Seven Types of Objectification (part 1)

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 18, 2010 in Ethics

Look at that smug, sexist smile!

(series index)

Gender issues are exceedingly complex and nuanced, and comments threads in this series seem to show that it’s very difficult to put together a coherent argument for any position on the topic. In cases like these, it’s helpful to turn to people who have spent far more time thinking about the issue than I have.

Reader ‘tom c.’ pointed me to prominent philosopher Martha Nussbaum‘s 1995 article “Objectification,” found in her book Sex and Social Justice.

Quoting early feminist philosophers, Nussbaum notes that objectification is often described as happening when women are “dehumanized as sexual objects.” Thus, “admiration of natural physical beauty becomes objectification. Harmlessness becomes harm.” The rampant objectification of women leads to a reality in which many women “can grasp self only as thing,” and in which “all women live in sexual objectification the way fish live in water.” According to many, objectification cuts women off from self-expression, self-determination, and their own humanity.

Nussbaum sets out the goal of her paper like this:

I shall argue that there are at least seven distinct ways of behaving introduced by the term, none of which implies any of the others, though there are many complex connections among them. Under some specifications, objectification… is always morally problematic. Under other specifications, objectification has features that may be either good or bad, depending on the overall context… Some features of objectification… may in fact in some circumstances… be either necessary or even wonderful features of sexual life.

Examples of objectification

Nussbaum then gives a series of examples of what could be plausibly called “objectification” by many people; example she uses to illustrate her arguments throughout her paper:

His blood beat up in waves of desire. He wanted to come to her, to meet her. She was there, if he could reach her. The reality of her who was just beyond him absorbed him. Blind and destroyed, he pressed forward, nearer, nearer, to receive the consummation of himself, be received within the darkness which should swallow him and yield him up to himself. If he could come really within the blazing kernel of darkness, if really he could be destroyed, burnt away till he lit with her in one consummation, that were supreme, supreme. (D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow)

Yes because he must have come 3 or 4 times with that tremendous big red brute of a thing he has I thought the vein or whatever the dickens they call it was going to burst though his nose is not so big after I took off all my things with the blinds down after my hours dressing and perfuming and combing it like iron or some kind of a thick crowbar standing all the time he must have eaten oysters I think a few dozen he was in great singing voice no I never in all my life felt anyone had one the size of that to make you feel full up he must have eaten a whole sheep after whats the idea making us like that with a big hole in the middle of us like a Stallion driving it up into you because thats all they want out of you with that determined vicious look in his eye I had to halfshut my eyes still he hasn’t such a tremendous amount of spunk in him. (James Joyce, Ulysses)

She even has a sheet over her body, draped and folded into her contours. She doesn’t move. She might be dead, Macrae thinks… Suddenly a desire to violate tears through his body like an electric shock, six thousand volts of violence, sacrilege, the lust to desecrate, destroy. His thumbs unite between the crack of her ass, nails inwards, knuckle hard on knuckle, and plunge up to the palms into her. A submarine scream rises from the deep green of her dreaming, and she snaps towards waking, half-waking, half-dreaming with no sense of self… and a hard pain stabbing at her entrails… Isabelle opens her eyes, still not knowing where or what or why, her face jammed up against the cracking plaster… as Macrae digs deeper dragging another scream from her viscera, and her jerking head cracks hard on the wall… and her palms touch Macrae’s hands, still clamped tight around her ass, kneading, working on it, with a violence born of desperation and desire, desire to have her so completely… that it seems as if he would tear the flesh from her to absorb it, crush it, melt it into his own hands… And Isabelle… hears a voice calling out “don’t stop; don’t stop,” a voice called from somewhere deep within her from ages past, ancestral voices from a time the world was young, “don’t stop, don’t stop.” It’s nearer now, this atavistic voice, and she realises with surprise that it is coming from her mouth, it is her lips that are moving, it is her voice. (Laurence St. Clair, Isabelle and Véronique: Four Months, Four Cities)

Why We Love Tennis. (A caption [in] Playboy, April 1995)

