When I started writing this article I thought I had a clear view as to what I would share. After three days of looking at photographs, travelling down memory lane, speaking with individuals who share kinky views and conversing with my mum, yes my mum, I realised that my views on objectification have been formed and transformed throughout my lifetime and just as they are different now compared to when I was 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years old, I know that when I am 40, 50, 60 my ideas on said topic will expand and develop further still.
I am a baby of the 70′s, 1973 to be exact and life for women at that particular time was not nearly as accommodating as it is now. Granted my first five years were spent learning how to speak, crawl, walk, eat with utensils, dress myself and use the toilet, I can distinctively remember when I was four and my mum was trying to find a job that did not involve nursing, secretarial duties and or teaching and it was almost impossible. Oh, there were other career choices such as waitress and flight attendant; however, my mum wanted more, she wanted a career that she would enjoy, one that would provide excellent dental and medical as well as a one which would encourage her to move up the “corporate ladder,” one that would promote growth.
My mum is not shy of hard work. She was raised by farmers and spent much of her young life tending to the fields, rising early before school, returning after classes to help with the vegetables and all while maintaining excellent grades and a rather active social life. Time management has been one of my mother’s best of friends and I believe it is because of her upbringing that my mum truly sought a job that would challenge her, that would help fulfil her. Which is why I believe she fought as hard as she did to enter a “man’s” field. My mother’s first job after having babies was mushroom picking which lead her to pine cone picking, which turned into tree planting and eventually leading her into Silviculture. In 1977, the world of Forestry was dominated by men, truly the majority of women who worked in the office were secretaries, not field men and although my mum never thought less of the ladies in the pencil skirts and pretty ruffled blouses, she wanted to work outside, to work with the soil, to plant and watch forests grow. To say it was a challenge for her to enter that world is an understatement; however, after four years of proving she could “do the work” she was given a full time position and within five years she was upper management. (A huge feat since she was the first woman to land such a position and she was the only woman in a group of 312 people.)
My mum’s decision to work in Forestry was not to “take” a man’s job but rather because she wanted to work and she wanted a career that she could grow in, one that would allow her a sense of safety, job security, one that would provide her family with food, clothing and a roof over our heads. Now, my father was a provider, he worked, always has but my mum did not wish to depend on him solely and the reality was with three children and growing costs my parents needed a double income in order to survive. The decision to work came from both a need and a want, my mum wanted a life outside of her family and I do not blame her, on the contrary, I am proud of her for doing so. But finding a job was not the true obstacle my mum would face, no, it was the way men treated her (and even some women) and how many men would call my mother names, whistle at her, make suggestive, sexual comments and even pat her bottom as they said, “good job, very good job girl”.
Yes. Fellow employees actually placed their hand on my mother’s backside. Yes. Fellow employees addressed my grown mother as “girl”. Although my mum did not directly discuss with me her hardships at work, when you are little you can easily blend if quiet and I spent many evenings under the kitchen table listening to the grown ups talking and even then I knew what those men were saying to my mum was not okay. Granted I had no idea it was a form of objectification, I did not learn that word until I was older, I still knew it was wrong and it hurt my mum’s feelings.
Thankfully it did not take long before my mum “earned” the respect of the majority of the men she worked with and as the years passed and more women were entering that particular field the snide, misogynistic comments dissipated and I no longer heard negative or worrisome conversations between my mum and her friends. In fact, my mum worked in Forestry most of her life and the more she worked, the happier she appeared.
If memory serves me correct, I think that was one of my very first introductions into how women can be objectified. Oh I know watching my mother paint her face with pretty make up and tending to her dress and ensuring her feet were decorated in extra ordinarily high heels and my father parading her around at the local dances, whispering comments of how beautiful “his girl” is and ensuring she was kept too busy either dancing or tending to his drink for her to converse with others definitely impacted my views on the female creature. However, my father’s treatment of my mother, even the fact that he liked to keep her silent, just sitting pretty by his side felt very different, left a very different taste in my mouth unlike the feelings I had with regards to how my mum’s co-workers treated her.
Perhaps it is just that very contradiction which caused much of my conflict when I first learned about sexual objectification, about the consent of such an act. I know I have experienced objectification in an unpleasant and non consenting manner. I certainly experienced it attending a high school with boys who seemed to forget I had eyes for they only ever stared at my breasts and often addressed me in sexual terms such as cunt, bitch, slut instead of addressing me with my name. I even experienced objectification when I entered the working world and met my district manager at the shoe store I worked. I was 19 at the time and excited to start my education with the hopes of being a doctor. My district manager who, to say the least, was a man with little regard for women and their capabilities, asked me what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. With confidence and excitement I shared with him that I was going to be a doctor at which point he replied, “A doctor? Oh no. You’re a woman. You’ll be a nurse and a rather sexy one at that” and if his words did not strike me hard enough, he ended his statement with a swat on my ass and a reminder to wear higher heels next time I worked. (The dress code that District Manager gave “his girls” as he called us were short skirts and a minimum of 3 inch heels.) It was 1991, not that long ago and there I was, dealing with a man who still believed “girls” as he always referred woman as, were meant to be seen and not heard, adorned in pretty clothing and red lip stick, obedient and mild mannered and he was not afraid to tell me his views any time I challenged his opinions.
