Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective
Richard Carrier has a superb blog on atheism and sexuality. I learned a new term "sexual subjectification", which I should have known. I recommend the entire blog. This excerpt is a sample.

 

An image from shoe designer Brian Atwood, photographer Tony Duran, and stylist Kithe Brewster: image of actress Rene Russo wearing Atwood's shoes in exclusive fetish book Role Play Rene. The image has many characteristics of objectification yet subverts stereotypes by depicting the man naked and lovingly embracing a dressed woman, who is erotically clothed but fully depicted, in a state of pleasure, and engaged in thought.Erotica and porn is thus not by definition sexually objectifying. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be. And good porn and erotica isn’t. It sexually subjectifies instead. It communicates, through its art, that women are human beings, in all the same respects as a man, and contextualizes their sexuality in those terms, rather than depicting women as mere pleasurebots for men... Sexual objectification is not empowering; it is quite the opposite. It is dehumanizing and disempowering (in all the ways Heldman surveys). Sexual subjectification, however, can be empowering, of women generally (as it is of men), and of the sexualized subject specifically...

This is why it shouldn’t be the case that if a woman wants to sexually subjectify herself (like, pose for erotic photos for the benefit of her fans, or work as a porn star), she should not then be assumed to be a sexual object. Yet even many atheists in our movement have done this, arguing that (or acting as if) the moment any atheist woman poses for erotica or (God forbid! — and yes, I am using that phrase with deliberate irony) does porn, she is no longer a person worthy of respect but is to be derided and belittled and treated as a sexual object, and then blamed for it (as if her own empowering sexual subjectification morally warranted her sexual objectification and abuse). Honestly?

We know this non sequitur is overtly sexist, and often misogynistic, because it generally doesn’t happen to men. All the shit said to Greta Christina and Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight for posing in erotic art has never been said to me. Even though I did the same thing they did. Evidently no one cares if men sexually subjectify themselves for the entertainment of their fans. No one assumes that that then negates his value as a human being, reduces him to a sexual object and nullifies the value of anything he says or does. Yet that is how women are treated for it. By their own peers.

Tags: erotica, sexual objectification, sexual subjectification

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Replies to This Discussion

It communicates, through its art, that women are human beings, in all the same respects as a man, and contextualizes their sexuality in those terms, rather than depicting women as mere pleasurebots for men...

Hmm.

So, what does it say about me, that I exclusively watch lesbian porn, in light of this idea?

I read the above but did not click on its link.

I think that the notion of sexual objectification as a criticism of pornography is simply mistaken.

First, when one views pornography, he is not viewing a person. He is viewing an image. An image *is* an object; what could possibly be wrong with objectifying it? One might object to features of its production--if the people involved in it are mistreated. But how could it be wrong to look at a picture and treat it as an object? Were that person in a room with me, I'd treat her as a person--but I'm looking at a picture, not a person.

Second, when someone poses for a pornographic photograph or has sex before the camera, but is not mistreated in so doing, then there is no more objectification involved than when someone works as a grocery clerk. A grocery clerk isn't treated as a person in any broad sense, but is simply a grocery-processing object. He could be a machine--it would make no difference. Someone might consistently say that we shouldn't allow people to make livings at jobs where they're treated as objects, and on that basis object to pornography (or at least to pornography made as a way of making a living)--but otherwise, it's hard to see why it should be objected to.

Third, the mere fact that we treat someone as an object doesn't mean that we don't also treat that person as a subject. When a man and wife have sex, they treat each other as sex objects. They *also* treat each other as companions, as intimates, and so on--but that doesn't mean they aren't treating each other as sex objects during sex.

I'll also point out that it's rather odd for feminists to want women to be empowered to make their own choices, but then to want to deny women the right to choose to take part in pornography. The fact that it seems to be only women's "exploitation" or "objectification" that is objected to--who ever objects to the objectification of men in male homosexual pornography?--further suggests that some of the objectors simply aren't themselves comfortable with public sexuality and project that onto other women. But such points are extra.

The problem many women, like the doctor in the video, have with the idea of pornography being "empowering" for a woman is that she is still trying to define her self-esteem, and by extension her self-worth based solely on how sexy and desirable others consider her to be. It's not that these women aren't good at what they do.  Many feminists reject the very idea of a woman being defined by her looks or her sexuality; therefore, a woman posing naked or having sex for monetary gain could never be a role model for other women.  I tend to agree with this notion.  I have no objection to pornography, but these women considering themselves as feminists or role models is laughable.

