Objectification Notes (Stanford Site Quick Review)

Marxist-Feminist Notes – (from Stanford Philosophy Site) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-objectification/

  • Kant: objectification – lowering people (possessing humanity, here determined by capacity for rational choice, agency-actionability in said rational choice) to the status of object. To Kant, sexuality outside of monogamous marriage sustains subordination and degradation of that person’s humanity – turning that person – both men AND women- into a sexual instrument (not pursuing one’s own choice, but acting as a tool to fulfill sexual purposes – to be used).  WAY TOO EXTREME.
  • Kant and commodification: one cannot sexually exchange their body for money without encountering the aforementioned degradation/loss of humanity – “[…] to allow one’s person for profit to be used for satisfaction of sexual desire, to make oneself an Object of demand, is to dispose over oneself as over a thing” (Kant – Lecture on Ethics – pg 165) — blames those who are offering bodies/sexualities — (does not acknowledge how this may not be an individual choice/action).
  • MacKinnon and Dworkin take on Kantian perspective of objectification – due to porn, etc. – “women as a group are reduced to the status of mere tools for men’s purposes” (online) – creating significant consequence for one’s humanity.
  • MacKinnon (1987): “A sex object is defined on the basis of its looks, in terms of its usability for sexual pleasure, such that both the looking – the quality of the gaze, including its points of view – and the definition according to use becomes eroticised as a part of the sex itself” (173) — even if women “choose” to participate within pornographic/sexualized encounters, it is because of a lack of alternative options within patriarchal system, thus does not convey “true” consent. “The sex is not chosen for the sex. Money is the medium of force and provides the cover of consent” (MacKinnon 1993, 28).
  • Women are socialized to see themselves in terms of sexual value or the value of being “used” (MacKinnon 1987) – men, on the other hand, derive power from being able to “use” these “objects” (Dworkin 1989) — as women are considered objects, the “abuse” of these objects is not considered to be problematic (MacKinnon 1987). To these authors, objectification is a natural condition/process of heterosexual relations.
    • Women’s object-like status is not a natural fact, but rather a consequence of gender inequality. In structuring our world in such a way as to accommodate this allegedly natural fact about women, we sustain the existing situation of gender inequality. As MacKinnon vividly puts it: “if [we] look neutrally on the reality of gender so produced, the harm that has been done will not be perceptible as harm. It becomes just the way things are” (MacKinnon 1987, 59). Haslanger adds: “Once we have cast women as submissive and deferential ‘by nature’, then efforts to change this role appear unmotivated, even pointless. … These reflections suggest that what appeared to be a ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ ideal, namely, the procedure of drawing on observed regularities to set constraints on practical decision making—is one which will, under conditions of gender hierarchy reinforce the social arrangements on which such hierarchy depends” (Haslanger 1993, 106).


  • Countering MK+D: Nussbaum (1995) – pornography is not the core of gender/social inequality — however, sexual objectification is caused by social inequalities.



  • Marxist feminist applications!: Bartky (1990) – Marx’s theory of alienation —- the fragmentation one experiences during objectification — “For Marx, labour is the most distinctively human activity, and the product of labour is the exteriorisation of the worker’s being. Under capitalism, however, workers are alienated from the products of their labour, and consequently their person is fragmented” (online).
    • Women within patriarchal society experience fragmentation “by being too closely identified with [their body]… [their] entire being is identified with the body, a thing which … has been regarded as less inherently human than the mind or personality” (Bartky 1990, 130) —- objectification separates women from personhood, as their bodies are thought to be (more) representative of their existence than their mind.
    • “Developing a sense of our bodies as beautiful objects to be gazed at and decorated requires suppressing a sense of our bodies as strong, active subjects…” (Young, 1979).


  • Agency in Objectification? – Bauer (2011) – sexually objectifying self (reducing self to helpless, instrument) experience power/pleasure – to end objectification, we must not only end men objectifying women, but that “women care about abjuring the temptation to objectify themselves” (Bauer 2011, 128).



Bartky, Sandra-Lee, 1990, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, New York: Routledge.

Bauer, Nancy. 2011, “Beauvoir on the Allure of Self-Objectification”, in Feminist Metaphysics, Feminist Philosophy Collection, Charlotte Witt (ed.), Springer Science+Business Media B.V., 117- 129.

Dworkin, Andrea. 1989, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, New York: E.P. Dutton.

Kant, Immanuel. Lectures on Ethics, Louis Infield (trans.), New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1963.

Haslanger, Sally, 1993, “On Being Objective and Being Objectified”, in A Mind of One’s Own. Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, Louise M. Antony and Charlotte Witt (eds.), Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 209–253.

MacKinnon, Catharine, 1987, Feminism Unmodified, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press.

MacKinnon, Catharine. 1993, Only Words, Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Nussbaum, Martha, 1995, “Objectification”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 24(4): 249–291.

Young, Iris Marion, 1979, “Is There a Woman’s World?—Some Reflections on the Struggle for Our Bodies”, Proceedings of The Second Sex—Thirty Years Later: A Commemorative Conference on Feminist Theory, New York: The New York Institute for the Humanities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: