Wednesday, June 27, 2012

the summer of objectification

The Kansas City Star reports on the current trend of women ogling sexy men; the Atlantic Wire responds by taking issue with the idea that this is a "way for over-objectified women to even out the playing field, in which more women are 'sexualized' than are men in the first place." Or the notion that, "Everyone wants to be sexually objectified because they want other people to think that they’re sexy.”

I agree that a simplistic 'right-back-at-you' attitude doesn't amount to all that much progress, but the Atlantic Wire piece risks missing something crucial here when it dismisses women lusting for men as somehow the inauthentic result of women following the "media sex-hype machine." Do we consider the hype about Fifty Shades of Grey as an opportunity for women to get "excited and invigorated with the idea that we can try something new, get creative and have fun here," as the owner of the feminist sex shop Smitten Kitten does, or is the media craze causing women to do what is "prescribed to us in books and movies and by the media and Hollywood in general," as the author of the Atlantic Wire piece argues? 

After some back and forth, the author of the Atlantic Wire piece concludes on this note: "And for the record, I have no problem saying that that Olympian above is handsome. But he's hardly an 'object." In other words, she essentially concludes on the same note as the author of The Kansas City Star feature: "So drool away this hot, lusty summer, ladies, but just remember. Channing Tatum is more than just a pretty face."

Both articles err on the side of caution with respect to "objectification," because both assume it reduces the other person from subject to object, person to body parts. But is this really the case? Writes Britain's first female porn director Anna Span about objectification: 
She believes that to sexually objectify, that is to fleetingly view a person's sexual attractiveness separately from their personality/person, is a natural human experience NOT just a male one, as traditionally depicted. 
I think Span’s emphasis here on the fleeting gaze—rather than thinking of objectification as a discriminating fixation on body parts—is interesting. 

In my book, I write more about how objectification in some new porn by women is turned into an affirming, adoring act: 

“Objectification” is typically used to describe something negative: you’re reduced from subject to object. In “female friendly porn” then one might expect to see women as the actively doing subjects and not first and foremost (men’s) gazed at objects. But this approach fails to consider a notable attribute of the gaze: its quality of devotedness by which someone can experience to be really seen and affirmed.
Check out my objectify me post for more on the conundrums of the gaze, objectification, and women in new progressive porn by women claiming agency as subjects on their own terms.

(This post was updated June 28, 2012.)
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