- the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object e.g. the objectification of women in popular entertainment
The phrase objectification has been popularised by feminist theory, defining it as the dehumanisation of a person whereby they are treated as an object. We can all probably agree that it’s horrid when women are objectified and its violent in its natured. Objects are treated with disrespect, their feelings and emotions are not considered, they’re not given autonomy and pursued as a means to a purpose. Increasingly, I have seen elements of i) self-objectification and ii) objectification of sexual partners. Perhaps a sign of my own understanding, which is now distrusting of previously internalised concepts.
Self-sexualisation refers to “intentionally engaging in activities expressly to appear more sexual appealing”. In other words, sexualisation occurs when one’s value is derived from their sexual appeal rather than other characteristics. Women are usually valued by society for their appearance and sex appeal, thus it’s extremely hard to detangle ourselves from these patriarchal notions. Somehow this perverse capitalist structure has made it difficult to have a positive relationship with our own bodies when it’s literally the thing that’s keeping us alive. Instead of a love and a feeling of comfort towards our body (as we do with all things familiar), we criticise it, starve it to mould and change.
These definitions are useful as it’s always good to know what exactly we are talking about when we throw around these words. The most common types of objectification that I have noticed have been identified by Rae Langton (2009): i) reduction to body where the treatment of a person is identified by their body parts, ii) treatment of a person is primarily in terms of how they look or appear to the senses iii) treating the person as if they are silent and lack the capacity to speak. As expected, objectification has been linked to the consumption of pornography whereby people are reduced for the purpose of pleasure.
This begs the question of the meaning of what it means to be human? What distinguishes us from objects or animals? What is dignity? When objectifying, it has been said that a person loses their special human status and are reduced to a sexual instrument. Again, objects are used as a means to a purpose rather than an end.
Self-objectification “is the adoption of a third-person perspective on the self as opposed to the first-person perspective i.e. women place greater value on how they look rather than how they feel or what they can do. Women also perceive themselves through male gaze and from the outside. For example, the cool girl narrative is a male fantasy which pressures women to conform to this ideal. A cool girl likes video games and other traditionally masculine activities, can eat fast food while she maintains her model physique, and importantly, looks like Megan Fox. Beuavoir says women “become an object and she sees herself as an object; she discovers this new aspect of her being with surprise: it seems to her that she has been doubled; instead of coinciding exactly with herself, she now begins to exist outside”. Perhaps the most flagrant example is the Instagram experience where women are expected to perceive themselves through the male gaze to curate their photos.
This all truly sounds like a black mirror episode but harrowing enough it’s real.