Is the Objectification of Women a Problem?


Written by: Oliver Lay

The idea that women are constantly sexually objectified by men is a key component in the radical feminist narrative. This being the case, I believe that the implications of it should be readily scrutinized.

It is generally deplored (mainly because it is seen as degrading) and sometimes proposed as a motive for the west’s so called ‘Rape Culture’. I do not believe that sexual objectification is categorically bad or morally objectionable. Furthermore, many narratives reveal some amount of hypocrisy of their promulgators. This is to say that many narratives demonize objectification of women in society while having nothing to say about the objectification of men. I am not arguing that sexual objectification does not have negative effects, just that one cannot infer from this that sexual objectification is necessarily immoral.

The general definition of sexual objectification is: when a person sees another person as only a tool for their sexual pleasure, disregarding their personhood as a whole. The former person, in the radical feminist narrative, is most often a man and the latter person is most often a woman.

Male modelMy initial question about this issue is this: when is it appropriate to view a woman as purely an object of sexual desire? I do not believe that men see a woman’s intelligence or personality when having sex. Are one night stands and casual sex disallowed because one is not allowed to sexually objectify women? When are sexual advances by men wanted and when are they not wanted?

Jessica RabbitMen do sexually objectify women. It is a fact! If we did not, we would never approach a woman with the intention of having sex. A man does not approach a woman in a bar to ascertain whether they could form a deep emotional attachment or to appreciate her personality or intellect. He approaches her because he finds her visually pleasing or sexually attractive. Romantic attachment and appreciation of the woman’s other aspects follows from this initial sexual objectification. This being the case, sexual objectification can be seen as a natural way humans find sexual partners. It follows from this that sexual objectification is not inherently wrong.

One may think that continued sexual objectification may be wrong (the man in the relationship does not form an emotional attachment to the woman and just sees her as an object for his sexual pleasure). Barring some factors forcing a woman to stay in a relationship, if a woman who does not appreciate being sexually objectified stays, it is her own fault for staying in that relationship. If one does not like a characteristic of a particular man, leave that man.

I would further testify that the objectification of women is not a cause of rape. Sure, many rapists objectify women but so do many men who do not rape. Men who rape are monsters, immoral beings that do not care about the feelings of the women they are raping. This would indicate that objectification, without other contributing factors, does not cause men to rape. The same principles could be seen to apply to men who sexually harass women.

He-ManWomen do objectify men! This is a fact that seems to be brushed over in many a narrative. While the busty, thin female model figure is seen in beauty pageants and fashion shows, the preferred male body type is pretty homogeneous as well. Was one to go to a male fashion show or an eligible bachelor competition, one sees only muscular, chiselled features on display. The same applies to advertising. Does one see men complaining that this creates an unrealistic standard of male beauty? They do not! Is this simply a flaw in the way some women are reacting to being sexually objectified? Perhaps families should encourage young girls to not base their identities on the airbrushed portrayals of women they see in media, not lobby to ban these portrayals outright.

Recently, we saw an effort by the Advertising Standards Authority of Britain to investigate the possibility of banning advertisements that promoted ‘unrealistic’ bodily norms for women (again, not men for some reason). This is an act that would limit the scope of advertising within society. Most advertisements display scenarios that appeal to the viewer at some level (e.g. the sports car driving through exotic locations). Were the advertisement unappealing or undesirable, the viewer would associate that undesirableness with the product at a subliminal level. Were this the case, very few consumers would be incentivized to buy the product or service. As such, banning desirable body types in advertisements is tantamount to limiting the value of these advertisements, both to the producer and to the consumer. Should we let the subjective feelings of a certain group censure a medium that does not encourage violence? I do not think so!

Perhaps this is a case of a vocal minority making a mountain out of a molehill. As the majority of women seem to be happy to embrace their sexuality, perhaps it is just an insignificant few that wants to censure something that no one else finds wrong.

Author: Oliver Lay is a politics, philosophy, and economics student at the University of Cape Town.