Saturday, October 13, 2007

Let Me Persuade You To Follow My Example, And Take A Turn About The Room

This blog is no stranger to talk of objectification -- there's this post and this one.

But, despite the sense that I am maybe worrying the issue like a dog with a slightly mangy bone, it's on my mind again due to my reading of the Advice Goddess Blog, to which I am strangely addicted. I say strangely because a) our political views do not coincide and b) I am exactly the sort of weak-kneed liberal she regards with derision/horror. On the other hand, she pretty unflinchingly addresses the issue of women's place in the world and then there's the fascination of knowing what somebody whose views differ almost entirely from yours thinks about things.

And in this post she said that a group of some kind is protesting the fact that the makers of Dove products, who have this whole real women/real beauty public image campaign going, are also the makers of Axe body spray, which has this whole sorority girl/pillow fight/sex in elevators public image campaign going.

The Advice Goddess makes the point that it's stupid in the first place to expect Dove's campaign to mean anything other than an attempt to sell product. Which is probably true, but might still be a point worth making.

This is all so much prelude. This quote is what hooked me:

"Men objectify women and women objectify women -- meaning, they objectify themselves. I think it was my friend, professor Catherine Salmon, who pointed this out in an essay. Male sexuality is visually driven. When men fantasize, they picture the woman (or the gay man) as the object of their desire; women generally picture being the object of desire. (Shouldn't the angry ladies be vilifying women for this, too?)"

This is very clearly put and certainly fits in with my personal experience.

And it does bother me, that self-objectification. In point of fact, it terrifies me, sends me waking up screaming.

While I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties of being the pursuer -- the risks of being shot down, mocked, the difficulties of getting laid -- at least at the end of the day the pursuer wants things, knows he wants things, moves towards them. Whereas, if your chosen role is as an object of desire, you are not supposed to want things. You are supposed to shed your desires, ignore them, go ahead and drift, so that you can eventually be taken by surprise and succumb to the desires of some conscious actor.

Zombie girls from Mars, really.

This mode, blissful non-desire, is often brought back to evolutionary biology. Which is fine; I don't really have any knowledge and/or interest in evolutionary biology. But I refuse to believe, with an almost religious faith, that there is an unalterable biological destiny that forces these roles upon us. And so I am left hoping that, as as Noko Marie suggested, we are somewhere in the middle of the feminist movement, rather than at the end.


Noko Marie said...

I have like seventeen things to say about this, but I'll try to keep it simple.

I totally agree with you, CC about the pursuing/pursuer; I think you're onto something totally important with this -- it's a cultural mode with incredible tenacity.

I'm uneasy about Ms. Advice Goddess's blog comment, though, because there's a difference between being the "object" of someone desire, and being an "object" in the sense of being inert or "just a body."

Most women who fantasize about being the object of desire are not fantasizing about being inert... they don't want their partners to be attracted to them in virtue of their being indistinguishable from a "real doll." I mean maybe some women might feel that but most want to be the "object" of desire in the simple sense of being desired, as a person, not as an object.

With her link to the claim about visuality, AG seems to be suggesting that women objectify themselves in the sense of turning themselves into mere objects. That may sometimes be true but it is not shown or illustrated by the fact that women like to be the "object of desire" in the sense of being pursued.

Captain Colossal said...

There's definitely a line between wanting to be desired as a person and wanting to transform yourself into a desirable object. I also tend to think of object in objectified more in the grammatical sense, but that might not be right.

But I do think there's some blurring around the edges, even into the totally inert sense of "object." That the urge to be desired is not just an urge to have other people find you attractive the way you are, but an urge to turn yourself into a (somewhat) standardized and normalized version of the attractive woman. The degree of normalization depends on the individual.

I don't know; I could be wrong. But you know those makeover movies? Where the heroine becomes attractive and gets the guy? I always wonder how much of the appeal is the result and how much is the process of watching someone arrive at a more standard version of attractiveness.

Noko Marie said...

I find the makeover of Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club unbelievably depressing.

Maybe there is a kind of passivity, too, that blurs these into one another. I guess that's part of what you were saying.

But I'm still annoyed at AG: insofar as women "objectify" themselves in this sense of becoming visual objects, feminists *do* get upset about it.

Whether it's passivity or visuality I'm still uneasy calling this objectification. In some ways it seems like being willing to present a renormalized visual version of yourself can be read as a statement of a personality trait of pliancy.

I confess I recognized your title as Austen but didn't remember the scene 'til it was pointed out to me. I'm just now rereading Mansfield Park and I just read the scene where Fanny's uncle sends her to bed, removing her from Henry's attention. The narrative imagines this may be to enhance her desirability through absence, or "he might mean to recommend her as a wife by shewing her persuadableness."

Also: great picture. What is that?

Captain Colossal said...

The picture is of one of the panels from this piece of subway art that, for whatever reason, I deeply resent.

It's titled The Complete Works of Roland Barthes. Here's the artist's description: We read on trains to pass the time or, possibly, to avoid looking at others. Encountering images of people reading may trigger a reminder that reading might be a good idea. These Los Angeles artists, interacting with books, represent a cross section of our City.

Noko Marie said...

Wow, that little description is certainly enough to inspire resentment. I like "interacting with books," though, instead of just "reading." Are people shown also using them as coasters, masks, and sex toys? Or are they just reading?

Captain Colossal said...

Your question prompted me to review the panels in question. It turns out that there are four men, each of whom is posing holding up an (I believe) unopened book and looking directly at the camera, while the three women pose with the book open, looking down at it.