Can objectification in moderation be okay?

As a longtime feminist, I’ve read quite a bit of both layperson and professional writing on the objectification of women, particularly the sexual objectification of women. I understand it’s wrong. I understand it’s damaging to society and is one of many ways the patriarchy tries to keep women down.

My question, though, is whether the wrongness of it is in the implementation of that objectification or the mere existence of it? In other words, in a perfectly egalitarian society (let’s imagine it’s possible), would objectification ever be okay in certain contexts? Or if it wasn’t the context that mattered, would it be okay if it weren’t prevalent (in other words, is it a quantity problem, as opposed to a quality problem)?

After all, isn’t there plenty of objectification that is “okay” in our current society? We objectify movie stars and rock stars (and not just sexually). It’s not as if we all appreciate them fully as human beings. A lot of times we just isolate one part of them (acting ability, good looks, confidence, stage presence, whatever) and idolize it. How many times have you heard a fan of a star say something like, “Yeah, I know she’s an asshole in real life, but I love her movies”? It happens all the time.

I’ll admit it. I objectify people all the time. You’re the annoying loud teenage kids on the bus. You’re the smelly homeless person asking me for change. You’re the guy in drag walking down the street. Do I get to know these people? Do I appreciate them for who they are as whole human beings and not just one aspect I choose to isolate and judge them by? No. I objectify them. I definitely objectify them. I’m sure people objectify me too.

We don’t have the time to get to know everyone and appreciate them all as whole human beings. It’s just not possible, and it’s not really part of human nature. That doesn’t mean that women should always be perceived as sex objects—whether they’re walking down the street, playing sports, giving a corporate presentation, or acting in a film. And I think (not 100% sure here) that that may be the problem, the sheer ubiquity of the sexual objectification of women. It’s not that women should never be objectified but that they shouldn’t always be objectified; and, in contemporary American culture (and other countries’ cultures as well), they are almost always objectified sexually.

I’m try to imagine, for example, if I were a porn actress, would I mind that people viewing my movies were objectifying me and thinking of me only sexually? Probably not. That’s kind of the whole point of the porn movie. On the other hand, if I were meeting with my accountant to discuss filing taxes or just meeting someone at a fundraiser, I probably would want them to talk to me and not my breasts. Maybe my imaginary life as a porn actress is way off, but that’s just what I’m thinking. I know some would argue that porn (as opposed to erotica) serves to make sexual objectification in everyday circumstances more prevalent. That may be true, too. Probably depends on the type of porn and who’s watching it.

Any input into this, women and men, feminists and non-feminists? Is objectification in any context or society always wrong, or is it a matter of degrees or manifestation?


  1. Well, I think Michaelangelo’s “David” is an objectification of the male form, and you’d be hard-pressed to find people who have a problem with that. And I think we all like to be objectified by some people at some times. I know it makes me happy when my girlfriend tells me I look good. But if that was all she cared about, and she was only ever interested in me for sex, well that might be fun for the first 10 or 15 years, but I’d imagine it would eventually be somewhat unfulfilling.

    So yeah, I’d say you’ve got it with your matter of degrees.

  2. This has nothing to do with this post, but I couldn’t find another way to reliably contact you. Your site is throwing errors on the main page. Looking at it, it appears that you’re trying to access something (probably an image) on your site securely, but there’s a certificate mis-match. You’d have to contact the host to find out why, if you have a secure cert, or change the way you’re calling it. Here’s the error, it pops up about five times if you just hit cancel:

    – The server’s name “” does not match the certificate’s name “*”. Somebody may be trying to eavesdrop on you.
    – The certificate for “*” is signed by the unknown Certificate Authority “”. It is not possible to verify that this is a valid certificate

  3. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention.

    I’m not getting that error message at all. Can you post the exact URL you’re trying to access?

  4. I think it was related to the pop-up baloon pictures, as I didn’t notice those last night, I don’t think they were rendering.

  5. For what it’s worth, I was getting those errors as well, coming to the main page of your blog. I also got them when the new entry loaded in my RSS feed in Google’s Reader.

  6. Yeah, turns out I’d coded the img src tags incorrectly. The problem is fixed now. Thanks again for bringing that to my attention.

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