At first I used to feel embarrassed about getting a hard-on in the shower. But at the Corry much deliberate excitative soaping of cocks went on, and a number of members had their routine erections there each day. My own, though less regular, were, I think, hoped and looked out for… This naked mingling, which formed a ritualistic heart to the life of the club, produced its own improper incitements to ideal liaisons, and polyandrous happenings which could not survive into the world of jackets and ties, cycle-clips and duffelcoats. And how difficult social distinctions are in the shower. How could I now smile at my enormous African neighbour, who was responding in elephantine manner to my own erection, and yet scowl at the disastrous nearly-boy smirking under the next jet along? (Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library)

She had passed her arm into his, and the other objects in the room, the other pictures, the sofas, the chairs, the tables, the cabinets, the “important” pieces, supreme in their way, stood out, round them, consciously, for recognition and applause. Their eyes moved together from piece to piece, taking in the whole nobleness quite as if for him to measure the wisdom of old ideas. The two noble persons seated, in conversation, at tea, fell thus into the splendid effect and the general harmony: Mrs. Verver and the Prince fairly “placed” themselves, however unwittingly, as high expressions of the kind of human furniture required, aesthetically, by such a scene. The fusion of their presence with the decorative elements, their contribution to the triumph of selection, was complete and admirable; though to a lingering view, a view more penetrating than the occasion really demanded, they also might have figured as concrete attestations of a rare power of purchase. There was much indeed in the tone in which Adam Verver spoke again, and who shall say where his thought stopped? ”Le compte y est. You’ve got some good things.” (Henry James, The Golden Bowl)

Nussbaum summarizes:

In each case, a human being is being regarded and/or treated as an object, in the context of a sexual relationship.

Quoting Nussbaum, but in list form:

  1. Tom Brangwen sees his wife as a mysterious inhuman natural force, a “blazing kernel of darkness.”
  2. Molly reduces Blazes Boylan to his genital dimensions, regarding him as somewhat less human than the stallion to which she jokingly compares him.
  3. Hankinson’s hero Macrae treats the sleeping Isabelle as a prehuman preconscious being ripe for invasion and destruction, whose only quasi-human utterance is one that confirms her suitability for the infliction of pain.
  4. The Playboy caption reduces the young actress, a skilled tennis player, to a body ripe for male use: It says, in effect, she thinks she is displaying herself as a skilled athletic performer but all the while she is actually displaying herself to our gaze as a sexual object.
  5. Hollinghurst’s hero [William Beckwith] represents himself as able to see his fellow Londoners as equal interchangeable bodies or even body parts, under the sexual gaze of the shower room, a gaze allegedly independent of warping considerations of class or rank.
  6. Maggie and Adam contemplate their respective spouses as priceless antiques whom they have collected and arranged.

Nussbaum then distinguishes “seven ways to treat a person as a thing,” which I shall examine in the next post.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry July 18, 2010 at 9:31 am

Luke, do you consider Nussbaum’s list to be exhaustive? Is it possible that there are other ways to objectify a person, ways in which a sexual relationship is not required? For instance, even if we accept that your motives were noble when you posted this list, weren’t you using these women as a means to an end? Or to state it another way, as tools?

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 9:36 am

Terry,

Well, I haven’t listed Nussbaum’s seven ways to objectify, yet, so stay tuned. Also note that Nussbaum’s definition of ‘sexual relationship’ is extremely loose – for example it includes the ‘sexual relationship’ between the editors of Playboy and a tennis star they have probably never met.

  (Quote)

Haukur July 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

Looks like a constructive direction to take this little débàcle. Kudos!

  (Quote)

Haukur July 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

débàcle

I mean débâcle, of course. Wasn’t there a feature here which allowed you to edit posts within five minutes of posting them? I rather liked that. Did you disable it, Luke, or did it disappear for some other reason?

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 10:18 am

The plugin is active, but apparently not working. I’ll try another one.

  (Quote)

al friedlander July 18, 2010 at 11:17 am

Holy Moley I had no idea that the sexy-scientists thread was going to generate this much debate/controversy. I suppose I should’ve known better.

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 11:41 am

al friedlander,

Me neither!!! But it’s developing into one hell of a learning experience… at least for me.

