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June 07, 2006

All about objectification

There's an amazing series of posts over at Fetch me my axe about objectification. All three posts are fantastic and thought-provoking, so you should read them, but here are a few things that jumped out at me.

The gist is that people simply can't relate to every single person in the deep, holistic way that Buber (for instance) means when he talks about I-You; it's neither possible nor good for one's own mental stability to try. What Lis (or her husband, I guess) calls "masks" are what I'd call "boundaries." One does need them;

Is it, in fact, acceptable or even necessary for the culture to be structured in such a way that such everyday objectifications as we have of service workers (the McDonald's employee, the anonymous tech support voice on the other end of the line) are inevitable?

I think boundaries is a good word. I think we have to consider at least some number of the people we see or encounter every day as "objects" in some way. So then you (might) get to a continuum of "inappropriate objectification." And just what the hell is "sexual objectification" and why do we love it so? That's where Belle picks up in part 2.

Because, many argue, and with good reason (it seems to me), in this our patriarchal (among other things) culture, the subject is male; the object is female. And so, when people talk about sexual objectification, generally they are talking about the objectification of women, for and by men.

Makes sense to me.

When people say that someone or something is "objectifying," with a negative connotation, what they generally mean is that it's invasive. That is to say: penetrating someone else's boundaries, not necessarily in a concretely identifiable physical way--more on that in just a moment--against the someone else's wishes.

(ok, I'm already seeing a potential objection to this; is "objectification" in the sense of casual dismissal of a service worker or what have you as a pair of hands, an ear, what have you, invasive per se? or is the problem more the refusal to see the person as a person, all by itself? that is, something that's a necessary prerequistite to invasion, but without necesesarily being invasive of itself? well, for now at least)

Yup. This is an important distinction, I believe. Is the invasion liking tits and not necessarily thinking about the woman attached to them as a whole being? Or is it in refusing to see anyone with tits as a whole being. Now, I'm sure there are some that would say both are bad, but I don't agree.

Is it inherently feminist to wear a corset, or to create and/or publish pictures and videos of oneself and/or other consenting adults, being sexually explicit, or to deliver (or receive) an erotic spanking?

Well...according to whom?

Hence the problem.

Because, even more so (arguably) than in other sociopolitical thrashes, when it comes to that sort of shit, for the most part, we're talking about highly subjective experiences. Feelings. Desires. Internal states. "I do such-and-so because I like it" is sometimes dismissed as not sufficient to counter serious feminist critique of the historical meaning and uses of such-and-so; "because I like it," the suggestion goes, is not enough.

But if "because I like it/want it" isn't sufficient to justify one's choices for oneself, then how can you successfully argue that "because I don't like/want it" is sufficient to define rape, or any other abuse?

Hmm. So, yeah. A lot of radical feminists claim that "pro-porn" feminists (which which they seem to mean pro anything sex-related that isn't personally having sex) are selfish because they talk about what they like about porn or bondage or whatever. They say it doesn't matter if you like porn, it hurts women and is bad. Well, not opening that can of worms, but here you have the problem with that attitude. If choice and personal preference don't matter, then… choice and personal preference don't matter. Seems problematic to me.

In part 3, Belle relates a story of a woman basically telling her daughter what kind of ice cream she likes. Seems like a small thing, but the attitude is important. As she says "there are other ways of being invasive."

Evans goes on to talk about what would happen if the girl did take her mother's message to heart ("Oh, you're right, I guess I did want chocolate after all.") What would happen is that she might temporarily get more approval from Mom (big relief) but at a price; she's disconnected from her own internal knowledge. Specifically, in this case, she'll need to disconnect from her sensory awareness--the way the ice cream tastes to her-- in order to convince herself that, oh, yeah, I do "like" chocolate better than vanilla. And she'll probably have to disconnect from her emotions somewhat; instead of feeling disappointed and angry at Mom (her real emotions) for twisting her arm, in order to maintain the relationship, she'll convince herself that she's happy and grateful.

And, of course, if that pattern continues, you end up with a serious problem.

And if you even can't tell what you're feeling, it's very unlikely that you're going to be able to accurately judge what somebody else might be feeling. Of course, you could always just wait for them to tell you, or even ask them; but, mmmm, have you ever really learned to hear, really hear, someone else? Are you listening?
So, go read it.

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