RenEv & Nina on Sexual Objectification of Women

I see that Renegade Evolution has posted an intriguing essay on sexual objectification and whether or not it is a positive or negative thing…..some highlights:

Now, as everyone well knows objectification is one of the main feminist bones of contention with the sex industry, in all its many forms, as a whole. The argument is a basic and legitimate one: that things such as stripping and porn portray women as merely their bodies, as sexualized caricatures of women: tan, sleek, often surgically altered, made up, unrealistic parodies of ‘female’…and those caricatures are nude and willing and eager to reveal and abase themselves for the sexual gratification of men. They withstand the most degrading of leers and dehumanized of acts with a smile and a sigh and thus come across as little more than toys with tits and holes that exist solely for the pleasure of the male of the species. They are, or at least play the part of, objects and reflect that image back upon all women.

And my academic shadow asked me two things regarding this: One, did I think it was true, and two, did I care or did it bother me.

I had to do some thinking. And this is what I came up with.

Yes, I do think it can, and does, within the minds of some men, contribute to the objectification of women. I can and will admit that, and I think that objectification takes many forms.

And I have also noted that by in large, the objectification is a third party thing. The dancers I work with and the woman who runs our agency? We all treat each other as humans, as we would wish to be treated. We socialize outside of work when and if we want, we understand bad days and sick leave and relationships and family time and all those things ‘normal people’ understand. Hell, we even have Christmas & 4th of July parties, which are, aside from the talk about what doctor did whose tits and how good his work is, much like any other company’s holiday parties. As for my other sideline work, that which takes place in front of a camera, well, I can tell you this. All of those people, the ones who run the camera, the ones who do the make up, the ones who get naked and have sex, are real people too, with real feelings and real humor and real lives, just like anyone else. And they are also very, as a general rule, good too and protective of those in the same line of work. I can get naked and engage in some truly brutal, dehumanized, degrading activities with these guys (& gals), get called every name in the book, call them every name in the book, and when it is all said and done, well, the act is over. The same guy who just had his cock up my ass while calling me a worthless whore will ask me how my S.O. is, how is the work on my house coming, tell me his wife says hello, his kids are doing great, and then we order pizza and have a beer and do totally mundane things like watch the game on TV, talk movies or politics, just like anyone else might. Some people get great insurance plans, we get orgasms, but it’s still a job, same as any other, and we all seem to see it that way. I do not feel objectified with these people, unless I want to. 

Plenty more where that came from here.

Perhaps RenEv would be interested in this alternative view of sexual objectification, straight out of the sexy brain of Teh Sex Goddess named Nina Hartley (this excerpted from an essay titled “In The Flesh” that she wrote for the anthology Whores and Other Feminists (edited by Jill Nagle)):

I’ve come to believe that those individuals who universalize their self-appointed victim status do so at least in part as a way of avoiding taking responsibility for their own dissatisfaction with the state of their intimate lives. I say this because I was once one of those women. I’ve since reevaluated some of my feminist analysis of sexual objectification.

When I was growing up in the early 1970s, the received truth on sex was that men’s objectification of women was the root of all gender inequality. If men would only stop appreciating, rewarding, and wanting to fuck women because of their looks (to the exclusion of any other traits she might possess), the world would be a better place. I grew up pitying women who only felt comfortable when wearing makeup and feminine or “male-defined” clothing.

Yet I myself loved to look at women of all types. My bisexuality made me wonder what they’d look like naked, made me want to touch them and make them come on my mouth. My feminism made me want to honor and cherish their sexual prowess, not demean them because of it. What was I to do?

For some women, objectification was painful and humiliating. At the same time, other women suffered for never being the object of anyone’s desire. My logic told me that certain feminists threw out the baby (sex and the mating dance) out with the bathwater (male violations of women’s space and dignity). We do not need less objectification (why else does one get the courage to say “Hi” to someone at a party?) Rather, we need to make men more aware of how to act once they are next to a woman. I want women to be treated as people first and sexual beings second.

Women will feel freer to say “yes” to sexual pleasure when men start honoring our “no’s”. Such a change in attitude cannot take place without men being allied in the struggle. Until and unless men as a group believe that it’s more manly to treat women respectfully instead of insensitively, not much will change. Men challenging other men on their sexism, in language that men can relate to, will be an important key.

For all its trappings, objectification is a central part of most, if not all, human cultures. We don’t mate by scent, seasons, or instinct alone. As primates, we learn a great deal visually, by watching and imitating. Since we can’t experience most people on deeper levels, everyone is, at least initially, an object to others. Because my professional image is available on videotape, I am an object to most people who enjoy the fruits of my labor. I meet and entertain, on average, upwards of 20,000 men a year; none of whom know me as a real person. I don’t have the time or inclination to have all these men get to know me as a full person. I save that for my family and my private life. This split between public and private is by no means unique to the sex industry.

I present the image I think would be most effective in helping men to change their attitudes about sexual women, while at the same time not forgetting that my primary purpose is to arouse; when I lose sight of that, men cease to pay attention. I’ve learned that if a woman is presenting a sexual, confident persona, men generally will listen to what she has to say. Susan Sarandon said it succinctly in Bull Durham when she tied Tim Robbins to a bed and read him poetry: “Men will listen to anything if they think it’s foreplay.” If she happens to underscore her point by encouraging/facilitating/inducing his orgasm, the point may stick for good.

 [Emphasis added by me]

Something to really think about, I’d say.


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