From my piece here: Objectification is...Bad?
Alright. It’s time to put this whole “objectification is bad” crap to rest…
First off, we need to determine what exactly objectification is before we tackle it. There are many ways people define objectification, but I think the most universal and objective meaning of it in terms of other beings is this:
Objectification is observing something or someone as a type of object, rather than a fully-formed being that may or may not possess other qualities.
Now, reading this definition, you, or most people may see this as a sort of condemnation of sorts and something that should be avoided at all costs. I mean, who would want to be seen as or reduced to something so basic when there are other more important and complex qualities they may want others to notice? All forms of objectification must inherently be bad and should never happen, right?
Actually, that’s not true. In fact, it’s downright absurd and unreasonable to enforce. Here’s why:
As social and interactive beings, we objectify non-stop, both consciously and unconsciously. This is common sense. Even you, the person reading this, are currently objectifying as you read these words. You’re combining the individual letters that make up a word, the words that make up a sentence, and the sentences that make up a paragraph to interpret a message (or even multiple ones) that is being conveyed. You’re not paying attention to how each letter is formed, nor do you even care how much effort was made to put the message I’m saying to you in this written format. All you care about is how easy it is to interpret and whether you approve of it or not. This is a form of objectification.
When you’re shopping, chances are you don’t care about how much time and effort was made to make your shopping experience the best that it can be. All you care about is if a store has what you want or need in stock. This is a form of objectification.
When you take your shopping purchases to the cashier, chances are you don’t care about or even be aware of the person’s personal life or feelings. You just want to pay for what you want and enjoy what you bought. Guess what? You just objectified that person. Even if you did take the time to get to know that person’s life or feelings, you can’t do that unless you pay attention and listen to what they have to say. That too is objectification.
Starting to see how flawed the theory about how objectification being bad is? Objectification comes in many forms, both avoidable and otherwise. So not only is telling people to “stop objectifying” incredibly misguided, misleading, unrealistic, and unreasonable, it’s downright hypocritical.
Same thing goes for sexual objectification. You’re using another person or thing as a means to satisfy your own wants and needs, but in this case, it’s sexual urges.
So the debate isn’t centred on whether we should or should not objectify, but whether a certain type of objectification is good or bad. However, no matter what the popular consensus on a particular type of objectification may be, what is considered to be good or bad is entirely subjective.
This is where my interpretation comes in. I feel it’s the most fair and impartial way that most people can agree upon to address the subject:
Objectification, of any kind, is only bad if it’s disrespectful, unwelcome, or against permission, whenever such is required.
Now what do I mean by this? I’ll explain using examples for each section.
Let’s say you have a friend or potential significant other that you seem to find attractive and you decide you want to communicate that to them. Depending on the person, and what you wish to tell them attracts you, they may or may not give that a good reception. They may be flattered or complimented to know that the way they did their makeup brings out their eyes, or their hair looks beautiful, if a lot of effort was made to make them look good. On the flipside, if someone is not particularly proud of their figure, and you say their choice of clothing makes it stand out, chances are they’ll probably feel insulted. If you feel that an article of clothing brings out a particular body part that wasn’t intended to be focused upon, chances are they probably won’t appreciate you saying that.
Whether the outcome is good or not, each instance is treating a person as a type of object, which in this case is visual objectification. However, every person is different and they will react to different things. Some may feel insulted for having their hair complimented, and some may feel empowered having their breasts complimented. It all depends on the person.
One of the most famous types of objectification out there is catcalling, which is a displayed action or comment to a person that is sexual in nature. In most cases, the average person trying to get to and from a place probably won’t appreciate being catcalled, especially by strangers. The reason for this is because their sexuality or appearance is not usually on display for comment, and therefore find it very degrading. However, not everyone has a problem with being catcalled. Some may not even bat an eye, and some may even appreciate it, giving them an ego boost or sense of empowerment.
An example of good objectification can be found in both the modelling industry, something that is entirely dependent on visual appearance. Incredible amounts of effort is put into making people look good. Objectification is the absolute cornerstone in this line of work. Assuming of course that they enjoy this work and do it of their own free will, don’t you think that someone whose job solely depends on looking good would not only welcome the attention given on their looks, but expect and demand it as well? Or do you honestly think that they’re too stupid, naïve, or ignorant to know that they’re being objectified? Granted, not all forms may be welcome, but it is objectification nonetheless.
