General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Do women conspire in encouraging others to see them as sex objects?

Asked by wundayatta (58612points) April 16th, 2009

I grew up in the time of feminism, when women were angry about being seen and treated as sex objects that had nothing more to offer than what they looked like and what was between their legs. These days, it seems like feminism is a bad word. Almost no young woman would label herself that way. It seems like, more than ever, women dress to kill (at least in the US).

I’m sure they believe the feminist revolution has been won, and that they can be sexy as well as smart and powerful. I’m not sure. I think that if you want to be taken seriously, except in very few industries, you can’t afford to accentuate your sexiness. In fact, you have to diminish it, and dress serious, for business, unless, of course, you are in a business that sells sex, like the food industry (how do women maximize tips?).

It seems to me that this must be a very complex thing to have to deal with—to try to be taken seriously on the one hand, and on the other, to try to be attractive and sexy. I don’t know if it can be done, as long as the two are seen as opposed to each other. I’d hate to live in a world where women didn’t dress in a way that makes my dick grow hard. But when it is hard, it’s damn difficult to think about anything else.

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46 Answers

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

I don’t know that any women are “actively” trying to make all women viewed as sex objects. But I think it’s nearly undeniable that some women and the way they act/dress/etc do nothing but help fuel that view of women. The worst part of it is it seems to be becoming socially acceptable to JUST be a sex object (in some social cliques at least).

I’m all for sexual freedom and equality, and if a girl wants to dress riskay and hook up with a bunch of guys, more power to her. BUT when that becomes ALL that she wants to do, and her entire personality and life is based on it, then there’s trouble.

oratio's avatar

Women and men have always been sex objects. It is natural. The problem is when people are seen only as sex objects, as their other qualities are not appreciated.

sevenfourteen's avatar

I think that the idea of feminism died because the next generation of women only saw feminists as those butch looking women who were very aggressive towards men and their advances. Therefore being a feminist became a bad thing, completely backwards from what it was supposed to be.

As for women trying to be sexy and productive in the workforce- society and tv killed that for us. I don’t watch tv much but for what I do watch women (no matter their job/intellegence) are dressing in certain ways and seem to be there only to be the sexual pawn for the men. This carried over into real life and some women are getting the message that the only way to advance in life is through the bedroom—not good for the rest of us.

Likeradar's avatar

Self-described feminist here (although the revolution has not been won, far from it). To me, feminism means that we women have the option of having it all (or at least trying to)- while looking pretty if that’s what we chose.

@westy81585 said- “The worst part of it is it seems to be becoming socially acceptable to JUST be a sex object.” To me, that’s a sad route for a woman to take. But I do like that the option to do that is there, as is the option to be a scientist (or some other stereotypically male thing) who works to downplay her looks.

But to answer your title question, I don’t think women intentionally conspire to encourage others to see them as sex objects. However, girl-on-girl snark and judgments is sadly very, very much alive in most circles. I think for the most part, girls are really just mostly trying to impress and intimidate each other, weather or not it’s consciously.

And also, I gotta add… is it the woman’s fault that you have a hard time taking her seriously when you find her attractive? It feels good for a woman to be put-together and looking her best (although hopefully work-appropriate when the situation calls for it). It may seem strange and may have some anti-feminist pathology behind it, but I find that I do better in school, work, and just life in general when I feel like I look good. It’s not because of the opportunities I get because I’m working my assets, but because my confidence is up and I want to show the world all of who I am instead of hiding in scrubs and frizzy hair. Try to look at a woman for what is coming out of her mouth… and not what you’d like to put in it ;) You may be surprised to find that some of the women who play up their assets are the most intelligent and driven.

I hope I made sense. This is a pre-coffee fluther

kevbo's avatar

@daloon, not really a direct answer to your question but your ongoing dilemma. What works for me is having cultivated a sense of appreciation. Like wine appreciation or classical music appreciation. Sort of an “aren’t-you-beautiful-I’m-here-if-you-want-more-now-let’s-get-to-work” kind of disposition. What I’ve also found is that it still will get you in trouble among women who don’t dress sexy. They’re the ones who’ll go running to HR and make your life unpleasant.

