Modernity has turned the human body and soul into a mere object, and most interestingly it has objectified us in strange metaphysical ways in service to the economy. It has turned us into literal objects for capital, machine-like in our routine work and our interactions with other humans. Insidious as this dehumanization is, somehow it seems that there is a significant group in society that considers there to be a far more insidious dehumanization of our bodies and selves, and this they term sexual objectification.
To say a few words on objectification: I do not think objectification in the manner of becoming an object of desire in and of itself is bad, for there are two ways in which we can be objectified. Take for example the experience of two people dating and finding themselves connecting over a hobby or something like that; then, slowly and slyly comes the flirting. Supposing that the reason they like each other at first is something other than their mere bodies, when it comes time to begin being intimate with each other they communicate that they find the other’s body sexy and irresistible. Here something interesting occurs in their relating to each other. Each proclaims the other’s body as an irresistible object of desire, they have each objectified the other, and yet neither they nor us have a problem with this. Why is it that we take great pleasure in knowing that our bodies, something which to a large degree we have no choice or control over, are objects of desire to our lovers? I would wager to say it is because of two reasons: Firstly, that body which is desired is not just my body, but is very much a reality of me; hence, the desiring of it is a desiring of me. Secondly, this object of desire which I have become in the form of my body is more importantly not a reduction of myself in the eyes of the other, but on the contrary is an increase of myself. Whereas in the typical notion of objectification the implicit meaning is that we are always reduced when we are objectified, thus justifying our revulsion against such a conception or treatment of ourselves, there are ways in which objectification is welcome when we revel in how it increases us. Who does not delight in being irresistibly sexy to their lover? This objectification is not simply found in our love affairs. We also find it in many other situations. Do we not take pleasure in the momentary objectification of ourselves when our physical strength is praised in aid of others? When our thinness is praised for fitting somewhere others could not to retrieve something? When our height is praised for reaching things above which others could not? When our brain is praised for devising an answer others were not well-equipped enough to develop?
We revel in being identified with aspects of ourselves which are deemed to increase us. We like to be objectively many things for others in addition to what we already are as a personality to them. So long as objectification adds to our personality, we find joy in it, but when we are objectified in a reduction which denies our very personality, we feel injured and wronged. When we are only valued on this specific quality or capacity, and worse, only as this quality in service to others, it is the highest injury to our souls. We become nothing but a means in the specific capacity for something else for someone else. We are reduced to mere objects and are tortured by the knowledge that we are not valued as a personality, not as who we are as a free individuality, and sometimes worse: not even as what we are, merely as how we can be used.
Given that the body has long been an object to which both men and women have been reduced in the history of our modern societies, how does this arise? It is in fact not a universal phenomenon despite being so prevalent, so there is clearly a social source to it.
Nature Made Unnatural
Here I want to focus on a couple of reasons for why this phenomenon of objectification of the body exists in the first place. I want to deal with not just sexual body objectification, though it will be the bulk of what is discussed, but to consider it in general.
It should be no big mystery to people that a culture of body shaming—not in the sense of shapes of the body, but of the very nakedness of the body—does a lot for the phenomenon of turning an everyday body into an object of fantasy. Even in our modern times, this culture persists and is played with on purpose. Our natural body is clothed from birth to death. We are made to look at the pure body’s appearance as a problem—as something not meant for civilized eyes. This natural naked body which is considered the proper object of erotic desire is erotic through the happenstance aspect of attraction on whatever basis it may come, but the naked body itself is not naturally the object of erotic desire in its mere being a natural body. What the hiddenness of the body behind clothes adds to the erotic aspect is the further layer of fantasy—a mystification of what normally is most familiar, a body, into something alien and fetishized. While an innocent child sees no shame in their body or the body of others, the socialized individual is trained by society to find themselves at odds with their own direct point of contact with the world, i.e., in their natural being.
