. . . men and women aren't treated equally, aren't seen as equals, aren't valued in the same ways in the same spaces. And yes, men shouldn't be reduced to muscular arms and flat, tan stomachs and shouldn't begin to enter the world of debasement women have been living in for such a long time, that reaching equality at the lowest common denominator is no way to reach equality. [But] men - white men, I should specify - are still generally seen first and foremost as people. Therefore, being reduced to an object is still a terrible thing, but its cultural impact is not the same if the same image is with a woman. Because, as much as I wish all things were equal, women are still primarily seen as bodies first. [my emphasis]
I'm not sure how to even begin unpacking this last sentence.
By whom are women "primarily seen as bodies" rather than people? Men? Society? The dominant culture? I think my friend may be lumping these three together.
Is it really so easy to pin down the dominant strands of contemporary American thought amidst such vast ideological diversity? Can we really paint with such broad strokes? Is power really so highly concentrated in today's pluralistic society?
As a policy person, I may approach these questions from a slightly different perspective. To me, power is the ability to place things onto the political decision agenda or to keep them off of that agenda. In both respects, women's organizations have been immensely powerful over the past several decades. And I think this may be part of the reason why I am unwilling to accept such a generalized conception of how women are "seen" in America.
This model of society -- a culture that is so fundamentally repressive toward women -- fails to incorporate the past 40 years of social progress, and the incredible political clout that women's organizations now wield.
It's no coincidence that the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Fair Pay Act. Nor was it surprising that one of the president's first public acts was to rescind the Mexico City Policy. Over the past several decades, feminist groups have deeply transformed the political landscape in America -- and, with it, many aspects of our culture. These changes should not be portrayed as exogenous. Indeed, they have played an important role in our cultural evolution, and they should be considered an internal part of our social model.
Unfortunately, I think that many contemporary feminists -- like other kinds of activists -- have a "tendency to minimize victories and exaggerate threats." In some ways this makes sense. Activism necessitates a certain kind of hyperbole. But these exaggerations distort the complex reality.
After multiple waves of feminism, a series of profound policy changes, and decades of intense social criticism, it's not so easy to make blanket statements about how women are really perceived by society.
At the very least, we should acknowledge that the issue of social perceptions is complex and requires quite a bit more qualification today than it did in the past . . . .