Letter to the Editor: On the Objectification of Women
This past week I was astounded to see a letter in your pages which attempted to solve the problem of the objectification of women through a reversion to the dating system of old and chivalry. Knowing that this does not represent the men of Luther I know, who are respectful toward women and proud feminists, I feel the need to respond. To find a solution to these issues, we need a re-conceived society which accepts men and women as equals, not a perversion of historic norms which forever maintain that men cannot help but objectify women, deserve all the money and have all the power.
Before I address that, let’s look at Ms. Juergens’ primary argument. She seems to believe that men have no choice but to objectify and therefore sexually desire women. She believes it is a “visceral” reaction so deeply imbedded in the physicality of men (our viscera) that we cannot control it. The effect of this argument subverts her point: this sort of thinking leads to the conclusion that male biology necessitates that women are objects to desire no matter how smart, personable, or loving they might be, as those characteristics are secondary in the male mind. If men truly cannot help but objectify women, men can justify their objectification of women and women would be expected to accept it – it’s only natural, right? But I do not accept that men are necessarily more inclined toward lust than women. To argue that our viscera are more inclined toward the flesh than women’s is a sexist assertion. To argue that our cultural values must change, however, is not. Assertions made in this manner – that objectification of women is an unassailable necessity – are diametrically opposed to the ideals of feminism. The feminist ideal has not been actualized, and it never will unless we closely look at how our culture continues to tell men that women are objects.
Ms. Juergens’ solution is that men should “take us on an innocuous but adorable first date.” While dating might be a more positive manner of relationship-building than inappropriate comments made on the sidewalk, the classic dating paradigm has negative social undertones. In the classic paradigm, the man always asks and the man always pays. If the man needs to buy the dinner, this recognizes that there is an agreed upon exchange – the man receives companionship from the woman commensurate with the expense of the date. This has serious implications – since the man requires money to obtain companionship (and the woman does not) isn’t his need for money greater? If his self-actualization depends on his ability to economically provide for a woman (and the woman need only provide for herself), is it not appropriate for a him to be paid more than she for the same work? I hope that we all can recognize that this idea is sickeningly sexist, yet it is built on a social paradigm that many of us take for granted. This seemingly innocuous date, if undertaken in the classic style, subtly sets up an economic dynamic which places the man above the woman and justifies his economic superiority.
Chivalry is also seen as a solution. In my view, chivalry is rightfully dead. This antiquated concept derives from the medieval notions of what makes an ideal knight: performing courageous and honorable duties for the weak. As feudal societies broke down, the essence of the chivalric system was distilled down to entail men (the honorable knights) helping women (the weak). This system sets up a hierarchy which forever places men above women. By accepting this system, women become the objects of men’s actions because they are weak and women are refused their personal agency, further perpetuating gender stereotypes which lead to our society’s acceptance of objectification. I advocate for common courtesy instead. Both men and women should treat the other with respect. When someone holds a door open for you when your hands are full, you appreciate it, no matter your gender or theirs. That’s how it should be – chivalry not included.
This is not an attack on Ms. Juergens or on her letter. I respect that she wrote it out of frustration for our societal norms. However, her proposed solutions only further exacerbate our society’s problems. Asserting that men cannot help themselves for biological reasons further justifies the objectification of women. Arguing that men, and men only, need take the initiative necessary for dating continues to promote the economic dominance of men over women. Believing that chivalry is a solution, and not a problem, further perpetuates the idea that women are helpless and weak. I join Ms. Juergens in hoping that in our society, women and men might respect one another for who they are, not how they look. However, needlessly promoting antiquated societal norms also promotes other antiquated societal norms: sexism and male dominance.
Hans Becklin (‘14)