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Objectification is a notion central to feminist theory. In this entry, the focus is primarily on sexual objectification, objectification occurring in the sexual realm. Martha Nussbaum , has identified seven features that are involved in the idea of treating a person as an object:. The majority of the thinkers discussing objectification have taken it to be a morally problematic phenomenon. This is particularly the case in feminist discussions of pornography.

Moreover, feminists like Sandra Bartky and Susan Bordo have argued that women are objectified through being excessively preoccupied with their appearance. Important recent work by feminists has also been devoted to exploring the connection between objectivity and objectification. More recently, some thinkers, such as Martha Nussbaum, have challenged the idea that objectification is a necessarily negative phenomenon, arguing for the possibility of positive objectification. While treating a person as an object in one or more of the ways mentioned above is often problematic, Nussbaum argues that objectification can in some contexts take benign or even positive forms, and can constitute a valuable and enjoyable part of our lives.

Such an attempt, she argues, will only distort the phenomenon in question Kant thought that sexuality is extremely problematic when exercised outside the context of monogamous marriage, arguing that in such instances it le to objectification. Objectification, for Kant, involves the lowering of a person, a being with humanity, to the status of an object. A being with humanity is capable of deciding what is valuable, and of finding ways to realise and promote this value.

Humanity is what is special about human beings. It distinguishes them from animals and inanimate objects. It is crucial, for Kant, that each person respects humanity in others, as well as humanity in their own person. Humanity must never be treated merely as a means, but always at the same time as an end Kant , Kant is worried that when people exercise their sexuality outside the context of monogamous marriage, they treat humanity merely as a means for their sexual purposes. The loved person loses what is special to her as a human being, her humanity, and is reduced to a thing, a mere sexual instrument.

The idea that within sexual relationships people are reduced to objects, that they lose their rational nature, is an extreme one. Halwani rightly points out that this reduction to the status of an object rarely happens in sexual objectification. Therefore, even though the view that humanity is completely destroyed when people exercise their sexuality is an unappealing one, it is not unreasonable to think that, in some cases, sexual desire and exercise of sexuality can undermine our rationality.

Kant thought that in theory both men and women can be objectified, but he was well aware that in practice women are the most common victims of objectification. A person, Kant holds, cannot allow others to use her body sexually in exchange for money without losing her humanity and becoming an object.

He is not entitled to sell a limb, not even one of his teeth. Kant blames the prostitute for her objectification. The other relationship in which objectification is, for Kant, clearly present is concubinage. According to Kant, concubinage is the non-commodified sexual relationship between a man and more than one woman the concubines.

Kant takes concubinage to be a purely sexual relationship in which all parties aim at the satisfaction of their sexual desires Kant Lectures on Ethics , The inequality that is involved in this relationship makes it problematic. Since body and self are for Kant inseparable and together they constitute the person, in surrendering her body her sex exclusively to her male partner, the woman surrenders her whole person to the man, allowing him to possess it.

The man, by contrast, who has more than one sexual partner, does not exclusively surrender himself to the woman, and so he does not allow her to possess his person. The only relationship in which two people can exercise their sexuality without the fear of reducing themselves to objects is monogamous marriage.

The spouses exclusively surrender their persons to one another, so neither of them is in danger of losing his or her person and becoming an object. Like Kant, anti-pornography feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin take inequality to be tightly linked to objectification. In the eyes of both these feminists and Kant, there is the powerful objectifier on the one hand, and on the other hand there exists his powerless victim.

Due to their unequal power, the former objectifies the latter. Kant is concerned with inequality taking place within polygamous relationships. MacKinnon and Dworkin, on the other hand, believe that inequality is a much more widespread and pervasive phenomenon. It covers all aspects of our society.

MacKinnon and Dworkin emphasise that we live in a world of gender inequality. Gender, being a man or a woman, is socially constructed, whereas sex, being male or female, is biologically defined. Within our patriarchal societies, men and women have clearly defined roles: women all women, women as a group are objectified, whereas men all men, men as a group are their objectifiers MacKinnon , 6, 32—45, 50; MacKinnon a, —4, , —40; Haslanger , 98— For more on sex and gender, see also the entries feminist perspectives on sex and gender and feminist perspectives on power.

Even though MacKinnon does acknowledge that a female sex individual can be an objectifier and a male sex individual can be objectified, she takes it that the former is a man and the latter is a woman, since in her view a man gender is by definition the objectifier and a woman gender is by definition the objectified. For both of them, as for Kant, objectification involves treating a person, someone with humanity, as an object of merely instrumental worth, and consequently reducing this person to the status of an object for use. When objectification occurs, a person is depersonalised, so that no individuality or integrity is available socially or in what is an extremely circumscribed privacy.

In this way, her humanity is harmed by being diminished. MacKinnon too describes objectification in similar terms. Insofar as an individual has only instrumental value, she is clearly not regarded as an end in herself. For instance, these feminists claim that women in the pornographic industry consent to be used as objects simply out of lack of options available to them within our patriarchal society.

This does not only hold for women in pornography. They hold that women are not truly blameworthy for their reduction to things of merely instrumental value. It is men who want, and also, Dworkin claims, need to use women as objects, and demand them to be object-like Dworkin , —3. Kant compares the objectified individual to a lemon, used and discarded afterwards, and elsewhere to a steak consumed by people for the satisfaction of their hunger Kant Lectures on Ethics , and In a similar manner, MacKinnon blames pornography for teaching its consumers that women exist to be used by men.

