Friday, 27 July 2012

Objectification: ask me ask me ask me

You know when you're having your common or garden conversation about objectification and some dude wades in to demand an explanation of the difference between objectification and appreciation? As if he's beset with horrible visions of his imaginary feminist totalitarian state where everyone wears unisex boiler suits and fancying someone is a crime punishable by death and reproduction takes place in test tubes and all male babies are aborted just for the fun of it because we fucking love abortion so much.

I don't believe him, to be honest. I think he knows damn well what the difference between objectification and appreciation is. But in case anyone is unclear, I have put together this handy guide for you.

Objectification: what it ain't
"Oh good grief, that is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her eyes and her face and hair like Medusa and holy mother of god she has tits like heaven. Okay don't stare, you don't want to be creepy. She's smiling! She's smiling at me! Thank you, life, the universe and everything, for granting me this hallowed day."

Objectification: what it is

For further reading, this is a good primer.

For further watching, you might also like to have a gander at that Batman film that everyone's been talking about. While dissecting it with my Young Man and his housemate, I reenacted my first beef with the movie, being the difference between how Batman rides his trike:

and how Catwoman rides his trike:

Young Man said that Batman was an equally unrealistic representation of the male ideal, but I only got the chance to shout "NOT THE SAME THING" before getting side-tracked by my other beef with the movie - namely the idea that you could just chuck a nuclear bomb a couple of miles out to sea and it would explode harmlessly, close enough that you could see the mushroom cloud but without anyone's face getting melted. (Sorry, there are some argumentative parts of my brain that just don't have an off switch.)

So to expand upon NOT THE SAME THING:
At best, one might argue that male superheroes are drawn to be what straight men think women want to see. More realistically, male superheroes are drawn to be what straight men want to be, showing them as powerful and competent without making them sexually provocative, since a display of sexual availability might make the "target market" of those comics uncomfortable. ~ "Where's the beef?"

Being a feminist and a lady who likes ladies, I know that it is possible to appreciate the female form without objectifying individual women. But I also know that it's actually not as clear cut as we'd like to think. Objectifying women is, as the comic says, "the background radiation" of our lives: you can be as awesomely feminist as you like, but you can't escape it anymore than you can escape breathing. I don't get turned on by random disembodied man parts in the same way that a delightful pair of lady legs will set my heart a-fluttering. This might be a quirk of my own particular sexuality, but it seems more likely to be related to the fact that women's bodies - arse, tits, creamy thighs - are endlessly presented on their own as embodying sex in a way that male bodies just aren't. Some gents will describe themselves as "a legs man", "a bum man", as if these parts alone are all they're actually after.

This is, we're told, to do with the difference between male and female sexuality: men get aroused by visuals, women by being in love and marriage and babies and pinnies and whatever. But it seems more likely that it is to do with what we are told is attractive. Attraction, desire, sexuality aren't sealed off from the patriarchy; they're influenced by it every bit as much as unfair parental leave laws and rape conviction rates.

There's a definite strand of thought that wants politics to stay out of sexuality. It's the fear that The Party Line will brand your particular brand of happy consensual fucktimes Double Plus Ungood and you'll either have to stop having the sex you like or be castigated as a traitor to the cause. (See: Feminist Sex Wars, 1980s, So Much Fun.) Which isn't really the point: I'm hardly going to chop off my own libido to spite my sex face.

There are times when marginalised populations - populations which are marginalised even within world-changey feminism - are actually the experts on particular topics. If you want to spout off about The Innate Differences Between Men And Women (or indeed The Entirely Socially-Constructed Nature of Gender), talk to some trans folks first. Wanna talk impossible beauty standards? Talk to a woman who isn't white. And if the intricacies of objectification, sexism and desire are your bag, bisexual ladies might just be your oracle.


As ever, I don't really have an action plan other than Talk About It. It's just that the conversation needs to be bigger than "men like to look at boobs".

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