Why normalizing ’Sexual Objectification' is dangerous

What does Sexual Objectification mean?

Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as a mere object of sexual desire- one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.

When did the term originate?

The phrase “sexual objectification” has been around since the 1970s. Women have been objectified for as long as women have been used for men's sexual pleasure. If earlier it meant strip tease shows, brothels, and pornographic art, today, it is rampant in our mainstream pop-culture.

How do you know if someone is sexually objectified or not?

A classic question that you can ask is:

Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person? 

Sometimes sexual objectification does not need an image…words more than suffice. 

Source: YouthKiAwaaz

There are several ways women are objectified in ads. Read this article to find out more. 

Normalizing sexual objectification

Watch this funny video to understand the extents we go to sell a product. 

This video perfectly portrays what I am talking about. Not only do we objectify women everyday...by not saying anything and consuming such content, we normalize it. 

In her thesis for Doctor of Philosophy, Ms. Madhusmita Das analysed 268 advertisements and corroborated the findings with the perceptions of people by surveying 500 respondents to understand the ‘Portrayal of Women in Indian Television Advertisements’. The study found that women in Indian TV advertisements are mostly portrayed in decorative and family role, and rarely as working and free wheeler (Where the decorative role of woman in advertisements refers to the portrayal of women as concern for physical beauty and as sex object and freewheeler as independent decision maker). 

We see it in our movies, our TV shows and our web-series. The only place where we see a few real people and character thankfully are in our short films. What does that mean? That everything that’s commercial needs a sex element to sell it?

Men are also sexually objectified

We have all seen these underwear ads. The man has washboard abs and lip marks all over his body. This ad actually objectifies both men and women. The underlining (pun not intended) idea here is that men who are strong, well-groomed and have a good physique attract women whose job is to then shower the men with attention. 

The effects of sexual objectification

Our images, ads, movies etc. make people feel that their job is to ‘be wanted’. 

The ‘six—pack’ objectification of men results in men wanting to spend too much time in the gym or driving for perfection. It drives many men to consume steroids or body enhancement drugs. Little do they know that unsupervised consumption of such drugs could be fatal. Often in films, if you see an unfit guy, he will play the role of the hero’s friend and is usually funny. The message to men: if you are not good-looking, you better be funny!

While men are objectified, the extent of it is limited. Also, as we saw in the above ad, the power-play between men and women still tends to be intact with the man shown as the more dominant one

The effect of sexual objectification on women on the other hand, has more far-reaching impact. The need to be viewed as sexual objects creates tremendous pressure. In case one does not measure up to the impossible standards set out by these ads…then it negatively affects your self-worth. This leads to several issues:

           a) Mental health issues

          b) Eating disorders

          c) Sexual dysfunctioning

Read about what NYU Steinhardt Department of Applied Psychology has to say on the effects of sexual objectification on the victim.

The link between sexual objectification and violence

An extensive and terrifying study published in Archives Of Sexual Behavior in 2016 points out how this link tends to work. According to the scientists behind it,
"the more men are exposed to objectifying depictions, the more they will think of women as entities that exist for men's sexual gratification (specific sexual scripting), and that this dehumanized perspective on women may then be used to inform attitudes regarding sexual violence against women (abstract sexual scripting)."
It is this sense of entitlement that men feel, that leads to sexual assault and rapes

Women who play provocative characters in films or any other form of entertainment suffer from the negative aspects of objectification in their real lives as well

Recently Hindi Film actress, Vidya Balan revealed that- “Once an Army official came in front of her while I was standing at a station and he was staring at my breasts continuously which made her feel very uncomfortable.”

What followed next will shock you. Army officer named Rahul Sangwan created a video to respond to Vidya Balan’s statement in a poetic manner. The Army Jawan gave an argument that rather than tarnishing the entire defense forces, the actor could have chosen to ignore the man who stared at her. He references her role in Dirty Picture in order to imply that sexual harassment more as a result of female provocation and less as male aggression.

You cannot negate sexual objectification by arguing the right and freedom for women to wear what they want

When PETA India ran the above ad, with the ex-porn start lying alluringly on a bed of chillies to encourage the public to stop eating meat. (in line with their international campaigns which are also equally provocative), Sowmya Rajendran from TheNewsMinute wrote an article: ‘PETA India’s Sunny Leone ad: Is it ok to objectify women to save animals?’

PETA India CEO Poorva Joshipura wrote a rejoinder to her article. I have placed an extract of it below:
As a woman who, like Leone, has used both her mind and her body to campaign for animal rights, I have to say that I find it offensive that Rajendran is essentially dictating what another woman must wear, what she should do with her body, and, now, how she should engage in a social justice campaign. Rajendran's tut-tutting is reminiscent of a father forbidding his daughter from wearing a skirt, and from going out alone, while he decides whom she would marry.
Sowmya wrote back and defended her stand by saying:
One can never talk about the objectification of the female body in any media if we’re going to equate this with someone dictating a woman’s choice of dress. The women we see in films and advertisements are performing with their full consent but that doesn’t mean that there is no objectification involved in these representations and that they cannot be subjected to feminist critique. Or that the companies and organisations who run these campaigns cannot be questioned. 
To conclude, sexual objectification is a dangerous element of our society and I am not being dramatic when I say that it is poisoning people’s minds. When men or women are depicted in all mediums as objects of desire whose aim is ‘being wanted’, the pressure to match up with the impossible standards of physical appeal is incredible. On the other hand, glorifying man’s entitlement is normalizing rape as well. High-time we stop normalizing sexual objectification. 


