Sunday, March 25, 2007

Questioning Objectification

If there's one thesis I'd like to nail to the church door of feminism, it would be this:

Desire does not equal objectification.

Many women believe that when a man is aroused by the sight of a woman -- particularly by seeing and touching her face, hair, and body -- he reduces her in his mind to a "sex object."

Probably the most serious problem with this theory is that -- like the concept of sin -- the doctrine of objectification clouds the real issue: consent. Weighing sexual expression in terms of objectification encourages people to lump consensual and non-consensual sex acts together as being both harmful to women. It discourages people from using consent (or lack thereof) as a good measure of whether harm has been done.

Unfortunately it's difficult to debate the concept of objectification on its merits because the term "objectification" is not well-defined. There's no clear-cut criteria for determining what is objectification and what isn't. Even the notoriously ill-defined term "porn" is easier to pin down. I've seen the term "objectification" applied to any instance of a man deriving pleasure from seeing or touching a woman's body, especially if specific body parts act as a trigger for arousal. So the charge of objectification can be used to condemn a huge range of sexual expression. Yet when it comes time to demonstrate the harm, the term "objectification" contracts to cover only the most flagrant examples. Thus it becomes nearly impossible to discuss or debate the concept in any reasonable manner.

Nonetheless, I'd like to try to hold up the concept of objectification to scrutiny based on what seems to be the popular definition.

The problem with the concept of objectification is that it is not consistent with reality. Feeling aroused when presented with certain sexual cues is an involuntary biological response that has nothing whatsoever to do with a man's capacity to see women as whole people, as equals, as partners, as colleagues, etc.

Being irrational, the doctrine of objectification is counterproductive. It alienates potential allies. There are many men who respect the abilities of their female colleagues and would like to stand up for women's equality. However they are made to feel that if an image of a nude woman turns them on, then they are the enemy and not welcome to call themselves feminists. For many men, feeling aroused by the female form is a fundamental component of their sexuality that no amount of "education" can possibly change any more than prayer will change a gay person into a straight person. Feminists should be educating these men that their arousal response is normal, but that there's a time and a place for it, and they need to be careful to treat they the women they interact with in the way the women would like to be treated. Feminists should not be saying "If you masturbate in the privacy of your own home while thinking about women and/or looking at consensually produced images, then you're a misogynist!"

As much of a shame as it is to alienate potential male allies however, the real tragedy is that the doctrine of objectification also alienates many women. It is not possible to condemn male sexuality without (as a side effect) condemning the sexuality of many straight women who like to have sex with men. If a woman is aroused by showing off her own body -- and in particular is aroused by seeing the effect she has on men -- then the doctrine of objectification tells her that she's disrespecting herself by turning herself into a sex object. The problem again is that this is a perfectly ordinary arousal cue, well within the range of normal arousal cues for women. The feminist movement should be encouraging women to explore their sexuality openly, not limiting what female sexuality is allowed.

As you might guess, this issue is important to me personally because I fall into that class of women who are sometimes made to feel unwelcome at the feminist table. I've spent quite a lot of time analyzing my own sexuality, and being honest with my own desires, I have come to the realization that I am far more aroused by turning a man on -- by the thought of male desire -- than I am by looking at an image of a beautiful man. Patriarchal religionists as well as feminists who preach the doctrine of objectification would tell me that this is because I have internalized "man as subject" in my personal sexual narrative and/or that I must want to be an object and therefore don't respect myself. But in reality it doesn't mean that at all. It doesn't mean anything. It is a random arousal cue. Period.

Now I would like to quote my favorite columnist, Dan Savage:
Not all men into BDSM are chauvinist pigs. There are tons of misogynist males out there into strictly vanilla sex.[...] There's no rhyme or reason to most people's fantasies;
[Note that Dan Savage's column is adult, however I encourage people who are not offended by it to go read the whole thing because I've taken this quote way out of context: here]

As I said in my feminist sexuality post I don't think that it's possible for anyone who is following my blog to seriously argue that I lack self-confidence, self-respect, or self-esteem. It pisses me off that the feminist movement would make me feel like I need to defend myself against such charges.

Personally, in my own relationships, I have never once had a problem with the question "Does he like me as a whole person? Or does he see me as just a means to get off?"

Do you want to know why?

