Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I, object

I like my feminism as much as the next woman. However, I'm a little behind on feminist theory; for one, I do not buy many books on the subject - though I will gladly consume essays and articles on the web. Secondly, none of my friends or colleagues seems to want to instruct me. And perhaps, just perhaps, I like to discover my own feminism. The limits of it, the forms of it, the practical consequences of it. Slowly.

But for the last few days, I've been grappling with questions.

Who is a feminist?

Perhaps, I should modify this a little bit: Who is a woman? How do you define a woman?

As the female of the species? Does that mean an acknowledgment of womanhood as the fact of femaleness - in other words, that part of us which is different from the male?

If you remove the female parts from a woman's body, does it become a male body?

If you remove the trappings of what is usually associated with feminity - long nails, paint, cosmetics, styled hair, anklets, glass bangles, neatly crossed legs, swaying hips, skirts, off-shoulder tops, high heels, soft giggling laughter, sequins, feet pressed together - does that make you less feminine? Is a naked, silent woman in a forest not feminine? Would she be more 'feminine' if she acquired the trappings?

Sacred insanity, through a part-provocative, part-confessional essay 'The shape of things', nudged me closer to questions such as these:

Are feminists hairy, raucous harridans? (Are you not entitled to feminism if you're not?)
Are beautiful women/feminine women silk-smooth, fragile, thin?

But before globalisation, before cable television, just fifteen years ago, I can recall a time when a woman could be indeed 'too thin'. And the women we considered really beautiful then, seem almost ordinary in comparison to the airbrushed, made-up perfection of the photos in the new glossies.

There was a time when I had a poster of Madhubala up on my walls. When I was a child, she was still the epitome of beauty. By modern standards, she would be grossly overwieght.

By modern standards, Kate Moss or Aishwarya Rai (in her new, 'toned' avataar) are the ideal. I no longer have any posters on my walls. Kate Moss means nothing to me.
Why is this?
Is this because she is foreign and I have not seen too much of her in magazines or on TV?
Or is this because I am no longer a child and no longer given to gawking at beauty?
Or is this because Madhubala was Madhubala, a woman whose eyes held mischief, lashes held a dawning age, cheekbones lifted like the rising breath of a nation, and hair waved at the viewer like a million strands of lively abandon, while Kate Moss is.... well, a shape (on narcotics).

What happens to a woman when the quotient of her feminine attraction is based upon her BMI?
What happens when you are considered worthy (or worthier), only when your shape inches as close as possible to a shape transmited to us as the ideal, and the ideal is a fake photo?

Is this what feminists mean by 'objectification'? Why is objectification a problem? Why does it matter so much that the length of a woman's legs or the size of her breasts determine how attractive she is, or how womanly?

When we cry foul at such trends, are we really crying foul at our own inability to meet the modern ideal's criteria?
Or at our unwillingness to try and meet these criteria (and the pain this involves)?
Or, at our resentment at being reduced to legs, breasts, face?

Would the same person be as attractive, let's say, minus arms, minus neck, minus back?
Let us assume that we take each little physical bit into account - arms, fingers, back, backsides, everything - does that then mean that we have begun to treat a person as 'whole'?

What happens if we reduce a man similarly - legs, belly, face, butt?
What happens when we decide how attractive a man is, based solely on how flat his abdomen is, how thin his legs, how broad his shoulders and how chiselled his face? How much hair he has on his head?
What happens when we decide that a man is less worthy of our attention, our affection, our admiration, if he does not have a taut belly, a full shock of hair and long legs?

If a woman is naturally thin, naturally silk-smooth, naturally fragile, naturally quiet, is she less empowered than a woman who is plump, hairy, sturdy and raucous? Do thin-but-curvilicious women lose the right to call themselves feminists?

How much curviness is curvilicious? (I personally find thin women with obvious silicon implants somewhat repulsive, but then, I'm not the demographic they're catering to)

What if you're not thin, in a world that likes thinness? Do feminists lose the right to want to be desirable?

What is a 'real' woman? Are only un-thin, complexed women with flawed skins 'real'? Are thin women not real? Are anorexic women not real? Are obese women more real than anorexics?

What is a commodity? (Any thing? Any thing that can be bought and sold?)
What does it mean to commodify? (To convert from non-thing to a thing that can be bought and sold?)
Why is the commodification of women so important? (Because when you have beautiful women in advertisements, you are not selling a product, you are selling a woman, and everything that she represents? Because what the world of buyers really wants is a woman, and everything that she represents, and not your stupid product? [what does a woman represent?] Is that why there are more 'real' women in advertisements targeted at other women - washing machines, detergent, tea?)
Who is commodifying women? (Businesses that peddle products? Media houses that depend on these businesses? Photographers and filmmakers who depend on the media?)

Because you are viewed as a 'thing', will you be bought as a thing? Once you are an object, as the next logical step, will you be a commodity? Will there be attempts to put you in a nice package, in a box, on a shelf, to be handed over to whoever is willing to pay? What exactly are you being sold as, in that case?
A sexual object?
But what if you are not an overtly sexual object?
A covertly sexual object?
An object that is desirable, but without desire of her/his own?

Once you have commodified one person, does that pave the way for a whole gender, a whole race, a whole world to be commodified? If one woman is an object of desire, does it follow that other women - less desirable, perhaps - are objects, nevertheless, whether desired or not?

Who is the victim in this game of commodification? The thin woman? The fat woman? All women? All humanity? Do men suffer equally, when women are commodified? How?

To all these questions, I don't have answers. I just have more questions.
Any answers?


a man said...

You have put more than 70 questions in just one post. Yes, I counted.