The ogling eyes of high school boys, the patronizing opinions from superiors, even the occasional suggestive comment from my physics and geography professors in Universityaffected my views, skewed my thoughts on sexual objectification and it is no wonder that I have felt discombobulated when I confront myself with my own desires on being objectified, when I have cravings of being a simple dolly to be used, toyed with then set aside.
Watching and listening to my mother and all the obstacles she encountered, in combination with my own experiences are not the only factors that have impacted my conflict with regards to objectification. There is one other person who has played a rather large part in my confusion: my father. My dad was born in 1941, a time when women were wives and mothers were keepers of homes, nurturers for children and pleaser’s for husbands. When I take the time to remember life as a child, watching the interactions of my paternal grandparents, it is obvious why my father approached my mother in the manner he did. My grandmother, although she did work occasionally in the family shop, was, for the most part a beautiful trinket for my grandfather. Her hair was always curled, taking the time the previous night to wrap each lock in a roller; her make-up impeccable and her outfit each day consisted of dresses and stockings and dainty well respected heels. Even when grandmother tended to the wash or was beating the rugs on the back porch she looked like a picture out of “Better homes and garden” magazine, pearls and all. She was a lady and my father grew up watching his graceful mother tend to his father’s every need, all while remaining (for the most part) silent yet beautified. Pausing now, I can distinctively remember watching grandmother present grandfather with his dinner, then quietly sitting beside him, listening to him speak yet never commenting. Even then I thought she looked more like an ornament than a person.
My father grew up in a home where women were similar to children: best seen and not heard. It is no wonder that those sentiments would transfer into his own marriage. Although I was not consciously aware of my parents dynamics, as I aged and now reflecting on my memories, (as skewed as some must be with the element of time), it is obvious my father considered my mother a trinket, at least some of the time. Granted he engaged in far more conversations than grandfather did with grandmother, (publicly at least), he shared similar expectations with his father when it came to appearances. Up until I was in my teens my mother had long, blonde, naturally straight hair and she wore it anyway my dad desired. She also wore make-up and stockings every day, even on days when she did not work, when she was tending to laundry and she wore those stockings even when out in the field tending to trees. When my mum and dad would go out for dinner or to a local dance or even a gathering at a friends house, my father would pick my mother’ s outfit and would often make comments of how pretty she looked and how he wished he could keep her looking like “that” all day every day. There were even times when he would compare my mother to a painting or a vase or a lamp saying her beauty outshone the light.
Now, to many his comments could easily pass as endearing compliments, to me though, my father’ s sentiments were not just compliments, there was, on some level a comparison of my mother to inanimate objects and even when I was little that left a rather awkward sensation within me. It also was not uncommon for my father to ensure my mother was not speaking, that she was simply on his arm or by his side, complimenting him with her mere presence. For the most part this behaviour did not upset my mum; however, there were times when my mum did not appreciate it and I would believe those exact behaviours are something my mother resents now that she is older. My mother appreciated being pretty and appreciated that my father thought she was beautiful; however, I know from numerous conversations with my mother that she does harbour some anger for the times when my father “forbid” her to participate, when he “encouraged” her to just be a pretty thing by his side.
The idea of beauty and how a lady should act was not directed solely on my mother but also on us three girls. My father forbid all of his daughters to cut their hair. Up until our early teens, each of us girls had hair down to our bum and we were never allowed to colour it. We had our ears pierced at a young age, granted we had to wait until we were 9; however, once pierced, we did not leave the house without earrings decorating our lobes. Although make-up was only allowed for grown ups, my dad ensured our skin was clean and soft and feminine and our clothing matched that of a young lady: dresses, tights, little patent shoes with square heels (the kinds many young girls wish to wear) and a sweater or petite jacket to keep us warm. Now to my father’s credit when it came to playing outside we were allowed to wear trousers and sneakers with our hair in a pony tail and my father encouraged us to be in the dirt, to have fun but when it came to entertaining and or school, we were all little ladies. But we were more than little ladies, we were objects of his affection; we were pretty accessories to his life and although I sincerely have never felt like an object with regards to my father, it is evident, on some level we were just that. We dressed and walked and spoke in a manner which removed much of our humanness, we: Me and my two sisters along with my mother, were his background, his props and he was very proud of his scenery and oddly I was proud as well.
I liked being pretty for my father. I liked being pretty in general. We all did, including my mother which is why it was not until I was in high school, experiencing the unwelcoming and derogatory comments from boys who felt I was just legs with breasts, that I actually enjoyed being an object, well sometimes feeling like an object. As time progressed and the comments became nastier and I became aware that many boys/men spoke to parts of my body rather than me as a whole, I found myself disliking many thoughts and feelings I once embraced. My disdain towards being pretty, towards being something special on a gentleman’s arm waned and what once made me smile suddenly angered me, left me feeling confused, off kilter and slowly started my descent into my journey of never being an object, never being objectified again.
And my attempt at exhibiting a well adjusted, confident, woman (woman, not object), lasted but a mere few years for the moment I discovered a world of virtual kink, where I stumbled upon Talkers (one in particular called Crystal Palace which no longer exists or so I believe), I found myself internally wrestling with liking the idea of being an object, being looked at as an object and yet fighting to be treated as a human, as an intelligent, productive, opinionated person.
Much like how I feel now, I was struggling to find the balance. The balance of accepting who I am, realising my passions and understanding one does not negate the other and finding the right mental shelf to place all the negative associated with objectification, along side all the positive.