Because "Does he find me interesting to talk to?" is absolutely the wrong question for a feminist to be asking herself. The right question is "Do I find him interesting to talk to?"

It turns out that the people I am interested in talking to are interested in talking to me.

It is because of my own self-confidence that there is no danger I will be mistaken for an object by anyone whose opinion matters.


Anonymous said...

I am so grateful that I found your blog tonight. Thank you for sharing your opinions on this highly controversial subject. I agree with your remarks, and couldn't have said it better. I'm another ex-Mo, from the RfM board. I'll be starting my own ex-Mormon blog soon. I plan to return here often, to read more of your thoughts. Keep up the great work!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Varda!!!

I'm really glad to start the comments off on a positive note, because I'm guessing I'm going to get myself into some trouble for going after this sacred cow... ;-)

Be sure to give me the URL of your new blog so I can add you to my list!!! :D

Jewish Atheist said...

I agree, although I'd like to clarify a little. The flaw in the concept of objectification is not that men don't often think of women as "sex objects," but that we can't simultaneously see one as a "sex object" and as a person. I mean, people are both bodies and personalities, right? If I like your body, I may or may not like your personality, and vice-versa.

I think what most women really object to is when they are treated ONLY as a sex object, which happens too frequently. At the extreme of this is sex slavery, which is abhorrent. A man admiring your butt, though, in a non-threatening way, of course, is simply a natural act that causes no harm.

Anonymous said...

CL, I'm very sympathetic to what you're saying here, and not entirely because I'm a natural man...just mostly because of it. :)

I think what we have here is a side-effect of the dogma of dualism; that we are divine/separate beings in a fallen/natural body. That the body is the enemy of any true being and that the body's natural, material, and earth-bound ways are beneath us. That this second half is other or alien to the core of who we really are.

With this view it's easy to see how sensual thoughts about oneself or others would be profoundly disrespectful of the being behind the physical mask. But this virtual hatred of the body by imagining its otherness can be entirely dissipated when one realizes that the body is all there is of us...that human sensuality is as inseperable from who we are as our most private thoughts. This is part of what I hear you saying.

At least these are the thoughts that you elicit from me.

JulieAnn said...


I agree with you that desire does not equate to objectification. Men and women get turned on by different things, and to say that arousal is objectifying someone is a bit far-fetched. Who does that? You stated extreme feminists, but I'm picking up from this that it is rampant, and I just don't see it that much, I guess.

IMO, 'objectification' is easily defined. When a man sees a woman and only sees what she can do for for him, that to me is objectification. When a woman sees a man and does the same thing, the same goes. Ultimately, it's about selfishness, and apathy for another's feelings and person.

You stated that you have too much self confidence to feel that way. To me that implies that only women who have low self-esteems or low self-confidence get or feel objectified. I feel that might be a bit of a generalization. Granted, if you get cat-called while walking down the street, it doesn't matter because you don't care what they think, really. But when you are in an intimate, complicated relationship with someone, things can get very cloudy. I know this from personal experience. And I feel I have some level of self- confidence. You may not know that a loved one is objectifying you until one day, you are finally able to put your finger on why something hasn't quite felt right. Sometimes you don't see the forest for the trees.

PEOPLE are objectified every day. Another term would be depersonalized. Look at the Internet; hell look at blogging. I have had some nasty comments from people, and I have shot them back, not owning the fact that there is a real person behind that computer screen.

I agree with the whole of this post, though. We are human beings, dammit! We're supposed to like each other's parts! I dig hands. Men's hands turn me on. And I am like you; if I know I am turning a man on, that is MY biggest turn on.

But I think any extremist view in this arena could be wobbly. :0)

Great post

Bull said...

You mean you can't stop being gay by fasting and prayer? How about repentance then? Shocking.

I think I agree with the rest of it. I really don't think I can help the fact that visual stimulus is a turn on and I don't think you can really characterize that as somehow demeaning women. I have a problem with these dogmatic beliefs that seem to want to deny basic characteristics as bad.

Furthermore, the growth in knowledge about our brains helps explain a lot of seemingly wierd things. For example, I've read an interesting and quite plausible explanation of foot fetishes. It turns out that the sensory nerves for our feet map very closely to the nerves for our groin in the brain. It's not unreasonable to suspect that there is some cross talk between the two regions. I suspect that there are many other aspects of our sexuality that are hardwired in unexpected ways by our evolution.

