Female Olympians objectified by NBC

When NBC, the official network of the Olympics, aired a video titled “Bodies in Motion” on its Olympic site, some viewers were so shocked by the blatant objectification of women that the resulting firestorm of criticism led the network to remove the offensive video from its site, apparently without explanation or apology.
The reactions to the video were fierce: “Unfortunately, to NBC, showcasing the ‘Bodies in Motion’ of the XXX Olympiad means taking footage of conventionally attractive female athletes competing in sports that require them to be scantily clad, slowing it way down as the camera lovingly caresses their butts, breasts, and bouncing ponytails, and playing some soft core porn music over it. Apparently NBC is too busy focusing on jiggling ladies’ asses to notice ladies kicking ass” (Jezebel). Anger is certainly an appropriate reaction to sexual objectification, yet we need to move beyond anger to question the motive behind the creation of the video, and its posting by a major network. What is most disturbing to me is that those who created it, and those who approved it, did not see anything wrong with doing so. The sexual objectification of women in our society has become so culturally engrained that it isn’t even questioned. And while we must voice our concerns–after all–the outcry is what led to the removal of the video from NBC’s site, we will not truly fix the problem until we work to rewire our brains at a much deeper level.
A recent study conducted by a team of Israeli and US psychologists provided scientific evidence of the social harm of sexual objectification–of treating people as objects instead of as human beings. In the study, which examined the behavior of both women and men, participants sat in a room by themselves, and introduced themselves to a person in the next room using a prepared list of questions. When women were just audio taped and not videotaped, or when they were introducing themselves to another woman no matter where the camera was pointing, they spoke about themselves for the full two minutes. However, when they were introducing themselves to a man, and the camera was focused on them, they spoke about themselves for less than a minute and a half: “When a woman believes that a man is focusing on her body, she narrows her presence… by spending less time talking” (Scientific American). Male participants did not alter their behavior when they were being filmed. Tamar Saguy, the study’s lead psychologist, believes that when women are objectified, they alter their behavior according to what is expected of them, in this case “silent things devoid of other interesting traits” (Scientific American). In other words, if you treat a woman as an object, she will behave like one.
I once believed that the society my daughter grew up in would be more equitable than the one in which I was raised. After all, my role models were Charlie’s Angels and Daisy Duke. Yet I have come to realize that while the women of my generation have certainly fought hard and gained ground in the workplace, in education, in athletics–the fact that today’s generation has Paris Hilton and Snooki–and now NBC sports–to reinforce that sexual objectification is the norm, I no longer believe that my daughter’s path will be any easier than my own. Instead I believe that our society has failed yet another generation of girls.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. christinechoi

    my initial thought on this piece was that the article had a rather harsh and excessively negative approach to the NBC incident. from a business perspective, perhaps the news station simply succumbed to viewer’s demands for what this article phrased as “sexual objectification of women.” but that’s just it. succumbed. personally, growing up, women’s rights activism has always seemed rather petty and unnecessary. my immediate reaction to sexual-objectification was always the assumption that the initiator so to speak didn’t have malicious intentions and that it was rather harmless to us women. while I’m yet to be more convinced otherwise, this article definitely triggered objections to this fallacious intrinsic thinking. to address the former assumption, i still believe that NBC had no true devilish intentions of bringing some women such distress. this is because even upon negative reaction, the people who were responsible continued to see no harm in their act. but what I’ve come to learn throughout my short lifetime is that irresponsible action that leads to negative consequences is bad regardless of intention. which brings me to my next assumption being that these actions were quite harmless. well this is simply false. as i reflect on simply the last say 24 hrs i can attest to this feeling of insecurity and lack of substance/value around men. not to villainize the male species as a whole but i suppose whatever institution within our society that perpetuates this understanding and behavior. which then makes me pretty livid about the NBC incident in that not only am i as a woman being objectified every time i walk into a club setting but on the news as well. its unsettling to say the least and has made me come to a rather drastic realization of my role as a women in society.

    1. Diane DeBella

      Thinking about things from a different perspective can be very enlightening.

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