*This post was inspired by Jessica Valenti’s ‘Sex Object’
I lie in bed with my partner one morning and we scroll through tumblr together… Thin, make-up drenched girls covered in cum. Their bodies filled with cocks. Bodiless penises with girls. Women that are acting like girls. Girls that are paid to act.
Peggy Orenstein writes “I used to say, when speaking publicly on college campuses or to groups of parents, that one could disentangle sexualization from sexuality by simply remembering that the first is foisted on girls from the outside, the other cultivated from within. I’m no longer sure it’s so simple.”
I watch nature documentaries with my partner, lying across his lap as he delicately and patiently paints images on my back with Non-Toxic markers he insisted I use instead of regular crayola’s. The male species on-screen is always trying to convince a female to mate with them. Later he will be loving and empathetic when I get pouty that he’s not in the mood for sex, a weird result of my vaguely anxious attachment style: If we don’t have sex then you don’t find me desirable, if I’m not desirable then I have no worth, and who would want to be with a partner that has no worth. I know it is illogical. It does not mean it isn’t there.
“[…] girls begun responding ‘to questions about how their bodies feel – questions about sexuality or arousal – by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.’ Self-objectification has been associated with depression, reduced cognitive function, lower GPA, distorted body image, body monitoring, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviour, and reduced sexual pleasure.
In one study of eighth-graders, self-objectification accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another study linked girls’ focus on appearance to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. A study of twelfth-graders connected self-objectification to more negative attitudes about sexuality, discomfort in talking about sex, and higher rates of sexual regret.
Self-objectification has also been correlated with lower political efficacy: the idea that you can have an impact in the public forum, that you can bring about change.”
His hands on the back of my neck make me melt into a pile of comfort, “you are mine” they say. And I wonder what part of me is turned on by his ownership; what is genuine and what is derived from cultural messages shoved down my throat ever since the first utterance of “you’ll never find a boyfriend if” – my entire personality and demeanour and habits based around my acquiring a heterosexual mate who finds me appealing.
We’re non-monogamous to a degree that doesn’t take up much extra energy. I see messages from other girls pop up on his phone about how they want to fuck him. I beat down the feelings that him wanting to fuck other people isn’t a commentary on how much he loves me or how good our sex is; I want to fuck other people, too, sometimes. I want to be able to fall in love with other people, too, sometimes.
Recalling one time years ago, when I was jealous and upset that a boy I was interested in wasn’t responding to my texts or giving me the attention I desired, I went to Guelph to consume too much alcohol with friends from high school.
“So she distracts herself with challenges. No longer any fun to kiss boys in bars, but boys behind bars; a sense of the unobtainable obtained.”
My finger gave the ‘come-hither’ signal to one of the cooks behind the burrito bar at 1 or 2 AM and I grabbed him by the collar, pulling our faces together for a soppy and tonguey kiss. “You made him all flustered.” As if this sexual assault did either of us any good.
A few days ago, a good friend and I are talking on a bench. It is rainy and dreary. She is wearing last nights makeup and I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. We are talking about men and how we are stuck in this loop of wanting their approval yet hating when it is given to us. We are cut from a similar fabric in that neither of us could go to a party and feel like it was a good party unless we hooked up with someone by the end of the night. The only way we could have a good time was if someone with a dick had validated us with their sloppy, drunk erections. I became so good at performing this character to be validated, I had numerous men whisper to me in shadows, alleyways and basements: You are magical. Their eyes heavy from drinking and their brains fire-working as their hands cup my tits. They have not exchanged a word with me beyond this.
I was a cheerleader in high school; the reaction men have to this is far more exciting than it’s reality: I practiced throwing other humans into the air and then worried about catching them. But they also choreographed us spanking ourselves into our dance routine, just in case we thought for a second that we might be anything but objects to be consumed.
I am a rugby player in high school; this only gets a chuckle. I never really played in games anyways.
I wrote, at the age of 17, all about how sometimes we needed to give ourselves superpowers:
“They felt simultaneously that they actively chose a sexualized image- which was nobody’s damned business but their own- and that they had no choice.”
I go camping with my partner and don’t shower the entire 3 days. I leave my makeup bag at home and don’t look in a mirror at all. He reaches for me and holds me, we talk about our future together; he builds us a home in his mind and asks me questions about environmentally-friendly architecture every half hour. It is hard for me to articulate to him this part of myself that is object objecting to objectification yet demanding of it. It is difficult for me to swallow his gutteral reactions to beautiful women on the street because I am that woman and I hate it and I also hate that he is not giving that reaction to me.
“If, as bell hooks suggested, pop culture portrayals of women beg the question ‘Who has access to the female body?'”
I wasn’t given access to my body. I had to go looking for access to my body and I am still learning how to interact with it.
I’m interviewed for a Montreal CBC show and they ask me what’s the difference between mainstream porn and feminist porn. I thought about this after they left my apartment in a flurry of French. The difference is in my reaction. The difference is that one makes me feel nauseous, anxious and panicked; that I am not them, and that even though I have been dragged through the process of objectification to it’s entirety, I will never be them. I cannot act that long and remain whole.
The other makes me feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“If you are sick and want to be well, you need to relay the details of your symptoms: glossing over them ensures a lifetime of illness.” – Jessica Valenti, ‘Sex Object’