The fact that we're human with irrationally evolved traits doesn't make us bad people.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey J.A.!!!

That's exactly my point -- equating sexual cues with reducing a person to an object oversimplifies a complex relationship.

Hey Mel!!!

I agree 100% -- I think there's something about human empathy that makes people feel like the mind or "soul" can be separated from the body. But I feel like it's an illusion, and if we're honest with ourselves, we see that sensuality is a part of us.

Hey JulieAnn!!!

You present some good additional nuance to this question. :D I feel like if a person is treating you badly, the best solution is to cut off contact completely -- as you have done in your story.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Bull!!!

Exactly!!! :D

Anonymous said...

Get real, You think way too much - unfortunately usually off target. If women didnt have pussies there would be a bounty out on them. Thats how much men like to talk to women.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous!!!

I'm not sure I follow your point. Are you saying that men hate women and wouldn't talk to them if it weren't for sex? Or something else?

Anonymous said...

no time to add anything except to tell you that this was a great post. thanks.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Matt!!!

Liseysmom said...

I loved this post. It's something I've commented on in the past in various places but you really managed to say what I've been thinking! Wonderful!!

Lynet said...

Hmm... yeah, I wrestle with this one. I'm starting to wonder if the term "objectification" is useful at all -- it's so easy to misinterpret.

There are other issues besides consent, however, which are important and which sometimes fall under the "objectification" umbrella. For example, the tendency of newspapers and the like to comment on a female politician's appearance rather than on what she says might be thought to be playing into the viewpoint that women are decorative objects rather than thinking beings (although, as with so many instances where "objectification" comes up, there may well be better descriptions -- in this case "implying that a woman's quality as a politician depends significantly on her looks" is a much more defensible charge than trying to push it all the way to "viewing her as nothing but an object").

Returning to the personal level, I'm going to have to think about where I stand on issues like commenting on a particular part of a woman's body; I sort of think that at the very least it's not polite to (and implies disrespect to) make comments to a woman (or man) about specific body parts such as the legs or bottom unless there is some kind of relationship between the two of you that suggests she wouldn't mind. I'm not a fan of new acquaintances making comments like that. I'm going to need to do some more thinking before I can decide to what extent the implied disrespect is a flexible societal attitude.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Lisey's Mom!!!

Hey Lynet!!!

Very good points!!!

Honestly, I feel like the concept of "objectification" can be counterproductive to dealing with the issues you mention. It encourages the idea that seeing women as sexual at all is the problem rather than putting the focus on the inapproriate behavior or context. As you say, many bad things fall under the "objectification" umbrella, and to me lumping them in there with things that are not necessarily harmful does nothing but confuse the issue.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize there was so much discrepancy about the definition. It's not arousal; it's reducing someone to a tool, and nothing else. And it doesn't have to be about sex. A man who sees his girlfriend ONLY in terms of how she impresses his guy friends; who will dump her the instant the guy friends stop being impressed; that's as ugly as anything that could come from porn. The gf was just an object, a trophy.

A parent who sees his kid only as an extension of his ego has objectified his kid. In my vernacular, anyway.

A woman who sees men only as moneybags would be objectifying them. OTOH, a woman who consciously dates rich men for the money, but treats them with kindness and respect? Nothing morally wrong there AFAIC.

I don't find myself talking about objectification much, so maybe I do sense the confusion about what that is.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Beta Candy!!!

The fact that the definition is so blurry is my biggest problem with this concept. I think it has become too popular to throw this term around willy-nilly for any representation of sexuality, and it very often ends discussions (one magic word "objectification" and Q.E.D. it's an attack on women) when I think a more nuanced discussion is warranted.

BTW, I imagine you found this post because I awarded you guys the "thinking blogger" award, right? :D

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's how I found it, LOL - and thank you! We're still trying to sort out who we'll give it to.

This becomes a painfully hard topic to discuss because it's gotten so sensitive. I agree with you that women who dress sexy or pursue sex for fun are not ALWAYS unhealthy attention-seekers who'd be happier if they'd gotten attention for their science projects back when Mom and Dad were more interested in Junior's latest soccer stats. But some ARE, and it gets hard to talk about it either way because people often read the first 25 words, fill in the rest in their heads and assume the poster took one side or the other.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Beta Candy!!!