  (Quote)

Silas July 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

So why are the atheists (or anyone else) here, who lack a belief in objective morality, worried about objectification, gender equality, and the morality of Luke’s controversial post?

That’s what’s so ironic, and the reason why I’ve posted such pointless comments in the previous posts. When dealing with God, there is no room for “intuition”, “faith”, or “respect”. But throw in a very personal topic and reason seems to fly out of the window…

Is it not apparent now that bad thinking is a human trait, not a religious one?

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Of interest: I cleaned up the audio for a recording of ‘Get Real: A Forum on the Objectification of Women’, which has several wonderful short talks on objectification and especially the sexualization of young girls in Western culture. Download here.

  (Quote)

Bradm July 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Also worth watching are Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing us Softly” videos. They are available on youtube.

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Oooh, boy. Now PZ Myers has weighed in. I predict I’m about to be smothered in Myers’ minions!

One thought for now. Myers wrote: “The worst possible way to handle this is to search the internet for photos of women scientists and make superficial decisions about who the male eye would find sexy. ”

But that’s not what I did.

I searched the internet for photos of female scientists and took note of who I found to be sexy, not who men should find sexy.

He also says I should have “found something a little more interesting than appearances to explain why they’re sexy.”

I just plain disagree. Appearances are, to great degree, what I find sexy. (But so is brains, which is why I picked scientists.)

I like ERV’s comment:

When you freak out about ‘OHHHHH SOMEONE MADE A LIST!’, it makes it harder for ME as a WOMAN to deal with real gender/sexism issues because its hard to be taken seriously when a bunch of dipshits are out there yelling ‘WOLF!! SEXISM!!!’

  (Quote)

noen July 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm

You know it isn’t as hard as you want to make. It’s really quite simple. In the former post the very fist pict was soft core porn. It was a pic of a scantily clad woman in a claissic porn pose with her ass in the air and her tits pratically falling out.

End of discussion right there.

Besides, *you* don’t get to decide what other people find offensive. Remember kiddies, human females choose their sexual partners so it behooves you to get a clue if you like.. you know, ever want to get laid (again? for the first time?) in your life.

  (Quote)

piero July 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Noen:

The picture you refer to was specifically and willingly posed for by that scantily clad woman, who probably got paid for it, and is in any case intended to be widely published. So it is not the end of the discussion at all; if anything, it is the beginning. Is the woman in the picture less entitled to represent “women” because she has chosen to show her body? Is a woman a “real” woman only if she criticizes women who show their bodies? Is a working-class family not “really” working-class if they vote Republican? Is showing your body essentially (sorry, could not think of a better word) different from flaunting your cleverness or your musical ability? Is soft-porn (or hard-porn, for that matter) wrong because “porn” has a sinful ring to it? Are people’s minds to be valued over their bodies? Are people’s feelings to be valued over their minds? Is a well-meaning imbecile more praiseworthy than a cunning, selfish genius? Are we allowed to admire a person’s voice but not her buttocks/his chest?

As you see, “end of discussion right there” is just your wishful thinking. Over 400 posts, and we’ve just scratched the surface.

On the other hand, I wish I could live in your simple world.

  (Quote)

piero July 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Luke, I’ve just thought of an argument that entitles me to say your original post was morally wrong.

Whatever their reasons, many people post their pictures on the net, including some definitely unattractive female scientists. While no-one would be as callous as to draw up a list of the ten ugliest female scientists (I hope), excluding them from the list of the ten sexiest is tantamount to saying they are not attractive, or at least not attractive enough to make the top-ten list.

What do you think?

  (Quote)

piero July 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Sorry, I’ve just realized my argument fails if instead of posting the “top ten most attractive” you just post “ten scientist I find attractive”.

Don’t pay any attebtion to me. I’m drunk.

  (Quote)

noen July 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm

piero — An awful lot of questions there. I can’t possible answer them all so lets stick to the topic and boild them all down to one sticky remainder.

“Is it no longer objectification if the woman chooses to participate in her own objectification?”

Do you see the problem there? If objectification is a real phenomenon then it isn’t up to any one person to determine what qualifies as objectifying. The same is true for racism or homophobia. It isn’t up to any particular black person or gay man or woman to decide what’s racist or homophobic. What you are doing then is trying to argue fromt he particular to the universal.