Personally, I would consider porn more objectifying of men than women, at least guy/girl heterosexual porn.  In many of these videos the men seem to be little more than a detached penis, whereas the woman is the only star of the picture.  The idea being that any man will do I suppose.  If I had to ponder why this is, I would guess that the majority of the viewers of this type of porn are men, and they have no desire to see another man.  Possibly because empathy makes them imagine themselves as the one with the female star. 

I guess at the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that pornography is a fantasy.  No one should think it is an accurate representation of sex, life, or how to treat a partner.  There are many things that should stay in our fantasies. 

Though I agree with you that males being equally objectified as the females, there are other substantial issues here. There are stars in the porn industry, both female and male, but globally, there are vast more numbers of females in the industry, and those others are not stars, and are not paid like stars. In a single porn film, 1-3 penes can do 20 vaginae. So let's take the debate away from the elites, and look at the little folks. A vast majority of females in porn are there against their will. Since Western society has been considering porn and prostitution as more acceptable, the rate of illicit traffic of females has increased, and is continuing to steadily increase. Also the rate of proxenetism is on the rise, and is being taken over by organised crime. Yes, proxenetism is not just for prostitutes, they're all over the porn industry. All told, 20 years ago the argument was made that rendering those forms of cash flow in exchange for female abuse would free these females and make them safer, but now we know it has not.

Nor can prostitution and porn ever become "regular" employment. The litmus test for what is regular employment is this: In the world of welfare and employment insurance, you can be forced to accept jobs, even if not qualified for them. Enter pornography and prostitution... do you really think they can pass as regular employ? no.

Just as most people did not make "choose" to be faithers, most females do not "choose" to enter these industries.

I was aware that some pornography was the result of human trafficking, especially after spending time in Europe and Asia, but I had no idea the extent to which women were being victimized by the adult film industry.  I will say from what I have seen that women do tend to be slightly better off in countries where prostitution is legal and regulated.  Many of these women are still doing this work they wouldn't do if they had better options, but it's still a step up from human trafficking. 

I tend to be a bigger fan of "feminist" porn (if there is such a thing), or couples porn.  Even if neither of the people in the video are actually enjoying themselves, at least the acts they portray resemble actual sexual encounters.  I've never found myself aroused by the abusive or demeaning nature that seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in the mainstream. I could give examples of what I am referring to, but I think most people know the difference between violent and non-violent sex acts.  

Holland, where porn and prostitution have experienced the most "openness" is the number one world destination for female sex trafficking. Females are murdered if they attempt to get out. Next most sex trafficking Nevada and Super Bowl and Grand Prix events. There are different types of legal approaches to legislation around the world, but Scandinavia is pushing the newest one: abolition (vs prohibition). Countries such as Canada have to a large extent decriminalised the act of sex for money, but unfortunately, also decriminalised the industry around it. So our rates of disappeared and murdered sex workers is very high.

What Sweden is doing with abolition is multiple fold:

1-no sentences for the sex worker

2-jail for proxenetes and Johns

3-financial and psychological assistance for females to exit sex work

Bottom line, less market, less sex-workers, less traffic, less violence and drug addition. Sex work is never empowering, it's an illusion.

I don't disagree with any of the points you have made, but from what I have seen and have studied I also know that one of the factors that tends to increase violence against women, rape, and prostitution is a disproportionate female to male ratio.  While it might not explain Thailand or Western Europe, it does make me shudder to think what might happen in the next 20-30 years in countries like India and China as more and more parents are electing to only keep their offspring if it is male. 

I wouldn't be surprised in the least if both nations see a dramatic increase in violence against women in the very near future. 

:(
I long ago gave up on relying on the male half of society to help reduce that sort of violence. Females need to stand up, as the ONE BILLION RISING campaign, and all females must say enough, but for this we must be united against patriarchy, and we are unfortunately not even near that. If even atheist females cling to the lies and violence inherent to patriarchy, what hope is there for brainwashed religious females? Theoretically, if the ratio of females increase, females banding together to end violence should become stronger. Females must boycott patriarchal power where it would hurt: sex-marriage-reproduction. As long as females keep reproducing, patriarchy is winning.

There are things about male driven culture that need to be modified for women to stop suffering, the biggest of which is the obsession that so many people have with "purity".  The idea that women somehow decrease in value once their virginity is lost.  The biggest offenders being the United States and the Arab countries.  It would be unfair to blame religion entirely, but the numbers don't like.  The less separation a government has from religious influence, the more control men try to exert over the female body.  It's scary to think that the US is always one bad vote or Supreme Court nomination away from the repeal of Roe vs. Wade.  

I will even agree that the biggest step in stopping violence against women must come from women, but I do not believe that all men are responsible for this violence.  There are male feminists.  Your idea that reproduction automatically equals defeat for feminism sounds too much like the 1960s feminist concept that all sex between men and women is a form of rape, regardless of whether it is consensual. 

What needs to happen is more atheists having children and educating children.  With any luck we'll be able to overcome the growing number of Evangelists and other crazies homeschooling their children.  

To clarify, no, I don't think all sex is rape, I am totally sex positive. As Skepchic comments stated... sex positive means sex should be pleasant, for all parties.I'd say nearly 3/4 of the atheists I've met online still play an active part the religion of patriarchy. So more atheists reproducing simply means more patriarchs. It's not a solution. In fact atheists who retain religious economics views is one of my major gripes with online atheists. Economically, unless we Homo sapiens want the claim of being the last large mammal on earth, we need to think of downsizing our population and economies, to a level which is sustainable.

So females boycotting reproduction would accomplish two results, fighting patriarchy and fighting overpopulation.

I love sex, but am against marriage. Marriage as a tax subsidised institution is a part of patriarchy, a way to encourage females to remain in our primary reproductive role (contributors to cheap labour) rather than emancipating ourselves.

This is a pet-peeve of mine, when males choose to "contribute" to feminism. I have no issues with males supporting feminists and the feminist movement, but there's a rather growing trend these days of males writing feminist texts, which are subverted to other godless religions and institutions, such as unfettered growth.

It is a very tricky negotiation all this, and females can NOT count on the legal system anywhere, in any country, for protection. We must make our own justice.

He distinguishes "bad" from "good" porn... WTF is that??? is good porn the one without penetration? is "good" porn that which does not objectify, and how does he scientifically calculate this?????

He talks about "kink", is he not aware that since kink and bdsm have grown into more "acceptable" forms of sexual "play" (wouldn't want to call it objectification now...), and have seen lots of new participants enter the foray, the rate of rape has been increasing there too.

Some say there can be no rape in kink and bdsm, since people are supposedly wanting the fake experience of it, but that's not what we're talking about here. In the world of kink and bdsm, there are safe words, and traditional underground kinkers and bdsm'ers used to take these pretty seriously. But with the increased recruitment into these circles, via mainstreaming these sexual proclivities, you get more and more stupid males who just like to objectify females, these guys fail to respect safe words, that's when it's called rape. Hmmm, I wonder where they so learned to objectify females?

Carrier says it's not objectification "by definition"... I could agree with that... But it IS objectification by result, whether that particular female in the porn was being empowered or not is not the important concept. The behaviour learned by males buying porn IS objectification of females, maybe not that female in that porn, but the next female in his life.

So Carrier gets it wrong, as do most males who claim knowledge and contribution to feminism. He looks to a porn star to define that porn is not objectification. But that was never the intent of the term objectification, objectification is when all females are objectified based on the behaviours of a few porn stars. Carrier, fail.

I agree with you about the misrepresentation of the SM, or BDSM if you prefer, world being hurt by the mainstream misunderstanding it.  part of the blame for the recent rise of this phenomenon is the popularity of books like "50 shades of gray" and similar erotica.  These books make people think that SM is a violent world, and more than that, they make uneducated men believe that this violence is something each woman inherently craves.  One might even argue that it makes women yearn for this violence themselves.  This could lead men and women to push themselves farther than necessary sexually because they don't want to feel as if their sexuality is boring.

I highly recommend anyone trying to introduce the riskier portions of SM into their sex lives go to a professional dominatrix or other professional before one or both partners risk serious injury due to inexperience.  And again, I can't stress this enough, erotica, like pornography is meant to be fantasy for the purpose of entertainment, and many of the acts they express in these books can cause serious injury and should no be attempted by real people; they do not reflect the type of SM encounters that most adults actually engage in.

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