That is very true -- such people do exist: there are women and girls who show off their bodies for attention because they have low self-esteem. On the other hand, there are women and girls who show off their bodies because they like their bodies and enjoy seeing the effect they have on men. Equivalently, there are women who dress modestly because they don't want the men around them thinking of them in sexual terms (me, when I'm at work, for example). Also, there are women who cover up (and want other women covered) because they are ashamed of their own bodies and of the female body in general.

What I have a problem with is women (especially those who claim the title "feminist") projecting their own sexualality on other women and concluding that "she chose to do something I would find degrading, therefore she must be messed-up in the head, and I want to save her from her own stupidity."

Feminists need to recognize that women don't all have the same feelings towards sexuality, and -- in order to work together -- feminists need to be ready to respect other women's perspectives even when one woman doesn't fully understand or agree with another woman's perspective or choices.

The way to see to it that women are making their own choices for real -- not being coerced -- is to ensure that as many options as possible are open to them (particularly economic, eg. if you know you could support yourself if neccessary, you're more likely to do as you please).

Trying to protect women from making wrong choices by taking those choices away is not feminism. It is the opposite of feminism: that's what we have under patriarchy.

Alex said...

"Feminists should be educating these men that their arousal response is normal, but that there's a time and a place for it, and they need to be careful to treat they the women they interact with in the way the women would like to be treated."

I recently discussed a similar idea (objectification vs. appreciation, male stereotypes, generalizations of men are causing more harm than good, etc) in a three-part series: 1, 2, 3.

I agree, it's not helpful to accuse men with any kind of sexual response of "objectification" or "misogyny" (and it's true- the terms have been applied with a broad brush). The real task needs to be defining appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior, not condemning all male-sexual responses across the board.

It's a tricky argument, and I respect your efforts here. The difficulty comes from those who misinterpret this nuance (objectification vs. desire) as a "free pass" to support their own inappropriate behavior, while disregarding the need to treat women respectfully.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Alex (c'est-la-vie) !!!

Thanks for the link -- you've got some good ideas and have expressed them well.

I completely agree that the real task needs to be defining appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior, not condemning all male-sexual responses across the board, and that the fact that feeling lust is natural shouldn't be taken as a free pass for inappropriate actions and behaviors.

This is the main reason I dislike the term "objectification." Frankly I am not convinced it has any meaning other than heterosexual male lust, yet it is a value-charged term which rests on the assumption that the lust itself is somehow harmful (as it supposedly confuses people with objects -- an unproven assumption if there ever was one...).

The idea that the desire itself is the harm naturally leads to confusing the thought with the action; treating them as versions of the same thing. Thus we're left with the view of males that you discussed in your articles: If (private) lustful thought = objectification = inappropriate action, then you wind up with the conclusion that are the majority of straight men are incorrigible "objectifiers" who can't change their ways. By instead refusing to lump desires with behaviors, it's easier to see men as people who are capable of understanding the effects and consequences of their actions rather than dismissing them as drooling pavlovian dogs.

And keep in mind that people often live up to the expectations that are set for them...

Alex said...

Hi CL,

Just wanted to stop by with two additional thoughts.

You wrote:

"This is the main reason I dislike the term "objectification." Frankly I am not convinced it has any meaning other than heterosexual male lust."

In response to your entry, and several others on the same topic, I recently endeavored to define both objectification and appreciation (desire). Like you, I don't believe the terms are interchangeable--but I also believe there is distinct difference between the two. True, excessive and improper use of the term "objectification" is a problem, but I don't feel that completely nullifies the meaning.

Again, I welcome your thoughts.

On a related note: you described feminists who condemn women who objectify themselves, and suggested these feminists believe "women who do so are under the influence of the patriarchy". You counter that sometimes women are simply aroused by the idea of turning other men on.

I agree; I imagine this is true for some women, and is likely the reason many women dress or behave provocatively. However, speaking entirely from a personal perspective, I want to explain why I struggle to understand this choice.

I have worked in corrections, and in a residential treatment center largely populated by sex offenders. As a result, I am intimately familiar with deviant thought patterns--rape fantasies, torture fantasies, and the kinds of triggers that drive sexual predators to act.

