I want to start off this post by stating that if it comes off as argumentative, I have done something wrong. I’ve flipped this particular piece over in my head a few times now and bounced my theories off of some friends with relevant expertise yet the sum of my own limited personal experience prevents me from claiming this theory of mine as a universal truth. It is an argument and I will do my best to represent my stance as clearly as possible but, ultimately, I hope to offer this theory more as an invitation to a lengthy and possibly never ending conversation rather than assert my “rightness”. So, while I will argue that it is, in fact, impossible to not objectify someone, the subject of this post (as the title suggests) is an open question and your response, whoever you might be, is greatly helpful and appreciated.
So, having said that, I would like to address what I think is a misdiagnosis on society’s part in regards to sexist behaviour. We hear time and time again that sexually objectifying someone is wrong and that by doing so, a person is dehumanized into an object to be used as a means of sexual gratification. Oftentimes, when a woman is sexually harassed, the source of the issue is often identified as the aggressor objectifying her sexually therefore sexual objectification is wrong. I find this leap, making “objectification” the root cause of sexist behaviour, problematic.
To objectify someone is to reduce them to a simpler, truncated version of themselves. In a sense, an objectified person becomes more “manageable” as the objectifier has now conveniently reduced the objectified to a narrow version of themselves that exists only to serve the matter or need at hand. This, I think, not only makes long-term relationships workable but is absolutely fundamental in the initial flirting stages of meeting a potential romantic interest.
We can objectify someone for many reasons; we can yearn to spend time with someone due to their knowledge of classic literature, knowledge of sports, incredible grasp on quantum physics, amusing collection of novelty T-shirts, etc. We objectify when we say things like, “I hate my boss”. Even having a group that connect over certain activities like poker, breakfast, or martinis is to objectify the others in the group to some extent; your friends are “objects” whose appearance and conversation you can rely on. Also, assuming that you never fully understand someone or know exactly how they think, i.e. completely see the entirety of another individual and their mind, you can know someone, even intimately, and still objectify them to a certain degree. What are terms like “husband”, “mother”, “best friend”, or “lover” but objectifying terms?
And when it comes to flirting, I would argue that it is absolutely impossible not to sexually objectify someone even if you’re not “sexually objectifying” in the standard context of the term. if someone is attractive to you, there is probably, at the onset of the attraction, a single trait, mannerism, or skill that could be identified as the source of the attraction. Whether your pulse is quickening because the person across from you has a great ass or is fluent in Klingon does not matter, it is still sexual objectification.
The problem with our society is that the overwhelming emphasis of desirability for women is placed on her sexual attractiveness that is, in turn, based upon unrealistic and often unattainable beauty standards set by the media but this is not an inherent problem with objectification necessarily.
We live in a culture where sexual assault and rape are very real occurrences but, again, we are mis-catagorizing these acts as resulting from objectification. Instead, we ought to recognize this systemic problem as the result of a male based sense of entitlement. The media “promises” sex to men in the way it frames women (and men, for that matter). Thanks in part to media representation of gender roles, men come to expect sex at their proms, from their dates, and, horrifyingly, sometimes from women who bear too similar an appearance to the media women who “promised” the sex. We also live in a world where the kind of thinking that leads to the rape of women dressed provocatively is often excused by rationalizing that the men in these cases were “provoked”. What this suggests is that heterosexuality, even at its most violent and invasive, has been normalized which is far more dangerous, I think, then the act of objectification.
As opposed to articles I have read about sexual objectifying women written by other men, I do not think that lecherous activity, such as leering, cat calling, or rape is a natural instinct of heterosexual men. I find that theory to be, well, stupid. We live in a culture that celebrates heterosexual masculine desire while all other variations of sexuality are taboo. To argue that straight men only behave this way in public because we are programmed that way is only furthering the notion of heterosexuality as the “normative” identity. I’d be curious to know how long it would take to reprogram these “innate” traits if the leerer was aware of the very real possibility of being ostracized as a “whore”, or “faggot”, or “dyke” every time they expressed their variation of sexual desire in public. Probably not very long.
Essentially, I feel that the problems that continue to pervade our dating scene is the overemphasis on women’s physicality as a statement of her desirability, the ways is which the said physicality is warped in the media, and the normalization of male heterosexuality: not objectification. Objectification is something that everyone does and, if not paired with the three qualms listed above, can serve to form healthy relationships and very engaging flirting opportunities.
Now, If you, the reader, find that there’s a weakness somewhere in my argument, I have a theory as to where you might find it. I identify as a white, straight, cissexual man and, as a fellow blogger,Timber Wraith, says, “Nothing blinds like privilege” (who, by the way, writes an incredible blog and ought to be read by anyone more interested in asking the bigger questions than finding the smaller answers on religion and atheism). I concede to the fact that, having never been scrutinized the way that women are in society and never having had my flirting techniques called perverse, there may be “blind spots” in my argument. So please, comment away. All comments will be posted below and I will do my best to respond to all feedback.