While at Dillard’s for a few minutes this evening (the Devil made me do it – I generally prefer not to do shopping in brick and mortar stores – it’s too overwhelming for me), I had what is thankfully an extremely rare experience for me but one that Women, according to various studies and examples, experience almost every day: I was objectified. New understandings of problems and oppressions follow after having had to encounter it head-on.
I was not planning to do any shopping and not planning to buy anything, but alas. The store was not busy at all. I have been meaning to buy another pair or two of dress pants, so I don’t have to go to the dry cleaner as frequently. I got what I wanted and was looking around at different shirts to see if anything else caught my eye.
While looking around at what was on sale, two Women in their 20s or 30s passed me, and I clearly became objects of their gaze. They walked passed me, and I walked in another direction, still looking around for any good deals. Several minutes later, when I had forgotten all about it (usually I have a really good short- and long-term memory, but remember being in stores is overwhelming for me), I heard and then saw out of the corner of my eye (remember teachers have eyes all around their head!) this unusual giggling and then “sshhh!” as one of the two Women said, “I’ve always wanted a boyfriend who wears a hat like that” and then the giggling, “be quiet,” “walk away,” and “sshhhs” continued as they walked away several seconds later. This is all happening while I am in my own world shopping and thinking about things such as the IWSCP! (Okay, I am not that crazy.)
There was no one else around, and I was still a focus of their gaze. Because I have had a headache and have had a patch on, I have been wearing my beanie, which I admit is really cool. Such “flirtatious” moves, whether from/to a Man or Woman, serve to make people into objects. There was the implied assumption that such comments are everyday, natural, and normal and would prompt a positive, welcome response. Further, the annoying and incorrect assumption that everyone is heterosexual. And worst of all, that a hat, a silly but really cool hat, makes someone worthy of anything.
The entire encounter was entirely weird and full of assumptions. In this one experience that lasted several seconds, I was in the position of being turned into an object by strangers- where my personality, interests, reason for wearing the hat, and all of my other “individual differences,” as they are called in psychology, did not matter. Surface, quick impressions made up the sum of my existence and provided a bit of entertainment.
This minor encounter (and for sure not nearly as bad as our cultural epidemic of objectifying people) was not painful per se because I knew what was happening, but I could easily see how it could be very painful if it happened everyday. I also see more directly, in ways I had not, how and why Women get so annoyed when, most frequently, Men objectify them. Any form of objectification is all about reinforcing, consciously and unconsciously, the IWSCP.
What happened to, “Hey, nice hat.” To which I would have responded, “Thanks!” and went on about my business.