Objectify Me, Please! — A main objection to porn seems to be that it “objectifies” women (and, yes, men). The force of this objection has always eluded me. We are objects, big chunks of matter moving through space-time. How can looking at dirty pictures objectify what is already an object?
Maybe I’m being a little coy. ‘Objectification’ is just a bad word. The core of the objection, I think, is not that porn objectifies, but that it de-subjectifies. When we concentrate on bodies and the pleasures they afford, we are liable to lose track of the mind within the body — the hopes and dreams, loves and fears, of the person in the lens. But still, I don’t get it. This needn’t happen at all.
Troubles with porn strike me as, you guessed it, Cartesian! My sense is that some folks just don’t feel comfortable with the fact that our minds, in some sense, just are our bodies. Nor do they understand that our subjectivity is not independent of our embodiment. We are essentially physical beings with aesthetic and sexual dimensions. And our sexual, aesthetic physicality is an essential part of our subjective experience of ourselves and our world. Thus, you can’t begin to do justice to the inner world of the person without taking into account their embodiment as sexual beings who care about beauty. If you’re not objectifying people, if you’re treating them as disembodied souls, then you’re doing violence to their lived experience.
Pictures, films, stories or whatever of people having sex strike me as entirely unobjectionable. It all depends on what you do with it. If certain kinds of bodies, or sexual acts, are arousing and pleasurable to behold, then what’s the problem in taking pleasure from it? The real nature of the inner life of the folks involved is no more pertinent than the inner lives of folks in travel brochures, or the folks who make your sneakers. If one comes to reduce all a person’s value to sexual value, then that would certainly be bad. But that’s no worse than a coach reducing his players’ value to athletic value, or a stock broker reducing his clients to their economic value. Thankfully, there is nothing in the nature of coaching or porn or financial counseling that keeps us from maintaining a realistic and compassionate conception of the whole person. Do strong objections to porn often flow from a constricted notion of what it is to be a person and a sexual being? Yeah, probably.
Personally, I like to be admired for my physical attributes, and I never feel diminished as a person when someone implies they might like sex with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a rather abstracted intellectual sort, but I often feel more visible as a person when someone is paying attention to me as a physical and sexual thing. It’s not all I am, but it’s a fair part of it, and I lose touch with it without a little help. So go ahead, objectify me, please!