admit it is sometimes the first thing I consider when meeting someone new…especially of the opposite sex. I size them up. I scrutinize their characteristics. I don’t mean to, but if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that it happens.
So what if this is really how it is? What if this is how we’ve all come to regard each other?
As various means to ends.
It’s no secret we live in a hyper-sexualized society. Sexual imagery is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use. The association it implies, whether its use this product and you will be sexier or use this product and you will get sex, does not have to be savvy or even clever to be effective. Everyone knows after all: sex sells, and so we see it EVERYWHERE. It’s on television, the radio, printed on magazine covers and album art, and assaulting us on giant billboards as we drive down the road. And that’s just the insinuation of sex. Actual sex is just a click away as well on the world-wide web. You, reader, could find it right now, no matter how nuanced your tastes, or how bizarre your proclivities, with simply a few keystrokes. You could even order it to your door from where you are sitting this very moment. Obviously, that level of accessibility starts to change how we value things.
Sex is so prevalent and so available in fact that some men even appear to have trouble curtailing their desires. They are doing things they probably never imagined they would do (Carlos Danger), and taking liberties they should be ashamed to take (Bob Filner). I’m not making excuses for these guys. They made bad decisions, and they alone are responsible for them. But I do wonder just how unique those decisions were. How many of the men that are laughing at their expense have at least once in their lives done something similar? In a world inundated with easily accessible sexual imagery, is it that hard to imagine?
Consider the world we experience every day. From the moment we wake up, we are being marketed to, and the competition to win our attention is fierce. Nothing is off the table, it seems. It’s not just our inherent desire to procreate that has been exploited for the sake of selling products. Every sense is a target. The way drugs exploit our brains’ natural pain mitigation mechanisms, potato chips exploit our sense of taste with multitudes of strange new flavors to make us literally addicted. Other products use sound and smell. In fact, you could say today’s society is not just hyper-sexualized, but hyper-sensitized. Even our strongest emotions and desires are used against us to pitch news stories and t.v. shows and make cases for political persuasions. Living in a world where everything is for sale, and advertisements abound, it’s easy to start seeing everything – and everyone – around us as products…and in a society of consumers, I guess it is not so far-fetched then to imagine someone deciding to search for a new sexual partner the way they might search for a new pair of jeans.
The idea of women as things to be gained is not unique to the age of marketing, though. Women have been objectified in law, religion, art and literature throughout history. They fall into three main categories:
Women as sexual devices: This is the most obvious. Portraying the woman as a means for sexual satisfaction and attaching her worth as a person to how successfully her body meets that standard.
Women as vessels: This is old school – the idea that women exist as pots for planting babies in. Their value as a person is directly attached to their physical ability to produce offspring and their unquestioning willingness to submit to this duty. To this day, Margaret Sanger is demonized by many for simply suggesting that women should maybe have a say in the matter of when, where, how and if they have children.
Women as prizes: this is the idea that a woman is something to be won, and displayed as a symbol of success. Some men attach their own perceptions of self worth and achievement to the beauty and desirability of the women they relate with.
So why are creeps so gross? I think it is because:
History has encouraged them to view women as objects,
. Over stimulation has diluted sexual expression for them to something carnal and crude, and
. Their consumerist persuasions predispose them to engage women first from the perspective of how useful they are as prizes, partners or parents.
It’s actually all pretty understandable from an instinctive, ‘preservation of the species’ kind of perspective. I mean, we see this behavior in animals all the time. How different should we expect to be? Well, in my opinion, VERY DIFFERENT.
I’ll sum it up in a word: Empathy.
We as humans possess the unique ability to empathize. Don’t confuse this with “sympathize.” That is something different – a sort of emotional reactivity where you are able to feel badly about others’ misfortunes and to feel good about others’ successes. Empathy goes much deeper than that. To feel empathy is to actually experience the world from the perspective of a being other than oneself. It means suspending your own sense of reality, where you are the center of the universe, in favor of another’s so that you may understand how they feel, and what drives them, and respond accordingly.
Empathy is a uniquely human trait, and I believe it is the antidote to sexual objectification.
You see, I believe the human experience is a bit of a dichotomy. While we are mammals, sure, with animal inclinations and natural instincts, we are equally driven by a higher, sort of transcendental instinct; one that, instead of consuming, longs to create…instead of taking in, longs to send out…and instead of conquering, longs to understand. Which one of these inclinations we choose to serve will inevitably define us, and work to shape our characters. To choose the latter means choosing relationships that go deeper than the skin, and last longer than an orgasm. It means seeing people as more than their anatomies, because you can understand how it feels to be seen that way – to be viewed only as some kind of tool to be used. And that doesn’t mean forgoing sex or ignoring sexual attraction. Rather, it means experiencing sex on more than just the physical plane – seeing it as a form of physical empathy…a means to gaining a deep and lasting connection with a person rather than a fleeting gratification for yourself.
Here is a hopeful example:
I recently learned about a trend among mostly younger people. They are asking for preferred pronouns. Let me explain: some people, more than you may think, don’t feel so comfortable with being categorized into a particular gender. For some, the gender that they identify with may not coincide with their biology. For others, gender expressions can be ambiguous and kind of fluid and they find the categorizations to be…well, limiting. So, as a courtesy, no, not just as a courtesy…as an act of empathy, some young people have started asking each other how they would like to be addressed. The exchange goes something like this: “Hi, I’m Rick and my preferred pronouns are him/he. What about you?” “Well, I’m Sam and today I’m her/she, but normally just ze”. Ze, is one of a few gender-neutral pronouns created for folks who would simply rather abandon the idea of anatomical categorization altogether.
This might seem like a strange and possibly tacky concept, but here is what I love about it. By circumventing traditional assumptions about gender identity, and seeking to know someone as how they feel, rather than how they look, you are beginning the relationship from a perspective of giver rather than taker. Also, if a person’s gender becomes less of a factor in determining their value to you up front, I imagine it’s harder to see anyone as a sexual object. Even from a consumerist perspective this is better. It’s like Apple’s idea of mass customization. Instead of a phone or camera or specific tool with uniform and limited uses, an ipod is a platform. Each one can be customized with apps to serve uniquely personal needs. It can be whatever you need it to be.
We’ll never lose our basic animal inclinations, and I don’t think we should want to. However we don’t have to serve them. We could instead seek out deeper and uniquely human connections with others, whatever the physical context. Likewise, I don’t think we’ll ever stop acting or thinking like consumers, but we can change our expectations of the ‘products’. Perhaps if we start seeing people as customizable platforms for individualized and valuable experiences, instead of tools for particular purposes, we’ll all be better off, and less creepy.