Objectification: enabling men to offend



    Socially the status of women has improved dramatically over the years and yet gender inequalities are still very much prevalent in Australia today.

    There are inequalities in the workplace with leadership roles, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, along with an 18.8% gender pay gap, but the biggest inequality and mistreatment of women is in the hidden epidemic of domestic violence.

    Director of Operations at Collective Shout, Coralie Alison said their organization firmly believes the way women are sexualised and objectified through media and advertising contributes largely to both gender inequality, and violence against women.

    They believe when it comes to violence against women, sexual objectification is the missing piece of the puzzle.

    “Jean Kilbourne once said that ‘Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person’,” Ms Alison said.  

    “Objectifying someone dehumanises them.”

    Ms Alison also said the use of women as objects to sell services and products leads to a dehumanised perception of females.

    Objectification of women has become normalized through different forms of media and advertising. Photo: Supplied

    “Often heads are cut out of the picture and the focus is on particular body parts. Sometimes women’s bodies are actually used as tables or platters.”

    However, Psychologist, Trudy Sheffield believes the objectification of women has more to do with a core belief development which comes from many different sources, rather than the way women are objectified in the media.

    “If you look at those inner beliefs that we have about ourselves; that we have about other people, and we have about the world, and it’s about violence and violence being okay, it’s about women and their uses of women of being objectified,” Ms Sheffield said.

    She said the objectification of women is an enabling tool for men to perpetrate domestic violence, but the influences of committing domestic violence comes from many different sources.

    “It also comes from their parenting, what they viewed as children, their early childhood, and formative experiences; it comes from a position sometimes of fear and insecurity so again using control and power to feel as though they’re in control of the situation, and of something.”

    “In terms of objectifying, one of the main things that they will do, and this is common, is that they will use that as a distortion to enable them to offend.”

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    Domestic violence is crippling. Photo: Ariana Deeley

    “They don’t actually call a woman by her name, or a respectable title, they’ll call them the ‘b**h’ or the ‘missus’, ‘the ball and chain’, and other colourful words. That minimizes the impact in their mind. They’re not offending against a person, they’re offending against an object and it just makes it an easier process for someone to offend. It’s like avoiding taking responsibility.” 

    Ms Sheffield believes domestic violence prevention starts with early education about what an equal and respectful relationship looks like, as well as very positive role modelling and positive messages sent from the home, but ultimately, “it comes down to that absolute value of equality and respect, they are the two things that we are working people towards in early intervention, is that people are equal and you pay respect”, Ms Sheffield said.

    Psychologist, Dr Jeff Ackerman said academically, it’s believed to be more about patriarchal values rather than the objectification of females being a major factor of domestic violence.

    He said there are two common viewpoints among academics; whether or not people who hold traditional values about male domination are more likely to commit acts of partner violence than those who don’t hold these values.

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    The mental and emotional damages of domestic violence long outlive the physical. Photo: Ariana Deeley

    “The one viewpoint basically says that no, traditional views or patriarchal values are not associated with domestic violence perpetration, the other view is completely the opposite and says that not only are they associated with it, but they’re the main cause of domestic violence perpetration by males,” Dr Ackerman said.

    “It’s hard to find, I think, another example in the social sciences where scholars have such divergent opinions as this one.”

    “Most surveys, most data tells us that we don’t find a relationship between these traditional values and partner violence. The problem is, that there’s a question about how good that data is, because the people who are committing this violence, that may have these attitudes, may not be in our data.”

    Dr Ackerman said the reason the data may not be completely accurate is because some men who hold traditional values about gender roles, also believe in the notion of chivalry.

    “Some people think men should be the head of the household but also that men should protect women, and they believe that men should protect women by not hitting women, and so some of the most traditional people, they want women to be subservient. They may objectify women in some ways, but may also want to protect them, whilst objectifying them.”

    “The patriarchal attitudes can kind of work both ways, that in one sense, someone holding these views get very upset with a woman who is not living up to their notion of what a woman should be doing, they’re not adhering to traditional gender roles, and if they don’t adhere to these traditional gender roles, their response may be to act in a violent or an aggressive way in order to force the woman to obey the man, that would be one side.”

    Domestic violence researcher, blogger, trainer, counsellor and supervisor, Dr Clare Murphy PhD conducted two rounds of qualitative in-depth interviews with 16 men of white European ancestry born and educated in New Zealand or Australia, who admitted to being physically violent and/or emotionally, intellectually, sexually or financially controlling of a live-in female partner.

    She said they gave her some invaluable information about the objectification of women, in terms of ownership and possession.

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    Controlling men are guided by a belief system that women are possessions who exist to serve them. Photo: Ariana Deeley

    “One man even gave an example that getting married was like owning a new car, and so once you’ve made your payments, you own it.. That’s an example of objectifying within intimate relationships,” Dr Murphy said.

    “They all talked about wanting to be in an intimate long term relationship like in the fairy tales,” Dr Murphy explained, “but then I asked them, ‘if there was a hidden contract, what would it be?’, and they all answered the same thing; master/slave contract; man as the master and woman as the slave, and that she gets treated as an object who they can do whatever they want with”.

    Dr Murphy went on to explain how the men all started to use horrible kinds of misogynistic language as soon as there was a challenge of their status in society of men being superior.

    “There are some men who find it quite hard, the idea of equality. There’s a tendency for some men to believe that means a loss for them,” Dr Murphy said.

    This brought up another important point; the idea of masculinity and how it affects social messages and male behaviour. Dr Murphy said the high status of masculinity in our society has harmful effects.

    “The dominant social messages are saying to them you’re not supposed to show vulnerability or weakness, or show any kind of femininity, and femininity in our society includes things like love, care, empathy, vulnerability, and what I found that was most men that are the domestic violence perpetrators have learnt through our society and other places that it’s really low status if they do any kind of so called feminine behaviours.”

    “There is that dominant idea that women have to do the emotional work, and men learn that that is the woman’s job, and that’s it’s not manly for men to do the emotional work.”

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    Domestic violence to the extent of murder often occurs when the perpetrator feels they are losing control of their victim. Photo: Ariana Deeley

    “All of those beliefs systems lead to some form of problem and one of the problems that comes out of this kind of squashing of half of our humanity, is violence.”

    Dr Murphy went to on to express her belief that in some respects, a male perpetrator is actually a victim himself because patriarchy harms men as well as women.

    “When you think of dominant social messages like ‘don’t cry’, ‘don’t be a sissy’, that’s harmful; harmful to men’s humanity.”

    “I see all of that kind of stuff as objectification; not only men objectifying women, but men are objectified by these dominant social messages, because they have to act as an object without emotion, they’re only allowed to have anger as an emotion.”

    Dr Murphy has learnt of a huge amount of pressure from men policing other men to be misogynist, to wear the pants. She believes this pressure and influence from male peers is one of the main causes, as well as the key to prevention of violence against women.  

    “The men keep the men in line…Men keep men in line to be abusive.”

    “Some men just pass it off, and know that it’s part of the horror culture that they live in.. but some men are, and one of the reasons is because all of those kind of ways of being the ‘man’s man’ gets more kudos, those men get more acceptance, and a lot of the men that I’ve interviewed and researched need that acceptance.”

    “Men influencing men is one of the leading factors of men’s violence against women, and so one of the best ways of outing it, preventing it and solving it is men speaking up  to other men, and men becoming leaders in our society, arguing against these issues, because men listen to men.”