Unfortunately, many of these individuals DO believe "she's dressed like she wants me to do something to her". This does not make it right--there isn't a grain of truth in the phrase "she had it coming"--but the sad truth is: many of these predators do have an irrational belief that provocative dress is a "permission slip".

For myself, I feel that dressing in a non-attention seeking manner is similar to carrying pepper spray. No, women shouldn't HAVE to do so. No, women shouldn't HAVE to fear for their safety. But in reality, violent and sexual crimes are rampant. Knowing the potential dangers (and I say potential--I m adamantly aware that most men are not sexually deviant predators. However, since I have seen former-inmates walking around my own city, there is enough of a possibility to take notice), I feel dressing in an attention-seeking manner is an unnecessary risk.

I fully support freedom of sexuality, but I am also concerned for the safety of women who "dress to arouse" men. Some of these women are aware of the risk, but are unmoved by it. Many, however, are not--and I am concerned that endorsing this choice unnecessarily puts them in harms way.

I realize this may be an unpopular stance. One day, I would like to clarify these thoughts on my blog, but I have been avoiding the issue because it is an extremely sensitive and nuanced subject, and I haven't yet discovered the best way to phrase things. As such, I hope you'll forgive any clumsiness in my statements here. If nothing else, I hope my comment has provided further insight into why some may not agree with women choosing to objectify themselves. For me, it is really a question of safety.

Alex said...

Sorry, it appears my link didn't work. Here is the entry distinguishing objectification from appreciation.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Alex/c'est-la-vie !!!

I don't have time to work out a detailed response because I'm currently on vacation and have only brief and intermittent access to the computer and the Internet.

I think the vast majority of usage of the term "objectification" in popular discourse is a question of loaded language: the term has a whole bunch of unjustified assumptions built-in.

That said, if my little essay has inspired the feminist community to take the time to explain, define, and justify this term, then good. To actually discuss it instead of treating it as a given is my goal here.

I'm very glad to see that this question is finally making the rounds of feminist blogspace and attracting a bunch of intelligent insights such as your own. I was a little disappointed that this post generated a couple half-hearted click-throughs and no discussion back when I submitted it to the carnival of feminists. Now some random guy gets into a fight with the feminist comic book community and links to me, and finally my ideas get the attention of some feminists. I would call that ironic, but of course it isn't. ;-)

Well, whatever it takes to get the ideas flowing, it's all good!!! :D

Alex said...

It is funny how that worked out. And I appreciate the opportunity for discussion; I think it's essential to the feminist cause.

Have an excellent vacation. : ) I look forward to reading whatever thoughts you might have upon your return.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey c'est la vie!!!

Okay, I'm back.

First of all, if you've got an explanation of the difference between male lust and objectification, then good, I'll go have a look.

My principal objection here is people using the term "objectification" willy-nilly to describe any display of sexuality that they don't like in order to conflate it with harassment and other actual crimes. Keep an eye out for the term, and you'll see how common it is in contexts where it's not at all clear that the woman is being treated as an object. But if you've got some criteria for pinning it down, that would surely be beneficial.

As far as women dressing sexy in public is concerned, I agree that that represents a grave risk and perhaps a foolish one. At the same time, that doesn't mean that the woman in question is necessarily thinking of herself as a sex-object or even that she's motivated by basing her self-worth on male approval. People take risks for any number of reasons.

hm-uk said...

Good god, this is so well written. I hear what you have to say and agree to the point that I am going to comment on it five and a half months after your original post, just so that I can be on-record how brilliant a post I think this is!

I hope, hope, hope that someday I will get to meet your good self. Until that time I will read your musings, your thoughts and your opinions. Cheers, Chans!!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Hm-Uk!!! I hope to meet you someday too!!! :D

emy carin said...

hi C.L Hanson!
Thank you for your comments on my blog! (I don't ride the bus to save the environment) It was very encouraging as I am very new to this blogging phenomena and it is definitely something for which I have yet to find my voice.
P.S. I, too, am an x-mormon. My 'brainwashing experience' (as I like to call it) is remarkably similar to your stories. It is always refreshing to be reminded that I was not crazy, thinking that they were. Thanks for what you do!!!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Em J!!!

That's cool -- I'll add you to Outer Blogness then. :D

emy carin said...

Wow! Thanks for the add! much obliged:-) ~em j

Anonymous said...

