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.