A frequent complaint we hear from women’s groups is about the “objectification of women.” Wikipedia, the soporific go-to for the lazy and incurious, says, “Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object, without regard to their personality or dignity …. The concept of sexual objectification and, in particular, the objectification of women, is an important idea in feminist theory and psychological theories derived from feminism.” I disagree.
The Oxford English Dictionary has a different take on objectification. It says: “The action of objectifying or condition of being objectified; an instance of this, an external thing in which an idea, principle, etc., is expressed concretely.” Further, objectify means, “To make into, or present as, an object, esp. an object of sense; to express in an external or concrete form.”
Therefore, the Venus de Milo is an objectification, as is Michelangelo’s David; a stripper is not.
I know what the groups think they mean. They think they mean Wiki. However, rather than pornography, for one example, portraying women in an objective sense, that context is more correctly the opposite: subjective. That is, they take the concrete form of a human, and subjectify it. As Oxford says of subjectify, “to identify with or absorb in the subject; to make subjective.” In the case of the pornographer, I assume, the goal is to make the human form subjective to his or her mental impressions. Meanwhile, those opposed to pornography comply with that intention and see the form in that manner.
Objectification is exactly the wrong word for pornography. In the example we just started, one human form is used as a concept of sexual conduct that the consumer, assumedly, can expand to a larger universe. Michelangelo took a universal concept of the human form and made it into one concrete symbol. Subjective:Objective. Interestingly, in the subjective form of human pornography there is little sustaining interest, while the objective form of the human form, when achieved, resonates for millennia. Pornography addicts seem drawn to crave more and more … what? … outrageous scenes?, while lovers of art never tire of returning to the objectification of the ideal. Further, pornography seems to find the seed of beauty and truth in the objective, then spew out blasphemous copies across whatever landscape will allow it. In this case, the internet has taken over the whispering, back-alley purveyors, but leaves open the question of which sex is most subjectified. It is likely neither sex wins.
If one applies this idea of objectivity to war, it gets interesting. Assuming that a war is the objectification of thousands of human strifes, then war is the ideal represented in concrete terms. However, when entertainment sellers see the impact the concept of war has on society, they make copies of bits of war, subject to their individual mental impressions, even though the writers, actors and directors have never actually experienced war. Of note, a war movie without a scantily clad love interest is rare. These copies, then, are consumed by audiences in the millions.
The clear danger of making hundreds of subjective impressions of the objective concept of war is that people are not satisfied with the experience of war as a movie, and they soon appear impervious to the entire genre of war and violent death. Historically, this has led to insensitivity and the desire among some for more, just as is claimed of pornography. In fact, the similarities between pulp film entertainment and porn are inescapable.
The old ad adage is “sex sells.” There is substantial dispute as to whether that’s true. Nonetheless, a cursory look at the content change in newscasts over time seems to show a switch from politics and business to sex and violence. If so, it is worth asking whether the subjects (subjectification) of sex and violence are of the same value as news as are the subjects of business and politics?