A woman, according to MacKinnon, becomes comparable to a cup a thing , and as such she is valued only for how she looks and how she can be used MacKinnon , Kant took exercise of sexuality to be inherently problematic. For Dworkin and MacKinnon, on the other hand, what is problematic is not sexuality per se, but rather sexuality as constructed through pornography. MacKinnon fears that use can easily be followed by violence and abuse. Since women are things as opposed to human beings , it seems to men that there is nothing problematic with abusing them. The object status of women, then, is the cause of men seeing nothing problematic with violent behaviour towards women.

Men … create scenes in which women desperately want to be bound, battered, tortured, humiliated, and killed. Or merely taken and used. Pornography, then, teaches its consumers that, not only is it permissible to treat women in these ways, but also that women themselves enjoy being used, violated and abused by men. The idea that pornography causes men to treat women as objects to be used and abused has been defended by a of feminists. Alison Assiter argues that what is wrong with pornography is that it reinforces desires on the part of men to treat women as objects as mere means to achieve their purposes Assiter , This is admittedly a puzzling claim, but one which I will not delve into further here.

Detailed defenses of the claim have been offered by Melinda Vadas Vadas and Rae Langton Langton , and a criticism has been put forward by Jennifer Saul Saul Kant thought that the solution to sexual objectification is marriage.

This is because he conceived this relationship as one of perfect equality and reciprocity between the spouses. Each of them surrenders his or her person to the other and receives the person of the other in return. This way, Kant believed, neither of them is objectified by losing his or her person. For a detailed discussion of Kantian marriage see Herman and Papadaki b. Marriage, or any other heterosexual relationship for that matter, is clearly not regarded as an exception by them. They take it that pornography has power and authority over its audience men and boys. This view is also defended by Langton, who argues that it does not matter that the speech of pornographers is not generally held in high esteem.

What matters, rather, is that men and boys learn about sex primarily through pornography. Deborah Cameron and Elizabeth Frazer question the idea that men are conditioned to behave in certain ways as a consequence of pornography consumption. Rather, they enjoy pornography, which includes the subordination of women, because they already find this subordination arousing. Thus, pornography does not make anything sexy but it deals with what its consumers already find sexy Altman and Watson, 68—9.

Sexual objectification is, according to Nussbaum, often caused by social inequality, but there is no reason to believe that pornography is the core of such inequality Nussbaum , , Dworkin , For further discussions about pornography, see also the entries on feminist perspectives on sex markets and on pornography and censorship.

It has been pointed out by some feminist thinkers that women in our society are more identified and associated with their bodies than are men, and, to a greater extent than men, they are valued for how they look Bartky ; Bordo , Some feminists have argued that, in being preoccupied with their looks, women treat themselves as things to be decorated and gazed upon. Under capitalism, however, workers are alienated from the products of their labour, and consequently their person is fragmented Bartky , —9.

Bartky believes that through this fragmentation a woman is objectified, since her body is separated from her person and is thought as representing the woman Bartky , Bartky explains that, typically, objectification involves two persons, one who objectifies and one who is objectified. This is also the idea of objectification put forward by Kant as well as by MacKinnon and Dworkin.

However, as Bartky points out, objectifier and objectified can be one and the same person. Women in patriarchal societies feel constantly watched by men, much like the prisoners of the Panopticon model prison proposed by Bentham , and they feel the need to look sensually pleasing to men Bartky , This le women to objectify their own persons.

In being infatuated with their bodily beings, Bartky argues that women learn to see and treat themselves as objects to be gazed at and decorated, they learn to see themselves as though from the outside. As Nancy Bauer holds, drawing on Beauvoir, women will always have reasons to succumb to the temptation of objectifying themselves. Bauer mentions the widespread recent phenomenon of female college students who claim that they gain pleasure in performing unilateral oral sex on male students.

Bartky talks about the disciplinary practices that produce a feminine body and are the practices through which women learn to see themselves as objects. First of all, according to her, there are those practices that aim to produce a body of a certain size and shape: women must conform to the body ideal of their time i. Susan Bordo also emphasises the fact that women are more obsessed with dieting than are men. This is linked to serious diseases such as anorexia and bulimia.

Ninety percent of all anorexics, Bordo points out, are women Bordo , , Furthermore, a large of women have plastic surgery, most commonly liposuction and breast enlargement, in order to make their bodies conform to what is considered to be the ideal body. Women, she holds, are more restricted than men in the way they move, and they try to take up very little space as opposed to men, who tend to expand to the space available. The message that women should look more feminine is everywhere: it is reinforced by parents, teachers, male partners, and it is expressed in various ways throughout the media.

She claims that there is nothing inherently degrading or objectifying about women trying to be sensually pleasing Richards , — She also points to the fact that men in our society engage in self-decoration and seek to be admired by women Walter , 86— Bordo herself acknowledges the fact that men have increasingly started to spend more time, money and effort on their appearance Bordo Men feel the need to make their looks conform to the prevailing ideals of masculinity. MacKinnon introduces the idea that there are important connections between objectivity and objectification.

Objectivity is the epistemological stance of which objectification is the social process, of which male dominance is the politics, the acted out social practice. Her claim has become the focus of recent feminist investigation. An object cannot exist without those properties that constitute its nature. This is because natures are responsible for the regular behaviour of things under normal circumstances. For example, I observe that my ferns die if deprived of water.

I therefore come to believe that the nature of ferns is such that they cannot survive without water. I adjust my decision-making in accordance with this observed regularity, and so water my ferns to prevent them from dying. The above procedure, however, can be problematic. This becomes obvious when moving to the social world. This means that one might be led to the belief that women are by their nature submissive and object-like.

However, the belief that women are naturally submissive and object-like is false, since women have been made to be like that. In structuring our world in such a way as to accommodate this allegedly natural fact about women, we sustain the existing situation of gender inequality.

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