Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dehumanization: Welcome to a Woman's Life

One of sexism and sexual violence's best tools is dehumanization. The word means exactly what it sounds like. When you dehumanize a person you are treating them as less than human; less capable of experiencing human emotions (like terror and joy), less capable of thinking like a human, less... you get the idea.

I see subtle dehumanization of women daily. One quick example: when I'm with my husband and he is speaking with a group of men I am often completely ignored, as if I'm an accessory, by most of them (not by my husband of course).

I also see a lot of overt dehumanization, particularly in the form of rape jokes. Here's a real winner:

Now, I'm no friend to animal cruelty. In fact, I'm a vegetarian. Well, I'm mostly vegan, besides a little cheese every once in awhile, but I digress.
I do hate the idea of any living thing suffering. But that's not the issue. Blurred Lines is about a woman, obviously, and the implication in this tweet is that it's okay that he's talking about a woman, but it wouldn't be okay if he were talking about an ape.

So, as a culture, what are we supposed to infer from this? Well in it's simplest form we could probably describe it this way:

Ape < Man

Woman < Ape

Any other humans have a problem with this?

This is also really a perfect example of how the dehumanization of women has led to so much sexual violence. If a woman isn't even as valuable (for lack of a better term) as an animal, why shouldn't we treat her like an animal? I mean, in the United States we kill millions of animals a day for human purposes (food, research, etc), so we obviously (as a culture, not individuals) don't value their lives or their right to live freely or make choices. So when a woman doesn't consent to sexual activity why would the perpetrator care? It's not as if he's harming a human.

We can think of it another way too:
Say I told you that I will give you $10 if you kick a bean bag chair as hard as you possibly can. Most people would probably take me up that offer.

Now what if I told you that I will give you $10 if you kick a person as hard as you possibly can. Most people wouldn't do it.

Why? Because the bean bag won't feel pain, you're getting what you want ($10) without taking something away from someone else (comfort, feeling safe).

So, when we equate human beings to objects, known as objectification (which is a form of dehumanization), we make it easier to justify violence against them.

While thinking of a woman in the same terms as a bean bag chair is obviously much worse than treating her like an ape, the concept is the same.

Statements, like the one on the above twitter post, which dehumanize and objectify women are directly reflecting and influencing our culture. They need to stop. 

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