The Sexy Lie
Clark College alumna lectures on the media’s misogyny
Clark College alumna Caroline Heldman ’91 presented a lecture “The Sexy Lie” to a packed room of students, faculty and staff in early June.
Co-presented by Clark College Foundation and the student group N.E.R.D. Girls, who organize activities to promote women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Heldman spoke about the sexual objectification of women.
Heldman, who started at Clark when she was 14, received her associate degree at the college. She went on to earn a doctorate in political science at Rutgers University. Today, she is the chair of the politics department at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where she studies the ways in which media representations of women affect them “personally, politically and professionally.”
“We live in an objectification culture where many people believe sexual objectification can be empowering,” said Heldman.
This is the “sexy lie” Heldman refers to, arguing that being an object is hardly empowering. “A subject acts,” she said. “An object is acted upon, so when we look at it logically, we can see that objectification disempowers women.”
Heldman argued that there has been an increase in objectification culture since the 1980s, yet a decrease in discourse on the subject, to the point where many young people are unable to recognize it.
“It’s like living in a completely red room your entire life, leaving it, and then being asked to describe the color red,” she said.
Heldman showed the audience examples of contemporary ads that use women’s bodies as stand-ins for tables, as canvases for advertising messages, or in disfiguring or violent positions to sell products. She added that “children spend eight hours a day with media.”
Heldman said that women who self-objectify are more likely to suffer from depression, habitual body monitoring, eating disorders, body shame, sexual dysfunction, and lower political efficacy, to name only a few effects.
When a student asked if objectification culture contributes to rape culture, Heldman replied yes. “When you are able to dehumanize a human being, that’s the way you get ‘Steubenvilles,’” she said, referring to the recent case of three high school boys who raped a young classmate and then posted it to social media sites.
Heldman closed her presentation by urging all members of the audience—male and female—to resist society’s objectification of women and to boycott companies that use objectifying ads to sell their products.