You don't get good answers by throwing that many questions at hapless readers. You will, perhaps, get essays on feminism, male dominated world, capitalism, socialism etc. If a certain "barbarindian" gets whiff of this post, you might even get something on how this is all an OBC conspiracy.

My rants aside.. I hope you are not trying to say that men are not as commodified as women. They are. But there is a larger male audience out there, so projections of women as commodities tend to be more highlighted.

Women "reduce" men just the way you put it (legs, belly, face, hair, muscles etc).

Don't take it personally, I am not saying that you do it yourself. May be you don't. But women in general do it all the time, without getting organized and roaming around the streets (besides not raping their victims, of course).

Where does that take us? Back to square one. Both sides do it equally but one side gets highlighted because there is a larger audience on that side (male).

bluespriite said...

I have to agree..way tooo many questions. Most of these answers you need to figure out.. and it would apply only to yourself.. because whether we like it or not.. we are fewer than men and no body really even pretends to care...

natasha said...

a man,
not just a 'larger' audience, a more powerful audience, financially and physically.

Annie, maybe you should read those books you haven't? They explore many of these questions and come up with many insights and ideas. They are there for a reason...

Maybe begin with Naomi Wolf's Beauty Myth...when you get really pissed off you can read Greer.

Vi said...

I have no answers, but only more questions, like you.

"Be the change that you want to see in the world"--Ghandi

You seem to embody this quite well.

Erimentha said...

The object is passive, the subject active - objectification is a problem because the beauty of objects lies in the eyes of the beholder. Maybe?

Vulturo said...


I get this feeling of immense satisfaction when that crazy assed dude MK Gandhi is referred to as "Ghandi". Please keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Everything that you say, finds its bearings, at least a part of them in "typecasting". Typecasting feminists, women and their projection in advertisement and in the social psyche as well, beauty etc. But isn't this all very obvious? Why would a philanderer look at a curvilicious dame rather than a plump, stocky female, regardless of how beautiful are each of their mind? This is materialistic. Women appearing in ads and hoardings is all but a capitalization of a basic genetic architecture. Males, irrespective of asceticism, cant help their necks turning and eyes rolling, and they arguably form a larger audience, at least a larger accessible audience and irrevocably more so in India.
Dreamy adjectives and cosmetic augmentations don't make you more feminine, they just make you visually more attention seeking. Materialistic. Essence of a woman and all that jazz, is an another legion of parameters altogether.

Like the question, "Do feminists lose their right to want to be desirable?"
Why is feminism misconstrued? My reply isn't another question. But, nothing aberrant here, feminists are perceived as holier-than-thou, outraged and baffled bunch of placard-holding and rally-organizing activists. On the most basic level, their is only ego and resentment that justifies this attitude of feminists staying inert towards men, only when they mark them as opponents, the tyrants of women's freedom and rights. Its like sleeping with the enemy or treason for feminists to engage in such coquettish affairs and tender to their mushy side.

lod said...

Who is commodifying women? now, there's an easy one - men. :) just stumbled by here from How the Other Half Lives, the writing is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, thumbs up for all that!

Idle Thoughts said...

It cuts both ways.

Do you think Salman Khan is rich and famous because of his driving skills?

Or Emram Hashmi (I hope I spelled the name right) is the next great romantic actor after Dilip Kumar.

And why is Daniel Craig the best Bond ever? Because he is a better actor than Sean Connery or because he wears less clothes?

Vi said...

Sorry for the typo, Vulturo. Glad to know that you got the message.

Anonymous said...

annie, child.
i have never asked these questions, i live in this age yet never felt like an object.
instead i enjoy watching beautiful women on ads/posters/films. its some kind of therapy.
is it because you belong to a religion where women are treated so?
is it because you are obese?
the thing that so evident here is your low self esteem.
its alright to feel this. honestly it is.
grow up. live the world on our terms.
every question you have asked have answers in yourself.

btw grow up real fast.ask silly questions. 1000s of them. seek for answers but please grow up in the bargain.

i 'll watch your space.

annie said...

a man: lol. all the same, i think those questions need to be asked, even if the problem exists for both genders.
bluespriite: we care. and we aren't really drastically fewer than men. not few enough to not matter numerically, at least.
natasha: i suppose i will. though sometimes, i wonder if receiving well-known feminist constructs is just an extension of imbibing all other kinds of social constructs from society at large. greer is good, but I'm not her, am I?
Vi: surprising that you should use that quote. it is, indeed, something i'd like to live by.
erimentha: the passivity of objects... hmm. that phrase could go in interesting directions.
ravi: i don't know about holier-than-thou, but frankly, i find it hard to understand how anyone can avoid being baffled and outraged in our patriarchal societies. also, i wasn't talking about the 'internal' beauty of non-model-skinny women.
lod: not so easy. women too. silence or tacit approval or active encouragement make women as responsible.
idle thoughts: for the record, i don't care much for Mr craig. but if you've noticed, all the Bonds have been up on posters suited-booted. have been half-bald or half-wrinkled. can't say the same of the Bond women, now, can you?

anonymous (I will refrain from using 'child'-like suffixes): of course. if there are questions, they must be asked. you're remarkably lucky, if you've never felt objectified. my question was about the constructs of beauty up on those posters.

Anonymous said...

"annie: i suppose i will. though sometimes, i wonder if receiving well-known feminist constructs is just an extension of imbibing all other kinds of social constructs from society at large. greer is good, but I'm not her, am I?"

Lets see now, whats a good analogy? Is reading the Nietzsche merely imbibing a certain culture of philosophy?

No, its entering a conversation. One thats been around longer than you and I have been. You can disagree with Greer, you could agree with her shift focus entirely, etc, etc.

Speaking in utter trite cliche...What you're trying to do is reinvent the wheel, maybe you could stand on the shoulders of someone else and see a bit further?

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