I was talking about this with hypnagogie over the course of the last weekend, and she raised some interesting points that lead me to believe that I'm not really doing it right.
Now, to me, there is very little in the world that's hotter than grabbing my partner, pushing her against the wall or down on the bed, and whispering in her ear "I'm going to take you now. It's okay if you don't want it; you can scream if you like." Unless perhaps it's a partner grabbing me by the hair, throwing me on the bed, and saying something similar.
And to me, that's what I'd consider objectification--the taking of my partner for my own sexual gratification.
And hers--which is where it kind of breaks down. For, as hypnagogie rightly pointed out, it's only objectification if the person is reduced to the status of an object--that is, if the person's feelings, experience, and humanity don't enter in at all to what's going on.
For me, the hottest thing about this kind of scenario is savoring the emotional state tat it creates in my partner, and seeing how my partner responds to being treated as a sexual object. If she's not into it, on some level, it doesn't work for me, because it's precisely her responses that most get me hot.
Which is, when you get right down to it, not objectification. Her feelings and experience do enter into it; in fact, they're precisely the point of the whole endeavor. It's seeing how she reacts to being objectified that gets me off.
Which means, in the final analysis, I'm not really objectifying her at all.
Which is quite a conundrum, really. hypnagogie argues (cogently, I might add; I rarely prevail in a discussion like this with her) that what I'm doing may look like objectification, but it isn't--not really. It's something else. In order to be objectification, I'd have to have the same attitude toward her that I have toward an object, like a sex toy or something. Obviously, if I use some kind of sex toy, I don't care at all about the experience from that sex toy's perspective; it truly is an object. But since the central focus of the objectification I do with a partner is savoring her responses, and thinking about what's happening from her perspective, then she isn't an object at all, almost by definition.
So I'm clearly not doing it right. (Okay, that part is tongue firmly in cheek.)
That brings up another argument, one that was indirectly touched on by some of the folks who commented in the post on tattoos, porn, and respect for women, about what it means for porn to "objectify" women.
hypnagogie also argues, cogently, that much of mainstream porn is in fact objectifying (both to men and to women), but not for reasons that many folks of an anti-porn persuasion might think.
The standard objections to porn--at least the ones I hear most often--don't really hold up to close examination. "It disempowers women." Well, surely, if a woman has power, if she has control over her own body, then that control must extend to where, when, with whom, and under what conditions to have sex--including the choice to have sex while a camera is running, yes? "It degrades women." This is an argument rooted in the notion that certain acts of and by themselves are inherently degrading, when nothing could be further from the truth. Degradation is contextual; it's in the intent of the folks involved, not the act. Simple PIV intercourse? Not degrading when it's mutual and consensual; degrading in the context of rape. Coming on a woman's face? Not degrading when it's mutual and consensual (yes, there are women who enjoy it, honest Injun); degrading if it isn't.
And so forth.
The argument that hypnagogie raised, though, that standard, mainstream porn is objectifying not because sex is objectifying and not because sexual depictions are objectifying, but because the way it is scripted and filmed, with its surrealistically-proportioned actors who are as biologically implausible as a Barbie doll and its over-the-top, phony sound effects that make clear to anyone who's ever actually had sex that the folks involved are not enjoying it, seems contrived and indeed even psychologically constructed to maximize the emotional distance between the viewer and the people involved.
In other words, much of mainstream porn--if there is such a thing--appears to be calculated to separate the depiction of sex as far as possible from the genuine responses of the people involved, and to be shot with folks who scarcely even look human, increasing that emotional distance still more. It doesn't draw the viewer in; it doesn't create an emotional connection between the scene and the viewer; its inauthenticity actually encourages the viewer not to empathize with the actors or even, really, consider them as human beings at all.
The objectification, then, takes place at the point at which the porn is consumed, not the point at which it is made. The real experiences of the actors becomes entirely irrelevant.
Now, this line of reasoning opens up several potential cans of worms--a whole bait factory of worms, in fact, not the least of which are
- At what point do the feelings of the people involved cease to be relevant, and the experiences of the viewers become most relevant? What if some viewers identify with the folks involved, but other viewers do not?
- If the people who produce a depiction of sexual activity, and the people who are involved in the sexual activity, are fully engaged in it, but the people who watch it are not, does the viewer's experience or the experience of the people involved define the caliber of the experience?
- Is objectification even a bad thing? I would argue that, like everything else, it's contextual; after all, examples of objectification abound. A professional basketball player is valued by his fans for his skill at the game, not for his humanity; ditto for the Colgate commercial model. Hell, one could even argue that the stars in a conventional Hollywood movie are being objectified; sure, the audience is engaged (if it's a good movie), and sure they're identifying with and connecting to the characters on the screen--but the expressions and feelings of the actors aren't real. The audience is connecting with the actor's character, not the actor himself...though I fear by this point I've distorted the original argument all out of shape.
But those questions are not the real interesting part.
The real interesting part is the implication for porn in general.
Now, I'm not that big a consumer of porn. The mainstream stuff in particular does little for me, for (among other things) exactly the reasons hypnagogie was talking about--the inauthenticity and the bizarre, weird-looking people in it.
On those occasions when I am interested in porn, my tastes tend to run to things that are a little more...umm, unconventional. I'm quite fond of the sort of stuff that kink.com produces--you know, bondage, S&M, humiliation play, that sort of thing.
Kink.com takes a lot of heat for the movies they produce. Take all the standard arguments against porn and crank them up to eleven; as a society, we've always been just fine with violence but a bit less OK with it when it's combined by sex. A movie of a woman bound on all fours in an iron framework being simultaneously spanked and sodomized is, in short, bound to get folks talking, and not in good ways.
Yet the one thing you can say about this particular species of porn is that the reactions of the people involved are authentic.
Which is why I dig it. It works for me because the responses of the folks involved are authentic; it works for me for exactly the same reason that objectification play works for me.
And that means, at least for me, that this tied-down, cock-up-the-ass objectifying porn...isn't objectifying at all.