In the last episode, I brought up the idea of the Other, and this week reminded me that probably the one group most often subject to objectification in our culture is women. It’s a strange case as the ramifications are normalized on both sides of the issue. As in, sometimes the oppressed stir the pot and make their voices heard and demand justice, but in the case of the objectification of women, the idea runs so deep that it has been adopted, digest, and enculturated by women themselves.
I was listening to my local NPR affiliate. Every weekday morning at 9 a.m. they conduct an inane roundtable discussion on current issues, yet somehow I always listen. The panelists paint with broad strokes and the lack of nuance I find everywhere is here too. One morning this week, as I was driving to work, the host of the show started up with a kind of caveat for the next topic to be introduced. He admitted that it wasn’t the sort of thing that should be part of an issue-related talk show that tries to distinguish itself from the lowest common denominators of the mainstream media, but that they were going to breech the subject anyway. The topic was the internet’s response to recent photos of actress Renee Zellweger.
Apparently, Renee had not been in the spotlight much over the past 10 years or so, and upon seeing her for the first time in so long, the internet freaked out and accusations of not only plastic surgery but downright mistaken identity flew amongst the celebrity gossip sites. As the host of the show described the situation, I felt compelled to look for myself. I grabbed my nearby phone and figured her name would reveal the most recent photos in the search results given the hot topic. When the first photo came up, which indeed was a side-by-side comparison, I had to triple check and make sure I was looking at the right comparison.
Have we seriously become so deeply entrenched in the culture of the image that we no longer understand what it means to age? That’s the first thing to address. Mass media is so incredibly dangerous because it allows its creators to define reality. When we watch a television show, even when it’s not overtly political or relative to world events (i.e. news), we are participating in an effort to affix order to the chaotic nature of reality. Every time a character on TV gets a promotion at his job, kisses his wife, cheats on her husband, delivers justice to a bad guy, we are ingesting a suggestion about the way the world is. That’s what narrative is all about.
Women in our culture are particularly susceptible to this idea. What makes it particularly dangerous is the way that the images associated with women in our mass culture are so far removed from reality. Abnormal weights, perpetual youths, and conflicting idea about sexuality and empowerment all collide into a disturbing assault on the perception and conception of self for women. It’s entirely divisive and downright schizophrenic. The issue was furthered by the stories about the online gaming community and the wave of disgusting misogynistic commentary against feminist activist addressing issues within the gaming culture. Granted, the internet is a tricky place and things that can be started as a joke can be perpetuated by the reaction of the target and by pilers-on who are unaware of the initial joke. Regardless, the very idea that such vile and violent language could be taken as a joke speaks volumes to the situation and adds to the irony of the ideas that the activists were addressing in the first place.
In addition to the manufactured conflict that women must face about their own identities, there is the manufactured attitude and perception that men adopt in regards to women. I can’t even begin to describe how many times even some of the most sensitive, artistic, and intelligent men in my life have still sunk to utterly objectifying women who passed by. The whole muttered, “Check out the (x) on her…” I never even understand what is supposed to happen in that moment between two guys. Like am I supposed to say, “Hell yeah, bro. I am fully aroused for sure!” High fives ensue. The objectification of women has become incidental.
When I look around at the Earth and our culture and how both lie in a twisted and broken disarray of decline and injustice, I see very distinctly the fault of men. Terence McKenna made reference to this often by way of the book The Chalice & The Blade. In early human history, we worshipped the goddess and we lived in what we could call partnership societies that held communion with the Earth around us. Since the dawn of patriarchy, we have lost much of the harmony that once was. Is it the only reason why we suffer? Probably not. But, we do sorely need the insight and compassion of the feminine. Women were often the gatherers while men were the hunters. That would tie them to plants and therefore healing. We are in desperate need of healing.