“Cute girl.” “Everything's got a price. How much you want for the lady?” “I'll give $1 for the lady.” “C'mon man she's worth more than that. $2.” With a few grammatical edits, this is how the comment stream proceeded on the RIT Free & For Sale Facebook page this past Tuesday. A male student had posted a picture of a girl holding a long board he wanted to sell. There were only a handful of comments about the longboard and even less about the objectification that was taking place, although one commenter did ask, “How much for the misogyny?”
This objectification of both men and women occurs all over the United States, but with 32.8 percent females versus 67.2 percent males at RIT in 2012, it seems as though the problem here is magnified. There have been examples of it not just on RIT Free & For Sale, but also on the RIT Crushes Facebook page where girls and guys whom people hardly know are valued for their fantastic bods instead of who they are as a person. This behavior is also evident in the definitions of RIT on Urban Dictionary, where frustrated males talk about “RIT Goggles” and compare girls to parking spots. But no matter where it takes place, the consequences of objectification can be harmful, not only to the target, but also in the fact that it perpetuates objectification and dehumanization as acceptable societal norms.
Now, a lot of the comment stream in the post mentioned at the beginning of the article could have been taken as people trying to make a joke. But then commenters went so far as to say things along the lines of, “Well she's cute. But I wouldn't go and bang her if I already have a girlfriend.” If this comment was intended to add to this guy’s moral credibility, it didn’t. This comment continues to objectify the girl in the picture by completely disregarding the fact that she, as an individual and human being, has the right to refuse or give her consent to whomever she chooses. Sex isn’t like Pokémon; you can’t just say, “I choose you.” Objectification can contribute to the idea that the target can be used for someone else’s purpose. When a person is dehumanized, the thought of violating them becomes more acceptable as well, contributing to the prevalence of rape culture.
According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), non-contact unwanted sexual experiences include “someone harassing the victim in a public place in a way that made the victim feel unsafe.” Most of the comments on the RIT Free & For Sale post mentioned that the girl in the picture was cute or suggested that there are a bunch of guys who find her attractive, all of which could be taken as being complementary by some. However, when comments start objectifying an individual in an unwanted way, they can become a form of street harassment. Although these comments weren’t literally made on the street, they fall into the same category as cat calls as a form of non-contact unwanted sexual experience. Since the objectifying comments were made in a public Facebook group and since they were made by people that the girl may come into contact with on a day to day basis, they match the criteria.
Harassment and objectification are more than just disrespectful; they can lead to long term problems for the target including depression and anxiety. They can also instigate self-objectification, which weighs on the person’s physical and mental health, body image and cognitive performance. Self-objectification may also lead women to be less motivated to engage in social activism due to their acceptance of the gender status quo. Sure, women are better off today than they were 50 years ago, but when society as a whole is still viewing women as objects, rather than people, there is still progress that needs to be made.
One commenter on the Facebook post suggested “that next time a hairy ugly man like myself holds the board” in order to return the focus to the board. However, a more effective long term solution would be to realize when objectification is happening, to not participate no matter your gender, and to discourage others from participating as well. If you care for and respect others, don’t reduce their worth to their appearance — or worse, one or two dollars.