The Objectificaiton of Women: From Exploitation to Oppression
Several weeks ago a picture of a Muslim woman, wearing a niqab, was floating around social media with the caption, ‘How does this make you feel?’ More recently, Kim Kardashian’s nude photo shoot with Paper Magazine has been making the rounds and the comments about each were two sides of the same coin.
While the objectification of women is nothing new, Kardashian is setting a dangerous new standard, not just for women, but for media. Ironically, Paper Magazine is an arts publication. It’s a magazine about and for artists, musicians, poets and the nightlife. It’s not a nudy mag, like Playboy or Penthouse, which have age requirements and are relegated to the back of the rack. It’s a mainstream magazine, which has set a precedent for other mainstream magazines to follow suit, or be left behind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude. I think nudity can be art. I believe the photographer Jean-Paul Goude wanted to create an artful piece of work, but the subject – a seemingly, self-centered, arrogant, talentless, constantly-in-your-face-for nothing, spotlight seeking, self-important, starlet, evokes a lot of negative criticism and this latest work, is seen as nothing more than a feeble attempt for more attention and more publicity, while doing and contributing nothing to society, but furthering already impossible standards of beauty for women.
These photos propagate a pre-existing belief in many of her young followers that – I’m not good enough. We know these pictures aren’t real. There’s surgical breast augmentation, spray tan, hair extensions, make-up, lighting and where that fails – there’s post production computer modifications of an already modified body. There’s an elongated neck, legs, arms and torso, sliming of the waste, arms and thighs, and changes in color– all in the name of selling us an impossible ideal – the problem is, it doesn’t even matter if we know they aren’t real, we still fall for it every time.
We are set up to feel not good enough from a very young age. Even Disney is on the band wagon of selling impossible standards of beauty. Have you ever noticed that all Disney princesses are women whose wastes are the same size as their necks?
These impossible standards create a big problem for women, because none of us look like the images that society tells us are the standard of beauty, not even the models themselves. The closer you are to them the more confidence you feel and the more opportunities are available to you. The further away you are, the further away from beautiful you feel. This bases a woman’s value largely on her appearance, on an invisible f*ckability scale. The more desirable she is sexually to a man, the higher her worth. So it’s no wonder that women will go to great lengths to expose themselves, or why someone like Kim Kardashian, who lacks any artistic talent of any kind, can still hold celebrity status, entirely for where she sits on this scale.
The obvious fact is that women are smaller than men – in stature and strength. So, In order to level the playing field women had to find an arena where they could wield a form of power and control over men. Somewhere along the way, through exploitation, women figured out that they could do this through their sexuality. This mindset has evolved and deviated into the objectification of women, thus minimizing their worth to the extent of their desirability.
Considering that this behavior emerged to secure our survival, by luring the strongest or wealthiest male, it’s still heavily practiced today. Some may also argue that Kim isn’t being exploited, that she is a willing participant in this production and I would agree to a point. She didn’t create the concept, but it’s still a disrespectful practice and the ones that are truly being exploited, are her followers.
I’m not going to claim that I am a scholar of the Qur’an, but I’m not ignorant on the subject either. I have been pretty immersed in this culture for a while now, for research on another project. I’ve read many books, and I speak to Saudi women, Iranian women and Muslim women in India on a daily basis, so I understand this is a very sensitive topic for my Muslim readers and I hope you understand this is not necessarily an attack on Islam, but on an unfair and antiquated practice.
I live in a big city and I’d like to think that I’m open minded and forward thinking. But I have to be honest; when I see a woman in a niqab, it bothers me. It really bothers me and it has nothing to do with racism or security concerns. It has everything to do with the oppression of women and the fact that completely covering a woman from head to toe, with only her eyes showing, renders women invisible. It strips them of their identity and that is exactly its purpose.
The women I speak to, tell me that wearing these coverings is their choice, they wear it with pride and are given a lot of respect. Naturally I pushed them on this idea of choice, particularly my Saudi friend and their arguments are often circular:
What happens if you go out without wearing it?
