Ken the Garbage Disposal: Are Women the Only Ones Objectified?

Controversy over Barbie posing in the 2014 Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated is hardly surprising in an age where women (and men) are speaking up against the objectification of females that is present across the world. And let’s be honest: Sports Illustrated has done its share to present women as beautiful, stunning objects for decades. Beginning in 1964, SI has provided pages of barely-dressed females in seductive poses with eyes just longing for someone to take them, to devour them in whatever manner the consumer feels fit. The swimsuit issues have little to do with swimming or any other sport, and much to do with pleasing men by presenting the best side of women: their tanned, smooth, curved, available bodies. Though the magazine offers kudos to the women for their accomplishments and successes, it is the female physique that is most admired and praised.

And this year, the magazine has outdone itself and chosen to flaunt an actual object. Alongside human women will stand the infamous plastic doll that has been accused of contributing to the unrealistic ideals of how a woman should look. Silky hair, big eyes, perfectly-shaped lips, legs for days, and smooth skin. What better representation of the type of woman that belongs in SI than Barbie?

The articles, posts, and tweets that have come forward show the blurriness of the line between the female as a person or an object. It seems we have embraced Barbie as an actual person…one who has goals, careers, feelings, and the new unapologetic attitude that makes Mattel proud. Yes, Barbie gets her place along the other women in the magazine. But her spotlight is earned not because of her resume, but because of her hot body in a swimsuit. No reason to apologize miss, you fit the mold!

Now, let’s be fair. I loved Barbie growing up. I have at least a dozen of her and her friends that I have passed on to my daughter. I remember the days of dressing her, combing her hair, and having her walk gracefully off to various parts of the dollhouse to get on with her happy life. In Barbie’s defense, some have claimed she may be the most feminist doll out there. With over 150 career outfits, her own horse, and that snazzy pink convertible, it could be accurate to say that she has provided some positive contributions in addition to the unrealistic body image she has helped to cement in the hearts and minds of young girls. We would certainly be mistaken to claim that Barbie is the main problem when it comes to the objectification of women. As Charlotte Alter writes, “Barbie may be aiming to be the poster child for female empowerment…let’s not discard her just yet.” She poses unapologetic for who she is and how she looks, and I would agree that she may be the best of the worst when it comes to the pink toy aisle littered with Monster High and Bratz dolls.

However, we often become unapologetic for two reasons. 1) We actually don’t have (or don’t believe we have) a reason to apologize because we meet the criteria for what is acceptable or desired; or 2) We have given up the fight for something and decided ‘if you can’t beat em, join em.’ Barbie, and the actual human beings at Mattel, obviously feel justified that Barbie has joined her objectified counterparts in SI. In fact, Mattel is attempting to spin it so that women feel empowered to strut their stuff regardless of how they look (easy for perfectly shaped plastic to say). Yet, they may be ignorant to the ways in which they’ve joined the game in which the worth of women is decided upon by what they have to show and to what extent they decide to reveal it.

Yet, women may not be the only ones objectified by the relentless media tactics. If Barbie is the object to be consumed, what does that make Ken? And back to the real world in which we are speaking about actual humans…if females are objects for males to behold, to crave, to acquire, then what is the primary task of men?

The expectations we have of men in many areas of life may help answer this question. In general, it seems we expect males to consume. “Real” men can take in the world. They go after what they want and they get it. They’re expected to eat, and eat big. Steaks, burgers, whole pizzas. Men who eat salads or who cannot finish their meal stand out as odd, hardly a manly man by most standards. We also respect men who can hold their liquor. No one applauds a lightweight. And while food and drink are tangible consumptions, if we expand our term we can surely think of other areas in which men are expected to obtain and consume. Men are taught that they are to acquire the best of their worlds in order to truly be a success. A grown man brings in the income, secures the big home, and buys the nice car. While this certainly doesn’t apply to all men and there is often an expectation for men to also be providers, the general message many men seem to receive is that their task is to take it all in. No thinking, no argument, just go out there and get it.

And real men, they get the girls. Not just any girl either. As consumers, their job is to find the best piece of meat. No sloppy seconds! Once they have her, they are expected to enjoy. And at one end of the continuum, to discard when finished and move on to another item on the menu. Women are the objects, men the consumers. The man is not given permission to focus on emotions or intimacy. That would be “weak.” No, he is expected to be a man: swallow any pain or need for genuine attachment, and get the goods. A human garbage disposal. Consume, digest, and cleared out for more.