There are blacks who side with white racists and make (white) racist arguments, and there are gays who make homophobic arguments in defense of homophobes. People don’t fall into black or white categories. People also adjust to their circumstances because unlike philosophical arguments they need to eat.

So if I steal a loaf of bread so that I can feed myself and my starving children that still doesn’t change the fact that it was theft. Theft doesn’t cease to exist as morally wrong. Even if we might not blame the thief for tring to feed his family.

A frustrating aspect of spousal abuse is that the woman often refuses to press charges and will return to her same abusive husband again and again. So, “Is a husbamd still guilty of beating his wife even if she doesn’t acknowledge the abuse?”

Yes, he is.

  (Quote)

piero July 18, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Noen:
I think you have some good points there, but I can´t be sure because, as I said, I’m drunk. Let me ponder your post when I’m sober and I’ll reply.

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 6:54 pm

PZ sums up the most important point quite nicely:

But the important concept is that women should have the choice, and their decisions should be respected. Men do not get the privilege of having the roving eye, of being able to pick individual women out of the crowd to tell them that here, they get to be object of sexual interest, especially not if they’re going to then publicly display them as clever eye candy.

PZ is talking about should, of course. Nobody can stop a super-popular blogger from asserting his male power privilege to publicly sexualize a woman who has asked not to be sexually singled out.

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks July 18, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Nobody can stop a super-popular blogger from asserting his male power privilege to publicly sexualize a woman who has asked not to be sexually singled out.

I really don’t understand what kind of super he-man male powers of self-expression that Luke enjoys that women do not. Are you seriously suggesting that a woman would be incapable of publishing an identical list? Publishing a list of sexy women is not a privilege that women have?

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 7:28 pm

BTW, even though I agree with the people who say that Luke is making this way too complicated, he’s being a heck of a sport about the criticism.

How many sexists (hey, maybe we should make a list of “The 10 sexistist atheists” :-)) would be this open-minded to critics? I’m sure I wouldn’t have responded with the same patience and aplomb as Luke has, if I were faced with the same crescendo of disapproval.

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

@jft – Are you confused about what social rule Luke violated, or are you confused about why we follow that rule?

The rule Luke violated is really simple. If a woman (Like Sheril) asks not to be sexually singled out, men are not supposed to sexually single her out. As PZ said, we live in a culture where sexualization of women always must happen with their permission. Really simple.

Are you denying that this is a social norm, or are you curious about why it’s a social norm?

  (Quote)

The Crocoduck Hunter July 18, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Holy hell, Luke. Reading this post, and the comment thread over a Pharyngula, and man have I gained a ton of respect for you.

I’m also glad to see those commenters give you some real hard arguments of the kind some of us were unable to come up with on Friday.

No, my response is definitely more along the lines of “Maybe I shouldn’t do this.” Especially as this epic debate continues and people keep hinting toward arguments in favor of their position, and I keep coming up with none in favor of my own original position.

You win the fucking internet.

  (Quote)

noen July 18, 2010 at 8:35 pm

justfinethanks
“Publishing a list of sexy women is not a privilege that women have?”

I’m just going to pause and relish that for a sec.

Because the female sexual gaze is just like the male gaze only in a woman’s body right? Well, ahh, ::cough:: um it (looks down) erm *lacks* a certain bit doesn’t it?

Anyway, knowing quite a few lesbians in my time I’m pretty sure that no woman in her right mind would put up such a list nor would her idea of sexy be like yours.

Why can’t a woman be more lke a man?

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks July 18, 2010 at 8:37 pm

JS Allen:

There are lots of things that are confusing to me about the hysteria that the original post has inspired, but in this instance I was confused about how posting a list of “sexy scientists” was an example of “male power privilege.”

What about making the list stems from his “maleness?” It can’t simply making a blog post, because women have equal power to make blog posts. It can’t simply be categorizing a group of people as “sexy scientists”, as women have the equal “power privilege” to such an expression of opinion.

