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On Sexual Objectification

After the death of Hugh Hefner there were many articles published that highlighted the positive impact he had on American culture by destigmatizing sex. However; several feminist wrote articles vehemently attacked him for objectifying women. Of course a good many so-called Christian's attacked him simply for the fact he made nudity less taboo, but that is not my thought for today. I ask, are nude photos objectifying women? I first looked at the issue of objectification of women when I spent a number of years (over twenty years ago) working full-time in a facility for sex offenders. In my training and practice I first heard the concept of objectification. The psycho-pathology that leads to rape and child molestation often includes the idea that anything that the offender wants is his, simply because he wants it. If he sees someone wearing shoes he wants, he believes he has a right to take them, and, if the victim resists, that person is “stealing” them from the offender. Therefore, to the offender, violence is justified as the offender sees himself as the victim and the person who resists as a thief. The rapist sees people (other than himself) as things, with no more intrinsic rights than the shoes. Thus the term objectification is used to describe the process of making a person into a thing. The use of the word in sociology is slightly different than in psychology. In most cases the term objectification in sociology is rooted in critical theory and the Marxist concept of group oppression. Objectifying a female in this usage is to reduce her humanity to an object of sexual desire for men. The corollary is the Male Gaze in which feminist critical theory holds that men see women as passive objects of their sexual desires thus reducing woman to the status of something being under male control. In this view women are inherently an oppressed class and men are inherently oppressors. This view is part and parcel with the related critical feminist ideas that sexual intercourse itself is an act of violence, and thus all sex positive media is part of a conspiracy to enslave women. One day I will write a full critique of critical feminist theory, not today as it would be long and probably dry. Today I’ll address the assertion made to Hugh Hefner by Susan Brownmiller in the biography that says Playboy magazine enslaves women. This is important in that by extension she is accusing everyone who reads Playboy and without a doubt, everyone who comes to this blog is an enslaver of women. Let me give a few quotes from Brownmiller’s web page to help set the stage: “ F rom prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” “Femininity, in essence, is a romantic sentiment, a nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations.” “Femininity pleases men because it makes them appear more masculine by contrast; and, in truth, conferring an extra portion of unearned gender distinction on men, an unchallenged space in which to breathe freely and feel stronger, wiser, more competent, is femininity's special gift. One could say that masculinity is often an effort to please women, but masculinity is known to please by displays of mastery and competence while femininity pleases by suggesting that these concerns, except in small matters, are beyond its intent. Whimsy, unpredictability and patterns of thinking and behavior that are dominated by emotion, such as tearful expressions of sentiment and fear, are thought to be feminine precisely because they lie outside the established route to success.” “To buy a paper at the corner newsstand is to subject oneself to a forcible immersion in pornography, to be demeaned by an array of dehumanized, chopped up parts of the female anatomy, packaged like cuts of meat at the supermarket.” As you can see, the Critical Feminist attack comes from a position that has some core beliefs. · All men are complicit in raping women. · The female pursuit of attractiveness and feminine behavior in general infers female inferiority. · All men want women to be inferior. · Sexually oriented photos of females are inherently violent and dehumanizing. These assertions are a matter of core beliefs and as such are not open to reason or evidence, much like religious beliefs. Thus defenders of Mr. Hefner cannot defend him or themselves with weight of logic or evidence. The simple act of denial is taken by some critical feminist as evidence of guilt, so be careful in how you phrase a defense of even the most innocuous of nude photos or even paintings that include women. What can be done is to assert a different set of core beliefs as a reasonable counterweight to this kind of unreasonable attack. The entire reason I spend time on this blog is to make an inviting platform for continuing my career as an social educator. I'm not sure if I've spelled it out clearly in this version of my blog, but in my own way this blog is designed to mirror what Playboy magazine did during the sixties and seventies. I, just like Playboy of that era, have a mix of humor, thoughtfulness and sexuality; but in the end the written content is the heart of this blog, just like it was during Playboy's heyday. In my youth I read many entries in Hefner’s “The Playboy Philosophy” series