And the market benefits. If we can create stunning objects and convince men they are to attain them, we have a fool-proof system to make bank. SI and countless others provide the meat and care little about what that does to those who consume it. No matter that those men feel empty after the disposal system has run its course, we’ll simply keep providing the next meal. A more decadent, tempting meal, that will be sure to satisfy even the more picky and perhaps desensitized men.

Yes, Barbie is expected to present herself as the most desirable object for Ken. Women spend countless amounts of time, effort, and money to shape themselves to be trophies or arm candy for men to choose from. That is their job. And Ken is expected to be the best object as well. No woman wants to be consumed by just anything. She wants a consumer worthy of the task. He should be attractive and nicely-shaped himself, but even more, he should know his role. Which men are sought after? Sensitive men who show human emotion and desire to attach to another human in a vulnerable relationship? Hardly. Women often feel drawn to men who can handle their objects. Males who have that air about them. They seek to acquire and are successful in doing so. And to consume without particular attachment or contentment with what they have. Women often attract to men who are dismissive, able to detach seamlessly. Men who seem to be on the hunt, who thirst for more. Ladies often want to be the one…that one object that finally satisfies the other.

Now, this description is in no way fully accurate for many people. The caveat here, and thankfully there is one, is that many men and women recognize and live in ways that triumph over this mentality. I know many men and women who know the value of being human and who love and respect themselves and others.

However, I believe we are naïve if we go on thinking this does not affect most of us in some way. It’s subtle and subconscious for many of us, yet still very much a part of our psyche. And while I believe women are often more objectified than men (at least explicitly), it’s important to acknowledge that a person who truly feels human and alive does not attach to objects in healthy ways. That is to say, to treat another person as an object, one must in some way also objectify themselves. Genuine relationships require a vulnerability and relatedness that cannot exist between object and human. As Ken consumes, he is also demoralized as a garbage disposal. And this is not because women are garbage, but because they have been degraded into objects or food that leaves them feeling chewed up and disposed of, while Ken is left feeling insatiable and empty.

And it’s a vicious cycle and one that we must all choose to fight. Barbie and Ken belong to one another. Object to object, they can enjoy their lives in dollhouses and plastic cars. The rest of us deserve to embrace each another as human beings with much more to offer than unrealistic proportions and fake, cheesy smiles. My hope is that, as our children grow and play with dolls like Barbie and Ken, the line between object and human will become more clear and they can offer the dolls a taste of what it’s like to be human, instead of the other way around.

Gift-less, Part 2: The Season.

Breaking a tradition, habit, or ritual is always tough, especially those that have been around for our entire lives. So, as one can imagine, going into the Christmas season knowing that there would be absolutely no presents caused some angst and uncertainty for a mother of two. Make no mistake: I was simply thrilled that I didn’t have to wrap up another grueling quarter of grad school only to fight the shopping crowds in the remaining two weeks before Christmas. Nor was it unpleasant to pack the car to visit family in Utah without having to play Tetris with odd-shaped packages while the bows found a new home in my hair. No, I was quite relieved and content. No black Friday shopping, no hour-long searches online. Just December. Just family and friends. Yet, I wondered how the kids would do with no Santa and no presents. I feared they would be sad, whiny, or miserable. I feared that I might be those things too.

It turns out that planning service projects is no easy task. For safety and liability reasons, many places would not allow children to volunteer. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. Many did not allow children to volunteer their time. They were happy to take money or gifts from anyone, including our 8 and 11 year old. However, it was somewhat difficult to find ways to actually give of our time and effort…to actually be with people who needed company and to seek to brighten their day. But, not surprisingly, the church had answers, and we were blessed to be connected with others who had suggestions. It wasn’t long before we had several activities lined up.

We began at a place filled with wise, wonderful people who are often overlooked or dismissed in our country: a retirement center for senior citizens. This was our first act of service, and the kiddos were nervous. Admittedly, so was I. Would people find it odd that we weren’t family or friends, but simply strangers stopping by? Would the kids be too shy? Would they be scared by those with dementia or physical disabilities? And what would we do? What would we talk about? Me, being the planner I am, made sure we arrived with bags full of games to play, books to read, and snacks to share. Things cannot go wrong if we plan well enough, right?!? Our first stop was a room with a couple who were not too interested in anything but a quick hello. Odd stares and nods. The TV was much more interesting than us. Our anxiety increased and my husband and I gave the “oh boy” look to one another. But, the next room was quite a different story. A dear 105-year-old woman greeted us with a big smile. She shared stories of her life: Born in China, was a teacher, moved to the U.S. with her husband, and attended school to further her education. Photos adorned her walls. Family, friends, and trips across the world. She was quite the traveler. She was warm and welcoming and it was a pure joy to watch as Cameron read an Elephant and Piggie book to her. She complimented him on his enunciation (she was a teacher after all) and told Adam and I what a great job we were doing on exposing our children to “people of different ethnicities.” She was simply wonderful. When we returned the following week, we could hardly escape her room without a half-dozen cookies filling our stomachs and hands.
cam reading