GAMBIT's avatar

Some of the most beautiful women I have met have been cowgirls and country girls that grew up on farms and ranches. These women are comfortable in jeans and t-shirts and don’t wear any make up but they could catch any man’s eye with a smile. I’ve also met women who put on so much onion gook that it is a huge turn off.

mattbrowne's avatar

Most of them don’t, but it might depends on the line of business they are in. We all know that sex sells.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I think a large part of it is that Feminism doesn’t really seem to have it’s own, set definition anymore. And in my experience, at least, women I’ve met that are self proclaimed feminists are often but not always are rather hostile. Don’t get me wrong I’m very polite, I don’t oggle over women or anything of the like, but I’ve met “feminists”(I quote because I don’t think these women are the true definition of feminism) that are overly aggressive and “anti-everything-with-a-penis” even though I’ve done nothing to insult her aside from being a male.
I think when women see that kind of behaviour, and see how they call themselves a feminist constantly, they associate it with being hostile and over the top, so they don’t use the term.

Likeradar's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 It’s true… a lot of the most vocal women who describe themselves as feminist seem to mean feminism is being anti-male or superior to men. I think you’re right about why a lot of women don’t want to call themselves feminist. They’ve lost sight of what it really is.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I know a couple women who quietly call themselves feminists, and it’s not a women are better than men, or men are the sole purpose for every problem in the world sort of thing. It’s just a, “I have enough respect for myself to not let sexuality control my life unless I want it to” mentality. I think that’s the best kind of feminism. in my opinion Feminism, over the last couple decades, has shifted from an outward, protesting manner, to more of an inner philosophy.

wundayatta's avatar

@Likeradar and @ABoyNamedBoobs03: This is what I was referring to in my question. Feminism gets a bad name because people believe that most feminists are strident bitches, who are angry at all men.

I know plenty of feminists who see feminism in a different way. I was at a talk by one the other day. She is an historian. For her, feminist historiography was about including the womans’ point of view on events, as well as the impact of the events on women in the history that is written. Those voices, for her, had been diminished and overlooked far too long. For her, anyone could be a feminist historian: male or female.

When I was fresh out of college, I got a job with a group fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment for women. At the time, I thought of it as “I wanted to know if they let men be feminists.” For me, feminism is humanism. It means we all have the freedom to play any role we want in life. We are not constrained by traditional gender roles. If men want to be emotional, they don’t get shit for doing it. If women want to be construction workers, they don’t get shit for that.

In my job, half the women were lesbians. There were only two men. There were one or two dykey looking women, but there didn’t seem to be a man-hater in the bunch. They knew not all men are jerks. They knew men who respected them for their brains and their work. Most of the women there were pretty attractive, and hell, the odds were pretty good for me! So, for the most part, since college, I’ve insisted that my girlfriends be feminists. I’m married to one now. She makes more money than I do, and that doesn’t make me feel less.

But, as I said in the question, it seems to me that things have changed, and it isn’t just what happened to feminism. I am wondering if women are taking themselves back to the 50’s. It feels like they are voluntarily moving back towards what they once fought against. You can say that women claim they can be sexy and taken seriously in a law firm.

Maybe it’s just a phase. College girls go through it, because at that time of life, they are really interested in finding their own guy. Maybe later, it’s not so important, and they can focus on family and career, not necessarily in that order. Even so, there’s something about it that worries me.

Oh, and @kevbo. Thanks for your concern, but I was greatly exaggerating things in the question. Most of my hires have been women. I know how to separate intelligence from sexuality, in the workplace. I like women much better than men, and although I love a female figure, that’s not why I like them better.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I was never taught by my guardian on how to handle unwanted sexual attention, so for me it’s easier to just not play up whatever looks I might have. It’s good in that when I am at work, my words and my deeds are paid attention to. Also, there is a protocol at work where people are expected to treat each other in a civil way and not hit on you there. I’m comfortable at work.

But it’s bad in that men don’t look at me at all in other social settings where it’s expected and OK. I’m so scared and anxious because I don’t know how to handle the attention of men I’m not interested in that I just shut all male attention out by hiding in plain sight, as it were. Men always think of me as the sidekick/little sister/friend type and I’m more comfortable with that.

I’m a feminist, but to me, feminism means that I have the right to make decisions about my life in the way a man would. It certainly doesn’t mean that I hate men.

nikipedia's avatar

I think this is a really complicated question with a lot of sub-questions wrapped within it.

To answer your main question (do women conspire in encouraging others to see them as sex objects): sure, some of them. But what constitutes a “sex object”? Can you be a sex object only during certain times, like for your husband during sex, and be taken seriously as a human being the rest of the time? I’d like to think so.

Is being attractive the same thing as being a sex object? I hope not. I try to look attractive, but not sexy, pretty much all the time.

I think it’s very telling that none of the women in my (science, doctoral) program are ugly. On average, I think the women are far more attractive than the men. That bothers me, because it suggests that pretty girls have been given advantages that ugly girls have not.

