Monday, February 4, 2013

Help! I'm being objectified!

Rebecca Watson received a picture in which she was depicted as a sex object in MS Paint. This prompted her to write a blog post about it and share the following video:

The speaker has devised a test to see whether or not you're looking at a sexually objectifying image. The seven questions:
  1. Does the image show only parts of a sexualized object's body?
  2. Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object?
  3. Does the image show the sexualized person as interchangeable?
  4. Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized person that can't consent?
  5. Does the image suggest the sexual availability of the person is the defining object of the person?
  6. Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity (something that can be bought and sold)?
  7. Does the image treat a sexualized person's body as a canvas?
Another tangent the speaker goes on - if sex sells, women are heterosexual, and women are sexual beings, why aren't males half naked in advertisements?

Possible answers:
  1. Women have less disposable income (a subject of discussion in itself)
  2. Women have different sexual preferences
  3. A variation of #2 (which Watson hates more), in which some branch of evolutionary psychology is correct and preferences can be tracked to some cave man era.

The speaker then goes on to talk about "habitual body monitoring".

"In fact, in the 5 minutes I've been giving this talk, on average the women in this audience have engaged in habitual body monitoring 10 times. That is EVERY... 30... SECONDS!"

The talk continues to say that women who are "high self-objectifiers" will be more likely to:
  • Have an eating disorder
  • Fail classes
  • Think of themselves as spectators in sex acts - that is, be entirely concerned with how they look instead of enjoying the activity.

Speaker continues to elaborate on how cultures that objectify women cause women to see other women as competition, and see the attention from males as the "holy grail" of their existence.

"We raise our little boys to view their bodies as tools to master their environment, we raise our little girls to view their bodies as projects to constantly be improved. What if women started to view their bodies as tools to master their environment?"

She then cites a few examples in the war against objectification:
  • Convincing Abercrombie and Fitch to not carry stuffed bikinis for children
  • Convincing Seventeen magazine to not photoshop their subjects
How does these items relate to the seven questions above? No idea.

Suddenly we're on the topic of age-appropriate clothing (and perhaps the role of parents) and unrealistic manipulations of female forms. Both important subjects, kind of weird to inject it at the end of the talk.

Then comes the final wrap-up to hammer it home:

"Lastly I'll leave you with this idea of imagining a different world."

(Speaker takes off her fake eyelashes, takes out a handkerchief, begins removing makeup)

"I'd like you to imagine a world where girls and women don't spend an hour every morning putting on their makeup and doing their hair. I'd like you to imagine a world where a women are valued for what they say and what they do rather than the way they look. I would like you to imagine a world where instead of spending time on dress and appearance we actually directed our energies at serious problems, like: 
- human trafficking 
- sexualized violence 
- homophobia 
- poverty 
- hunger
and lastly, because you are architects of your future, I would like to remind you that sometimes architects have to demolish paradigms in order to build a better world. So my question for you is, what better world will you build?"

Cue clapping.

Questions a skeptic could ask:

Is the author of the MS Paint comic of Rebecca Watson actually sexually obsessed with her?
Does someone spent time generating a terrible cartoons of Watson actually interested in her sexually, or interested in her response?
Does it conform to the "normal" story of sexual objects causing arousal, or does it actually have more in common with a former friend knowing precisely what to say to get under one's skin? 
To believe that this MS Paint drawing somehow exists in the same time and space as an erection is to wholeheartedly misunderstand male sexual desire.

"Do not feed the trolls" could be said, but Watson isn't being trolled. She's participating in the trolling, knowing that posts like the one you're reading will be written.

Are there examples of positive hits on the criteria that don't qualify as "objectification" in the typical sense?
Put another way, could you hit several of the seven "questions" and end up with something that could be qualified as art or some other form of expression?
Is the preponderance of cases where the criteria are met in the service of male sexual appetites? How could we measure that?
The content that hits 100% of the criteria 90%+ of the time is likely pornography. In some view, everything sexually objectifying can be measured in how much like porn it is.
It is not elaborated on whether or not porn is something that exists in this world without objectification. Also not discussed is which content is most like porn.
The speaker also points out that this is a problem that is getting worse because of the internet. Within this isn't really an argument that content is getting worse, but is simply becoming more available.

To what degree do these existing criteria also apply to men?