May I, as a feminist-supporting heterosexual male, interject?
I am so glad that you have expressed this idea - I know I'm very late arriving at this blog entry; I found it via the Athletic Women's Blog.
Late last year, I discovered that I was deeply attracted to physically strong, athletic women. I made this discovery because I had, in an interlude in my University studies, used the internet to educate myself in areas of minimal personal knoweledge, in this case, the concept of physical feminism. After becoming depressed and angered at the fact that many women feel vulnerable when out and about, I stumbled across physically strong women and found myself being attracted towards them. The problem was that, whilst I knew that part of the attraction was to the fact that these women had both the courage and determination to break away from misogynistic ideas of what a woman should be like, (i.e. smaller and weaker than men and therefore physically dependent on them) part of my attraction was sexual - I found a muscular female body attractive. For a good while, this concerned me greatly, as I had read of 'objectification' and was dismayed by the thought that I was as bad as the misogynists whose values and ideas I rejected.
Eventually, I decided that I had to resolve the situation. On joining a site for enthusiasts of female athleticism and muscularity, (many of whom are female) I developed my own definition of objectification which seems comfortingly similar to your and other commenters' definitions: that to be an objectifier meant that the man thought of the woman only in sexual terms, and placed little, if no value in her personality, talents, intellect and other attributes. This definition has enabled me to enjoy the althletic female form without causing me to mentally flagellate myself for what are, as you say, normal and evolutionarily-logical feelings and thoughts.
Chris Bell.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Christopher!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for acknowledging my response. Has it provoked any thoughts?

C. L. Hanson said...


I was very happy to get that nice link from the Athletic Woman blog since some people see this post as threatening to feminism, and in particular as a conservative complaint from the little woman who just wants a man. But in reality my position is a completely feminist one: feminism should encourage women to be true to their own preferences and desires, even if one's fantasies don't line up conveniently with purist political ideals. It's like with the gay movement: you shouldn't have to force your sexual responses to conform to what other people think you should like (as long as it's all consenting adults, of course).

In the case of the authors of Athletic Woman, I imagine that being interested in building up one's own (female) body can often have a sexual component which some might call "objectification" merely because it involves appreciating a woman's physical body (possibly in a sexual way). I feel like feminism should be open to allowing women to enjoy turning people on with their bodies -- if that's what they want -- and not automatically assume there's some sort of exploitation whenever there's a man looking at a woman (without regard for the woman's own feelings about what she's doing).

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Here's another comment on the subject from Thomas Gramstad of "Amazons International"

From: Thomas Gramstad
Subject: Objectification and gender roles

There seems to be a statistically significant difference in
the perception of objectification between women and men.
When women talk about objectification, what they usually
refer to seems to be unwanted sexual attention, and a
belittling of themselves expressed by some man through his
focusing on some physical or bodily aspect of the woman,
which is perceived by the woman as a neglect or lack of
interest and respect for her character, personality,
achievements and individual uniqueness.

How do men (often) perceive objectification? What strikes me
as a typical example is a Danish sexologist whose name
escapes me, but who in an essay that I read many years ago
made a lasting impression when he wrote that he couldn't at
all understand why women complained about being viewed as sex
objects -- he considered being viewed as a sex object to be a
great experience and honor that he unfortunately far too
seldom experienced and cherished on those occasions he could!

This is a gender role issue. While boys are taught to be
active, aggressive, to lead, take initiatives and all the
rest, girls are taught to be passive, submissive, quiet and
so on. In short, boys are trained to be subjects and girls
are trained to be objects.

When young women develop their character and personality,
they soon rub against the edges of the cultural-personal
cage, of which the 'object expectations' are an important
constituent. Is this why women often have bad feelings
toward anything that has a flavor of objectification?

When young men develop their character and personality, they
are expected to treat everything as instruments or objects to
be commanded, and women are so often presented to them as
objects too, in the media, beauty myths etc. Is this why
many men seem to have difficulties in recognizing and
respecting signals about unwanted sexual attention and in
finding other modes of attention and communication?

Moreover, is this part of the reason why men, when they find
themselves in the role as sex objects, experience that as
something unexpectedly and surprisingly positive and
relaxing, self-building, an honor etc., a release from their
own cultural-personal cage of always being expected to be the
active subject, the leader and doer?

