How I Learned Not To Objectify Other Women

Shutterstock / ADRIANA KH
Shutterstock / ADRIANA KH

My attraction to women surfaced at an early age, around 10. I’d come home from school, plowing through the front door, throwing my backpack off, only to crumple like a slackened marionette onto the floor in front of my parents’ large-screen TV. My favorite part of the day was about to commence: 4:00 p.m., the hour that Fox45 out of Dayton, Ohio aired reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Though I considered myself an avid fan of the entire series – a Trekkie who dreamt of one day being teleported in real life – there was another, more intimate reason behind my excitement. I had a crush on Counselor Deanna Troi.

Of course, I had no self-awareness at the time, no recognition that the “hots” I had for Counselor Troi were indeed “hots”, fiery little hints of my impending sexual orientation. But I loved the way she spoke, the way she moved, her hair, her eyes, her nose. And even when the nature of my feelings did occur to me a few years later in high school, the realization didn’t present itself as one singular moment of clarity: By Jove! No wonder I want to beam myself up to Counselor Troi’s side. I’m from the planet Lesbia!

No. In fact, I kept quiet about my feelings. I even dated guys. Acknowledging my own sexuality wasn’t easy in a Baptist household in central Indiana.

Now, don’t worry, this is NOT my “coming out” story. Rather, it’s a bit of a confession. Because as innocuous as that ten-year-old girl was, eating Hot Pockets after school, admiring Counselor Deanna Troi on TV, that pre-sexual pipsqueak, fourteen years later, was a completely different person.

Kind of an asshole, if you ask me.

Fast forward to age 24. I was out and proud and had been for some time. Since I was 22, at least. But at 24, I finally felt freer than a three-nippled nun at a nude beach. Gone were the days of clandestine girl crushes and veiled innuendos recorded in the college-ruled pages of Bad Poetry Hell. In fact, I’d grown rather overt in expressing my sexual attractions and proclivities. When a woman with large breasts walked by, I took my time to stare at her. Still harboring deep, loyal feelings for Counselor Troi, when I’d meet or see a woman with long, dark, wavy hair, I’d leer unabashedly like a 1950s greaser.

Because I’d adopted the male gaze.

It was my friend Shelly who had pointed this out to me. I’d never heard the term before — “the male gaze.” One night at a club, a small-town gay bar, to be precise, Shelly and I were out on the dance floor when a beautiful woman sashayed by.

“She’s pretty,” Shelly said.

“Pretty hot,” I blurted back. “Check out them legs.”

I continued to stare. And that’s when Shelly said, “Jesus, you’ve got ‘the male gaze.’”

At first, I smiled, liking the sound of that, thinking of it as something of which I should be proud. Like double-jointed thumbs or peace of mind. But the look of disgust on Shelly’s face quickly told me otherwise.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re objectifying her,” Shelly said. “All you can see are her legs.”

Now, I’d certainly heard the term “objectifying” before. It was something bad that men did to women. But for a 24-year-old, my understanding was more than a little vague.

Still, I was appalled by Shelly’s accusation. “I’m admiring her,” I said.

Shelly shook her head and let the conversation drop.

Her allegation stuck with me though. How could I possibly be guilty of such a crime? I was a feminist, for Pete’s sake! Equal pay, the right to choose – I’d rallied for these things with my school’s women’s rights group. I’d even marched in Washington, D.C.!

A few days later, I went to the campus computer lab. It was seven in the morning and there were only three other students around. Good. I didn’t want to risk getting caught looking up the definition of objectification.

And here’s where the shame of this story really surfaces. Not only did I learn that morning, for the first time, the actual meaning of the word, but I suffered a sordid realization too:

I’d been doing it for quite some time.

I was treating the women I found attractive like objects, reducing them to their legs and breasts and thighs and butts, all there for my viewing pleasure. I’d somehow morphed from a closeted lesbian to an objectifying asshole in the span of two years. I’m a male chauvinist pig! I thought.

Panicked, I called Shelly with my realization. She laughed.

“You’ve seen the error of your ways,” she said calmly. “You are not a male chauvinist pig.”

“What am I then?” I asked, cringing, afraid of her answer.

“You are a lesbian,” she replied. “Chauvinist pig. Or you were. But now you’ll be able to recognize when you’re objectifying someone and hopefully stop.”

I promised Shelly that, yes, I would. Because I loved women. I still love them now. But objectification is objectification – committable by both men and women. And I can’t be a feminist without being conscientious of my behavior.

And I’d like to think Counselor Troi would be proud. TC mark

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