Age of Objectification

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Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has an excellent post on the backlash against Hooters for having a Little Miss Hooters contest. Joe agrees that this needed a response, but he finds the response to be for entirely the wrong reasons. Those responding to the problem share the same bad assumptions of the people who created the contest to begin with.

How old should a person be before it becomes acceptable to treat them as an object? Where do we draw the line of demarcation between the age when you are treated as a human and the age it becomes acceptable to treat you as an object? Most people set the standard at eighteen, the magical age when a person can register to vote and buy lottery tickets. Other people, though, would choose to set the age lower. Much, much lower. Naturally, some of these people can be found at Hooters.

Joe goes on to explain why the assumption behind this criticism is just as bad as the people it's supposed to criticize. Why assume that there's an age of objectification at all? Surely it's worse to objectify someone who's only 5 than it is to objectify an adult, but does that mean it's ok or even not very bad to objectify an adult? The more serious moral wrong here is the objectifying of a person. It's just worse when the person objectified happens to be a child.

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I haven't done a Friday Five in awhile - thought I would do one with a kind of weekend roundup of my favorite posts from the past week. Since this is the first one like this I've done some of Read More

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I have rarely found that mathematics apply in any given question of ethics or morals. In "Star Trek: Insurrection", Picard confronts the admiral who is secretly working to move a group of aliens forcibly off a planet of which they were not indigenous. The admiral counters by saying that they were "only" moving six hundred people by force. "How many people does it take, Admiral," challenges Picard, "before it becomes wrong?" By drawing a line or coming up with a number, you quantify morality and section it into manageable chunks (or so you think), and can then use it to justify injustice.

That's one of many problems with utilitarianism (or consequentialism in general). It quantifies results and then pretends nothing else matters.

I've never been clear about what "objectify" means in a context like this. Sometimes I fear it is a shorthand way of disposing of an idea we are sure is wrong (e.g. porn), without taking time to think it through. I'm fine with the idea of being dismissive and short with things which deserve to be treated that way. I just wonder how the whole "objectification" argument works.

Does it mean something like "reductionistic"? "Dehumanizing"?

I'd agree that objectifying a person is bad, but I wonder where we place the blame. I've certainly never treated a woman at Hooters as an object, but possibly as a means (to getting my food). I'm sure Hooters does invite objectification, but I also wonder what (short of a burka) doesn't.

Reading Joe's post I'm left to wonder if he has ever been in a Hooters. Calling Hooters the "epitome of middle-class degeneracy" is overstateing the case more than a little bit. Contra Joe I like the wings and I've never noticed any "silicon enhanced mammary glands of post-pubescent girls." (I'd like to think I'd notice) The girls always seemed to run the gamut for age, shape, and looks. I guess I'm just not sure where the outrage comes from. Perhaps scantly clad women present a mental challenge for Joe? If that is the case then he must go into fits visiting the mall, high schools, Jr high schools, bars, side walks, etc. I don't know if Joe is so challenged but his post makes me wonder. I do know that most Christians think we bear some responsibility for our own thoughts. I'd like to know where one would draw the line on what is acceptable dress.

Baxter-

It means to treat someone as an object and not a person. If I look at a woman and all I see is a sex object and not a person, then I've objectified the woman.

But here's my problem with the terminology. Sexuality is a human phenomenon. One is not likely to look at a non-human object and see an object of sexual desire. (And no, I'm not interested in discussing the exceptions to that last statement).

So, how is seeing someone and focussing on their sexuality different that seeing an NBA player on tv and only seeing an athelete? Or seeing a paraplegic person and only seeing "someone in a wheelchair"?

I think the term "object" is being a bit thorny? Perhaps we mean object in the sense of "goal" rather than "something which has physical existence"?

Some of the history here has to do with Kant's statements that it's wrong to use someone merely as a means to an end and not as an end in themselves. An absolutely clear example of this is with pornography, which uses the image of someone purely as a means for one's own pleasure, with no possibility of the other person getting pleasure out of it. If sex is a gift from God between two people, for both to receive pleasure (among other effects, e.g. unity), then pornography violates the purpose of sex and treats the people whose pictures are involved as a mere means to an end.

I think the main issue is that we are sexual beings, but we're not merely sexual beings. The main things that distinguish us from animals, that give us human dignity, that constitute the image of God, have to do with things beyond our sexuality, though they also include and affect sexuality, and if we treat someone as merely a sexual object we're thwarting God's purposes in bestowing his image on us.

You are getting to the root of my problem. Why should we (Christians) care about Kantian ethics?

Is there something in the canon or the Christian tradition about "objectifying" being a sin? If not, shouldn't we have some other approach to this? When we start borrowing alien terminology into our ethics I think we run the risk of moving away from Christ-like-ness as our telos for ethics.

In the case in point, can we not say that we think the model for women (outside of their private rooms) is modesty? Modesty is a virtue girls should be taught from the earliest years so that it can be well established by adulthood. Is this not more in line with canonical teaching?

I don't think you need Kantian premises to say that abusing people is wrong. The image of God is the premise in my argument, not anything Kant said. Refusing to treat someone made in the image of God as made in the image of God is enough of a sin to condemn it, isn't it?

Modesty won't do anything here except to show that the women themselves are sinnng. The sin Joe identifies is on the part of the employers and patrons. They can be perfectly modest while looking all they want at others who aren't modest. The sin here at least includes lust. But what is lust? It's not mere sexual desire. A plausible account is that it's mere sexual desire reduced to its animal nature without the higher appreciations of a human being.

I'll let it go, but it strikes me as a humanist perspective dressed up in Christian language.

Speaking of Hooters from the post above by Matthew, a co-worker of mine has a funny newspaper clip tacked onto his cubicle wall that describes a lawsuit brought against Hooters by one of its waitresses. It seems that the waitress had been promised a brand-new Toyota for achieving some standards of excellence in her work. When it was time to give her the award, the management had her blind-folded and led out into the parking lot, and when the blindfold was removed, she was instead awarded a tiny, ugly-looking toy figurine of Yoda from Star Wars ("Toe-Yoda"? "Toyota"? Say it fast a few times). She was less than amused and sued the restaurant.

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