But I think that advantage only extends so far. Male professors might be more likely to bump your grade up from an A- to an A, or to call a graduate program on your behalf to encourage them to admit you (this happened to a friend of mine), but I think women—attractive or not—are still not taken as seriously as men. And I don’t know where the line is between someone legitimately questioning my scientific judgment, versus questioning my scientific judgment because I’m a woman.

I don’t think things are equal, or anywhere near it. But I also don’t know how to fix it, or the best way to navigate through these problems. Unfortunately, all the data suggest to me that all I can do is look attractive to get those extra couple “I like you” points, and work harder than all the guys around me and still get less credit. Sucks.

casheroo's avatar

I think a major factor is girls nowadays don’t know how hard generations before us had to fight, to even have the right to dress however they want.
I personally don’t see what’s so hard about taking an attractive women seriously. I’ve never had issues with that, other than when I used my looks or dumbed myself down…I’ll admit I have done this, to get things I’ve wanted. I don’t view anything I do as “anti-feminism”
Even if I think I should be home with their children for the first year…that’s my right to feel that way. I in no way, shape or form, impose my beliefs on other women. That’s what makes me a strong woman. I believe we should all have choices, and rights to do what we want.
Women don’t encourage others to do anything, I think it’s more society pressures…if a girl in middle school wants to be popular, and the popular thing to wear is pants with paw prints on the ass, then she might do it just to fit in. I guess that is pressure. It’s a shame.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I believe in families women are raised to embrace their attractiveness, not deny it because that just goes against nature. I believe advertising encourages women to embrace their sexuality and to exploit it as a vehicle to for the advertising business. Women who feel they have to use attractiveness and sexuality as a base for self power, self esteem and social standing are the ones who usually end up misused.

jo_with_no_space's avatar

Great question. Yes, they definitely do, and the actions of some women hinder the cause of the rest of us who seek equality.

saranwrapper's avatar

There is a great book called Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy about the change in feminism and in the general female population in the 21 century. She talks about how raunchy we’ve all become. It’s a great read.

Randy's avatar

Two words. ===> Sex sells.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Randy but the fact that women’s sex sells more is an issue, to me, anyway

rooeytoo's avatar

I personally have always strived for equality. To me feminism always wanted special treatment, not equal treatment. An example is maternity leave, as an employer I don’t want to have to pay some one to have a baby. I think that is a career choice and since most career choices are subsidized by employers, why should this one choice be?

And yes I think a lot of women do conspire, whether consciously or unconsciously. I think this every time I go past a military base where across from the base is strip joint, after strip joint, how difficult those strippers make it for the women in the military to be taken seriously or equally.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

this is a great question
and I do agree that plenty of women are plenty involved in sexism
and I do think some are mistaken to think that playing only a sex object is somehow feminism…we’ve forgotten that feminism has not achieved as much as necessary…to say that women can ‘choose’ to be sex objects is fine and all but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have an overall culture that values that and that’s a problem

wundayatta's avatar

@rooeytoo: I always thought it was unfair to let women have so much more maternity leave. But for me, equality didn’t mean taking that away. It meant giving men more paternity leave. Women aren’t the only ones who want to be with their children. Men do, too. At least, I do. I’m sure that many others do, too.

Tonight, my daughter couldn’t, for a moment, think of the name of girl scounts. Instead, she said “butcher girls.” This reminded me of suicide girls, and then I had to explain that, and it was about women who look different, reclaiming their own form of beauty and sexuality. Which lead to a discussion of equality, and looks, and what is valuable in people, and how to look beyond surfaces, etc. It was just cool (my daughter is 12 and my son 9).

Then I come upstairs, and my daughter is organizing her umpteen million barbies. The plan is to dress them all, and put them in a box for the attic. It will no longer be cluttering up her room. “Now I see why they say Barbies don’t look like real woman,” she said. Now how cool is that?

Anyway, I don’t think being a Dad should be any less than being a Mom. I don’t think we should be laughed at for being stay-at-home dads, or interested in child care jobs, and other traditionally feminine things. Feminism, for me, stands for a way to dig out anti-male discrimination, too. It’s not just for women.

rooeytoo's avatar

@daloon – I agree, as I said, I am for equalism. But I as an employer or tax payer (if the maternity/paternity leave is subsidized by the government) do not feel I have an obligation to pay for someone to have a child. Here there is a law trying to get passed that an employer must hold a job open and pay maternity (I don’t think it extends to paternity) leave. I as a small business owner simply cannot afford that and many other small businesses are in the same situation. So what it means in essence is that many small businesses will no longer hire females of child bearing age. To get back to the topic, this law and others like it are being proposed as a “feminist” agenda. That is why I am an equalist, I just want a chance at the same jobs for the same pay. And yes I think women should serve an equal role in the military if there is a draft.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 – Don’t let it get to you. There’s a small fanatic group in the feminist movement. Most of them are angry immature hot-blooded young women. They are rightly outraged by the history of the suppression of women, plus all injustice that still exists today. You will see the most extreme forms in Saudi-Arabia or a Taliban-ruled Pakistan. But even in our civilized western societies some open issues need to be resolved.

