Female Objectification in an Online World

I’ve been a fan of Lisa Belkin’s for a while. The writer of the New York Time‘s blog Motherlode recently reported on the seemingly increasing objectification  and exploitation of women on college campuses across our nation. In her latest Sunday Times blog “Gender Roles On Campus” Belkin points out many instances when college (mainly fraternity) men publicly and aggressively harassed women. Belkin’s first example is an emailed invitation from a Duke University fraternity to hundreds of women on campus asking them to attend their Halloween party dressed in slutty costumes. Some on campus protested, but in the end, many girls attended in nurse good-body attire.  Is this shocking, in and of itself? Not really. I’m more concerned by the example Belkin gave of a University of Southern California frat boy who emailed many men on campus last year recruiting them to target women for sex, rank them within a particular system, and then to remember when hunting these women that they weren’t “really people like us men.” This is not just good ole fun as the Duke University Halloween party invitation seemed to be. This young man has to be deeply troubled and I don’t think he’s the norm on college campuses across the nation.  (At least, I hope not!)

Surprisingly, I tend to agree with many points Amanda Marcotte of Slate wrote in her retort Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too. She argues that women aren’t to blame for this exploitation just because they want to wear sexy clothes and enjoy the attention they receive from men. Her main argument is that women don’t hold it against a man if he is sexy, goes to bars on weekends, dates more than one woman, and also earns As in the classroom. In fact, we applaud it. There’s a double standard there.

I think both Marcotte and Belkin make good points. Yes it seems that female exploitation is wide spread on American campuses and elsewhere (Think Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger for instance.) While Belkin and some of her readers ask where the parents went wrong, I tend to think that the problem is much larger than that of just parental example, or lack thereof. Yes, if a young man sees his father treat his mother poorly or cheat on her, it will leave indelible scars. (At the same token, the same can be said if the young man’s mother divorces many times or consistently dates many men.) But by and large, I think the biggest influence on this type of male behavior is our media-driven society today and how women utilize social networking to garner attention and tip the scales of gender power. If men do truly rule the college campus and the social agenda—where women wait to be invited or are pursued and then submit—than what better way to get an invitation or to get pursued than by posting promiscuous pictures online? Heck, girls, in junior high school begin utilizing social networking in this way. It may be harmless, as perhaps Marcotte may argue, but I tend to think that it can create a clouded perception in young boys’ minds.

If you have middle or high school age children on Facebook, friend their friends and look at their profiles. You’re likely to see many young ladies posting pictures wearing barely any clothing or appearing in a provocative stance—perhaps even boasting about their latest party. The problem most parents have (and that their children don’t) is that the world can see their children’s pictures and send messages. It isn’t rare for a pretty young girl to receive multiple friend requests from strange men, or for men to ‘befriend’  models or ‘hot girls’ to improve their own profile status. But Facebook allows them to interact—to send notes, pictures and share personal contact information that teenage girls need to be aware of.

Experts such as Pat Allen, PhD, behavioral marriage therapist and best selling author of several books including “Getting to I Do” say men, by nature, are just predators. And social networks expand their territory.  I had the privilege of working with Allen in 2009 and read her books, including her latest: “The Truth About Men Will Set You Free … But First It Will Piss You Off.” What both books point out, is that men instinctually want to hunt and be with many women. Not all men act on their instincts, however. But women need to understand that these instincts are there biologically.  That’s where nature and nurture may come in and instilling ethics and morality in our children can help tip the scales. But some things can not be controlled by good parenting alone. Sexual addiction, for instance, is one of them. And good men can become addicted to cyber sex and the old fashioned kind as well. But objectification of women like the USC frat boy’s claim that women aren’t like men, is quite terrifying.

As the single mom of two young boys, I wonder what I can do. Most parents of young boys don’t want them growing up to be sociopathic predators like that USC frat boy. I don’t know what the answer is, but untethered access to the Internet at an early age can’t help. I’ve explored this issue somewhat in the past when Parenting Editor of DivineCaroline.com. In my articles Internet Safety and The Real Online Threat I interviewed experts who exhorted parents to monitor children’s online lives. The seeds of mysogyny or objectification of women start in middle school. We shouldn’t allow our children to create profiles online before they are 15, they say. Surprisingly many of my nine-year-old’s friends in Los Angeles have Facebook pages. They lied about their ages to create them and their parents don’t follow their activities very much. I know we’re all insanely busy, but parents need to monitor their children’s online world, especially if middle school children are involved, as experts claim they aren’t mature enough to handle the additional pressure and influences. Middle school is tough enough. Sexual images that objectify women abound in the media: whether on television or in magazines. You can’t shield your children from it, obviously. But there’s a different element to those found on the Internet or via social networking—as your children can quickly communicate with others.

I’m not sure where the foundation for frat boy attitudes in this country is rooted, but the online world sure provides a quick and convenient outlet to express it. Sadly, this type of attitude can also be found “offline as well.” I hope that my boys never join in any antics like that at Yale where Belkin reported men paraded through campus last year shouting  “No Means Yes! And Yes Means Anal!”

I pray that nine years from now, when my intelligent, thoughtful and precocious son begins college, our society will have evolved a bit. I know he’ll pursue pretty girls, (as he has already started to do!) but my hope is that his pursuits will always involve respect for the young women involved, regardless of whether a relationship begins. As a single mom, the onus is on me to instill these belief systems and morals. But at the end of the day, our children are their own people and they have to find their own way in this world. And today’s world is one with a million online and media temptations.

3 responses to “Female Objectification in an Online World

  1. Along with many good points to digest, here, there is one contradiction that makes a middle-age father wonder. If one can agree with Ms. Marcotte that “women aren’t to blame for this exploitation just because they want to wear sexy clothes and enjoy the attention they receive from men,” then why shouldn’t an adult female who posts a bikini clad profile picture on Facebook enjoy the same attention? It is her choice who to respond to and who to ignore in both instances. How girls/women dissuade the frat/porno-addicted boys/men is a subject worthy of a blog of its own.

    It is axiomatic that we MUST teach our Sons to be respectful of women. What girls need to be taught is a step-by-step process of how to discourage UNWANTED attention from males — both in person and in the cyber-world — what to do/say if approached on the street, at a party, on a train, via text, email, or Facebook. They need a guidebook! Some males are encouraged by ambivalence … they just keep at it and at it until they become bona fide stalkers. If girls can be taught to be non-confrontational but firm (and smart hopefully) in responding to these advances, boys might not assume that ALL mini-skirt clad girls are “looking for it.”

    Look — it’s time people grow up. Some females are looking to hook-up, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is growing evidence that young women have the same level of sexual desire as young men. Then there are subsets of highly sexual young men and women who are looking for one another. Blaming the media for the objectification of women is as unproductive as blaming the NRA for guns. We will always have the media and the NRA to contend with and nothing will change that. Girls need practical step-by-step counsel from experienced older women about how to enjoy their sexuality and womanhood and get the respect they deserve.

    James M. La Rossa Jr.
    Los Angeles, CA

    • Laura Roe Stevens

      Maybe you should write a guide to your daughters… for all tweens and teens on this topic! I agree, which is why I wrote the article on how NOT to date a narcissist. I wish I had that information when I was in graduate school in NYC!

  2. Entirely, it took me approximately 45 minutes to out and about this excellent posting. Thanks a lot a ton.

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