  1. Very interesting perspectives Sowmya and Poorva. I guess in an ideal world a woman has the right to choose to be sexually objectified if she wants it, but in today's world it does more harm than good because in most cases it is not really a woman's choice and unless there is a loud resounding voice against it, many women will continue to be exploited.

    If an individual woman wants to flaunt her sexuality, she should have every right to do it. But companies or causes using women's sexuality as eye candy to draw attention to their own unrelated agendas has nothing to do with women's choices and everything to do with using them.

    1. The thing is...if women are wearing sexually provocative clothes because they 'want to be wanted'...they are victims of the system. Of course everyone has a right to do what they feel like. But we really need to ask ourselves, and honestly answer...why we are doing something. Anything that we do under pressure, belying our beliefs is unhealthy.

    2. I totally agree with you but one must be a little cautious in regulating any women's choice issue because it is a slippery slope.

    3. I know what you mean. Nobody likes moral policing. Me neither. I have a right to my POV and others to theirs. To each his own. :)

    4. absolutely and a very valid POV too

  2. Very relevant perspectives, backed with a good amount of research. Unfortunately, sex and titillation sells, and the mainstream media is fully exposing this reality.

    1. You're right. It's like the PETA India CEO believes that Veganism is being adopted because of PETA and their ads - so its effective. He couldn't be more wrong of course. But his belief tells you where the problem lies. I would like to believe that with awareness, things will change. If people today are taking stands on not doing advertisements for fairness creams, hopefully sooner rather than later, people will stop normalizing sexual objectification in entertainment as well.

      Thank you for the visit, read and comment.

  3. i like the way you have given importance for both the genders in objectification. true men are objectified for adv related to vests and briefs showing their six packed body. at the same time, there will be woman who will be on his arms either tickling him or taking a deep breath on his showcase. a condom ad where both are objectified, and its really disturbing to watch with kids and teenage children. the first time i had difficulty in explaining what a condom is to my son when he watched an adv in Tv, it was really exhausting for me to relate science and life, the natural process but a artificial way to stop kids, enjoy kids, but enjoy later.. so many .. my hubby was amazed by the way i explained him without creating any emotional scars in him. I had explain the circumcision too, if not clean, it can cause bacteria which may lead to circumcision at a later stage. coming back to your article, i would say, sometimes both men and women act for money. i do feel sad. but that is again their choice and option to live their life. I would completely not support the recent toll on women which says women wear sexually provocative clothes that lead to exploit them. women can wear but they have to be careful.. i am living abroad and i see women wearing skirts and trousers above their thighs. nobody sees it wrong here. its is the dirty mind that plays tricks, because mind is a monkey!

    1. Thanks Deepa for your heart-felt comment. I hear you. I know where you are coming from. It can get uncomfortable to watch a lot of stuff on TV with children. I am glad you patiently educated your children. So important that your son reaches out to you for guidance rather than his friends or Google. You are right about the impact of provocativeness. But moral policing taken to an extreme is also wrong. There is a thin line there. But when companies use sex to sell and it sells...it's shameless and disheartening. This post was inspired by a story I heard. A fashion model was overheard complaining about sexual harassment at workplace - apparently someone had smacked her bottom. The advice to her was - if you can't ignore all that, then you should not have entered this industry. I was aghast to hear this. Just because she did a job that may demand skin show, people thought she would be 'willing' for anything. This is the mindset that I am trying to address. Again, should we have fashion shows? I don't know. I am glad though that a lot of beauty paegeants today do not have the swim suit round.

  4. Such an insightful post Ashwini. I fully agree with all you say. I had written a post long back about how an ad had shocked me.

    Check it out, if you have time:

    1. Hi Meena. Thanks for your visit and comment. Will head to your blog soon. :)

  5. A very thoughtful post, Ashwini! And I agree with Kanika too! A woman is sexual and she has every right to flaunt her sexuality, however it shouldn't be used as a means to draw unnecessary attention or make money. Because the latter sends out a very strong wrong signal. It says that women are as easy, cheap and available as their commercial products. I am disgusted with the PETA ad too. How featuring a half dressed Sunny Leone serve animals.

    1. You're right Anshu. We don't even realize but we normalize a lot of wrong things. It is wrong to use sex as a means to earn money. Thanks for the visit and comment. :)

  6. Objectification is so much in these ads. Hadn't given much thought to them, but was clearly disgusted by them. The perspectives you have brought forth are interesting. We need to think as responsible individuals in all these lines too..

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    1. Thanks Pratikshya. We must be aware of what we are subjected to. Do drop by my blog again.

  7. Yes, somewhere perhaps we also sexually objectify ourselves when we like wearing a short dress, the attention we get...

    1. I am still wondering about this. As of now what I think is that it is a chicken and egg story. While a woman has the right to wear what she wants, is it the pressures of the society that drives her to wear skimpy clothes...I wonder.


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