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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Objectification isn't a Valid Complaint

Just as some attractive women become conditioned to rely on their looks to achieve status and other social ends, many educated women deem it degrading to go out of their way to turn on a man--at least they claim to in polite conversation. This is probably owing to the their exposure to feminism, which has women shoring up their reservations and inhibitions in the name of dignity, lest they be objectified—even though objectification is a nonsensical concept. Men are not typically aroused by any inanimate objects; they're turned on by flesh-and-blood women (unless they're homosexual of course). Even for fetishists, the object of their desire arouses them by dint of its association to living, human persons. One hears much more often of fetishes for high-heeled shoes than for, say, tables or clocks.

Objectification owes its name to the idea that men, left to their own patriarchal devises, won’t pay proper heed to a woman’s subjectivity, to what’s going on in her head. But if you look at the epitome of the supposed crime you’ll see this idea is pretty easily ruled out. If men were given to ignoring what women were subjectively experiencing then pornography would feature just as many women lying inert while doing the deed, or having the deed done to them, as there are who, shall we say, overact. That some men may appear eager to discount women's subjectivity underscores that they really couldn’t ignore the women's experience if they tried—they’re preoccupied with it. You can still argue that men one-dimensionalize women, but then there are plenty of one-dimensional people of both genders out there.

Really celebrating one another's sexual dimension in no way precludes deep appreciation for your partner's other qualities; if anything, that appreciation becomes exaggerated as the sex gets better. But what ends up happening is that nonsense about objectification gives women an excuse not to make any attempts in a realm where failure is resoundingly and lastingly mortifying—welcome to men’s world.

Is it a problem that men can be sexually aroused by features of women that have nothing to do with their characters? If so, it must be borne in mind that men aren't the only ones at fault. But the real problem is that some people are so zealous in their efforts to politicize any and every aspect of relations between men and women they've long since ceased to care about whether their ideas have any validity or whether they lead to any greater happiness or fulfillment in the lives of those influenced by them. Sex has political implications, but it's a physical act. And if a man got turned by his partner's lofty orations about her master's thesis, that would probably be offensive in its own right.

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