Objectification: The Cause Of Slut Shaming

objectification

First published on www.cliterati.co.uk on 8/2/14.

“Objectification.” It’s a word we hear all too often. The charge of “objectification” is levelled at films, the news media, lyrics, art, and of course porn. Sometimes we intersectional or sex positive feminists might feel like it’s a catch-all term which silences those who have sex industry careers- especially since it is used to silence sex workers and take away our freedom to consume pornography. No wonder some women feel the word is overused or that objectification doesn’t exist. But the irony is that for all the rage against the sex machine, radical feminists are less vocal about the way objectification impacts on women’s basic freedoms.

objectification1

I’m talking about the freedom to be a single mother. A teenage mother. A sex worker. The freedom to have poly relationships. To be single and “older” without beng pitied or called a spinster. To openly and unashamedly consume porn. And, dependent on region or area, the freedom to be a nonvirgin.

Think about it: why are “sluts”, sex workers or even nonvirgins persecuted? Because women are seen as objects valuable only for our bodies. Valued for how “new” we are. The more partners we’ve had, the more “second-hand” and therefore worthless we become. In the USA, abstinence “education” lessons include teachers using a strip of sticky tape or a chewed up piece of gum to represent a girl getting dirty and unlovable by having sex. The teacher sticks the tape to a boy’s arm and then demonstrates how the tape won’t stick to a second or third boy’s skin. The girl is dirty- and that’s why kids girls should stay new pure. And who hasn’t heard of honour killings as a result of a girl being found not to be a virgin? Egyptian women buy fake hymens from China even if they are inexperienced, just to make sure they bleed on their wedding night. The government has criticised this enabling of immorality, but the Chinese aren’t that much better off; nonvirgins are stigmatised there too. Whether it’s Muslims in Egypt, Christians in America or atheists in China, the idea is the same: women are valued only as pieces of fresh meat.

Andrea Dworkin described how pornography reduces women to their genitals through objectification. But objectification has the power to do this without the vehicle of pornography. Why else is a piece of membrane valued more than character, brains, even beauty? Valued so much that women are murdered over their lack of it? Slut shaming and whorephobia are simply less intense versions of the ideology behind honour killing, and they also equate the whole woman with her genitals: how often she has sex, in what circumstances, with whom, her attitude towards it.

As for lone and teen mothers, they’re often stigmatised as “sluts”, which shows that the stigmas against lone and teen mothers are at least related to slut shaming even if they’re not just an extension of, or form of, slut shaming. If a woman is an object, she should be with a man, and this idea of a free, autonomous woman might be what makes some people uncomfortable. The same goes for “old maids” and “spinsters” who’ve been “left on the shelf”- bachelors are cool and desirable but the older single woman is seen as desperate for a hubby and kids. I don’t think I really have to explain how misogynists- and a lot of society- sees poly and openly kinky women: If you’re an object, you don’t get to have sexual agency or take control of your sexuality (being poly or kinky). And you certainly don’t get to objectify men by consuming pornography or using men for pleasure (casual sex or how some people see being poly).

That’s why women are assumed not to be pornography consumers- and sometimes stigmatised if they are. We are objects, things that exist to have stuff done to us. We’re not supposed to have sexual agency, to seek out pornography and want to do things, to be subjects or autonomous agents. And of course objectification, which leads to slut shaming, brands us sluts for watching porn.

We’re not real people, so if we’re queer it’s hot, it’s a male fantasy, because our sexuality isn’t “real”. We can be desirable as sex objects in revealing outfits, but also simultaneously despised because we’re “sluts” for daring to bare an inch of skin. We’re supposed to be available but if we are, we’re worth less- hence the whorephobia and slut shaming.

And that’s where whorephobia, slut shaming, and stigma against teen and lone mothers stems from. If women weren’t objectified, we couldn’t be equated with our genitals and thereby evaluated on the basis of our sexual activity. Slut shaming and whorephobia could not exist, and the stigma of lone and teen mothers would exist in a different form, if at all. The contribution of objectification to slut shaming/whorephobia, limited family choice freedoms, and limited sexual freedoms is not recognised enough by mainstream feminism. There is a disproportionate focus on pornography and the sex industry while the more immediate and daily-life effects of objectification are not recognised as a form of objectification.

Advertisements

Tagged: , , , ,

12 thoughts on “Objectification: The Cause Of Slut Shaming

  1. ryan59479 April 23, 2014 at 3:14 am Reply

    Out of complete curiosity, if a woman seeks out pornography, does she not reduce the men and women in it to genitalia as well? Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with women watching porn–people are sexual by nature, so whatever floats your boat. But if a man and a woman separately watch the same porno, is it somehow different when a woman watches it just because she’s female? It seems that the nature of pornography in and of itself is to reduce everything to objects–whether we’re talking about a penis or a vagina. There seems to be conflicting messages here, unless the argument is that somehow pornography only objectifies female genitalia, but not male genitalia, which I would argue is wholly untrue. In a lot of a pornography, you can’t even see the face of the man–he’s literally reduced to just a penis. Seems like a good way to take away someone’s identity and replace it with objectification.