What I'm getting at here are two points:

(1) Objectification, in and by itself, is not a bad thing.
On the contrary, it has the potential to make one feel
visible in the world and attractive and appreciated. Whether
it is recognized or not, I think that some measure of sexual
pleasure does arise in objectifying your lover -- lusty
objectification is an integral part of the best sex and of
the most loving sex. And of attraction, and of flirting, and
of much non-verbal communication and... Everyone has a need
to be, or will benefit from being able to experience oneself
as, both subject and object, being able to choose shifting
from one to the other.

(2) The arbitrary gender roles completely warp the role and
nature of objectification. Instead of being a source of
personal pleasure, enjoyment and recharge (as it would be in
a balanced society), it has become some kind of political/
cultural power issue: Half the population is being
constrained in their careers and personal development by
being over-objectified, and the other half is being similarly
(or more precisely, complementary) constrained by being
under-objectified. In other words, most women will react and
revolt against the degree to which they are objectified in
the current culture and with good reason; and most men will
react to the experience of being a sex object with a feeling
of satisfaction, lust and hunger. And this adds up to a
serious communication problem (don't they all, all the gender
role issues?).

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Christopher!!!

That's a good way of looking at it: each person naturally takes the role of subject and object to some degree in an erotic experience but gendered expectations and conditioning can attach a bad taste to one role or the other.

I think we can learn some things about this by observing gay people since their erotic interactions aren't colored by the tradition of one partner being the expected master and the other the expected servant. In a sense they have more psychological freedom to explore the enjoyment of playing either subject or object without the political implications uncomfortably sitting there in the room with them.

Also, about (straight?) men enjoying the role of sex object, one of my blog friends wrote a great post about that here: taking the stage.

Anonymous said...

You see, I agree with Gramstad. If girls were brought-up to be subjects, rather than objects, and were allowed to develop the same self-confidence and respect for their bodies as boys, then, once adult, they might be more inclined to enjoy appropriate and unthreatening objectification, much as us heterosexual males do.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Christopher!!!

That's a good way of looking at it.

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. to all:

I notice I've gotten some new incoming links on this article. Please see also my follow-up article Come on baby, won't you show some class?

AnnM said...

Hey Chanson,

I think this post from feministing is a good example of feminist outrage over objectification that not all feminists would agree on.

I might posit that part of what's enjoyable about wearing a pretty dress is the attention (not necessarily sexual) from men. And there's nothing wrong with that, neither on my part for enjoying it nor on the part of the men who are paying attention.

And how are men to know which women like the attention and which hate it? Poor guys, all they can do is be respectful and try to be discreet.

Perhaps a post on the different types of male attention would be helpful.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

That's a good point -- it's very tricky to tell which women want attention and which don't. I don't think there's a simple formula, you basically just have to be very good at reading people's responses. And unfortunately, most people think they're good at reading people's reactions, but aren't. So your best bet is not to make assumptions about it.

I went into a little more detail about this point in the follow-up article:

To clarify my Questioning Objectification post, I'd like to emphasize that I think it is very bad for sexuality to be imposed upon women in an inappropriate context. My point is that it is far easier to tackle inappropriate sexual treatment if you're holding in your other hand a clear model of what constitutes appropriate sexual expression.

Men can understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Just because it's okay for a given man to fondle his wife or girlfriend in the privacy of their bedroom, he will not immediately assume that means it's okay for him to fondle strangers on the bus. The fact that it's okay to stare at an image on a screen won't make a man automatically assume that it's okay to stare at a colleague's chest at work or to make unwanted comments about the bodies of platonic friends.

Much of our culture gives young guys the following message: "The morality police don't want you looking at sexy women at all," with the accompanying flip-side message "but, hey, it's a guy thing..."

Feminists who view sexuality in terms of objectification are promoting exactly the same message. Behaviors that should be denounced as harassment are held up as some sort of proof that sexuality is fundamentally about men using women, as if harassment were an inseparable component of male sexuality. read the rest ->

Anonymous said...

Let me see...a broad should be a broad in
both figure(big boobs,great hips,legs and bottom),and behaviour,that is,doffing
he VERY full top
for the boys in the band and crowd,
downing a few with the girls,and drop-
ping gals in fights!!!!!

debate popular said...

agree with your point of view. Very good post.