I ask again, would it be possible for a woman to make the identical post on their blog, with identical descriptions and images? I think the answer is yes, and therefore it’s silly to accuse Luke of exercising some sort of special male powers, when women have the power to do the identical act.

I take “male privilege” to mean special rights or powers that are granted to men but not women (and I certainly don’t deny that such a thing exists). If this is an instance where there is nothing that could hinder a women from doing the identical thing, I don’t see how it qualifies.

Also when you say:

men are not supposed to sexually single her out.

Do you actually mean this is a rule for men and not women? That would seem odd, as obviously women can sexually single out other women. Or is it actually a universal?

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

piero,

Nah, I don’t buy it. There are tons of sexy scientists I did not include because I didn’t stumble upon them.

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Thanks, JS Allen.

I just took nearly as much criticism over at P.Z.’s blog, where a huge portion of the attacks on me were blatant strawmen. The most important post I made over there, worth quoting over here, is this:

So, many of my critics attack strawmen or don’t defend the assumptions behind their attacks. But what is my positive case for thinking that my post was morally permissible?
I don’t have one.
Here has been the progression:
1. I post a list of sexy scientists. I’ve made such lists before, mostly to positive reaction, from both men and women. They’re light and fun and silly to me. None of the women in my life have a problem being called sexy, because they know I’m not a creepy guy who is going to stalk them or make unwanted advances. So I post the list of sexy scientists, like so many frivolous posts before it.

2. I get hit with a tsunami of criticism, most of it incoherent babbling, but some of it hinting that I might really be a dumbshit about feminism, despite my obvious commitments to basic things like gender equality.

3. The situation is confused by a number of women who defend the post as being exactly what I originally thought it was: lighthearted fun.

4. I ask a bajillion clarifying questions of my critics, and find that very few of them actually have any arguments in mind, or know much what an argument looks like. Still, the anecdotes and perspectives is enlightening.

5. Seeking clarity, I start reading a philosophical paper on the topic that is recommended to me by a reader. Its precision promises to make clear some of the arguments that might be available to either side, but I haven’t finished it yet.

6. My posts are linked at half a dozen blogs – most popularly, on this one. I decide to engage the discussion here and again mostly get heat and light rather than arguments, but the perspective offered makes me suspect even more that I will eventually be condemning my original position.

7. Throughout all this, about 1/3 of all posts blatantly misrepresent my explicitly stated views. I criticize these strawmen in the hopes that amidst the sound and fury a few useful, coherent points will be made.

8. Useful, coherent points are made, along with additional perspective, beginning to lift me out of my agnosticism, though I’m still awaiting my read of the Nussbaum article and some others, and also Sheril’s response coming on Monday.

  (Quote)

lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Ha,

Thanks Crocoduck Hunter.

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 9:06 pm

You win the fucking internet.

@The Crockduck Hunter – My thoughts exactly! What a great conversation!

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks July 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm

neon

Anyway, knowing quite a few lesbians in my time I’m pretty sure that no woman in her right mind would put up such a list

Of course, I’m not asking whether or not a woman would make a list. What I want to know is: do they have the power? Would there be nothing stopping them if they chose to? If the answer is yes, then I don’t see how this can be seen as an example of “male power privilege.”

nor would her idea of sexy be like yours.

So, even if women have the identical power to make a list, it doesn’t matter, because when a man does it, is is dirty somehow, by virtue of men having a different concept of “sexy”?

So do men have a wrong or somehow offensive concept of “sexy,” and women cannot have a concept of “sexy” that is offensive on the same level? Is having an “offensive sexy concept” an example of a male power that women can’t possess?

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 9:25 pm

justfinethanks: Do you actually mean this is a rule for men and not women? That would seem odd, as obviously women can sexually single out other women. Or is it actually a universal?

It’s a rule for men and not for women, and it’s not universal. It’s a rule particularly for western cultural elites, especially in America.

The existence of the “rule” is an easily verifiable empirical matter. You can test it readily. I assume you accept the existence of this rule.

