On phone call today, with a good male friend of mine, I realized he had been worried that while enjoying the beauty and attractiveness of a woman while she dances in a provocative way, he felt worried that he was objectifying her. In the era of #metoo, I can understand that anxiety. The fact that I realized he struggled with this issue moved me to help him understand it and me to explore it with him. First, I know my friend to be a very conscientious person who goes out of his way to be caring and respectful towards everyone. And, at the same time, he is an attractive single man who is dating and sexually active — so his anxiety is understandable.
I shared with my friend that I think objectification of either gender happens inside a cultural container. The more discrimination and marginalization — tolerated by a culture — the more likely it is that objectification will occur. While I am trying not to be gender-specific here ( because both genders experience objectification ), there can be no white-washing the sad fact that it has been primarily women, across the millennia, who have been marginalized and discriminated against, and therefore even today, it is women who are experiencing the most objectification.
Objectification literally means to make a person — an object. I explained to my friend that the difference between objects and people is that objects don’t have feelings. And, objects don’t usually have rights. So, objectifying a person means that, conveniently, you ignore those facts. Humans who have neither feelings or rights are, of course, much easier to deal with. They are like slaves who have no rights and whose feelings don’t matter.
However, viewing an object of beauty ( for instance watching a beautiful woman dancing ) and feeling moved, inspired, attracted and even aroused, is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. In fact, celebrating is beauty and our attraction to it — is normal. What is not normal is experiencing human beauty and our attraction to it in a fragmented, compartmentalized way. Humans are multi-faceted and we must be experienced in a holistic way. Each of us are unique individuals. We need to be seen and experienced for how we look, as well as, who we are ( our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, feelings, talents, background and cultural heritage ). When a human is not experienced in a holistic way — that is objectification. However, when we acknowledge that each person is a unique individual and when we take the time to experience each other in a deep and considerate way — that is respectful and honoring — which is the opposite of objectification.