On How You Know You’re Being Objectified (You Might Be Surprised)by Melanie Curtin on June 05, 2012
I recently dated a guy who was great on paper. Let’s call him Mike. He was smart, educated, funny, and talented in the bedroom (particularly with his mouth … mmm). We had a good time — a great time, even — but at the same time there was something … wrong. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for a long time, like when you eat a cookie and there’s something missing, but you can’t quite say what.
As our relationship developed (and when I say “relationship,” I mean that in the most casual sense of the word), so did my understanding. Like a Polaroid, the real picture slowly emerged.
Mike was a workaholic, one of those iBanker types (I get that it’s not really spelled like that, but don’t you think it should be?) who would get home at midnight and “have to” be in the office the next day at 6am, because by then London has already been open for hours. This meant he had little time, energy, or attention for a relationship of any kind, even one as casual as we had going. Still, we made it work for a while, and the fact that he was so busy made it even more special when he did text me something like, “Crazy day, but thinking of how good you looked in that top… and how much better you’d look in it off.”
This always made me smile. I loved that he noticed me as a sexual being. I loved that he wasn’t afraid to be overt and flirtatious and actually talk about sex – he wasn’t so obsessed with being polite that he’d cut off that part of him, like some men. In fact, I once wrote him an actual card, sent in the actual mail (can you believe it?) in response to one of those exchanges.
However, at the same time I began to become aware of an imbalance. Messages were always about him in some way, even as they were about me. In other words, it was rarely (maybe never, in fact), “How are you?” “How was your day?” or “What’s going on with you?” Instead, it was, “I can’t stop thinking about you,” and, “If you were here, I’d take you right now.”
Now, I adore the I-can’t-stop thinking-about-you variety of messages, so I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t always make me feel close to him. Or rather, why I only felt close to him up to a point.
Finally it occurred to me that he literally only thought about me as I related to him. Not that he was using me, more that he looked at me the same way you’d look at a beloved car: you really like that car. When you think about it, you think about it taking you places, taking you for a wild ride. But you don’t actually think about the car itself — whether it likes being driven fast, whether it prefers leaded to unleaded, whether it, too, wants to go to the Jersey Shore. And when you’re done with the car, you park it and don’t think about it anymore, unless you’re thinking about it taking you somewhere.
In other words, I got what it felt like to be objectified.
This was perhaps summed up one day in an offhand comment he made as I got up to leave early in the morning. I told him he didn’t have to get out of bed to say goodbye to me at the door (which I meant — it was cold that morning). He replied that of course he would walk me out “because I’m not a total *sshole!”
Like his texts, this was the kind of comment that sounded perfectly normal, but upon reflection had a subtle and probably unconscious meaning on his part: he was walking me out not because he actually wanted to walk me out, or because he wanted to walk me out. He was walking me out because he didn’t consider himself a dick, and didn’t want to come across as one. In other words, no matter the woman in front of him, he would have walked her out because of him – not because of her.
Being objectified gave me a certain sense of humility, and made me feel ignored and unnoticed. At the same time, it made me aware of how and when I do this to others. Sometimes I do it to my friends, when I call them for the express purpose of talking about myself. I almost always do it to customer service reps. And I often objectify barristas: you are just something that happens between me and my latte.
But the person behind the counter at Starbucks is an actual human being, no matter how long it takes them to get me my iced coffee. And that cute guy whose attention I’m trying to get is a person, in addition to being someone to give me attention.
At its most fundamental, objectifying just means treating someone as an object: you could be any person in that role and I would treat you just the same. This also means that the way out of objectification is to actually stop and get present to the human being that’s there, not just how they will react to you.
When I am noticed solely based on how I react to a man, or what he feels he can get from me (attention, sex, my number) — in other words, when I’m objectified — I have one experience. When I am noticed — truly noticed — I have a different experience. And when a man can hold his sense of self and his own desire for me at the same time as seeing me as a distinct person with her own hopes and dreams … well, that’s unforgettable. As in, unforgettably hot.
Melanie holds a BA and MA in Communications from Stanford University and is passionate about healthy sexuality, dating and relationships. She works as a dating and sexuality coach and blogs regularly on her own sex and dating adventures at Vixen On The Loose.