  2. linnetmoss April 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm Reply

    Yes, I see a logical conflict here. If reduction of a woman (or man) to genitals is bad, then it’s bad in both slut-shaming and in porn. I see a distinction in that slut-shaming is conducted from a position of supposed moral superiority, whereas porn is not.
    As to consuming porn, I don’t think the problem is threats to our freedom to do that. Porn is more widely available than ever before in the history of the world. To me the problem is that the vast majority of porn caters to men’s preferences.

    • ryan59479 April 26, 2014 at 4:43 pm Reply

      Well, I will definitely agree that pornography caters more to the tastes of men, and that the female market is woefully underrepresented or served.

      As for the idea of moral superiority in relation to slut shaming, I agree that this is the basis for the action of shaming in general. However, where I have a problem is that I personally see morality as an entirely subjective thing. Therefore, in my view, the shamers and the shamed are both simultaneously superior and inferior. Neither side has a moral high ground, unless we’re going to assert that one side is more moral or correct than the others and then force that morality on everyone else. Thus both sides of the argument quickly lose steam for me. Instead of trying to label any subjective beliefs or values as “right” or “wrong” people should be taught to internalize their belief systems and realize that other people and the choices they make have no bearing on that system.

      • linnetmoss April 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm

        Sorry, but I can’t agree with a position of total moral relativism. Are there no actions at all that you would categorically identify as “wrong” always and everywhere? It is true that moral thought can evolve over time. For example, the vast majority of people in antiquity did not see anything wrong with slavery (though a very few did object to it). But that does not mean that a position in favor of slavery was as good as one against it. All it means is that they had not yet developed a more inclusive concept of human rights, a position that is, in my opinion, morally superior.

        Again, your absolute position implies that if someone thinks it’s just fine to molest his daughter, who are we to disagree with him? Because his subjective opinion is every bit as valid as ours.

        People often mistakenly believe that they are acting from a morally superior position. It is especially a problem when one’s morality is derived from religious or other authorities, rather than the product of reason. I believe we can arrive at a reasoned distinction between good and bad actions, which is why philosophy is still an important and even crucial discipline of human thought.

      • ryan59479 April 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm

        What society defines as taboo and what is illegal often have nothing to do with morality. But that’s beside the point.

        We’re constantly surrounded by moral relativism. I’d saying killing someone is probably one of the worst things you can do to another human being. I think if asked causally, most people would say that killing is wrong. But what about someone who kills in self defense? Or to save another life? Under those circumstances, killing is permissible.

        It’s easy to point at things like slavery and molestation and claim moral absolutism. But it seems inconsistent to say to some things are morally absolute and some things are morally relative. All morals are derived the way and through the same processes. In this way, you can’t parcel certain morals into “absolute” and others into “relative.” They’re either all relative or all absolute. Personally, I think that if you can make killing another human a morally acceptably act, then that’s pretty good evidence that our morals are fluid and designed to help us survive different circumstances.

      • linnetmoss April 27, 2014 at 12:47 pm

        No, there’s a middle ground, I think. You’re throwing out the ability to say that heinous acts are wrong for the sake of achieving tolerance. I don’t think it is necessary to be a total moral relativist in order to achieve greater tolerance. It may be the case that “all morals are relative” on a cosmic scale, since I don’t agree with Plato that “Good” and “Justice” exist in a metaphysical, transcendent sense. But they don’t need to exist in that sense for us to make moral judgments. All morals are certainly not derived in the same way and through the same process. Some are based, as I said, on religious authority and function to oppress certain groups (like women). Others are based on reason and function to make society more just. Morals can and should be evaluated based on reasoned criteria, such as whether they contribute to justice or increase oppression. My point is that if you adopt a position of total relativism, you have no basis from which to argue moral positions in practice–for example, that slut shaming is wrong. Why should anyone listen, since your moral position has no more value than anyone else’s?

      • ryan59479 April 27, 2014 at 5:20 pm

        “if you adopt a position of total relativism, you have no basis from which to argue moral positions in practice–for example, that slut shaming is wrong. Why should anyone listen, since your moral position has no more value than anyone else’s? ”

        That’s my point exactly. I’m not trying to argue that slut shaming is wrong, nor am I trying to argue that it’s right, because I have no authority to tell you or anyone else what is right and what is wrong, and you’re under no obligation to accept what I say. I’m not telling you or anyone else what to believe at all in this case with regard to shaming.