The why of the rule is not necessarily obvious, and it feels like a double standard to some people. I’m a cynical bastard, so I can give you a whole boatload of reasons that go beyond the explicitly stated reasons. But for purposes of this post, I’ll give you the “official” reasons, which aren’t all that bad:

1) Sex is often about power. This is emphatically not a Christian insight. Talk to any atheist GBLT people to understand how sex and power are interlinked.
2) Men rape women, and not vice-versa. Male sexual domination of women has been a reality for several thousand years. Evolution has endowed us with an innate inequality about violence and sex. This is an empirical matter. What is the social stigma of a male raped by females, versus a female raped by males? There is no equivalence.
3) Society puts the onus on the woman to “avoid” rape. When a woman gets raped, it’s often seen as her fault, for encouraging it, being too provocative, not setting boundaries, etc.
4) However, when a woman tries to set boundaries, like “Don’t compliment my sexiness if you’re a stranger on the bus”, some subset of men will call her a frigid bitch and argue against her right to set boundaries. So some women conclude that it’s a catch-22. If she sets boundaries, she’s criticized; but if she doesn’t, she’s raped and criticized.

Based on these 4 easily-provable premises, American cultural elites have settled on the heuristic that men are not allowed to publicly sexualize a woman without that woman’s permission.

It’s a wonderful heuristic, IMO. But as I said, I can give you the cynical crufitan reasons, too, if you’re interested.

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks July 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm

It’s a rule for men and not for women, and it’s not universal.

This is a little confusing to me, as it seems to be the opposite of what you were arguing earlier. Before you were saying that by sexualizing women, Luke was exercising his “male power privilege.” But now you are saying that women actually have the power to sexualize women in a way that men can’t or shouldn’t. That is, this is an example of a “rule” that applies to men and not women.

I assume you accept the existence of this rule.

If you mean that it’s existence as a cultural norm, no. A peek at any magazine rack will tell you it’s perfectly socially acceptable to sexualize women. People in western society are even perfectly accepting of celebrity tabloids, which invariably feature pictures of women who don’t want their pictures taken.

But I was thinking that you are arguing that there is something damaging, harmful, or otherwise immoral about the blog post in a way that was separate from cultural acceptance. If you are arguing that “society says men should not sexualize women” I think that’s clearly false, and I imagine most self identified feminists would agree with me that this is hardly a cultural norm in the west.

Regarding your four premises, I certainly grant all of them, but I don’t quite yet understand how “One ought not to post a list of sexy scientists” flows from them. Are you suggesting that the post will somehow increase the amount of violence against women?

And still, I still am yet to understand how the post was an exercise in “male power privilege.”

  (Quote)

noen July 18, 2010 at 10:18 pm

justfinethanks
“I’m not asking whether or not a woman would make a list. What I want to know is: do they have the power?”

How would that change anything? There were blacks who practiced slavery, that didn’t make it any less repugnant. Objectification violates the categorical imperitive as it treats other people as a means to an end only.

But… human sexuality is complicated and power is held asymetrically. The male libidinal economy depends on objectifiying the object of one’s desire. Men tend to mortify (hold within limits and control) their desire. Women do not (in fact, just the opposite) and tend to see their self worth in terms of being held within the male gaze. So much so that some women lose their own subjectivity and feel a need to “find themselves”.

For men the risk of objectifying the figure of the Woman is that you lose the person altogether. We call a woman who is presenting herself as an object of desire a “doll”. Some men have litterally fallen in love with dolls. Some guy tried to legally marry one. In Japan you can marry a virtual doll. One that you can manipulate with no limits.

The good stuff in my opinion is in the middle, not at the poles. There can’t be any rules governing one’s behavior there because rules themselves are just the masculine attempt to mortify that which is living.

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks July 18, 2010 at 10:31 pm

How would that change anything?

It would change whether or not the post could accurately be categorized as an example of “male privilege” as some have accused.

There were blacks who practiced slavery, that didn’t make it any less repugnant.

Yes, it was repugnant, but it was also an example of white privilege. Since the overwhelming majority of whites could do something the overwhelming majority of blacks could not (own slaves). So it’s a bad analogy, since nothing is preventing women from doing the same thing as Luke.

I’m not asking at the moment if posting the list was wrong. I’m asking if it is an example of “male privilege.” Obviously something can not be an exercise in male privilege and also be wrong.

