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

On objectification, let's compare North American films and French films, just regular films.

I was raised in Quebec, so I was exposed early to films from both of those big film industries. I worked for many years in an art house cinema in Quebec and sought out French films. One of the big perceived pluses was that there was more nudity in French films, they felt more real and natural. So nudity in films, at an extreme, could be considered "good" porn as Carrier calls it, which "values" females...

But in growing up and becoming an adult, travelling, and working abroad with males and females from several different countries, I came to notice a trend. Females in France are some of the least emancipated females around (in Western civilisation). In French films, not only is there lots of nudity (much more female than male), there's also a huge amount of male-on-female "run of the mill" violence, massive face slaps, being shoved/thrown against walls and furniture.

And as the years roll on, I no longer appreciate French films the way I used to, just too much sexism for me. The regular female-male relationship in France is extremely sexist, and I know too many French females who are altogether against any feminism at all. Sure there are a couple of superstars (just like in porn). So what my youthful sex craving eyes longed for in film, turns out is associated with a sexist society. In the TEDx video suggestion, she speaks of body-monitoring... for French and Italian females, body-monitoring goes beyond the numbers stated in the video, it is a full-time job.

French nudity in films does not represent openness, it represents sexism. Now if just misuse of nudity can accomplishe that (and I'm a nudist-naturist), imagine the negating power of porn/prostitution on the male psyche. Young males today become regular consumers of porn several years before they become sexually active with real humans, porn has been their teacher, instead of parents/teachers. Parents and teachers are sooooooo behind the times in teaching sexual education it's ridiculous. In a pre-internet world the consequences were limited, in a post internet world, the consequences are massive.

It's a scary world, and I've noticed a trend towards more young men developing the same body issues that until recently only affected women.  We as a culture are seeing more men develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and to have a much worse body image of themselves than prior to the popularity of the internet.

I am uncertain how this same environment has affected the female mind.  Are women more likely than 20 years ago to care about men solely for his physical attributes due to this same internet exposure?

Human sexuality has taught me that young men typically found the body more appealing than the face in a partner, but this trend would change as the males got older; and men would be more likely to choose a romantic partner based on how cute their face was.  For women, face was always the more important factor when considering a partner, but I am uncertain if this will always be true.  Will the next generation of girls think that muscles matter more?  Or does it only seem this way because of the disproportionate amount of time the media focuses on youth culture compared to adults?

Indeed the challenge is recognising that the cravings we experience as youth do not always pay off in life. But the "consequences" are so far down the road, that's it's nearly impossible to instil this value in a youth.

I started to have sexual desires somewhere between 8 and 10. Throughout all of my pre-adult years, I maybe had access to 7-8 porn literature, and a couple of blue films on TV. Porn was extremely rare. Had there been internet around I would be a completely different person, because statistically, youth, even pre-pubescent youth, are now accessing porn daily on the internet. And now we see very public suicides, youth who simply are not old/mature enough to bear the weight of all the planet's eyes on them. It is a very heavy weight to lead a public life, many celebrities fail at it, even with all their money and councillors and coaches. I don't know how we expect regular youth to deal with the weight of the world's eyes.

I rather took for granted that we were talking about pornography whose production did not involve its participants' being forced to do it by anything other than economic forces, which compel us to be grocery clerks without anybody's seeming to care about grocery clerks' defining themselves by their ability to stuff groceries into a plastic bag. (Even if one objected to all demeaning work, anyone who wanted to be a grocery clerk should still be allowed to be, and anyone who wanted to be a porn star should still be allowed to be. I suspect not all that many would choose either in the absence of economic compulsion--and that more would choose to be porn stars than grocery clerks.)

Of course ordinary sex (i.e., not taking place as part of the making of pornography) should be pleasurable for both partners.

If the making of some pornography does in fact involve harm to women (or men), we should object to it in just the same way in which we should object to any enterprise involving harm to women (or men). But we should not condemn pornography in and of itself unless we have some objection to it that applies to all pornography and not merely to the portion of it made in ways harmful to women (or men).

The notion that reproduction is harmful to women because it somehow perpetuates women's subservient role in a male-dominated society is laughable. Women in matriarchal societies have children, too. The notion that sex is inherently harmful to women is also laughable. What we want is a society in which everyone's rights are respected. Blacks are people. Women are people. Homosexuals are people. Being a person should be enough to guarantee that your rights are respected and that you are cared about as a person--whether you are an astronaut or a porn star. That human rights are not consistently respected by everyone is indeed tragic, and we need to educate both children and adults in civil behavior and in its basis in everyone's having thoughts and feelings that matter to him. But we shouldn't use the inconsistent respecting of human rights as reason to condemn sex, sexuality, or pornography.

That's a whole lot of "shoulds" but it's short on reality. The fact is being a cashier bears no resemblance in the least to selling your body. If it were the case, then people on government subsidies would need to be told that sex work is "normal" and they'd therefore be forced to accept such work. Sex work will never be "normal" work.

As for baby popping frequency, patriarchy increased fertility... through reduced seasonal and lactational amenorrhea with agriculture and through binding females to reproductive functions. Never have Homo sapiens females been so fertile as in the 20th century.

As females, fighting against patriarchy is a challenge, a challenge that is in dire need of new strategies, in order to stifle the unhindered level of male-on-female violence. We need to hit patriarchy/capitalism (with religion are inseparable) where it hurts, in its propensity to create cheap labour. As long as we females keep poppin'em out, patriarchy/capitalism has the cheap labour required to perpetuate itself.

There's more than sexual objectification in relationships, but in Ruth's discussion A/N folk might have satisfied their need to comment (or judge) in February.

After reading all the posts I decided that Keith's early post introduced some reasoned calm into the discussion. I need that calm for what I want to add to the discussion and will use Keith's third point as a springboard.

"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 read the above as supporting a conclusion that even people in committed relationships sometimes treat each other as sex objects.

In place of "man and wife" I would have written "husband and wife" but I will leave this point alone.

I have a larger point to make: that in a relationship such as that one, one partner sometimes treats the other as a provider object, and as a companion, as an intimate, and so on.

Provider object? Yes. What say you?

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