When I was 16 I was a misogynist. Part of why I was a misogynist was that I had never actually been friends with women in real life. My knowledge of women stemmed not from real world experience but from how they were depicted in the books, films, television, and pornography that are produced in a patriarchal society. As a result I viewed women as sex objects and felt entitled to their bodies. I didn’t think about what they wanted but only what I wanted. I thought you could manipulate women into having sex with you as if they were some game to be played with, and not a valuable human being with feelings and desires of their own.
When I viewed and treated women this way I didn’t think I was sexist. In fact I thought I believed in gender equality and would complain about sexist men. It was only when I started to become genuine friends with women that I realised that they were fundamentally the same as me because we were both humans. They did not match up to the sexist caricatures of women I had absorbed from media my entire life. Instead they were fully formed people with as complicated and unique a mental life as mine whose personality and interests did not fit within patriarchal notions of womanhood. They were so much more than their bodies, yet before their bodies were all I had seen in them. To me they had just been objects of fantasy, desire and lust. Nice things to look at or touch, rather than complex people deserving of autonomy and respect.
The point at which I started to view women as people was the moment when a gradually came to realise that before I had been a sexist who viewed women as sex objects. From this I learned that realising that you view women as sex objects requires you to know what it is like to view women as fully fledged people. If you have no frame of reference and have not viewed women in multiple ways then how you currently view women will just be how women are to you. You know of no other way of thinking about or relating to women. Because of this if you think of women as sex objects then you will be incapable of realising that you view women as sex objects because you cannot compare viewing women as sex objects with viewing women as people. It is only when you start to view women as people that you can realise that before you did not.
Given this we shouldn’t expect sexists to be persuaded by arguments that they view women as sex objects. They are very unlikely to see that they view women as sex objects until they have the experience of viewing women as people. Nor are they likely to even understand what objectification is because they do not know what it is like to not objectify women. This shouldn’t surprise us since a person’s capacity to understand and to know is heavily connected with what life experiences they have had. Just as it is easier to understand what sexism is if you have personally experienced sexism so too is it harder to see sexism if you are a sexist.