Most women know how it feels to be objectified. We’ve dealt with the catcalls and the street harassment, the way we’re sometimes viewed as prey simply for existing in a public space. We’re taught to aim for the elusive, precarious balance between too much skin and not enough. We’re told our skirts are distracting, our makeup is lying, our bare faces unprofessional, even sickly. We’re all “baby”– passive, sweet and fragile – until we refuse to comply, when suddenly, we’re “bitch”. Our wombs, when shedding, are repulsive; carrying, they are so beautiful, so sacred, that they override our bodily autonomy.
This type of objectification is blatant. We know this, we live this, and those of us who can – or indeed will – actively fight against this. But there are other, more nuanced forms of objectification which are normalised and even celebrated through their masquerading as endearment.
Enter the societal expectation of a woman’s relationship with her father. We’re told it is a great honour to be a Daddy’s Girl, which is, to develop an unbreakable bond with our fathers as a result of their undying adoration and fearless protection. The ideal father is one who refers to his daughter as a princess, the apple of his eye. No matter how old she is, she will always be his little girl – a notion many daughters unquestioningly accept. To me, there’s something uniquely nauseating about the concept of grown women (or realistically, anyone over the age of 9) referring to their fathers as “Daddy”. It smacks of internalised infantilisation, with unnerving sexual undertones – and given the power dynamic, it’s not hard to see why.
Despite a father’s efforts to protect his princess, he will one day be forced to deal with her burgeoning sexuality, along with the prospect of being replaced as her prince. So, in an attempt to guard his daughter from her own sexuality he unwittingly makes it the most important thing about her. When our bodies are policed, even (in fact, especially) under the guise of loving protection, we are taught they are not ours to control. Instead this responsibility is left to men, who are better equipped, somehow more qualified, to navigate them. We become prized possessions to be protected, won, and even taken at the will of men.
Aware of the enduring male desire to possess women, the “traditional” father seeks to control what his daughter wears, who she sees, and how long she stays out at night – he was young once, after all.
He warns his daughter of being used by men; the dangers of existing only as a notch on a proverbial bedpost. “Wait for someone who treats you like the princess you are,” he’ll advise, failing to comprehend that treating women like princesses is a form of subjugation in itself.
Even in the absence of overbearing parenting, the princess ideal persists; it is so deeply ingrained within our culture. We’re encouraged as women to fall in love with men who deny us agency through dogged pursuit, particularly when said pursuit is peppered with grand romantic gestures. Men, in turn, are taught to stop at nothing to win us over, because if Hollywood is anything to go by, Stalking Is Love.
We’re to be grateful there are men willing to fight for us and should make ourselves available to the highest bidder. We’re roped into the idea of marriage through the gift of an incredibly expensive ring, a modern day bride price that says “she’s mine, this is how much I paid for her”. Dressed in virginal white, we’re walked down the aisle by our fathers and given away like chattel, passed from one proprietor to another. And finally, we swap our fathers’ names for our husbands’, continuing the cycle of perpetual ownership.
Of course, to many women, these subtle incidences of objectification seem harmless, and to some, they are the embodiment of love. But what good is love when it compromises our independence? When it is one-sided and devoid of informed consent?
All too often, the men in our lives place us on an impossibly high pedestal, lifting us to a status usually reserved for gods and (other) mythological creatures. This pedestal robs us of our personhood; it allows the rest of the world to determine our lives for us, to interpret our thoughts, feelings, and intentions, and to justify the patriarchal restrictions placed upon us. Should we make one misstep, one decision that in any way compromises this idealised form of femininity, down we fall.
Instead of buying into the notion that our womanhood is synonymous with perfection, and therefore requires constant protection to remain so, we should be using it to define our utter, imperfect humanity. And when men stop treating us like trophies to be won, bought, sold, and traded, and start treating us as people, we may finally be equal.