  • Only parts of sexualized bodies (#1)
    • Male underwear models exist.  
    • Dildos exist - as the most socially acceptable sex toy, by the way.
  • People as interchangeable cogs (#3)
    • All male dresswear emphasizes this
  • Sexual availability (#5)
    • One can watch a deodorant commercial and come away with the following conclusions:
      • Since the women are beautiful, you could conclude women are only desired for their looks
      • Or, men are only valuable/have status if they are desired by women
  • Treated as a commodity (#6)
    • Males are not generally cast as gigolos on television, but this doesn't mean the gender cannot be cast as a commodity.
      •  Soldiers are a commodity
      • Star Trek red shirts are commodities
      • Damsels in distress are not commodities
    • In any given screenplay, what gender is the victim of the most violence just to fill in the minutes?
These are just some examples provided as a thought experiment. I'll leave it up to you to get published by studying this topic.

By what measure do we know "habitual body monitoring" is a real condition?
It is a claim similar to the often restated idea that males think about sex every N minutes, which many males would suggest is patently absurd.
Testing this hypothesis is difficult, for obvious reasons concerning measurement, and also issues concerned to the definition of this epidemic.
Vague spatial awareness about oneself could fall within the bounds of HBM.  When does it become a problem? Are males affected by this in the same way?
Just as it is hard to believe that men would visualize intercourse in detail several times an hour, it is hard to believe that women constantly find themselves in some way incapacitated by visualizing how one may be viewing them (which is arguably much more of a mentally taxing task than a 'simple' sexual fantasy).

Why can it be assumed that to be objectified as a sex object is worse than being objectified as a tool?
Insofar as we can understand that many qualities are inborn, why should athletic ability or intellect be granted higher social status?
Why would applying yourself as a model make you any less important than someone that is really good at swinging a hammer or throwing a football?
Embedded in the talk seems to be the "fact" that it is better to be thought of as coal than a diamond because coal has more obvious utility.
Isn't there something missing from this picture? 
The assumption is that when one is thought of as a sex object, what is being hidden is one's utility to other people and society in general.
Is it also not awful to be thought of as merely useful? Should the aim not to be viewed as useful, but to be useful and true to oneself?
Tell the nearest male that you think him a capable breadwinner or handyman. Should he be amused by this compliment or disappointed that your assessment is very two-dimensional?
Do we want a world without makeup? Are we already living in it?
The presenter concludes by removing her makeup.
In what version of reality would it be a good thing to lower standards of appearance any further?
Those working in STEM fields already know most of the non-sales world is dressed very casually.  
Corsets are ancient history. If you wear cologne or perfume, you will hear about it from cube-mates that are allergic.  
How does the number of women with fake eyelashes compare to the number of men in monkey suits and ties?
And doing your hair?
While it may be assumed that males have an easier time dealing with it, hair does not happen to be a problem of a particular gender. Nor does one do their hair to appeal to the particular issues related to sexual objectification or the needs of a particular gender. 

One supposes there exists a reality where you can drive up to TED in sweat/yoga pants or pajamas and meander your way through your content while absent mindedly scratching one's bedhead. 
Sounds rather dystopian. 

Is sexual objectification a problem to tackle so then we can move on to hunger, poverty, violence, or is this completely backwards?
A generous reading of all this would say that people speaking want women to be viewed as useful equals, so that both genders can then work to solve larger problems. It would make sense.
But does it map to reality? 
Are the philanthropists, the volunteers, the doctors of the world telling us if it were not for sexual objectification in western culture, society would be making progress? 
Not once! In fact, in some sense they are wishing more conservative attitudes towards sex would fade away for in many societies women are objectified in a much less abstract ways. They are often paired up with mates without being able provide much input in the process. They exist as objects not of sexual desire, but of economic and political utility to their families. Great expectations are placed upon them.
Yes, there was a time where women were judged not on how satisfying they are in bed but how capable a home maker they would be. Of course, everyone can agree that this was also a terrible value judgment, but it leads us to wonder what the correct measure of a woman ought to be and in what context measurement can be made. One is seeming tasked with peering deep into a stranger's soul and gauge their true value as a person at all times.
Also within the ending call to action this lies a tell - "sexualized violence" as something to work on after slaying the objectification dragon. Does using this term not to some degree accept run-of-the-mill "violence" as an immovable object?
"This violence is worse, it's sexualized." One would think that bruises and blood-gushing injuries would be enough to draw censure.
For the moment we can ignore organizations like PETA, which objectify women to popularize their message, and Skepchick, who has sexualized parties where people are objectified just for kicks

Again, these are simply some questions a skeptic could ask.

Does anybody happen to know one?

1 comment:

  1. Hey, you left this two out:

    1°) She's denying agency to women who choose to do all those horrible things, like being proud and happy about their bodies. Denying agency IS objectification:

    2°) She calls for censorship. She says everyone should send letters to papers telling them how offended you are. Has she no knowledge of one of the main theists tactics in order to silences us?!? They cry they're offended. Well, you're entitled to be offended, and we're entitled to offend - no one's entitled not to be offended.