Another explanation for this extreme form of feminism is that older girls/young women had to deal with older boys/young men who are on average less mature. This fact of nature is most visible between 13 and 19 years. I’ve got twins, a boy and a girl, now both almost 20. From 13 to 19 girls are 2 years ahead of the boys in terms of maturity. Young men are able to catch up pretty fast. At 20 the difference is almost completely gone.

Boys and men also have their own form of “macho” agenda and like with the girls and women, extreme views are only held by a minority.

On average the qualities of adult men and women are somewhat different. Complementing each other is a very successful approach. Mature men and women appreciate each other. Mature and wise feminists pity women with a aggressive “anti-everything-with-a-penis” attitude.

unused_bagels's avatar

Don’t question, daloon, just be thankful.

rooeytoo's avatar

@daloon – “I like women much better than men, and although I love a female figure, that’s not why I like them better.” Just out of curiosity, why do you say that?

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not clear on what you’re asking, @rooeytoo. I said it because I think it. Are you asking why I like women better, if not for their figures?

rooeytoo's avatar

@daloon – I am not making an assumption about you because I don’t know you, so please don’t take it as such, but in my experience, men who say they like women better than men, would rather talk to women, would rather be in their company are usually men who were very misogynistic and never really seemed to like individual females simply women made a better audience. I don’t think they ever viewed women as equals.

That is why I asked, why do you like women much better than men?

wundayatta's avatar

I find them easier to talk to, more intuitive, more accepting of me, less competitive, easier to trust; share things with. They don’t take advantage of you if you listen. In fact, they understand listening—that you give space so that everyone can have some.

Men tend not to be as sensitive, and tend to leave no space for emotions. You always have to be on your guard. It’s a competition, whether anyone says it or not.

I find it interesting that you use that predilection as a filter for misogyny. I’ve never heard of such a thing, nor have I ever seen it. I’ve known a number of women who prefer the company of men.

And you? Who do you like, and why?

rooeytoo's avatar

I like creatures (sometimes even 4 legged ones) who stimulate my mind and creativity, who see the irony and humor in life and who are capable of laughing at themselves.

I don’t think these qualities are necessarily restricted to women or men. I have known women and men who had them in abundance and many of both who had none.

I believe that the characteristics you attribute to women and men individually are not as a result of their sex, it is because of cultural brain washing. It could be changed if people stopped imprinting their children with these habits. And if men stopped using their maleness as an excuse for boorish behavior.

The men I have known who said they preferred women or loved women indiscriminately usually meant they loved pussy, not female human beings with intellect. If you are different, good on ya. I shouldn’t categorize like that, there are always exceptions, it is simply my personal experience.

wundayatta's avatar

Can one not love both brains and sexiness? Oh jeez, I hope not!

rooeytoo's avatar

I pointed out several salient facts in that response and you chose to address only one aspect, sort of makes my point.

To say you prefer the company of any woman dehumanizes them, does not allow them to be who they are, rather what you perceive woman are and should be.

You probably wouldn’t prefer my company because I am competitive. You can talk to me but I am brutally honest, will say what I think not what I intuit you want to hear and that does turn a lot of men off.

I do not want to play the semantics game, I just always see red flags go up when man or woman makes that statement, I like, I prefer one over the other. I think it is more realistic to say I prefer people with these qualities and then see who fits the parameters.

I will shut up now, I feel as if I am reaching the point where I am beating a dead horse or trying for the last word and that isn’t my game either.

wundayatta's avatar

Apparantly you don’t like averages. That’s what generalizations are, of course. It is true that there is a huge amount of variation in people. I never said I liked all women, nor that I disliked all men. Anyway, clearly I’ve said something that makes you respond rather strongly. Interesting, that.

rooeytoo's avatar

omg, I have to take the bait, I am not sure what I have said that you consider a strong response. You did say ” “I like women much better than men.” That doesn’t seem to me to be a generalization, it seems to be a definitive statement.

Now the “Interesting, that” statement at the end of your last post strikes me as a snide remark and if it is, why would you say that, maybe because I am not fitting your parameters of non-competitive, compliant, sensitive female listeners?