We made other friends at the retirement home as well. We played bingo together, swapped stories, and simply shared our time. Taylor and I will be returning soon to paint nails with the ladies and Cameron will visit his adored friend Dee, who has a wicked sense of humor that he loves. Some friends who know us by sight when we enter, and some who forget us the moment we step away from the room. All beautiful people. It’s always a mix of emotions as we walk out. Sadness, inspiration, despair, love, joy, contentment, and somehow….hope…even in a place where people are in their last stages of life. Hope in relationships, in humanity. The mix of emotions somehow boils down to a simmering love for and appreciation of this thing we call life.

We also had the privilege of being involved with a service project that a couple from our church have been doing for decades. Based in Mexico, there is a tradition called Luminaries in which lighted candles once lead the way to the church on Christmas Eve. This has been expanded over time so that the lights now represent preparing the night for the arrival of the Savior. So, every year, this dear couple hands out over 1,500 fliers to the homes of their neighbors and surrounding blocks. Families have the opportunity to purchase luminares for $1(a votive candle in a simple brown bag with sand in the bottom) to set out on their curbs, porches, or driveways on Christmas Eve. The money paid goes to the buyer’s charity of choice. So, our family helped sort candles and bags, and then helped scoop sand and deliver orders the weekend before Christmas Eve. We also purchased some of our own luminares and put them out at the Elizabeth House on Christmas Eve, a home for women and their children who are seeking to get out of abusive relationships.
Elizabeth house

It’s a simple idea, nothing explicitly life-changing about the task. Yet, simplicity is what we needed and I cannot fully describe the way in which we were ministered to during this activity. Ernie and Judy invited us into their home and their lives. They fed us, and treated us like family during our times with them. The kids could not get enough. The love and joy that they have fostered in their own lives and through this project was evident as neighbors flocked to their house to pick up orders. We once again found ourselves sharing stories, and feeling fulfilled as we saw the love of God radiating from others. That same love that we sought to give, was being given to us. And the bonus: It came with fun perks for the kids too! Cleaning up leaves and delivering luminaries becomes very exciting when one gets to use a leaf blower and a small electric truck. It reminded me of my times growing up, when being neighbors really meant something and people had time to just be together.
scooping sanddelivery truck

As I look back and reflect on the experience, I realize there was nothing spectacular or particularly amazing about what we did this Christmas season. However, the ease of which we were able to enjoy the holiday was remarkable. It was almost too easy, too good. Not once did we feel saddened or left out by getting rid of the gifts. Not one tear or pout on Christmas morning. Our attention and focus on relationships left us feeling content and satisfied in ways that are really not explainable. Our ability to listen to and really engage with others was heightened. And low and behold, we experienced…joy. We were deeply ministered to, in a way all too mysterious and all too uncommon in our lives right now. I remember asking myself countless times, why haven’t we done this before?

As we helped serve dinner in the park for those without a home, I was reminded that our relationships are not a given. There is nothing specific about being human that ensures we will truly love and cherish one another. I look at some of the people at the park and in the street who are homeless, and I think: I wonder when was the last time they were hugged? Have they been told lately that they mean something? That they are worthy to be cherished? And what about people in positions of great wealth and power? Do they experience grace and forgiveness? Are they appreciated just for being human? As I reflect on our experience and on my life in general, I cannot escape the difficult but necessary reminder that there are many people who are deeply hurting. There are times when we all have been hurt or have inflicted pain on another. Yet, there are also people who are serving and loving one another, despite their circumstances. Bearers of relentless hope and perseverance. And we all have the chance to do just that. In small ways that make a big difference. Not just for the served, but also for those who serve.
Tay serving drinks

On Christmas morning, we woke up and had breakfast as a family. We played games and simply relaxed and praised God for the miracles He provides every day. And not the house or the car or the clothes. Instead, the people. Human beings, with all of their strife, shortcomings, and vices, have wonderful potential for love, connection, and a life worth living. The family and friends in our lives, old and new, young and old, are nothing short of miraculous, undeserved gifts.

Fam in truck 2