So far, we have the following answers to our original questions: Broadly speaking, objectification involves treating another person in ways that resemble the way we treat inanimate objects (treating them as an instrument, or as lacking in autonomy, or as inert, or as fungible, and so on). Sometimes these behaviours occur in the context of actual sex, or are simply eroticized by those involved, and in both those contexts, it makes sense to call them forms of ‘sexual objectification’. As a matter of contingent cultural context, forms of objectification are mostly extended towards women rather than men, but they don’t have to be. Equally contingently, objectification is usually harmful to its recipients, but it doesn’t have to be; much depends on context (the intentions of those involved and/or the consequences).
We have yet to say much about the many contingent contexts in which objectification, thus understood, obviously is harmful, especially to women. We have also yet to say anything about how photos can objectify. I think we can illuminate both of these questions by speculatively positing a causal mechanism that might lie behind a lot of the forms of objectifying behaviour identified by Nussbaum and Langton. This mechanism in question is what I call ‘mind-insensitive seeing’ (or more precisely, ‘seeing-as’, though this can be ignored for present purposes).
In 1975, the avant-garde filmmaker Laura Mulvey published her landmark essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in the journal Screen. Bringing feminist theory to bear on a new wave of psychoanalytic film criticism, the essay set out to demonstrate how the structure of Hollywood films — camera angles, lighting, editing — foisted a masculine point of view on audiences watching passive, eroticized female objects. Mulvey’s notion of the “male gaze” made waves not just in film studies (four members of Screen’s editorial board resigned in protest of it and other psychoanalytic criticism) — but also across much of the humanities.
Forty years later, mainstream journalists casually toss off the phrase “male gaze” and it’s the name of a San Francisco post-punk band. But much has changed: Successive generations of feminists have debated women’s agency — for example, as not just subjects but also consumers of pornography. The notion of the lesbian gaze has gained currency. With the rise of social media, both men and women participate in a self-presentation that makes them the objects of the gaze as often as they are the gazers. Even the neat division of people into male and female seems, to many people, archaic.
Is Mulvey’s theory still relevant? How has it been most productively applied? How does it need to evolve? Here, four scholars reflect on those questions, and Mulvey responds.
The FEM Bible is a new initiative set up by some undergraduates in philosophy, and it’s great. Here’s their description:
“We are a feminist community fed up of the offensive posts being shared via Facebook & the internet. Our mission is to de-construct these posts by offering factual reviews on their damaging and oppressive nature.”
The way the site works is simple: users submit a post or article of the kind often shared on social media that they found offensive, specifying who was harmed by it, how, and why it matters. . Posts intelligently discuss issues of sexism, classism, heterosexism, and shaming of survivors of sexual violence, among other issues. Websites purveying self-described ‘lad’ humour come in for a lot of justified criticism, as do various ‘clickbait’ type articles. Examples of material criticized includes facebook posts that sexualize breastfeeding, articles that applaud boys who have been sexually abused by female teachers as ‘lads’, and a Christmas card that offers ‘ten reasons why Santa must live on a housing estate’ (sample reason: ‘he only works once a year’ … yes, I know).
This initiative seems to sum up a lot that’s great about the kind of feminist activism that I’m seeing around my university at the moment: engaging, inclusive, intersectionally aware, media savvy. It’s fantastic to see such smart pushback from young activists against oppressive online material – check it out!
“Every drop of G.Spirits has been poured over the breasts of a Top Model and is then directly bottled into a specific and personalized glass bottle. “.
As reader N notes, “Clearly, a lot of thought went into the project: for vodka, the poured-over object is a white blonde; [for whiskey] “we decided to go with a darker and warmer type of woman, because it perfectly mirrors the soul of our single-malt”, and “we chose Amina as our model-type because she really has the Mediterranean temperament, just like our rum”
Their very first FAQ is the “official statement to misogyny reproach”:
In the past, we have received various responses in regards to our product and the possible association with discrimination against women. By no means do we support any negative derogatory of women nor any statements supporting the devalue of women and their roles. We disagree with that and would like to clarify. We respect women and love their eroticism through their beauty which is our main drive for our business. We also repudiate from any kind of discrimination regarding gender, background or sexual orientation. On the contrary, we invite all to experience our passion with us. Perhaps we represent a more open-minded and liberal philosophy of sexuality than most other conservative groups. But we stand by this view and endorse what we believe in. We hope you will too.
I’ll leave the feminist critique as an exercise for the reader. I will, however, note that there’s no way I’d pay 139 pounds for a whisky described only as “a unique, 12year old single malt whisky from Scotland (cask strength)”.
This is a new book of interviews and illustrations that just might take your mind off the philosophy profession (eck!).
[i mean no disrespect to those who have worked and are working hard to air the profession’s problems and to explore solutions. Rather, I am thinking of someone on facebook who commented that her mother wondered if she was thinking about the PGR too much. If you notice the non-philosophers among your family and friends are rolling their eyes when you speak, think of reading “Women in Clothes”.]
Here’s part of the amazon buzz:
Poems, interviews, pieces that read like diary or journal entries-all these responses help the editors fulfill their aims: to liberate readers from the idea that women have to fit a certain image or ideal, to show the connection between dress and “habits of mind,” and to offer readers “a new way of interpreting their outsides.” “What are my values?” one woman asks. “What do I want to express?” Those questions inform the multitude of eclectic responses gathered in this delightfully idiosyncratic book Kirkus
About the Author
SHEILA HETI is the author of five books, including the critically acclaimed How Should a Person Be? and an illustrated book for children, We Need a Horse. She frequently collaborates with other artists and writers.
HEIDI JULAVITS is the author of four novels, most recently The Vanishers, winner of the PEN/New England Fiction Award. She is a founding editor of The Believer and a professor at Columbia University.
LEANNE SHAPTON is a Canadian artist, author, and publisher based in New York City. She is the author of Important Artifacts and Swimming Studies, winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.
Here a conversation with the editors. http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/women-in-clothes-video-book-sheila-heti-heidi-julavits-leanne-shapton/
The kindle edition has color illustration at least for the ipad app.
three of the four amazon reviews make reading it sound like a transformative experience.
This video is a nice commentary on beauty expectations for women in the entertainment industry. From Jezebel:
Here’s a striking video from Hungarian singer Boggie, in which her moving image is being retouched and “corrected” throughout the entire video. Directed by Nándor Lőrincz and Bálint Nagy, the three-minute video shows Boggie’s transformating from a lovely woman in dim lighting to a lovely, flawlessly made-up woman who has, judging by her glowing surroundings, been abducted by aliens and forced to sing for them.
Last week, we told you about the strange phenomenon of philosophical porn sites. Perhaps that post has sparked in you an unquenchable passion for a juxtaposition of sexy images and philosophical discussion? Fear not. Relief awaits.
This week, BuzzFeed Books (now, that’s an odd idea, isn’t it) has revived a 2011 Ayashii World discussion of Me, Tsundere and Heidegger, a 2011 ranobe (light novel for youth) in which a misogynist is reincarnated as a high school girl and gets schooled in philosophy by sexy (anime) schoolgirl versions of Descartes, Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
My thanks(ish) to four (!) friends who separately (!) posted links about this on my Facebook wall because they felt that I urgently needed to see the sexy bookworm Lolita version of Spinoza, pictured below. (Apologies in advance.)