This bizarre psychological conditioning against the natural body begins early on in what at first appears to the individual as something wholly nonsexual. We are forced to cover ourselves in clothes, we are taught the concept of ‘nakedness,’ and we are shamed for revealing our bodies and made to internalize this shame. We are made to feel alien to ourselves when we are naked, and clothes eventually feel to us as if they were our true natural skin without which we feel not simply naked, but somehow inhuman. Somewhere in early childhood development, about 5-6 years of age, we begin to see this concept of nakedness begin to take on sexual specificity: girls are accustomed to wear tops while boys are not. Despite the lack of development of breasts, which are sexualized by our societies, the female sex is accustomed to begin considering the revelation of its chest as something shameful. At first it is ‘unladylike,’ but soon enough it becomes outright shameful, and in religious context, ‘sinful.’ Regardless of understanding, once one is accustomed to simply executing the covering of the body in any way it becomes habit and psychologically compulsive even when one has no personal moral judgment against it. The mere knowing that it is perceived as strange by others makes us uncomfortable with our own nakedness.
For the female sex, the issue of reduction to body is far greater than for men. Women, in Western history and elsewhere as well, have long been seen as merely reproducers and caretakers of the species. Their physique is not primarily valued for the labor of taking control of the means of living and directing life activity in society, but merely for providing and taking care of the reproduction of society. The female is valued on her use to the male: her physique in enticing his sexual desire and as a trophy to brag to others, her submissiveness in providing him a minimal sense of social power, her childbearing capacities in providing for the heir to the legacy of the male. A woman is a possession, tool, and economic asset to the male first, a personality second. This is not to say that there is an absolute reduction to object, for in many traditional societies, women still managed some level of recognition as subjects with value as personalities and with some decisive power, but it was very limited and rare. Except for the condition of slavery, women still had some level of recognition and standing in most communities.
The male suffered from objectification as well, but it was clearly much less pernicious. While the female’s qualities as object reduce her to an aesthetic piece as well as a mere tool of biological social regeneration, the male’s objectification is opposed in character. The man, even when reduced to the mere quality of brute strength is still reduced to something of much higher value than a mere aesthetic object of desire. His lowest reduction is to raw natural power, a force of nature against nature. The man is seen at his worst to at least have power over nature, if not society. The muscled body is not reduced to a mere aesthetic sexual object like the woman, but also raises the man as a power in himself. What makes the man sexually object is seen to also raise him as a potency over life, but what makes the women sexually object reduces her to a fragile aesthetic object.
Now, this is not to say there is no power that women have in being an object of desire. A rebuttal reactionary or traditionalist men often make is a recurring one to sexist evolutionary psychology ideas such as hypergamy, which they use in order to turn women’s victimization to appear as a self-imposed handicap in order to gain an upper hand elsewhere towards men. They claim: “Women actually benefit from their being perceived as fragile objects of desire for men!” Now, the Left here generally commits a mistake in simply ignoring this point and claiming it is not true. While historically this reduction to weakness seems often the case, we all know the type of women that despite these conditions of underclass and underprivileging have such a character and intellect to come to know how to use this natural endowment and social role of theirs as a wrench to bend even the brute. To admit this, however, is not to lose much. Yes, there are women who benefit from this, and there are even some that enjoy this particular arrangement because it benefits their personal needs and ends. Nonetheless, it is clear this card has a limit to be played and can succumb to the violence of strength and social shame. This weakness becomes for the woman a strength only in playing the brute against brute so that in their blind desire they do her bidding. At worst, of course, it can be a very dangerous game to play with the passions, and at best, this hardly matches the level of power a male can achieve by many other means.
Despite the liberalization of sexuality and the body in the modern day, women and men still find themselves characteristically marked by this asymmetrical sexual objectification in general. This is not to say that this, and this alone, serves as what is sexually objectified. We know that people have different tastes; some prefer some shapes and parts of others, and they also prefer them in different aspects of presentation or hiddenness—and this is fine.
That said, women still suffer the negative reduction by far more than men. Women’s breasts, especially the nipples in relation to the female chest (noticeable breasts or not), are considered a public no-go—though the breasts have been released from the shackles of their former sin and shame, they remain highly sexualized in public view thanks to the continuing denaturalization of the body. They are now mostly acceptable to show so long as the mere nipple remains covered and a tantalizing object of fantasy. This seems strange given that nipples are universal to the species while sculpted breasts are not, yet that is how things are. The genital area, likewise, is considered such a no-go, and yet its revelation is accepted only insofar as one covers the precise genital area and leaves it as an object of fantasy—micro-bikinis go to the bare limit of doing just this and leaving everything else in the open. The articles of clothing which allow for the acceptable presentation of these formerly forbidden parts are by and large designed to accentuate the objectified desire. Bikinis are designed to reveal the breasts and buttocks more in order to take advantage of the sexual fantasy they enable the male to generate in more determinate form. Tight dresses are made to accentuate the sensuous female figure: the breasts, hips, buttocks, and legs. Women’s clothing is not simply a statement of taste, but at the same time a show for the opposite sex. This is nothing morally objectionable—if you have something to show and want to, go ahead and show it—but it certainly seems to be a function too highly emphasized by our clothing industries.