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm

This is a little confusing to me, as it seems to be the opposite of what you were arguing earlier. Before you were saying that by sexualizing women, Luke was exercising his “male power privilege.” But now you are saying that women actually have the power to sexualize women in a way that men can’t or shouldn’t. That is, this is an example of a “rule” that applies to men and not women.

What’s confusing about it? “Male power privilege” applies to males, and not to women. My previous next-door neighbor was a well-known feminist lesbian. I don’t think she ever lost sleep over the fact that male sexualization of women is not symmetrical with female sexualization of women. Why would you assume symmetry? If you can show me statistics about lesbians violently dominating women in the same way that men dominate women, I’ll be willing to entertain your theory.

If you are arguing that “society says men should not sexualize women” I think that’s clearly false, and I imagine most self identified feminists would agree with me that this is hardly a cultural norm in the west.

I argued no such thing, and I’m disappointed that you insist on ignoring the plain facts. When a woman (like Sheril) explicitly asks you not to sexually single her out, you need to honor her request. If you don’t honor her request, people will rightly judge you to be a douchebag.

  (Quote)

John D July 19, 2010 at 1:32 am

Luke,

Congratulations on turning this around into a valuable educational experience (for me, others and yourself). I wasn’t a big fan of your sexy atheists list. And I cringed when I saw the post go up the other day.

But at least now we’re moving into more interesting territory. I like a lot of Nussbasum’s work but I’ve never read that article. I look forward to the remainder of the series.

On a more contentious (albeit lighthearted) note, why has nobody mentioned this yet?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bEGLbCNRqw

Listen to the first “movement”.

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks July 19, 2010 at 5:10 am

If you can show me statistics about lesbians violently dominating women in the same way that men dominate women, I’ll be willing to entertain your theory.

I can’t. And since I can’t, it appears women enjoy a privilege that men do not. Namely, they are allowed to post pictures of sexy scientists. And this is confusing to me as it was the opposite of what you are originally claiming.

I see you are justifying this imbalance of moral permission on the basis that women are attacked sexually and men are not (mostly). But I don’t see how that’s relevant, and you still haven’t explained how Luke committed an act of “male power privilege.” That is, how he did something that male can do that women can not. Rather, it seems he violated a moral code by doing something women can do and men can not.

When a woman (like Sheril) explicitly asks you not to sexually single her out, you need to honor her request. If you don’t honor her request, people will rightly judge you to be a douchebag.

And what if I make the request for you not to single me out as a “douchebag?” To be characterized as a douchebag is dehumanizing, and I take great offense to it. I may or not be a douchebag, but there is so much more to me as a human being.

Are you under an obligation to honor my request, and retract your characterization of me, or is controlling how people characterize you another example of something women are allowed to do that men are not?

  (Quote)

noen July 19, 2010 at 10:12 am

justfinethanks
“So it’s a bad analogy, since nothing is preventing women from doing the same thing as Luke.”

I admit slavery was not a perfect analogy. I just brought it up on the spur of the moment. But as far as woman doing the same thing… it’s just very hard for me to imagine any woman, lesbian or not, doing the same thing. We live in a patriarchal society and that infuses and informs everything we do. It tells us not only what is possible but what is not possible given our social class.

I don’t know the statistics on domestic abuse in the glbt community but it has been an issue in the past. Gays and lesbian used to model their intimate relationships after the straight model but there was a concerted effort to combat that and replace the fem/butch role model with a more egalitarian one.

But I still can’t imagine a lesbian treating her partner in a sexist manner because because her sexuality is not just male sexuality in a woman’s body. She might be abusive or domineering or belittling but those behaviors would not be sexist.

Context is everything. So yes, other cultures practiced slavery and when they did that was not an expression of white priviledge. In America though, when whites practiced slavery it was because our culture says it was an expression of white priviledge. I don’t think that there were any black plantations where blacks owned other blacks. If there were I’d bet it was early in our history and they didn’t last very long. Our culture gives white males an exclusive status so when they perform behaviors that in a different context would not be an expression of white priviledge, here it would be. Because our culture defines it as such.

