To Objectify is to Dehumanize

Last week, Emma Watson gave a speech at the UN where she launched a campaign called #HeforShe and invited men to join women in promoting gender equality.  She made it clear that feminism should not be about man-hating and encouraged men to be advocates for change.

The idea that women are somehow inferior often has its roots in sexual objectification.  Some men see women as objects to be controlled rather than fellow humans with intrinsic value.  They see women as a challenge to be conquered and believe a lie that they can use women to fulfill their sexual desires and then dispose of them.  It is shocking how quickly the media will reduce any well-known woman to a sex object and move the focus off her accomplishments.  How quickly are female athletes or singers reduced to pin-up girls on magazine covers rather than celebrated for their talents?

Ms. Watson mentioned in her speech that she was sexualized by some in the media as early as age 14.  I remember a skit on SNL in 2004 where Lindsay Lohan played the Harry Potter character Hermoine wearing a tight shirt that captured the attention of the boys in the skit.  I understand this was done in the name of humor, but humor can often desensitize and make acceptable that which previously wasn’t.  Is it a good thing to sexualize a girl of 14?  Shouldn’t we celebrate her for her talents as an actress rather than reduce her to an object?

The problem with sexual objectification is that it quickly leads to dehumanization.  By reducing the woman to an object or even to part of a person by focusing on only a portion of her body, we fail to see her as an individual with value and dignity.  Whenever one group in a society starts to dehumanize another group, bad things happen.  History is littered with tragic examples of dehumanization leading to discrimination both large and small.

So what should men do?  Let’s start by ending sexual narcissism.  We have to stop treating women as sex objects that can be used for our pleasure and then disposed of like old magazines.  This will require a significant cultural change.  We’re going to address this at an upcoming conference called Justice NYC on Nov 1st.  The conference will launch and effort to create a peer pressure among men to treat women the way we would want our daughters to be treated.  We need to do more than just opt out of sexual narcissism.  We need to speak up when other men dehumanize women.

When MLK made his case to the country to end segregation, he often pointed out that we’re all made in the image of God and that discrimination is an affront to our Creator.  The same is true of dehumanization through sexual narcissism.  Genesis 1:27 makes clear that both men and women are made in the image of God.  Therefore, the mistreatment of women through sexual objectification is a Justice issue that concerns all men and especially Christian men.

I’m glad that Ms. Watson invited men to join women in speaking up for gender equality.  God made both men and women in his image and His opinion is definitive on the matter. For Christian men, who claim to believe in the God of the Bible, ending the dehumanization of women through sexual narcissism has to be a priority.  This will not happen unless men are deliberate.  It also won’t happen unless men are willing to endure the kind of mocking and persecution for which Jesus called us blessed in Matthew 5:10-11.  I encourage all men to join in ending sexual narcissism which is so harmful to women.  I challenge all Christian men to step up and lead those efforts and live out the things you claim to believe.

3 thoughts about the post

  • Timothy Tien
    October 6, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Dear Paul:

    As a father of daughters and a husband pursuing a healthier marriage, I couldn’t agree with your stance against sexual objectification more. I would encourage you to consider the apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 which I see instructs us on the proper frame and structure for sexuality and sexual drives. The Bible does speak to beautiful women, in a sexual way (Sarah, Abigail, Tamar, Bathsheba, Esther, off the top of my head). The Bible also speaks about physically attractive men (Joseph, Saul, David, … I am sure there are others), but I believe that only in Joseph’s case did an explicit sexual situation arise. I know there is plenty of OT and NT teaching against lust and other sexual sin; but I also believe that God created women to be physically attractive to men. Imagining a world without sexual distortion and deviancy, I believe that whatever cultures deem ‘sexy’ are also markers for ‘healthy’, which helps people to be fruitful and multiply.

    The human race has not done a great nor consistent job of redeeming the gift of sex. We should do better. But we should also celebrate beauty and sex and healthy marriage (which is first and foremost a sexual relationship) and children and parenting.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    P.S. Eric Grundy knows me, and knows where to find me.

    • Paul Horrocks
      October 6, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that we have not done a great job of redeeming the gift of sex. I recently read “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelism.” He does a terrific job of outlining the beauty and importance of sex.