When I was in middle school, I had two boy-best-friends. We were all dorky and weird and uncoordinated and un-cool, so we made our group, the three of us. Most of the time, we were a solid group of friends and very rarely did I feel that our genders separated us. However, in some situations, my femininity sat in the way of our friendship. We couldn’t have sleepovers, doors had to be left open, and sometimes birthday parties were “girls only” or “boys only.” None of that really bothered me: what did bother me when I was made to feel as though I were a sexual commodity.
The first time I recall being objectified was when I was eleven years old. Even being so young, I already had my first kiss and had a decent sense of my sexuality and consent concept. I remember feeling like a young lady—a real lady—with a sense of who she is, and with that, I was trying to familiarize myself with what behavior I liked and who I liked seeing it from.
The first time I felt objectified was sitting on the swings with my two boy-best-friends. Even as an adult, I stand at four-foot-eleven tall: imagine how I would have difficulty on the swing when I was younger. So, one of my friends had to give me a boost onto the swing. I sat comfortably on the swing as we chatted about school and whatever else came to mind. As I began pumping my legs to make the swing move, a toonie fell from my bra onto the wood chips. Please don’t ask why I kept money in my bra. My mother made me wear a bra, so I figured I could put it to good use as a place to store my things. I didn’t have enough breasts to fill it anyway. One of my friends—let’s call him Jake—dashed to grab the toonie from the ground. He held onto it tightly in his hands and refused to let go of it. “This touched boob,” he murmured softly as he cradled the two-dollar coin.
It’s a really weird and funny story on the surface, but imagine how I felt. I was in sixth grade, and I didn’t get my period. I wore this uncomfortable bra from Walmart, and my friend was making me feel incredibly uncomfortable about my body, and he was stealing the money my mom gave me for a slushy! At that moment, I was thinking about many things: How long had my friends been noticing my body? Why did they feel so comfortable talking about my breasts when I wasn’t? Were they hanging out with me for a chance to “touch boob” as the toonie did? I didn’t know the terms objectification or sexualization yet, but I knew I felt weird in my body because of my breasts. I wore a sweater for the rest of the week.
The second time I felt objectified happened within the next week. Jake, and let’s call him Thomas, and I were again at the park. As kids do, we were fantasizing about adult lives in wildly unachievable scenarios.
Thomas said, with his eyes sparkling, “when I turn eighteen, I’m moving out right away.” “I’m going to live in a mansion because I’ll probably already be a famous skateboarder. We can all move into a mansion and be roommates!”
I was totally on board. Living in a mansion with my two best friends at eighteen? Sounds perfect! But Jake was pensive and didn’t answer right away. Jake said hesitantly when he finally did speak, “That sounds okay…But, I don’t know if I can live with a girl.”
My heart dropped: why was I being excluded from the cool party mansion?
Jake, when prodded, explained with a serious face: “What if I see her in a towel coming out from the shower and I can’t control myself?”
Again, it’s funny on the surface, but underneath the initial laugh is a huge amount of misogyny and a disregard for consent. The use of language like “can’t control myself” blames the woman for whatever she may be subjected to, like sexualization, objectification, and even assault. Did I think then or now that I was ever in danger of being assaulted by Jake? Absolutely not, but I think Jake was a child that repeated what he heard in the media or even at home, so I believe he was a product of his environment. If you read those two accounts and thought, wow, that’s really young to be going through that! That’s an understandable thought process, but women are and made to feel objectified from a very young age. In cases of sexual assault against minors, one- third of the assaults take place when the victim is under twelve years old.
One of the ways we can counteract and prevent sexualization, objectification, and sexual assault is to talk about it and share our stories with each other and young people. We need to teach our sons better and daughters to listen to their gut when they feel uncomfortable.
I hope sharing these stories for the first time inspires you to help make a better world for our girls. Do you remember the first time you felt objectified or sexualized? Feel free to share this with someone you love or even the comments.