Irin Carmon at Jezebel argues that shameless (sexual) objectification can be a good thing. She gives five reasons, but it ultimately comes down to the argument that “Well, it’s okay if women do it” as well as arguing that the sexual objectification she’s talking about (regarding World Cup soccer players) is not entirely sexual.

I am actually somewhat sympathetic to arguments that behavior is more tolerable or less so depending on who is doing it. Ultimately, though, I found Carmon’s reasoning unconvincing.

Her first argument is context. It’s okay for women to do it because women are at a social disadvantage and it’s therefore not damaging for them to behave in a way that would be damaging if it were those at a social advantage doing it. I think that this is sometimes true. For instance, Mormons refusing to hire non-Mormons in Delosa is far, far less damaging than Mormons refusing to hire non-Mormons in Deseret. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the former is okay, but I would definitely place it pretty far down the list of injustices worthy of our collective attention. So does that apply to men and women? Perhaps it makes it less damaging. However, I find the notion that the difference is so substantial that objectification by men can be completely unacceptable while objectification by women is not only acceptable but “a good thing.”

Her second argument for the gender distinction goes a little further in trying to explain why objectification by women is a good thing by arguing that it disrupts the narrative that women a not visually oriented. I actually agree with Carmon that the distinctions between men and women as far as visual-orientedness is vastly overstated and could even be convinced that it’s non-existent if only because I don’t care all that much. However, in point of behavior there is a distinction between the behavior as you see it. It could be because of social conditioning or it could be because genetics. If it’s the former, though, do we want to bring women down to the level of men? From my perspective, I think it would be better if men became less transparently visual in nature. Or, in fact, that we acknowledge that men are less visual than popular culture would have us believe. The best argument that Carmon could be using here is if there is a genetic component to it and we wish to disrupt that because if there is a genetic component then we don’t have to worry nearly as much about women becoming as flawed as the male stereotype.

In short, the last argument is that “it’s okay for women to look, too!” while then proceeding to argue away the “too” by maintaining that it’s not okay for men to.

As an interlude, I will take on the weakest of the five arguments. It doesn’t matter a wit that women are also oogling over foreigners. Believe me, men do it, too.

The remaining two arguments involve the context in which the men are being displayed. Female “objects” are “sexyface, no corpse-like poses” while the male objects are doing what they love. The thing is that men don’t need pornographic poses to objectify in an objectionable manner. Women can simply be crossing a construction site on the street! That doesn’t make it okay, does it? In fact, the counterargument could be true. The women who are taking on sexual poses volunteered for objectification. The men are just playing soccer and may just want to be left alone unless one is of the mindset that men are more sexual beings and thus are inherently more receptive to the attention of random women. I don’t think that’s the argument that Carmon wants to make.

Flawed, too, is the notion that it’s okay to objectify soccer players because they are in good physical condition. Anyone remember that UCLA track team girl that had an inappropriate website dedicated to her? She was in fantastic physical condition and those doing the oogling could easily make this argument. How likely would that fly with the Jezebel crew? Pretty poorly, I would imagine. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating a beautiful body in a non-sexual context. Clancy has been known to look at physically fit individuals and comment that they would make an excellent medical school cadaver (it’s awesome that I married someone that makes observations like these). But that only really works if you’re looking at individuals that you internally consider to be sexually appropriate. If you’re not appreciating female athletes, too, or athletes that you would consider too young to otherwise unavailable, there is a strong sexual component to it. This is true even if you’re not actually aching to rip their clothes off and make mad love to them.

So what are my thoughts on objectification? I agree with Carmon that context matters. I would just argue that it’s not an “okay for one gender but not the other” sort of way. Any objectification that would make the other person uncomfortable is inappropriate. That means that while your thoughts are your own, a website you put up for a UCLA track star is not. Appreciating a woman walking down the street is one thing. Disrupting her thoughts by whistling at her is not. Appreciating the beauty of the opposite sex (assuming heterosexuality) is fine, though talking about it in the company of people of the opposite sex that it would make insecure is not. I think the big thing is to be unobtrusive about it.


Category: Coffeehouse

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13 Responses to Assymetrical Objectification

  1. stone says:

    Without reading the article, I think that it’s OK because GUYS LIKE IT. If they didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be OK.

  2. trumwill says:

    I think that’s a partial explanation and a signifant enough point that the UCLA track star’s objections should be sufficient for an immediate stop, that only addresses part of it. Objections to objectification of women extend (in this piece, but also outside of it) to models that are okay enough with it to sign up for it. In the broader sense that people should not be judged foremost on their aesthetic appeal (hence a fat receptionist’s objection to a pin-up on a guy’s cubicle being considered relevant), it doesn’t matter whether the specific individual target it creeped out or flattered.

  3. SFG says:

    Ironically, one of the effects of articles like this has been to me to simply abandon any efforts to develop higher ethical guidelines about this sort of thing. If it’s good for men, I support it, because I am a man. The other side (feminists) simply does whatever’s good for women, whether it be sexual harassment lawsuits or alimony or child support, and invents justifications after the fact. Men can only do the same to bring things back into balance…

    Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?

  4. Kirk says:

    For what it’s worth, my neighbor lady tried to get into my pants. The power was out, we were drinking together in her apartment, and after she got drunk she made it painfully obvious that she wanted me to take her out back and schtup her.