I think… mostly i’m guessing. I can’t really say that I know for sure and would defer to someone with greater authority in feminism.

  (Quote)

corn walker July 19, 2010 at 12:16 pm

But I still can’t imagine a lesbian treating her partner in a sexist manner because because her sexuality is not just male sexuality in a woman’s body. She might be abusive or domineering or belittling but those behaviors would not be sexist.

I would be inclined to agree, except there appears to be a gender binary issue that is introduced when we did deeper. (I don’t agree with the appeal to your inability to imagine something, however. Just because you can’t imagine it doesn’t make it so)

Perhaps one issue is that some people have an expansive view of the word “sexist.” Certainly the type of discussion this topic has engendered is consistent with one where there is no shared meaning of the terminology being used.

If one person’s definition of sexist is “attitudes and beliefs that women are less equal than men” and another’s definition is “any act that is consistent with acts that have been used by others at some time and place in history to marginalize women” then there’s little sense in trying to decide whether the list or lister is sexist.

In America though, when whites practiced slavery it was because our culture says it was an expression of white priviledge. I don’t think that there were any black plantations where blacks owned other blacks. If there were I’d bet it was early in our history and they didn’t last very long.

This is an argument from ignorance which could have easily been avoided using just a touch of the Google. Blacks enslaved other blacks in Africa and, before the colonization of West Africa, participated in the slave trade selling blacks captured from other tribes to the Europeans. Some freed blacks, as well as some Native Americans, also owned black slaves America. The principle here is that owning slaves is wrong, regardless of who is doing the owning and who is being owned (excepting for consensual master/slave BDSM relationships).

  (Quote)

JS Allen July 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I can’t. And since I can’t, it appears women enjoy a privilege that men do not. Namely, they are allowed to post pictures of sexy scientists.

Why are people fixated on men and women being exactly the same? That’s not what feminism is about at all, and it makes no sense.

Men and women are very different. Women can bear children, breastfeed, and lots of other things men can’t do. Conversely, men have more testosterone, stronger muscles, and use violence as a tool of power.

  (Quote)

philologia July 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm

“If a woman (Like Sheril) asks not to be sexually singled out, men are not supposed to sexually single her out. As PZ said, we live in a culture where sexualization of women always must happen with their permission. Really simple.”

Personally, I’d take this further: assuming you wish to behave respectfully towards others, if a person (especially a woman) has not given you permission to publicly use their photo in a sexual context, don’t do it. This is not tacit in their posting it online, nor does it mean you need written permission to find them attractive or respond to that attraction physically. It means that if you are going to discuss a private person publicly, in a manner that may make them uncomfortable and put them at risk in some way (not solely meaning physical risk here: there is also risk to livelihood due to future google searches, or WTF ever – and yes, their perceived risk is important and valid here) you need their consent because you are encroaching on them, not the other way around. It does not significantly harm you or your interests to keep your public sexual expression to an appropriate time or place. And no, you aren’t solely the arbiter of that: if another human being is involved, as a potential viewer or even just via visual representation, they have rights too and are therefore morally relevant.

I really don’t see why it is so difficult to grasp, since you appear to have an adequate knowledge of cultural history and modern sexism. To imply that a list of professional women, drawn up by a heterosexual man without their knowledge or consent and with the intention of celebrating how sexy he finds them can be considered outside of its cultural context and relevant connotations solely because of the (claimed) intentions of the poster strikes me as absurd. And yeah, you are implying that (“What people are ‘offended’ by is all the things my list doesn’t entail. Stuff about how women are sex objects. That their beauty is more important than other traits. And so on. All that stuff is not in my post. It is put there by other people who… well, I don’t know the motivations. But it wasn’t me who said all those things with my list. It was other people who put that meaning in there.”) and yeah, it is sexist.

However, I am glad you’re taking the time to explore the issue and recommend this site for further perusal. It might help you and other posters to better come to grips with the concept of male privilege, too, as it provides a broader and deeper definition than merely “what men are able to do that women are not.”

  (Quote)

jojo July 20, 2010 at 9:50 am

#4 is exactly what you did in your post “15 sexy scientists.” The end.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }