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Women’s Sexual Objectification Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019

Sociologists and psychologists use the term objectification in order to describe the treatment of an individual as some inanimate commodity that can be owned or manipulated, but not as a living being with dignity, emotions, feelings, or self-esteem (Gervais, 2013, p. 99). Much attention is usually paid to sexual objectification or representation of a person only as a source of sexual pleasure (Soble, 1997, p. 137).

This issue is of great concern to many feminist critics of mass media. For example, television can be accused of such practices (Cahill, 2010). This paper is aimed at discussing the process from the perspective of various representation theories. In particular, one should focus on the frameworks developed by Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Ferdinand de Saussure.

It is possible to examine the examples of objectification taken from reality shows and fiction films. These are the main questions that should be discussed more closely. Overall, one can argue that the representatives of mass media create stereotypic portrayals of women, and they can give rise to a belief according to which physical beauty is the major quality that a woman needs for success.

This form of representation can profoundly shape the attitude and values of teenagers. This is the main argument that should be elaborated.

The objectification of women is particularly widespread among reality shows. In particular, one can mention Fox Reality Channel show named Battle of the Bods. This show depicts three female participants who are ranked by three males. As a rule, these men have some common background.

It should be kept in mind that males, who act as judges, pay attention primarily to the physical appearance of contestants. Other qualities such as intelligence are completely disregarded. One of the messages conveyed created by the creators of this show is that physical beauty is the main thing that enables women to attain success.

Feminist critics believe that this representation of women can reinforce inequality between men and women (Gamble, 2001). On the whole, Michaelle Foucault’s theory of representation can be useful for explaining the way in which women can be treated as objects.

This thinker attaches much importance to such notions as the relations between power and knowledge (Hall, Evans, & Nixon, 2013). In this context, the concept of knowledge can be understood as a set of beliefs or attitudes that are shared by the majority of people in the community.

This is one of the issues that should be taken into consideration. From his perspective, knowledge can be constructed in order to control people’s behavior (Hall, Evans, & Nixon, 2013). In many cases, this goal can be achieved with the help of mass media. His theory implies that television can develop stereotypes and patterns of behavior to which people should adhere in order to integrate into the society.

Similarly, Battle of the Bods can be regarded as a tool for constructing this form of knowledge. One should bear in mind that this show is primarily intended for adolescent girls whose identity is not fully developed. It is quite possible that these viewers can perceive these women as role models.

Furthermore, one can apply the ideas of Roland Barthes in order to analyze this example. This thinker attaches importance to the idea of a myth. In this context, this term can be understood as a distorted representation of people, social groups, or geographic places (Ribiere, 2008, p. 22; Djelic 2007).

It should be noted that according to Roland Barthes, media can use myths in order to create a shared understanding of cultural norms (Hall, Evans, & Nixon, 2013). To a great extent, this model can be relevant to this case, because reality shows like Battle of the Bods can make certain values or attitudes more acceptable or tolerable.

In particular, one can speak about the belief that women should be primarily concerned with their physical appearance. In turn, the theory of representation developed by de Saussure can used to examine this case. According to de Saussure, a sign does not have an inherent meaning. More likely, the meaning of a sign depends on its context or immediate environment (Hall, Evans, & Nixon, 2013).

Although, this theory has been often used by linguists, it can be applicable to this case. In particular, the behavior of women, who take part in Battle of the Bods, can be regarded as role models, only if a person is not familiar with people who have different values and attitudes toward women or equality.

This is of the issues that should be taken into account. This example is important for demonstrating the process of objectification. It is mostly oriented toward the sexuality of an individual.

Additionally, this issue has been explored in many fiction films. Many cinematographic works are aimed at showing the challenges that women face in their professional lives. Moreover, some film-makers ridicule the sexual objectification of women in mass media. For example, one can mention such a movie as The Devil Wears Prada directed by David Frankel (2006).

This movie gives a very description of how fashion industry can objectify a woman. For example, the main character Andrea Sachs is treated as an outcast by her colleagues, only because she is not willing to dress more stylishly. Some of her colleagues are not able to imagine a woman who is not familiar with the names of the major fashion designers or brands.

This is one of the details that can attract the viewer’s attention. There are several similarities that can be identified. First of all, this cinematographic work describes the life of people who believe that individual worth is dependent mostly on the physical appearance. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about Andrea’s colleague, Emily who dreads the very idea of gaining weight.

However, it is important to remember that this movie also demonstrates that objectification is not the only option which is available to women. For example, Andrea Sachs chooses to quite this job in the fashion magazine since this job dehumanizes her (Elliott 2008). So, sexual objectification is parodied in this film, rather than glorified. This is the most crucial distinction that can be identified.

This film can be better understood with the help of representation theories of Foucault, Barthes, and de Saussure. For example, the application of Michel Foucault’s theory can be useful for analyzing Andrea Sachs’ behavior. This character attempts to challenge the dominant representation or conception of women. She chooses to deviate from the dominant behavior pattern which is imposed on her.

This is one of the details that should be singled out since it is critical for understanding the major themes explored by film-makers. In turn, Roland Barthes’ theory can also be helpful for explaining the major themes of this film. For example, Andrea Sachs quits the job at the fashion magazine, because she wants to challenge a dominant myth according to which women cannot attain success without relying on their physical beauty.

More importantly, she chooses to become a journalist because this choice career of career can help her cultivate her talents. Additionally, one can consider de Saussure’s model. As it has been said before, this model is premised on the idea that the meaning of the symbol can be fully understood if one looks at other symbols that surround it.

Similarly, one can say that objectification of women can be treated as something acceptable provided that there are no counter-examples. However, Andrea’s choice suggests that this form of behavior should not be viewed as the only road to success. This is one of the main aspects that can be distinguished.

On the whole, this discussion indicates that the objectification of women in mass media is a very concerning issue that should not be disregarded by sociologists and psychologists. The most important problem is that media can deprive women of their individuality because the role of their emotions, feelings, or thoughts is downplayed.

The theories that have been applied are helpful for explaining the process of objectification. They can show how the shared attitudes or values can be constructed. Moreover, they are important for showing how the identity of a person can be formed. Finally, objectification can be both glorified and lampooned on television. These are the main points that can be made.

Reference List

Cahill, A. (2010). Overcoming Objectification: A Carnal Ethics. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Djelic, M. (2007). Moral Foundations of Management Knowledge. New York, NY: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Elliott, J. (2008). Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory. New York, NY Palgrave Macmillan.

Frankel, D. (Executive Producer). (2006). The Devil Wears Prada. New York, NY: 20th Century Fox.

Gamble, S. (2001). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gervais, S. (2013). Objectification and (De)Humanization: 60th Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. New York, NY: Springer.

Hall, S., Evans, J., & Nixon, S. (2013). Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. New York, NY: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Ribiere, M. (2008). Barthes. Boston, MA: Humanities-Ebooks.

Soble, A. (1997). Sex, Love, and Friendship: Studies of the Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love, 1977-1992. Boston, MA: Rodopi.

Stratton, J. (1990). Writing Sites: A Genealogy of the Postmodern World. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

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