    I couldn’t do it. And I have to say she did make me feel uncomfortable, hitting on me like that.

  5. stone says:

    Kirk, why couldn’t you do it?!

    Will, if someone’s a public figure, they’re fair game for whatever commentary. I don’t know if a college athlete should count as a public figure, though.

    And come on, SFG. Don’t you have any sympathy for the opposite at all, even one drop?

  6. Peter says:

    Yeah, Kirk. Being hit upon by a woman is the ultimate Blogospherian fantasy. She’s never to be resisted unless she’s a complete warpig (and maybe not even then) or has a very jealous gun collector boyfriend.

  7. Kirk says:

    Kirk, why couldn’t you do it?!

    I dunno. I guess I’m just not built that way. When I went to bed that night, alone, I kicked myself for not going through with it. But when I woke up the next morning I thought “Thank God I didn’t do that.”

    Also, she kept talking about how her son got murdered just a year ago. And, she mentioned thinking about suicide.

    Anyway, when the power came back on, she got out one of her ab-workout videos and we did that. I left after that.

    The chick’s in shape, I’ll give her that. I was sore for the next two days.

    Anyway, it was the weirdest night of my life.

  8. Brandon Berg says:

    The problem is that the idea of “sexual objectification,” as the term is used in the article, is just plain broken. If I were, say, to go to the store and buy some groceries without being particularly interested in the cashier’s views on macroeconomics, no one would say that I was objectifying the cashier. But it’s the same thing. I’m appreciating one aspect of the cashier while more or less ignoring the others. It doesn’t mean that I deny those other aspects—just that they’re not what I’m interested in. Likewise with so-called “sexual objectification.”

    I found this one particularly silly in the context of sports:
    “In our current universe, men do not have trouble being taken seriously based on their looks or perceived sexiness, nor is their worth in society primarily judged by them.”

    Haven’t women’s sports always been about aesthetics (or feminism, for those so inclined)? People who are primarily interested in athletic excellence watch men’s sports, because the best men are far better than the best women at just about any sport. Note that it’s only in sports that are openly about esthetics (e.g., gymnastics, figure skating) that people prefer to watch women, even though men objectively outperform women in those sports, too.

    Stone:
    A lot of women like it, too.

  9. stone says:

    “Also, she kept talking about how her son got murdered just a year ago. And, she mentioned thinking about suicide.”

    Oh. Yeah, probably not a good idea.

    Come on though Kirk. If it had happened to me, you’d be all, “What did you expect, drinking alone in the dark with a guy?!”

  10. stone says:

    OK, I read the article. They’re talking about World Cup players — professional athletes. Professional athletes are professional entertainers, basically. Leering physical praise is well within the bounds of what they should expect.

    A site dedicated specifically to a college student/athlete, especially to one particular one, is a bit different.

  11. trumwill says:

    Sheila, the distinctions you’re talking about are not irrelevant. To be honest, I am bothered by the UCLA track athlete and not by the World Cup. And had Carmon made the argument primarily on that basis I probably wouldn’t have written this. But I don’t really view them as entirely different things. They’re part of a spectrum. A website devoted solely to Nancy Kerrigan in sensual poses would be similarly off-putting, even though she’s not an unassuming college athlete. A website dedicated to Lady GaGa or even an underage Britney Spears would not bother me at all since they’re more explicitly putting themselves out there.

    I think what bugged me most was putting some in the category of COMPLETELY OKAY (or “a good thing”) while putting others in the category of COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE (and determining this primarily on the basis of which gender is oogling which) that mostly bothers me. There are a hundred thousand different scenarios that are varying degrees of okay and not-okay.

    And, of course, it’s subjective. For public oogling, I think it’s better to err on the side of caution (even if it doesn’t make the oogled uncomfortable, it can make others of that gender self-conscious)c. For private oogling? I think that gets a much wider array of acceptability.

  12. Peter says:

    Haven’t women’s sports always been about aesthetics (or feminism, for those so inclined)? People who are primarily interested in athletic excellence watch men’s sports, because the best men are far better than the best women at just about any sport. Note that it’s only in sports that are openly about esthetics (e.g., gymnastics, figure skating) that people prefer to watch women, even though men objectively outperform women in those sports, too.

    Tennis may be the one exception. The women’s game is at least as popular as the men’s, if not more popular, even though the sport is not openly about esthetics.

    Men don’t objectively outperform women in gymnastics because the men’s version and the women’s version are basically two different sports.

  13. rob says:

    A big difference between male and female gaze is that to a v. good approximation, men are never terrified of sexual violence from women. From both being a creepy dude IRL, and reading pandagon, etc., women are frequently frightened that looking will turn to assault. A few years back, I was running at 10 or 11 at night in downtown hometown and a couple women drove by catcalling me. My biggest fear was that they weren’t sincere. I don’t think that’s was a chick in my position would have worried about.

    Come on though Kirk. If it had happened to me, you’d be all, “What did you expect, drinking alone in the dark with a guy?!”

    Obviously, I can’t speak for Kirk, but a big difference is the woman in Kirk’s story wanted sex. You being married, probably would not have. Even if you mean hypothetical single stone, wanting or not wanting sex with the dude makes that the drinking alone with dude a good or bad idea.

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