Objectifying Men

“Objectification” is one of the great boo-words of our time, employed in rather the same way as the 19th century used ‘immorality’ or the 13th century used “heresy”. That is, it condemns without conveying very much information about how or why.

Feminists have popularised the use of the term “objectification” in but a very narrow sense. To them it means regarding, or portraying, a woman as a “sexual object”, without their having at any point properly explained the difference between a sexual object and a sexual being. Recognition of a given woman as a sexual being seems to be both acceptable and desirable if the recogniser is himself attractive, otherwise it is treating her as a sexual object. Complaints of “objectification” are thus frequently a smokescreen to disguise the all-important process of female social calibration. That is, it is a loud and emphatic way to repudiate an unattractive man’s sexual or romantic interest so as to prevent loss of status in the female peer-group, see more about this mechanism in my Part called “What Women Want”. The horror of being looked at by a man who does not meet a woman’s aesthetic and social standards is, however, a phenomenon that will persist until we invent a hi-tech burqa that senses the presence of cool and ugly guys and turns transparent and opaque accordingly.

This narrow sense of the term is a great pity, because the concept of objectification deserves a lot better than spoiled foot-stamping. We stand in need of a general theory of human objectification: that is, what it truly means to objectify someone and, above all, what is required for a gaze or other behaviour not to be objectifying. The reason for female reluctance to participate in such an analysis is the fear that we might then discover that there are a great number of different ways to treat someone as a mere object for your personal convenience or amusement but that not all of these are a male monopoly. In fact, given our biological nature as predators, it is rather the exceptions that need to be explained, the occasional miracle whereby one human being does actually consider the interests of another.

One may immediately think here of Kant’s Practical Imperative, or Buber’s It and Thou. Neither, of course, is in any way limited to the sexual sphere. Indeed, we may suspect that such a principle would invalidate the exploitation of labour and the appropriation of surplus product that we call the economy; it may not be impossible to treat an employee or slave as a Thou rather than an It, but it would most certainly be inconvenient.

If objectification is something wider than the ogling of a female by a loser male, then the inconvenient question poses itself whether it is something that a woman can commit too. This possibility of female objectification of men may be fended off by the traditional tactic of “having the vapours” or its modern successors. The question may be tied up in ribbons of jargon and magic words that prove that a woman must always be a victim of metaphysical constructs like Patriarchy and so can never be an independent moral agent.

Alternatively, we could simply take go back to Kant and ask whether it seems a priori possible for a woman to treat another human individual as an It instead of a Thou, to treat another human individual as a means to her own ends. The question then answers itself, and the only thing remaining is to count the ways.

The most obvious objectification of men is the economic, and probably the most direct equivalent of a man’s seeing a woman purely in terms of T&A is a woman’s seeing a man as a walking ATM. “Someone to be a father to my children” is a variant of this, note particularly the indefinite pronoun: a man who merely fits the category of “someone” is not being considered as an individual subject. Wherever women are financially independent, however, the main form of objectification is regarding men as walking attention-mines. Fourthly comes something that I have not experienced myself, but hear from more attractive men: that women are quite capable of viewing men as “sexual objects” in precisely the same way as men view women. Here as elsewhere among modern women, the ethical thinking seems to be that something only becomes wrong when you are having to take it rather than getting to hand it out. When women complain about objectification, therefore, what they are really saying is that it should not be done to them.

Finally, we may note that the uses of men as something to look down on and to use as an excuse for all personal failure are as deeply objectifying as all the other modes.

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