Lads Mags and Porn: A defence of Objectification

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.

15 COMMENTS

  1. We all onjectify each other the day long. Porn does not differ from other areas of life. But of course it should be mutually and not unidirectional, so that both parts gain.

  2. Don’t like a ‘lads mag’ don’t buy one. Don’t like porn, don’t watch it. Don’t believe you have the right for even one second to impose your morals on my life or dare have the audacity to put restrictions on what I can do with my body as a consenting adult.

  3. Fails to address that in the real world objectification oppresses people because it tends to exclude women over 40, women with body shapes that aren’t hailed to be the “ideal”, women who don’t dress in a popular way. I don’t think objectification should be banned in any way obviously, but just because I don’t want something banned doesn’t mean it’s a positive thing. Like I don’t think porn is a positive thing socially but that’s no reason for it to be banned.

  4. @0439a7a9b2fb073185640b68565873b6:disqus And those simplistic and naive points are? And the the way the article puts the argument forward is flawed how exactly?

  5. There is nothing wrong with a model, (male or female) willingly posing for the camera for the enjoyment of the consumer who is willing to part with their money for the pleasure.

  6. I wasn’t a very angry feminist looking to gloss over this article before launching into a self-righteous attack in the comments section when I started reading, but I think I might be, now. I think there’s an argument to be made here, but the way it’s put forward in this article is very flawed. There’s some very simplistic and naive points being made here.

  7. I’ve always understood it slightly different in that to objectify is to treat solely as an object – Our physical presence.
    But I see it the same – We are all physical beings and most of us would include that as part of who we are and at times we might seek to flaunt that part over other attributes.
    There is a problem if people think that is your sole purpose, I think having lived in a metropolitan city for a long while now it seems alien that anyone could think like that…. but then we get people like M.C. in the comments below who show that this attitude of categorisation still exists in places – I suspect it always will

  8. Individual pictures of women presented in a way that’s appealing to men are fine. The problem is the trend, whereby all images of women are presented in a way that’s appealing to men. In that context, each new image that follows the trend is part of the problem. If you saw an insect you’d never seen before, you’d just go “Oh look that at insect”, if you saw a wasp at a picnic you’d say “Oh great, not again”. Context matters.

    I’m not saying such material should be banned, that’s not going to help, I’m saying people should be aware of it, why it’s being done, and the producers and consumers of the content should consider their motivations and what other possibilities they’re missing.

    Sexual marketing techniques in their current form are only new because the technology’s new, not the concepts.

    (On a side note, given the debate, the ‘backbencher’ icon’s pretty hilarious..)

  9. M.C, so you don’t think models put effort into their appearance? You don’t think pornstars put effort into their producing of films in the same way a musician would when performing a song?

  10. Emily, there is no difference between the drummer and the model in practice. It is possible in both instances to only ever view them for one aspect, it is also likely that in both cases, the vast majority of people appreciate that they’re fully rounded people rather than just the equivalent of dancing monkeys for their entertainment. The difference in principle comes only from historical views of women.

    The idea is that a male drummer is seen as a normal person with views and beliefs and whatever else who happens to play the drums well and that’s why they’re of particular interest to you. A female model is seen as doing what women are for, i.e be sexually appealing to men. The problem is, almost nobody actually thinks this is the case. Not really.

    Even if we assume lots of men do think it’s the case though, the problem would not be the pictures of her, it would be the thoughts of the sexist men. The pictures are consensual, are portraying a beautiful woman and give pleasure to people. They’re to be celebrated as a good thing, like music. The problem is the beliefs of the sexist men, so we need to condemn these men and make them change their opinions.

    Attacking the material produced by the women is not only an assault on freedoms and the choice of the woman and of the people viewing it, but it’s also completely irrelevant to solving the problem. Viewing women as being only useful for male gratification goes back through all history, whereas sexual marketing techniques are very new.

    The actual act of objectifying somebody, i.e viewing them as a commodity for enjoyment, is done all the time and is great, it’s only bad when a few stupid, sexist men let it affect their wider view of women.

    • There is something about your argument that I just don’t agree with. Appreciating talent is not the same as viewing them as a commodity. But let’s just say that you’re right: How is society going to get rid of the sexism that is so evidently prominent within the type of men who read page 3? I would say the only way is by removing page 3. In your world where people could paradoxically objectify and un-objectify women, then great! Modelling is the liberating, confidence-boosting occupation it should be. But until then, the ‘lad mag’ culture will continue to create men who associate objectified women with vulnerability, manipulability and worthlessness. It’s a different, degrading type of association in opposition to that with the appreciation of a ‘drummer’.

      Well done in standing up in the belief that not all men are sexist, but right now the sexist culture is being enhanced by objectification.

      • We simply cannot expect the poor brutish working class man to be able to only temporarily lust after the women in ladsmags and therefore we must protect him from himself and protect us from his urges by banning his access to such material….

  11. Footballers and musicians put in effort to cultivate their talents; objects (and non-humans) can’t. Objects can look good, however, like cars (often next to women in lads’ mags). As for male modelling: men haven’t historically been reduced to child-rearing machines in the way that women have (abortion law, 1967; marital rape, 1991).

  12. “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.”

    So…it’s okay to objectify someone as long as you don’t objectify them? I think you mean to say it’s okay to appreciate someone solely for one aspect of them, in the short or long term, as long as you are fully aware that they are a human being just like you and treat them as such. The former’s fine in theory, the latter is what stops it being objectification.

    Problem is that it’s harder to do that in some areas than others, notably with women and their bodies, for various long-held social reasons. And it has a greater negative impact to appreciate one half of the population for their potential sexiness alone, than to appreciate all drummers solely for their drumming prowess.

    Which is why it does matter if all images of women are presented to be sexually appealing to men, because there’s a cyclical relationship between those images and the “underlying view” that people have – they affect each other. Ideally we could have magazines covered with semi-naked pouting women without having to worry about any of this, however we’re not quite there yet.

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