Female Objectification Not All Fault of Men

Helen Alvare Highlights Woman's Complicity

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By Carrie Gress

ROME, FEB. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Women have had a hand in aiding and abetting the consumerism that objectifies them, and it's the result of original sin, says Helen Alvare.

Alvare, the former pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops' conference, and a law professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said this today at the Vatican conference under way through Saturday on "Woman and Man, the 'Humanum' in Its Entirety."

Given our environment of rampant consumerism, "it was almost inevitable that human beings would become the 'ultimate' consumer product," said Alvare. "Women's physical beauty and sexual complementarity with men make them particularly desirable in a commercial economy."

"The money to be made on sexualized images of women is staggering. It is conservatively estimated in fact today that the pornography industry is worth $60 billion annually. It is further estimated that pornography attracts 40% of all Internet users in the U.S. at least once a month, 70% of male Internet users between the ages of 18 and 34, and half of all hotel patrons," Alvare explained.

Empty pursuit

However, she continued, "the degree to which women, individually and via organized groups, have embraced their own objectification as consumer items is a particularly disturbing feature of our current situation."

Alvare added, "In his Theology of the Body series of talks, and in 'Mulieris Dignitatem,' John Paul II discusses original sin's effect upon women. He repeats the words that God 'addressed to the woman' after the commission of the first sin: 'Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.' He interprets this as indicating that the woman develops an insatiable desire for a different union. It is not for a relationship of communion, but a 'relationship of possession of the other as the object of one's own desire.'

"Even a secular observer would have to conclude that women's cooperation, even encouragement in the objectification of their bodies today, seems a modern manifestation of this inclination which Catholics call 'original sin.' Women debasing themselves in pursuit of the belief that it will lead to union with a man."

"This is not confined to the pornography industry, or even to commercial advertising or films or television," Alvare underlined. "Rather, ordinary women across the continent buy clothing designed to emphasize or expose those parts of their bodies associated with sex. Many women often also debase themselves with their speech, or by exposing themselves to media which gradually desensitizes them to the proposal that women are beautiful, sexualized objects for consumption."

Mimicking domination

"A final and disturbing aspect of women's conniving in their own objectification," continued Alvare, "is the involvement of prominent strains of feminism who insist that they are striking a blow for women's freedom by identifying freedom with undisciplined sexuality."

"On the one hand, one can see how strong was the temptation to break women out of the limited roles assigned to them in earlier times [...] but this feminism's response was and remains fundamentally flawed."

This type of feminism "drew upon the worst features of male behavior for its prescriptions. Thus was the feminist woman urged to be a sexually adventurous, marriage-and-children-spurning, money and career driven, creature," Alvare concluded. "Feminism urged women to imitate the male version of original sin -- domination -- to attain equality and happiness."