You don’t go out without it.
Then it’s not really a choice then is it?
I chose to put it on and go out.
The prophet Muhammad said that women should be modest in their dress making sure that their bodies were covered. He did not say that they should be fully covered. He reserved that distinction only for his wives. So somewhere along the way this custom has evolved and become twisted as well. To be a true Muslim is to be a fundamentalist, this means that they believe in the literal translation of their religious doctrines. To us in the west, it looks like they are caught in the dark ages in behavior, belief and dress. To them, the people of the West look like Godless, corrupt heathens.
When I question Muslim women, who I deeply respect, about the doctrines of their Prophet, I am surprised by their reactions. They don’t want to talk about Muhammad – they fear talking about him and beg me to stop.
As a feminist I take particular offense to the Prophet Mohammad’s doctrines that:
A man is permitted to beat his wife if she is disobedient
A man may take many wives as long as he can afford them and can treat them equally.
A man can divorce his wife at any time for any reason.
A woman is intellectually inferior to a man.
A woman’s testimony is only worth half of a man’s.
Hell is full of mostly women because they don’t appreciate their husbands.
A woman has no say over her own body, a husband can rape his wife whenever he pleases.
Critics of Muhammad claim he didn’t follow the dictates he set down for others, believing he was exempt. They say he was a womanizer and a pedophile, at the age of 53 he married a 6 year old and consummated the marriage when she reached the age of 9.
Depending upon what Muslim country you live in, they will tell you that all of this is nonsense, they are treated very well by their husbands, they don’t get raped ect…. While this may be true in the vast majority of Muslim households, it is right there in the Qur’an. The fact is that power corrupts and Sharia law gives men this power over women, that most men don’t act on it is admirable, but to live under a law that doesn’t protect half of its citizens is frighteningly unfair.
Piety, purity and obedience are drummed into little Muslim girls from birth. Sexuality and sexual urges are deemed improper and the belief that women are responsible for men’s urges is at the heart of these unforgiving outfits. It puts the onus on women, making them responsible for men’s sexual thoughts and deeds. If a woman walks around in provocative clothing, in front of men whom she is not related to, she is inviting her own rape. This is why when we hear stories in the West about a Middle Eastern woman, who has been raped, she is shunned and sometimes killed by her own family for causing them shame. It is their belief that she was responsible for what happened and has disgraced her family. According to Sharia Law, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s, so a victim will never be believed and is doubly punished, by the law and her own family.
Adultery is also a punishable offence to both men and women. While the male may receive a light punishment, or none at all – in some areas, the punishment for a woman is death.
These heavy penalties for women are meant to keep women obedient. This bring us back to the subject of choice. For many years I have wondered why Muslim women in North America continue to wear the hiqab, and even why women haven’t revolted in these countries and demanded equal rights, like our forbearers have in the West.
The answers are simple and complex at the same time. When one is born into a Muslim family there is no choice, no freedom of religion – you are a Muslim. Muslims for the most part believe in the literal translation of their religious doctrines. If Allah deems women inferior, then they are inferior – there is no questioning, no debate – just complete obedience. And this inferiority is drummed into little Muslim girls from birth. We know from our research on abusive households that codependency is bread in shame based environments, that treat children as objects, to be seen and not heard. Top all this off with the fact that the punishment for apostasy is death and it’s no wonder that Muslim women aren’t pushing for change and fiercely defend their way of life.
Choice is a great thing, something that we in the West cherish above all else, but sometimes it can go too far. Some envelopes don’t need to be pushed any further, especially when the consequences negatively affect us. While both cultures seem to objectify women in completely opposite ways, both extremes show us that as a gender we still have a lot of work ahead of us on our road to equality.
While this piece is a little different and a lot more controversial than what I normally post, it is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. My path has taken me from doormat to emotionally healthy to feminist to human rights activist. This week I am especially interested in your comments – men –women – Muslim and no
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