Over at Jezebel, a fascinating experiment was conducted in which men were forced to feel objectification, to slide into the shoes of being a woman without doing anything but hold baked goods. Deemed The Lemon Cake Male Objectification Experiment, science writer (and baker) Elizabeth Preston tasked five heterosexual men in relationships with carrying around sweets while taking public transportation and traveling around their city.
The results were wonderful: the men sought attention, got attention, and effectively were objectified. They got looks and were ogled and they felt at risk and were generally distracted. Their wives and girlfriends smiled and nodded, high fiving each other and crossing their arms as they proclaimed a communal, “Now you feel me?”
It’s a brilliant social test that creates empathy in a simple, lighthearted way. It reminded of a recent conversation on Monocle’s The Urbanist about how cities would be different if women designed them. In both situations, there truly feels like an opportunity for change can arise to make women feel safer and to create scenarios in which you can slide into someone else shoes (gender).
What the experiment misses—at no fault of anyone—is the sexuality (and race) of those objectified. In my own day to day, I get objectified quite often for being an out gay male: there are lusty gazes at my legs and, pending where in the country I am, looks of disapproval and even denial of subjectivity. Fortunately (Or unfortunately, since it could be dangerous.), I have become desensitized to this objectification because I’ve gotten it my entire life—and many gay man have had the same experiences. It’s a matter of being seen as a sexualized object because we are defined by our sex. It’s a matter of being seen as something you can literally hate fuck.
The weird part is that I’ve grown desensitized to being the object of gay gaze: if you get called gay and faggot and get stared at enough for being that, you stop hearing and seeing and noticing that that is happening to you. I try not to think about it yet, still, I always carry my keys in my hands when out of the house in case “something were to happen.” Life of a gay dude, y’all.
If I were a tad more sciency, I would posit an alternative experiment for sexuality (and maybe even gender): have a dude walk around in short shorts or too tight of pants, worn in a way that does not feel like a bro based joke. You will get the same attention as those with Lemon Cakes—and maybe even some catcalls or disapproving grimaces. Those were the missing reactions in the experiment. This sounds like a joke but it could absolutely help enable empathy.
Sure, you wouldn’t end up with baked goods after the experiment but you would absolutely, truly feel like an object.