Saturday, September 18, 2010

Objectification is really interesting.

In the embarrassingly recent past, I came to the realization that, in my dating life, I was not in the habit of regarding men as people. As conditioned, I saw them as fundamentally different from me, in a way that should have made them magically able (and willing?) to fix everything, have all the answers, and have much greater control of their lives than I could have of mine. Because husbands and fathers are supposed to be in charge, and you're supposed to be able to trust them with that, right?

So that's how I objectified my romantic partners, seeing only a certain role, instead of whole human beings. It can be an amazing struggle to remember just let people be what they are (which is to say, people, with doubts and struggles and just as many imperfections as you), but ultimately I find I'm way more stable when I don't go into relationships expecting other human beings to be magical.

I'm fine with some objectification, because I see some objectification as being inherent in physical sexuality. To have physical sex, it seems like, to some degree, you have to experience bodies as objects. Even if the psychological aspects are terribly important to you, there will be some moments when you're far more immediately concerned with your partner's body than with their mind, and I don't see anything wrong with that. This places me at odds with the feminists who say objectification of female bodies is always misogynistic, and I wish someone would explain their point of view to me in a way that makes sense.

Objectification is a problem when the main story a culture tells about some group describes them primarily as objects, rather than as complex, rounded, people--when it fails to say they have complex desires and preferences which ought to be respected. As a crash course, the main story most cultures tell about women is centered around the Madonna/whore dichotomy. In one way or another, this turns women into sexual objects--not sexual human beings. Unlike Madonnas and whores, sexual human beings sometimes want to have sex and sometimes don't, a concept that's proven remarkably difficult to take mainstream. Perhaps even more importantly, sexual human beings have other facets (an intellect, relationships, creativity, career, etc.) which will sometimes be more important to them than sex.

The main story US culture tells about men is about competence, success, and power. Men have a serious cultural advantage over women because this narrative includes a lot more aspects of a human being than just sexuality and care-taking. On the other hand, this advantage is not unlimited. A lot of men who want to engage in relationships as human beings (they may or may not have decided that they also want relationships with human beings) find that they are expected, among other things, to be endlessly, inhumanly competent.*

*Edward, I'm talking 'bout YOU.

1 comment:

misssrobin said...

Plus, let's not forget the whole comparison to daddy thing that too often happens.

He could do everything. He could fix everything. If so and so were a real man he could, too.

Oh, the expectations we have of one another.