Interesting that you would find that interesting!

jackfright's avatar

Many seem to. Of all the women i fear, i fear those who use their sexuality as another tool at their disposal the most. It strikes me as a very shrewd and intelligent thing to do when used appropriately and used with skill.

Hormonal teenagers seeking male attention are a different matter altogether.

fedupwitcaddys's avatar

Yeah…......cause some of the shit women WEAR and DO fucks it up for the respectful women. and some of the clothes i see half of these women in i would never be caught DEAD in. you can bury me NAKED for all i care!

SeventhSense's avatar

I don’t think women conspire, as much as attract by their nature. The female is alluring and inviting and draws a man to her and so assure the survival of our species. The feminist revolution was good in that it encouraged equality and assured that women had rights. In the process I think some of the most vocal voices were some of those women who had neither voice nor allure. In co opting the movement these women created a vision of a feminist as an unattractive and agressive person with an axe to grind. And this of course was true.

In light of this and in reaction men were confused and felt a type of “obligation” to abandon their own masculinity. But the masculine nature is in contrast to the feminine one and so a man could not be surrogate women regardless of how “sensitive” he was.

In answer to this affront men’s movements encouraged men to tap into their essence. Iron John and archetypes were men saying, “We are men and that is good.” Little boys play with trucks and tools. We owe no apology.

Women with allure also reclaimed some of their “femininity” which was a natural part of them and something that they did not want to give up. The reconfiguring now is natural but also a swinging of the pendulum in the extreme of sex object. Eventually the balance wil be found but if history is any judge we must respect the Yin and Yang in each other but come back to our essence.

alive's avatar

i think that every generation has had to deal with the question of what it means to be a woman in our society (and what it means to be a man)

men and women my age (teens and 20’s) are being raised in the post backlash world. we are surrounded by messages that feminism ruined everything. but the truth is many people don’t know anything about the feminist movement in the 1970’s. in grade school we learn about martin luther king, but i was never taught about feminist/ women’s rights leaders. i had to go do that all on my own!

we still do not show respect for those women, so why would we expect our kids to respect them for all the hard work they did ‘back in the day’

it is hard to escape all the rhetoric that we are bombarded with, i just hope that parents like mine will teach their sons and daughters about treating everyone with dignity and respect, and also teach them that the notion of treating a person of any gender with dignity and respect is a notion that grew out of the feminist movement. because people in that movement had to work hard and deal with a lot of shit!

SeventhSense's avatar

I don’t mean to imply by my response that there was no good to come from the Movement. Much good came from the Feminist movement. And furthermore there have always been decent, strong women from the Abolitionist Movements to Suffragettes and up to the present day such as Africa’s first woman president. Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a great example of a dynamic woman..

lady4life's avatar

I don’t know if women conspire to be looked at as a sexual object but I see myself as is not the only dimension to me..I am many things but included in that is my sexuality..I happen to think the female body is beautiful..I have no problem showing {body} in appropriate situations..what woman does not want to be seen as beautiful..sexxy and attractive..even with clothes use their does not stop their should be viewed and admired..God Masterpiece

alive's avatar

@lady4life being thought of as beautiful and attractive is not akin to being thought of as a sex object.

being sexual and/or identifying yourself as a sexual being is not the same as considering yourself a sexual object. the definition of sex object automatically removes any other dimension of “self” or personhood (in other words, by definition is the only dimension).

CMaz's avatar


No matter how cute, sweet, kind, irresistible and feminine they are.

They’re always a woman to me…

SeventhSense's avatar

I think sometimes they conspire to make my pants tighter in the groin.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Those women who are attractive better use what Mother Nature gave them before Father Time takes it away; when he takes he seldom gives back. IMO to try to tell and attractive woman not to accentuate would be like a person with wonderful looking rose bushed to try to cloak them on netting or a veil. Telling a gifted boxer not to use his power punches

We need to comes to grips and get back to basics; men and women are different To try and make women a “softer male version” is addled. Women were made to be pleasing to men because men or more visual. I suppose there can be a movement where women wore no makeup and dressed bland and unflattering. I guess if women really wanted to be judged on “them” and what they know or how well they did things they could be like many women of the world who don’t want to make how they look and issue or as you say “raise a dumbstick” by simply wearing a burqa or abaya (and many women wear them by choice).

Or a woman can don a men’s 3-oiece suit and tie but I don’t think that will cause less distraction in the office. I guess if she don’t want to “raise a dumbstick” around the office she can eat her way up to 230lb 97% of the leerers and gawkers will be driven elsewhere.


There’s nothing wrong with men valuing women for their sexual attributes. Feminism has never and will never realize its goals as long as men and women are different. And I’m happy that we are different.

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