From the time girls are born, our culture sends subtle and not-so-subtle messages about their place in the world. Unfortunately, those messages are undeniably problematic. Girls should be seen and not heard. Girls should look pretty, and as defined by societal standards. Girls should cover up. Girls should do what they're told. Girls should be "ladies" (whatever that means). Girls should be emotionally, and not physically, strong. As a result of these messages, there are so many ways our daughters are objectified before they turn 5. And I'm hoping we can all agree that this has to stop.
So what is objectification anyway? At a basic level, objectification is treating someone like an object or thing. You know, not human. In our culture, the objectification of women and girls is largely sexual in nature: we're either a collection of body parts to be viewed and enjoyed, or we need to constantly cover up those body parts as not to distract men and boys. As The Atlantic reports, a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology actually showed that regardless of gender, people's brains have a tendency to unconsciously reduce female bodies to their sexual body parts. That, my friends, is objectification.
And the objectification of women is obvious the moment us parents reveal to others that we're having a girl. People joke about locking our daughters up or fawn over the frilly baby clothes we'll inevitably dress them in. Then, as they grow, we constantly tell girls to sit still and look pretty, as if their number one goal in life is to be both compliant and pleasing to look at. Every time we focus on looks over intelligence, we reinforce the message that girls exist to look pretty, mainly for cisgender straight men, and their appearance is their only source of worth. I shouldn't have to reiterate how messed up that is.
Why does this matter? Well, for one, it's bullsh*t to treat girls and women differently than boys and men. Also, over time, research shows that this objectification often becomes internalized and can have lasting results, leading to problems with body image, self-esteem, disordered eating, sexual disfunction, and even academic and athletic performance. What's more is that objectification changes how boys treat girls, too. Researchers at the University of Kent found that objectification of girls can lead to aggression and violent behavior toward them, which makes sense, because when you see a person as a thing to be owned or controlled, it’s easy to dehumanize and abuse them.
So what can we do? Well, the first step in any behavior change is being aware of the problem. So with that in mind, read on for some ways we all unconsciously objectify girls, and from the start of their lives.