and it was very influential for me and my generation. Now, as then, sexuality is part of a larger view of how we treat one another. In my case, the cornerstone of both public and private behavior are the teachings of Jesus. Because my sex-positive position is founded on religious belief, it is a priori, or a belief that is so foundation that it needs no further defense. And, for many sex-negatives, their belief that human sexuality is inherently evil is also an a priori belief so that no amount of arguing will change them. However, I believe that most people who act in a sex-negative manner are persuadable because they have no a priori beliefs one way or another. To me it is a Christian duty to counter the idea that sex is evil, and that depictions of nudity and sexuality are inherently positive unless they actively promote the mistreatment of women. One does not counter the type of sex-negative philosophy espoused by people like Brownmiller by statements of what you don’t believe, but by making clear what you do believe and why. Not just in words but in how you live out your life. In the case of Mr. Hefner, his lifelong commitment to civil rights and women’s rights speaks to itself via the totality of his career and the reach of the tolerance message of his magazine. Not a one of his feminist critics can claim to have come close to having the positive impact on personal freedom that he had had over his lifetime. The fact that is daughter was the President of the Playboy company for nearly twenty years should silence any reasonable critic. However, it is not the reasonable people who are attacking him, it is religious zealots from both the right and left who are pissing on his grave. You too will have the same unholy alliance of left and right attack you if you pursue a sex-positive approach. So, I come back to the question: Does presenting and viewing images of women as sexual beings inherently mean the image’s creator and viewers are objectifying that person, i.e. dehumanizing the woman into an object? As both the writer of this blog and a former professional glamour/nude photographer I emphatically say no. Those who answered yes do so not on the evidence but on their underlying beliefs about sexuality. They start with the assumption that human sexuality is inherently evil and their claim it is anti-woman is simply a rationalization for their prior beliefs. It is significant that other uses of human traits or physicality are not so demonized. Does anyone suggest that Michael Jorden was being objectified when people photographed him demonstrating his great physical prowess and beauty by playing basketball? I’ve never heard that athletes are being objectified when they use their bodies to entertain millions via their physicality. There is no question that athletic competition is sexually charged with the assumption being the greatest athlete is the most sexually desirable. Yet, the charge of objectification is never made. Why? Because the charge is premised on sex-negative assumptions, not on the actual act of treating someone as an inanimate object. The charge is that to present a sexually provocative image of a woman is to place that woman as subordinate to men. If that charge is justified I could just as easily make the charge that viewing young physically fit young men (particularly African-American men) is subordinating physical laborers to the will of the leisure class. I could make a great case that such exhibition harkens back to both serfdom and slavery, reducing the men to chattel. In fact I could make an even better argument that the decades long process that leads to putting these young men on display in the NFL or NBA for the gratification of viewers is far more physically and emotionally detrimental to more young people than nude modeling has ever been. So I ask, is it immoral to use young fit people for the voyeuristic pleasure of the larger population? Because that is what the anti-erotica crowd would have us believe in the case of nude or erotic photography. If that is truly so, then watching football or basketball is equally immoral. But, if we say professional spectator sports are not immoral but spectator modeling is immoral, one would have to admit the issue is about the inherent nature of human sexuality, not of the act of gazing. The act of objectification should be narrowly defined as an active verb where one treats another human in a way that their humanity is disregarded. I could objectify the women that model for me, just as a football coach can objectify his players. The key fact is that objectification requires contact with a person. To expand that word to include people with whom I have no real contact is dishonest since I cannot treat an image on a computer screen as human, for it is not. I would propose that objectification is immoral; it is always wrong to treat a fellow human being as simply a thing or a means to our own end. We must always treat our fellow humans with the full respect due all people. However, we must not let that word be misused to advance a sex-negative ideology.

On Sexual Objectification

After the death of Hugh Hefner there were many articles published that highlighted the positive impact he had on American culture by...

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