After all the discussions on catcalling that took place in 2014, men might theoretically understand that women have to gear up for battle with the male gaze whenever they leave the house, but let's be real here: guys will likely never have to deal with the feeling of being on display literally every time they're around other people. However, Jezebel writer Elizabeth Preston's lemon cake experiment shows men what it's like to be a woman in public... sort of.
At the moment, you're probably wondering what the hell lemon cake has to do with objectification, and the answer is a little convoluted. It all started when Preston asked her husband to carry a lemon cake on a long train ride to a friend's dinner party. While they were changing trains, the couple noticed that "all eyes seemed to be on [her husband] and the lemon cake," which prompted him to make a joke about feeling like an attractive woman. The throwaway quip got Preston thinking, however, about whether this would provide a window for her husband and other men to see what it's like to be a woman in public. As she aptly notes, "sometimes it seems like [she] and [her husband] walk around in two different worlds." Plus, who doesn't want an excuse to tote around delicious baked goods and eat them afterward?
Preston took five male friends, each with female significant others to serve as observers of the crowd, and asked them to carry around various sweets on their daily public transportation commute. She spoke to Sarah Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, who said that having something "desirable in the eyes of others," like cake or, say, a vagina, would serve as a good way to attract objectification. While the experiment wasn't exactly pure science, it did have a solid basis.
So what were the results? The men definitely attracted attention, with one describing someone "ogling his plate of cookies," and one wife reporting "judgy eyes." However, one important difference between the attention the volunteers received and what women experience is that the men reported wanting people to notice them. And that, Gervais points out, is pretty much the opposite of how most women feel. However, there was one interesting finding: all the attention actually changed the way the men behaved in public.
While they carried their pastries, all the men had become hyper-aware of the people around them, watching for anyone who might be staring... All of the men described being distracted, watchful, on alert.
If you're a lady, this probably sounds familiar. Preston notes in her write-up of the experiment that the public attention women receive constantly has negative consequences, including "increased anxiety or shame" and higher rates of self-objectification, or "thinking a lot about their own appearance and comparing it to an ideal." Objectification is a part of each woman's everyday life, and it has lasting effects on her psyche.
Although the cake experiment (which you should read about in full over at Jezebel) may not exactly mirror the female experience, it did give the men a little perspective on what it's like, which got me thinking. What else could men carry around that would give them similar experiences to being a woman in public? Here's a few suggestions.
1. A puppy
It's a sad truth that women still do most of the housework and childcare today, which makes carrying around a puppy perfect for this experiment. Being home with the kids all day doesn't let you blow off grocery shopping, meaning that many women are stuck taking squalling babies on public transportation, and puppies are basically giant babies anyway! Plus, puppies are loud and smelly enough to attract plenty of attention.