If you’re listening or paying attention, women are speaking up about being sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused.
There are a lot of them.
Like…a lot. And it’s heartbreaking. And infuriating. And it should move us.
Guys, (and I do mean the guys) we’ve gotta do quite a bit more than what we’ve been doing.
This is going to require more than saying, “Well, I don’t harass or assault women,” or “I haven’t done anything illegal,” or “I hold the door open for women.”
What I’d like to do is challenge every guy to evaluate the way we think about women, and if you’re a woman, hopefully give you the language for what to demand from the men in your life.
This is all about integrity. And I’m not just talking about what we do — it goes way deeper than that.
Integrity means “the state of being whole and undivided.” What this looks like in practice means that you’re the same person and you have the same values, whether you’re in public or in private, whether you’re being watched or not, whether you’re punished or rewarded for your behavior or not. Integrity is to strive to be a whole person, undivided.
We could say, then, that we need to have integrity in the way we treat women. Like, I don’t know, don’t harass a woman — whether you’re in public or whether you’re all alone with her. That’s pretty solid advice, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It doesn’t quite do the trick.
Why? Because how you treat someone depends on what you believe about them.
If you believe someone is a good person, you’ll give them all kinds of grace and benefit of the doubt. If you believe someone is a liar, you’ll always keep them at arm’s length, if you don’t cut them out of your life entirely.
What you believe about women matters when it comes to the treatment of women.
We’ll have true integrity in our actions toward women once we have a belief about women that has integrity. My belief about women, about their humanity, about who and what they are, should be whole and undivided.
It’s easy to blame a few bad eggs who make the headlines in the news for mistreating women. It’s easy to point to the painfully obvious and over-the-top examples of guys being despicable and say, “That’s not me. I’m not the problem.”
But there is a problem, and it’s not just them, those bad guys in the news. There’s no way you can look at the breadth and magnitude of women who are mistreated and think just a few people are responsible for it. It’s a lot of us.
It’s because so many people, guys especially, engage in something I call “selective objectification.”
Selective objectification looks like this:
My mom? My sister? My wife? My good friend? She’s a person, like a real-life human with feelings and a soul and a brain, and she deserves dignity and respect.
But the stranger walking down the sidewalk? The face on Tinder? The woman in the dark club? The drunk girl at the frat party? The “slut” that’s dressed provocatively? The porn star? They’re objects. Or at least, not quite the level of real-life human woman like my mom or sister or wife or friend is.
That’s selective objectification: a divided, fractured, split belief about women.
There’s real danger in believing, “This woman is a full, whole person, but that woman is a little less than that.”
That real danger is played out not just in the stories you hear from women (if you’re willing to listen), but in the statistics. The overwhelming majority of people who experience sexual harassment are women. The overwhelming majority of rape victims are women. The overwhelming majority of sex trafficking victims are female. Men certainly are victims of all of these atrocities as well, and I don’t want to diminish their stories or pain. They’re important. They matter.
But the fact that women make up such a large, disproportionate amount of the victims of harassment, assault, and trafficking can’t be ignored. It’s a bright flare shot into the sky that screams, “We have a major problem.”
At some point, we need to start connecting the dots between the injustices women face and our culture of objectification. Prior to the twentieth century, this objectification looked primarily like women being the property of their husbands or fathers, or being the means to an end, namely having children and continuing the bloodline.
Today, it looks like making women the means to a man’s sexual end. Ask anyone who has been catcalled, groped, obscenely checked out, accosted, spoken to like a sex robot on a dating site, pressured into sex, assaulted. They know. It stems from viewing women as an object, as something that exists for me and my pleasure.
Porn hasn’t helped, by the way. I know it seems like the easy thing to bash, but anyone who argues that porn has helped provide sexual freedom for women has to ignore a whole bunch of evidence to the contrary. There are a hundred ways to develop a full, healthy sexuality without the baggage of the porn industry.
Even if you don’t agree, at the very least, one of the problems with porn is that it plays right into the hands of objectification. It trains a man to think, “This woman is here for my pleasure. This woman will do anything I’d like her to do. When I want pleasure, this woman will always say yes.”
And that’s not how real life works. That’s not how real sexuality or a real relationship with a real woman works. Yet more and more men are expecting real women to behave like the fake women they see on the internet. They’ll use an app to cycle through women until they find one who’s willing to be more like an object. They’ll back out of real commitment, real respect, real relationship work in favor of something less “complicated.” Turning toward a girl on the screen is way easier than turning toward your partner when there’s conflict.
It’s not like we only objectify people in porn. Objectification extends to any celebrity in our culture. We consume celebrities. And because we think they exist for our consumption, we compartmentalize them, we reduce them to cutouts, to characters.
As if making an entertaining product like a movie or an album wasn’t enough, we continue to consume them. We consume their private lives. Their humanity, their struggle to live life, becomes our entertainment. We paint their pain as headlines and mock them for their flaws. We say monstrous things to them or about them because we feel entitled to the rights to their dignity.
We write off our horrible treatment of celebrities because “they signed up for it.” We explain it away because they make a lot of money, as if they signed a contract that traded their humanity for riches.
If they’re athletes, they need to shut up and entertain us on the field. They’re not allowed to talk about real things like injustice. If they’re going through a divorce, we deserve to know all of the details. Who cares about protecting their children?
If a nude photo of them is leaked, we have the right to consume it. The thirst for celebrity sex tapes and nudes should concern us. Pornography has never been easier to access. There’s never been more of it available to consume. You’d think there are more than enough willing participants for porn to sustain itself. You’d think it would be enough.
And yet, we’re not content with the amount of porn provided by willing people — we want the sex tapes and nude pics of celebrities. We don’t care if they were taken against those celebrities’ wills. We don’t care if those were meant to be private. We don’t care that if they have families. These people exist for our consumption. They are objects.
So are the women and children, apparently, who are abducted to feed the never-ending thirst for more pornography. It’s never enough. We consume people, and it makes us want to consume more.
This fractured view of people can’t work.
People can’t be objects and people.
People must be people. Real people. Flesh-and-blood people. Whole people.
And our view of people must be whole.
Men, every time we speak of or treat a woman in a way that objectifies her, we betray our fractured view of them. They’re not objects sometimes and real women other times. This is ALL women, ALL the time — not just the ones you love or know well. This is every woman you pass in public, this is every woman you see on TV, this is every woman on your computer screen.
Our sons, our students, our up-and-coming men are going to learn either a WHOLE belief about women or a FRACTURED belief about women.
And when they have a fractured belief about women, that’s when it becomes easy for people to pass off harassment or assault as “locker room talk,” as “flirting,” as “just messing around,” as “she was asking for it,” as “she wanted it,” as “it’s harmless.” Because even normal guys do that, right? They just talk. They just joke. They’re just being dudes. And for so many men, the line which should always be clear begins to blur.
We can do better.
It starts with a whole belief about people. About women. About who they are.
My wife and daughter and mother and sister are whole, full, integrated people.
A woman walking down the street is a whole, full, integrated person.
A woman dressed in a parka is a whole, full, integrated person.
A woman dressed in a bikini is a whole, full, integrated person.
A woman who is on a date at a coffee shop is a whole, full, integrated person.
A woman who is intoxicated at a club is a whole, full, integrated person.
No matter where I am or what the context or who the woman is, she is never an object.
She’s nothing less than whole and full. And my belief about her should be nothing less than whole and full.