Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On objectification and objections to it

There's some interesting discussion in the blogosphere recently on the problematic concept of sexual objectification.

Renegade Evolution ventures into the fray with some thoughts on just what "objectification" means to her, when its problematic, and when it isn't. Also, what kinds of stereotypes (another form of objectification, really) both feminists and men who patronize sex workers have as a result of the objectification of "whores".

Also notable about this discussion is the participation of an anonymous radfem, saying to RE, based on the how she dresses and the fact that she's a stripper – yes, in fact, you are the enemy. Her childish denunciation of RE for being conventionally attractive and therefore in some way hurting other women sums up in a nutshell why radical feminism sucks so badly.

Anthony Kennerson follows up by reposting some of Nina Hartley's writing on objectification.

RE's post on her own blog is a followup to a post she made on one of the Livejournal feminist communities about the demonization of conventionally attractive women. Unfortunately, many of the responses that followed were simply variations on "skinny white women have it coming because they're privileged / you're just defensive about the challenge to your undue privilege". Which seems to be the standard refrain for any criticism of any kind of pettiness that emerges out of identity politics.

Amber Rhea has a post similarly critiquing the new meme of "real women" and how conventionally attractive women are in some way are not "real women".

A few months back, Belledame wrote a series of posts that were an in-depth analysis of the concept of objectification, both in feminism and in broader philosophy. (And it is important to remember that sexual objectification is a subset of the larger phenomenon of objectification.) She leaves many of the basic feminist assumptions on sexual objectification unchallenged and personally, I find many of these assumptions questionable. However, her analysis is nonetheless very good.

For my part, it bugs me more than a little that so little effort is made in feminist philosophy to differentiate between the social phenomenon of sexual objectification and the interpersonal phenomenon of sexual attraction. (Even if the two are in some ways related.) While I think it may very well be the intention of many radical feminists to moralistically censure the very idea of sexual attraction based on visual/physical cues, but that's hardly the view of all feminists. Also, there seems to be an underlying assumption on the part of many feminists that male sexual objectification by necessity denies female sexual subjectivity, which seems to me to be giving men way too much power.

Discussion of objectification also raises other questions – Is all objectification negative? If so, what do you do with not just pornography, but most artwork? (Since most works of art say more about the artist's view of the artistic subject than the subject's subjectivity – got that?) Is a completely non-objectifying art or a non-objectifying sexuality even possible or desirable?

Obviously, "sexual objectification" and "the objectification of women" are concepts in serious need of clarification, and hopefully, these discussions will go some way towards that end.

Oh yeah, and I can't post about this without throwing in one of my favorite quotes from Lisa "Suckdog" Carver: "On The Ricki Lake Show, audience members are always standing up to shriek self-righteously that old cliche, as if they had just invented it: 'ITS WHAT'S ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS!'  Well, what about the outside, doesn't it get any credit?"


I almost forgot to include Petitpoussin. She recently posted on the topic of "Youth and Beauty" and problems associated with the links between the two concepts. (I argue in the discussion that I'm not sure the topics can be unlinked.) She also has an earlier post on "Sex Blogs" in which the discussion turns to social standards of beauty.