Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sexual Objectification is Not an Objective Term

Martha Nussbaum admits as much.

Sexual objectification is a familiar concept. Once a relatively technical term in feminist theory, associated in particular with the work of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, the word "objectification" has by now passed into many people's daily lives. It is common to hear it used to criticize advertisements, films, and other representations, and also to express skepticism about the attitudes and intentions of one person to another, or of oneself to someone else. Generally it is used as a pejorative term, connoting a way of speaking, thinking, and acting that the speaker finds morally or socially objectionable, usually, though not always, in the sexual realm.
"Sexual objectification", as used by Feminists, simply signifies that the Feminist finds a particular statement, thought or action to be objectionable. The term doesn't have an objective meaning.  Mr. Kant's concept, of making a person an "object of appetite" through having coitus with the person outside of marriage, is clearly objective.  Pope John Paul II's idea, that a woman becomes the object of the potential satisfaction of a man's sexual need if he looks at her lustfully, is also objective.  Feminists use the term "sexual objectification" pejoratively, to mean whatever they want it to mean.  And, the Feminists don't even have to be talking about anything in the sexual realm at all!

Because the term is quite flexible, using it can be quite effective as a shaming tactic.  If a Feminist declares that a man is committing the sin of sexual objectification, or accuses a man of objectifying her sexually, then the accused is assumed guilty until proven innocent.  Proving innocence is impossible, because the term doesn't really mean anything.  Her opponent in a debate will be on the defensive, and find it nearly impossible to crawl back.  In moderated internet debates, a moderator (and possibly others) will rush chivalrously to protect her honor and feelings, and ban (or otherwise punish) the alleged transgressor.

While it may seem illogical for Feminists to deploy a term (rather frequently) that has no objective meaning, the logic behind using an ostensibly illogical term is actually quite brilliant.  More uses of Feminist shaming tactics are described in this short video:

 As mentioned above in Miss Nussbaum's quote, the term sexual objectification is often used "to criticize advertisements, films, and other representations, and also to express skepticism about the attitudes and intentions of one person to another." In light of the fact that sexual objectification means whatever a Feminist wants it to mean, defending oneself against an accusation of "sexual objectification" may prove futile.

The inclusion of "skepticism" about a person's "attitudes and intentions" under the umbrella of sexual objectification would seem to be similar to the Pope's attitude that men shouldn't look lustfully at women.  Mr. Kant, on the other hand, appears to be more concerned with actual actions than attitudes.

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