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness. First let me say I was griped on reading a womens point of view so I kept reading. I don't look at porn but did for several hours the other day and I can only believe that there are a lot of women who agree to be filmed for $1400. I think you are saying they don't get anything out of it except the $1400 cash. The oral thing, um, I don't know what to think.
I enjoy what you have read and I think you have spent a lot of time conversing at Princeton.
You remind me of some of the Jane Austen movies where you are so wordy for me. Did you have turn in papers that required 20 pages when you could have said the same thing on one page.
I hope I don't offend you and don't think I will because you seem very level headed.
You have given me some great insight as to the feelings of women and I don't think I will ever understand them even though they try to help me. But that said I love them and respect them and I am married to a sweet heart who after 43 years I love more each day. I might ad it is not about physical sex though.

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness. First let me say I was griped on reading a womens point of view so I kept reading. I don't look at porn but did for several hours the other day and I can only believe that there are a lot of women who agree to be filmed for $1400. I think you are saying they don't get anything out of it except the $1400 cash. The oral thing, um, I don't know what to think.
I enjoy what you have read and I think you have spent a lot of time conversing at Princeton.
You remind me of some of the Jane Austen movies where you are so wordy for me. Did you have turn in papers that required 20 pages when you could have said the same thing on one page.
I hope I don't offend you and don't think I will because you seem very level headed.
You have given me some great insight as to the feelings of women and I don't think I will ever understand them even though they try to help me. But that said I love them and respect them and I am married to a sweet heart who after 43 years I love more each day. I might ad it is not about physical sex though.

Rob said...

I'm reminded of a conversation my wife and I had after watching What Women Want. She said, "I wonder what the sequel 'What Men Want' would look like." I jokingly replied, "It's already been made a million times - it's called porn."

I definitely consider myself a male feminist. I sought our a partner/equal for a spouse and nothing less. I found one and have been happily married for 17 years.

At the same time, I am bombarded 24/7 with my sexual thoughts as a male. It's ridiculous. I doubt women really have any idea what goes through our minds ... and nearly all the time.

There's so much to say here that it seems impossible to do as a comment, so I won't.

I do appreciate the deference to the fact that men cannot control what their thoughts are. I agree completely that the issue is how they act upon it and they're able to differentiate desire, consent, and action.

Unknown said...

I think it’s objectifying when everything, literally everything that has to do with women is tied to not who she is as a human being, but to her sexuality. It’s as if sexuality is personified as woman. She is never separated from her biology, whereas man is. We see this objectifying in the soft core porn that seems to permeate our society. The football league for women with an emphasis on the lingerie and not the game; the swimsuit issue in Sports Illustrated that has absolutely nothing to do with the sports stories within its pages; the routine firing of women broadcasters once they are no longer young because they are thought to no longer be attractive; the very fact that women are expected to be on display at any given time by wearing the right makeup, clothes, and staying in shape while there are no similar expectations of men. These are all powerful cues in our society that women are objectified and held to a standard that does not apply to men. Now some people will blame biology. Men are visual and that its only natural that porn and an entitlement to be in the constant presence of young, attractive women is an outgrowth of that. I’m not sure. But I know that I am insulted by restaurants where all he waitresses MUST have big boobs and serve people in skin tight outfits, and that women are paraded across a stage in a beauty contests for scholarship money, and that how young and cute I am, and not my actual qualifications, are what count most in getting or obtaining a job. There is something very wrong with this. And there simply is truly NO equivalency for men.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Lynell!!!

That is very true. Honestly, I think this is an extremely complex issue, and for a long time I've been planning to try to write a post about some of these issues, and clarify a bit about they ways I think objectification really is a relevant and accurate way to look at the portrayal of women. Trouble is, it's tricky... ;)

Unknown said...

Really loved this blog, not sure if you are going to receive or respond to this response given its been so long, but I thought I would offer my two cents.

I was wondering what you actually would see as objectification?

For me objectification is something that unless a man states he has no care for the human attached to the body it is incredibly hard to find someone fully objectifying a woman. Even if I were to look a pictures of women's bodies all day in 'lad mags.' I still do not see that as objectification as it does not imply I have no thought for those women's personalities just that I enjoy looking at their bodies.
If I then went on to say all these women are good for is their looks/bodies/sex then yes that is objectification, but that happens so rarely compared to how much the word objectification gets used I feel like feminists are really missing the point.

I was just wondering how your view on objectification was compared to my own?