The same type of logic can be applied to the sex industry such as strip clubs, pornography, and prostitution, yet they’re decried by many feminists and social advocates as dehumanizing and degrading. Again, assuming that one enjoys such a job and does it of their own free will, don’t you think they would not only welcome the attention given on their looks and sexuality, but expect and demand it as well? Or are they too stupid, naïve, and ignorant to realize that people masturbate thinking about them? In fact, a stripper, prostitute, cam model, or porn star who is actively trying to elicit sexual arousal would most likely feel insulted if they weren’t getting attention such as catcalling or being fantasized about. Not only that, their career in the field would end very quickly. In this case, not sexually objectifying them would be dehumanizing and degrading. This isn’t to say that anything and everything is off-limits, but it depends on the type of objectification that is welcomed.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll elaborate anyways:
Going back to the average person or stranger commuting to and from a destination, chances are that if you grope them or touch them in an unwelcome fashion, not only will they not appreciate that, but you’ll also wind your ass up in handcuffs along with a hefty fine and possibly some jail time. Needless to say, this is against permission, and would most likely classify as a bad type of objectification.
So when can objectification be a permissible action? Well, how about one of the most obvious and common ways, being intimate with someone? Making out, dancing, oral sex, or having sex is nothing but objectification. And, assuming of course that it’s legal and consensual, it can be very good. Doesn’t it feel amazing to be the one making another person feel great? To feel wanted? Whether you like it or not, the foundation of intimacy is fulfilling another person’s needs and urges, either on an emotional and/or physical level. And how is this accomplished? By using one another. That’s right! This is a form of objectification.
Now, this is where people seem to have trouble coming to a universally satisfactory resolution. When is permission to objectify something or someone a requirement?
Well, it’s quite simple: It entirely depends on the type of objectification that one feels comfortable with, either the one doing or being objectified. Some people may allow having their picture taken, and others may not. Some people may want to be noticed for their personality rather than looks, others the opposite. Some people don’t care about anything other than appearance while others may value other factors more than looks. The possibilities are practically endless.
An example of required permission to objectify would be in an intimate or BDSM relationship. In pretty much everywhere around the world, sex with another person without or against their consent is rape, and committing violence on another person without or against their consent is assault, both of which can be (and usually is) punishable by law. So for the sake of civility and pleasure, permission is usually a good idea.
Now, when is permission to objectify not required? Well, pretty much in any way that doesn’t impose damage against consent, harass, or infringe another’s rights and freedoms.
Taking pictures is a form of objectification, and depending on photography laws in an area, some pictures may or may not require permission. Most public areas don’t require permission to take shots, but some private establishments may. Taking a picture of a crowd of people doesn’t necessarily require you to acquire consent from everyone, but some laws forbid photography of someone after they’ve explicitly said “no”. You could argue that it’s a good idea to acquire consent before shooting, but it’s not necessarily required.
Let’s say you’re out and about, and you come across or notice this smoking-hot person, whether it be at some sort of convention or somewhere in your everyday life. Whatever it may be about them, their voice, looks, or the way they move, you’re completely and utterly infatuated.
Staring at them may constitute as harassment if they’re not interested in you or unwelcome of it, which would probably be considered to be an unacceptable type of objectification. However, if you want to imagine what they look like naked, or fantasize doing the utmost desirable things to them, that is completely alright. Sure, they may not particularly enjoy it, or even want you to think of them in that particular way, but you don’t need their permission to do so. Nobody can control or punish you for what you think, nor can you possibly (at least with today’s technology) commit a crime or oppress another through mere thought, which is why this type of objectification does not require permission. In fact, I think in most cases, people would be more than a little creeped out if a random person came up and asked for permission to think about, say, having sex with them. That may even qualify as harassment in some instances.
What about delivering pain and abuse? Nobody likes it when someone imposes harm on either a physical or psychological level, right?
Well, not necessarily. One of the basic principles of a bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) practices is sexual pleasure through either delivering or receiving pain and abuse. However, consent in such a relationship is absolutely mandatory. Otherwise, it’s assault and possible rape.
The same concept for BDSM can be applied to things outside of sexual pleasure. Take for example the movie Fight Club (1999). Males in the film find a fight club so appealing because, to them, it’s this cure to the loneliness inherent in consumer capitalism. The fight club offers white collar office workers something their typical jobs cannot; an outlet for their frustrations of society’s expectations of them. Winning or losing a fight does not matter because extreme pleasure or pain makes the male fighter feel strong and alive. Even in defeat one has extended oneself. However, rules are established in each fight club, and by agreeing to abide to the standards in place, they consent to the violence that may be placed upon them.
So in conclusion, I think I’ve made my point on objectification. You can lecture me all you want on how objectification can harm women, result in people seeing them as less than human, contribute to rape culture, or have all these god-awful consequences to society. You can even throw every feminist theory at me like Martha Nussbaum’s on objectification. Yes, objectification can be bad, but it doesn’t change the fact that objectification can be good or beneficial. It all depends on the point of view.
TL; DR summary
As social and interactive human beings, we objectify non-stop. As long as it’s not disrespectful, unwelcome, or against required permission, there is absolutely nothing wrong with objectification of any kind.