        But I’d disagree with your point about religion. I’d argue that religion does not actually create morals. It’s the people within religion that create the morals; religion is simply the structure through which those morals are disseminated and maintained.

        Things would be much simpler if everything was evaluated purely off of reason and justice, but we’d just end up in the same circular argument. Who get’s the decide what exactly is just? Who gets to decide what exactly is reasonable? Saying that certain things are universal or absolute is a convenient way to justify your beliefs, but at the end of the day, if you maintain an absolute position you’re using the exact same mechanism that the church is using–you’re just using different language. But the attempt is the same: to force everyone to accept one set of values and beliefs. And quite frankly, I don’t really think any one human being or group of human beings has the right to tell any other human being what they should and shouldn’t value or believe.

      • linnetmoss April 27, 2014 at 11:34 pm

        Actually, you are indeed attempting to argue that slut shaming is wrong. Maybe not in the absolute cosmic sense, but certainly in the sense of practical interactions between human beings. The very terminology of “slut-shaming” implies a moral position with which you disagree, and you describe slut-shaming as “stigmatizing,” which is a moral judgement. You regularly take moral positions in your blog, which I applaud, especially because they are reasoned positions. I don’t think you can have it both ways, claiming that you are not taking a moral position, while objecting to moral positions with which you disagree (such as the position that viewing porn is morally wrong). There’s a huge gap between what you regularly write and the relativist position you are now adopting. If the only person you expect to agree with your views on slut-shaming is you, why have a blog at all? Why not have a private journal? Obviously you hope that others will agree with you and act on that agreement. Which is what it means to take a reasoned, moral position.

      • ryan59479 April 28, 2014 at 12:01 am

        If my argument is that there really is no right or wrong, how on earth is it possible for me to be advocating that slut shaming is wrong? But more to the point, you’ve jumped to conclusions, presupposing to know exactly what my thoughts and motivations are for doing things, which is a highly callous and presumptuous act.

        What I write in my blog is solely my opinion. Nobody is obligated to read it, like it, or take it to heart. Nor do I really care if they do. Sometimes people agree with the things I say but frequently they do not, and either way I tend to find that the conversation generated is stimulating.

        Moreover, I’ve written an entire post about shaming in the past that takes this exact same relativistic point of view. So no, I’m not flip flopping on this issue; my relativism with regard to shaming has been documented here for all to read.

        There’s nothing incongruent here. As a human being, it’s impossible for me NOT to have morals, principles that guide me in making decisions. The point of relativism is to say that my morals are no better or worse than anyone else’s. So no, I don’t “hope that others will agree with you and act on that agreement.” In fact, I’ve mentioned many times in numerous posts that living in an echo chamber, surrounded by nothing but likeminded people is intellectually stifling.

        But to close this reply out, the point of moral relativism isn’t to say that people can’t or don’t have their own definitions of what is right or what is wrong, but that there is no universal definition of right and wrong. Nowhere in my blog to I actively TELL people what to think or how to act. I make an argument, and if people agree with it fine, if they don’t they have their own reasons and I accept that. And that’s probably why absolutism leaves a sour taste in my mouth. If you’re going to go so far as command people to change their beliefs and values to yours, where does it stop? Why not force everyone to vote the “right” way? Why not force everyone to do everything according to the way you see fit, if you’re so sure that morals are absolute?

      • ryan59479 April 28, 2014 at 5:23 am

        I feel like we’ve adopted an adversarial tone here that isn’t really necessary. I’m not trying to convince you to adopt my way of thinking. You have every right to value what you do and believe why you do, and I don’t think anyone should try to take that away from you. My only point is that people–anyone–shouldn’t have to accept a different viewpoint solely on the basis that someone else thinks it’s “more right.”

      • linnetmoss April 28, 2014 at 10:46 am

        I agree with you, up to a point. It depends on what you mean by “accept.” We can’t and shouldn’t try to practice thought control, but people do have to “accept” (for example) criminal laws, or we could not function as a society. Laws against theft, murder, rape, etc. exist solely because a lot of someone else’s think it’s “more right.” Bad laws may get passed, but that does not demonstrate that one law is as good as another.
        Of course you have a right to your views. That I disagree and say so is not an attempt to force you to think any differently. It is an attempt to persuade, and there is a difference. (Just as when you express moral opinions on your blog, it is an attempt to persuade, whether you concede that or not.) I don’t think your position is logically coherent. You think it is. We’re pretty much at the point of repeating the same arguments, so it’s best to agree to disagree.

      • ryan59479 April 26, 2014 at 7:50 pm

        I do agree with you that religion is problematic, though, because it’s always framed as an absolute. I’d say the key to harmony in a society is the internalization of values, and the ability to not project one’s own values onto another. Tolerance is something sorely lacking when it comes to morality, most likely because people assume an absolute position.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: