Sexual objectification

Sexual objectification is objectification of a person. It occurs when a person is seen as a sexual object when their sexual attributes and physical attractiveness are separated from the rest of their personality and existence as an individual, and reduced to instruments of pleasure for an other person. 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. Many feminists regard sexual objectification as objectionable and as playing an important role in the inequality of the sexes.

Objectification of women

Feminist scholars say that the objectification of women involves disregarding personal and intellectual abilities and capabilities, and women's reduction to instruments of sexual pleasure for men. Examples of phenomena seen by some feminists as objectifying women include depictions of women in advertising and media, images of women in pornography, as well as images in more mainstream media such as advertising and art, stripping and prostitution, men evaluating women sexually in public spaces, and cosmetic surgery, particularly breast enlargement.

Historically, feminists believe women have often been valued for their physical attributes. Some feminists and psychologists argue that such sexual objectification can lead to negative psychological effects include depression and hopelessness, and can give women negative self-images because of the belief that their intelligence and competence are not being acknowledged. The precise degree to how objectification has affected women and society in general is a topic of academic debate. Such claims include: girls' understanding of the importance of appearance in society may contribute to feelings of fear, shame, and disgust that some experience during the transition from girlhood to womanhood because they sense that they are becoming more visible to society as sexual objects; and that young women are especially susceptible to objectification, as they are often taught that power, respect, and wealth can be derived from one's outward appearance.

Pro-feminist cultural critics such as Robert Jensen and Sut Jhally accuse mass media and advertising of promoting the objectification of women to help promote goods and services.

Objectification of men

Feminist authors Christina Hoff Sommers and Naomi Wolf write that women's sexual liberation has led many women to view men as sex objects. Research has suggested that the psychological effects of objectification on men are similar to those of women, leading to negative body image among men, as well as fears of inadequate sexual performance, leading to increased use of drugs like Viagra.

Views on sexual objectification

While the concept of sexual objectification is important within feminist theory, ideas vary widely on what constitutes sexual objectification and what are the ethical implications of such objectification. Some feminists such as Naomi Wolf find the concept of physical attractiveness itself to be problematic, with some radical feminists being opposed to any evaluation of another person's sexual attractiveness based on physical characteristics. John Stoltenberg goes so far as to condemn any sexual fantasy that involves visualization of a woman as wrongfully objectifying.

Radical feminists view objectification as playing a central role in reducing women to what they refer to as the "sex class". While radical feminists view all mass media in a patriarchal society to be objectifying, they most often focus on pornography as playing an egregious role in habituating men to objectify women. Other feminists, particularly those identified with sex-positive feminism, take a different view of sexual objectification and see it as a problem when it is not counterbalanced by women's sense of their own sexual subjectivity.

Some social conservatives have taken up aspects of the feminist critique of sexual objectification. In their view however, the increase of sexual objectification in Western culture is one of the negative legacies of the sexual revolution. These critics, notably Wendy Shalit, advocate a return to pre-sexual revolution standards of sexual morality, which Shalit refers to as a "return to modesty", as an antidote to sexual objectification.

Many critics of feminism contest feminist claims about the objectification of women. Camille Paglia holds that "Turning people into sex objects is one of the specialties of our species." In her view, objectification is closely tied to (and may even be identical with) the highest human faculties toward conceptualization and aesthetics. Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy holds that the label "sex object" means nothing because inanimate objects are not sexual. She continues that women are their bodies and sexuality as well as their minds and souls. Libertarian economist and social critic Murray Rothbard wrote that women are and always will be sex objects to men and men are and always will be sex objects to women.

Objectification and sexual fetishism

Sexual objectification may also be considered a means of realising a sexual fetish; in which a person is assigned, or adopts the status of a fetish object. This may provide erotic humiliation for the person so regarded. As with most BDSM-related activities, it is not considered abusive when engaged in consensually. Allen Jones' Hat Stand and Table Sculpture, which show semi-naked women in the roles of furniture, are clear examples of the depiction of the fantasy of sexual objectification.

Further reading

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External links

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