Why does Holden objectify women in The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger?

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Holden might not objectify women so much as he either idolizes or looks down upon them. His views of women appear to operate under a less sexualized version of the Virgin-Whore complex, where girls and women are either innocent and pure or shallow and "phony." The former are more associated...

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Holden might not objectify women so much as he either idolizes or looks down upon them. His views of women appear to operate under a less sexualized version of the Virgin-Whore complex, where girls and women are either innocent and pure or shallow and "phony." The former are more associated with childhood, a state Holden idealizes, while the latter are aligned with the adult world Holden both loathes and fears.

Holden could be accused of objectifying women if he viewed them as mere sexual objects or as the possessions of the men in their lives, but he never does this. In fact, he tends to respect a certain type of girl: intelligent, honest, and non-sensual. His casual interaction with the nuns is mostly positive for that reason: they discuss literature with him and are non-sexualized (the only reason he is uncomfortable around them is that he does not want them to ask if he's Catholic). He also likes Jane Gallagher, a classmate he admires for her chess-playing skill and smarts, but the thought of her in a sexual situation with Stradlater disturbs him, not just because of the threat of rape but also because he views her as innocent and non-sexual. His sister, Phoebe, is still a child and quite intelligent, another reason Holden is comfortable around her.

In contrast, Holden is not comfortable with more worldly teenage girls and women and the potential sexual (i.e. adult) world they represent. The flirtatious Sally Hayes fascinates and repels Holden: he is physically attracted to her but finds her shallow and "stupid" due to her obsession with what other people will think. Sunny the sex worker makes Holden uncomfortable with her open talk and insistence on skipping the talk to get to the impersonal sex she was supposed to provide. Holden does not objectify these women either, but he does fear and dislike them, though one could argue that has less to do with them being women and more to do with them being adults or on the verge of adulthood.

And that's what this all boils down to: Holden's feelings about the opposite sex are deeply linked to his fear of growing up. Women are a mystery to him and like the mystery of the adult world, he has extremely complicated sentiments regarding them.

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