Culture

The Reason Men Objectify Women Is Actually Scientific—How We Evolved To Be Desirable

By Andrea Mew··  7 min read
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Evolutionary biology doesn't subscribe to post-modern ideologies. While we obviously don't condone men objectifying women, it is interesting to learn about why this occurs scientifically.

Ever since the first Amber Rose SlutWalk in 2014, women have marched in the streets riled up over sex positivity and rape culture. “It doesn’t matter what we have on, it's still not an excuse to come and touch me inappropriately or assume I want to f*ck you – because I don’t,” Amber Rose told Harper’s Bazaar back in 2018. As someone who is unquestionably pro-women, I will say that her fury over real cases of sexual assault and rape is totally valid. That being said, there has to be a line drawn for radical feminists who wail about slut-shaming and objectification at any chance – especially when they’re in their self-proclaimed "slut era" and purposefully dressed in a promiscuous manner while adopting trashy behaviors to gain the attention they apparently despise.

No, I'm not excusing men for disgusting and predatory behavior. Women don’t deserve poor treatment or harassment whatsoever, but wouldn't it be helpful to get to the root of what causes this instinct in men to begin with? What if men simply can’t help but see women in what radical feminists would bemoan as an objectifying light (even if they don't act on it)? If we’re to trust the science, the reason why men objectify women is valid, and we actually evolved this way.

Are You Really Comparing a Woman to a Power Tool?

“I push, I grasp, I handle,” is probably not what you expect your man to think about you, but studies have shown that images of women in bikinis actually cause a region of the male brain associated with tool use to light up. What’s one caveman’s stone tool is a modern man’s power tool. Human evolutionary theory from similar lines of research suggests that men see women as objects as it relates to their apparent fertility. These would be cues like smooth skin, narrow waists, or curvaceous bodies. Furthermore, science has demonstrated that our brains have a biological tendency to pick women apart and see them in parts but view men as a whole (both genders do this). 

These findings are glaringly consistent with inherent, conventional wisdom, but feminist theory would assert that this is problematic and must be changed. It’s not necessarily something that can be controlled, however, as the association is a byproduct of natural evolution. 

Studies show that seeing women in bikinis activates the region of the male brain associated with tool use.

So if we take these studies as the “nature” aspect, what about the “nurture” aspect? Research published by the White House Council Report on Women and Girls actually proposed that “the more men are exposed to objectifying depictions” such as in men’s magazines, reality TV, or pornography, “the more they will think of women as entities that exist for men’s sexual gratification.”

Hypersexualization and the "Slut Aesthetic"

Let’s be frank, hysteria over objectification can only really be a problem now that we’ve reached whatever wave of feminism we’re current in. Is it fourth-wave feminism? Are we at fifth-wave yet? Can we even call it feminism anymore if we can’t be honest about what a woman is?

It’s kind of backward that as a society, we’re confusing men en masse through evolutionary pressure when a woman makes a choice to show off her body in revealing clothing (or even a naked selfie on the 'gram) and then turns around to cry objectification. Many women defend this choice as a way to empower themselves or to show off their body acceptance, but if we're really honest about the intention, isn't some of it tied to a response that they'll get from men and women alike when posting? The dopamine hit of praise, acceptance, and attraction is inevitably what comes from dressing (or lack of dressing) this way, online and in real life. If a woman wants to be thought of as more than just her body or sex appeal, wouldn’t it make sense for her to dress a bit more demurely?

But demure is becoming passé as the SlutWalk sneaks in to more aspects of modern women’s lives than just a yearly event. Recently in i-D by Vice, opinion writer Tom George suggested that “we’re all in our slut (non-practicing) era” and that “in 2022, being a slut is not about your body count. It’s an aesthetic, a state of mind, a way of being.”

George goes on to praise playlists with titles like “whore anthems,” the trend of “#sluttok” on TikTok, DMing erotica, wearing “cheek-scraping shorts,” and much more in an effort to normalize hypersexualization and promote the idea of the “slut aesthetic.”

However, some media brands that you’d expect to be gung-ho with the latest feminist trends, like Feminist Current, aren’t exactly cool with how blatant self-objectification is being marketed as empowerment. Rather, they’ve recognized how it has gone too far and could instead be hurting women. They cited surveys that suggest young men have less egalitarian attitudes than their grandparents did or that women feel increasingly more stressed out about their body image. Yet, all of this has been happening while so-called empowering hypersexualization sneaks its way into every aspect of our lives.

We Can't Write Off Evolutionary Biology, But We Can Strive For Better

By no means do I condone women being subjected to unwanted attention or verbal or physical abuse due to their clothing choices. After all, in a free and just society, women should have the agency to dress and act whatever way they would like.

Millennial men have less egalitarian attitudes than their grandparents did.

Objectification can leave a woman feeling like she has been denied her personhood. Research proposes seven “objectifying” ways that a person can be treated as a thing: “treating others as instrumental, fungible, violable, and owned as well as denying others autonomy, agency, and subjectivity.”

While male instincts may give them the desire to objectify, that's where virtue and discipline come in. We can certainly raise our sons, and speak to our brothers and our male friends about this issue in way that helps to shape future generations as much as possible, but we can't forget that we're still fighting against a biological instinct. We can accept the knowledge that while we are very dissimilar from most animals, we’re still very similar in many, basic ways like feeding, breathing, and of course, reproducing, while still encouraging our men to be better.

All humans have animal instincts, but we have to discipline ourselves for higher and better goals. We're all responsible for our own behavior, and while men may have a disadvantage in this area due to their biological instincts, they still have the power and the responsibility to rise above it and treat women in a way that acknowledges their human dignity.

Closing Thoughts

We shouldn’t panic when we hear a compliment (given that it's not threatening) because it’s not a crime to be recognized for our beauty. Sure, there are plenty of comments that men have made that shouldn’t have been uttered out loud, and we can do our best to change that, but we must also consider the fact that we often get back what we put out there, for better or worse. 

Just like how acting on a sour mood will usually lead to someone acting sour back at you, going a little bit too far showing off your beauty in an intimate manner might lead to a man acknowledging how desirable you are, thanks to the way evolution shaped his brain. If we want men to be more disciplined in their perception of us, maybe it's time to challenge them to strive for better while also crafting the image we put out there with a classier, more tasteful approach.

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