Lads Mags and Porn: A defence of Objectification

Joe Markham June 12, 2013 15

To the person now reading this: I sincerely hope you’re a very angry feminist looking to gloss over this article you’ve seen appear on your news feed before launching into a self-righteous attack in the comments section, because it’s you I want to speak to directly. Not because I want to bait you, not because I disagree with your overall goal, not because I dislike feminism in any way (quite the opposite) but because there is something that needs saying:

Objectification is a good thing.

The reason objectification is good is because to view certain aspects of a person as enjoyable is part of day to day life, and it is something that causes no harm in and of itself. Objectification, particularly in advertising, pornography, or modelling, is something that is consented to by both sides willingly and is something that creates a great deal of pleasure.

Look at the examples: We objectify people all the time, whether it’s for their sporting talent, their musical ability, or their appearance. When you go to a gig, you don’t care about the innermost feelings of the drummer, you care if they can play the drums well. When watching a football match, you don’t care about Wayne Rooney’s views on the Middle East, you care solely about his ability to kick a ball in the right direction, and, finally, when you see a model in a magazine, you care only about their appearance. (Bet you all pictured a man when I said drummer and a woman when I said model didn’t you? Some implicit bias going on there that you’ll want to correct!)

 

The problem that people so often confuse as a problem inherent in objectification is when objectification becomes the only way you view or judge somebody. By which I mean that the aspect of them that you find appealing, perhaps even that they are deliberately marketing, is the only aspect you perceive to exist about them. So it is ok to objectify Wayne Rooney’s football talent, providing that you are aware that he also has thoughts and feelings and opinions and he is not defined solely by his footballing ability; likewise with the drummer and the model.

The problems that are perceived to derive from, for instance, pornography or ‘lads mags’ are that they create a culture in which women are only considered for their appearance. In these contexts, it is true. That is exactly what’s happening. But like the football player or the drummer, it’s not a problem as long as you retain the underlying reasoning that there is more to this person than this, that they deserve full respect, but that I am currently only interested in this particular aspect of them that is being marketed to me.

We automatically know to disregard the fact that objectifying a footballer or musician for a period of time has no long-term negative effects on footballers or musicians. They’re seen as normal people who happen to promote a certain thing about them.

So when it comes to appearance, and in particular women marketing their appearance, is it legitimate to say that objectification does negatively impact women uniquely? The answer is probably yes. However, the objectification problems are only a symptom of bad underlying assumptions. Marketing women as being sexually appealing in order to sell something is no more inherently problematic than a male model doing the same, or marketing a drummer or a footballer, the problem comes when you factor in the underlying view that some people have, namely that women are only good for one thing, to be sexually appealing to men.

So, is it reasonable to look to condemn something that is only tarnished because of the ignorant views of a percentage of consumers? No. We wouldn’t ban rock music because it fractionally increased depression or aggression amongst a few people listening to it, because we know that there are wider reasons for that and even if the music fed into it to an extent, it is not the fault of the music inherently, and the music is not just ‘not at fault’, it’s an active good to be celebrated. What needs combating would be the underlying problems.

And so what’s required is to continue the effort to change people’s perception. To make sure they treat objectification of appearance the same as they would treat any other form of objectification. That the promoting of that aspect of the person is to be enjoyed, even celebrated, but that with it comes the responsibility to think, to remember that there is more to the person than this aspect and to respect the person involved. A man seeing his girlfriend naked during sex would not lose respect for her – or for women in general – even though for the period of time they are having sex he is focused primarily on her physical appearance. This can be the same with modelling or ‘lad’s mags’ or pornography, and indeed it should be.

All in all we need to tell the sexists clearly to stop ruining objectification for the rest of us.

Reddit this article ↓

twitter