Against this, we can hardly compare male sexual physicality as anywhere even close in kind to this fantasy construction which women’s bodies are made to serve in a society where males still control enough resources to be the ones to call the shots. The male penis serves for women hardly an object of fantasy anywhere near the level of immediate attraction which the vagina has for men. The stereotypically recognized allure of the muscular male form—an attraction that seems to indeed be wholly socially constructed, if particular societies’ ideals of the male body are anything to go by (e.g. Japan)—is not at all comparable to the allure that the female hourglass shape has for men. For one, the male body is not hidden at all—it has no mystical fantasy tied to it in its mere appearance. Rather, its allure seems to be in its manifestation as an aspect of power. Female sexual desire seems to, on grounds of general acquaintance with the male body, in general have a much more mediated desire in the opposite sex which is not simply the immediate body. While evolutionary psychology may reduce this as an essential determination of female sexuality as opposed to male sexuality, I think there is more than ample room to consider that this is questionable on good grounds considering how much social constructs mediate what and how we desire. That there are horny people who get turned on by just seeing a body is no question. That the overwhelming members of a certain society behave like this while in another they do not is more telling of the source.
Generalized Objectifying Reduction
Now, is sexual objectification bad in and of itself? Well, no. People are horny, and we will always find ways to objectify others into fantasies. It is not even remotely realistic to think people in general can or must treat others as unique personal individuals all the time. Let us be honest: there are plenty of times where we do not care about another as a person and just want to do our thing and move on. Sometimes you just want to have sex or get something from someone and do not care to make a long-lasting relationship. This is all fine, and it is bound to happen. What makes this truly repugnant is when this has become the general attitude of society. It is expected that this may happen from time to time—it is at worst a distasteful rare occurrence—but when this is how we treat most people most of the time it really starts to make things inhuman for everyone, and as such, we see the general rise of this general emptiness everywhere and with everyone. One person reducing you to nothing but a one-dimensional human with a singular quality is enough to make you angry. Everyone doing so all the time is something which, if you grow accustomed to it, stamps your self-image as inferior and reduced in human value.
We live in a society in which females as women are still burdened by their social objectification based on mere appearance. A woman is expected to be beautiful, and her worth as a personality is tied to her beauty, regardless of what shes does as an activity of labor. A man, however, is hardly expected to look anything beyond basically presentable and capable of getting the job done. He can look like a slob for all anyone cares in most jobs—it is just another man being a man, for men are not expected to care about such frivolity. A woman, however, is always judged by her looks, even in the most menial and dirty work. An ugly man can rise the ranks based on how he deals by virtue of wit and character, but a woman is hardly taken seriously without physical appeal in her immediate appearance.
As an aside: Some would say we ought to change our conceptions of beauty to be realistic in standard, and I agree to an extent—only to an extent, however. Unlike many on the Left, Hyperion and I are not convinced that what people find attractive is an entirely socially constructed image. There is, we think, a definite difference from what is socially desirable and what is sexually desirable. One of the examples often given is that in yonder feudal days a plump woman was more desirable than one that was skinny, but this is confused with sexual attraction. Just as today an individual loaded with cash is more desirable in general than a penniless one, this is not to be taken as a sexual desire preference—it is just smart to want success in a given society. Aside from that, however, it is no myth that human sexual preferences change and vary with contexts and times, but it seems there is more or less a level of natural determination which just appears as highly variable by individual unconscious experiential components as well as by social norms. It seems physical preferences come and go like fads: sometimes its more about breasts, sometimes more about buttocks, sometimes more about muscles, and sometimes more about crazy hair and being able to play a musical instrument. There is definitely more room for serving a realistic variety of attractiveness today than general media admits. Nonetheless, beauty is irrelevant insofar as personality is concerned. We must not simply demand that beauty standards become more realistic for women, but we must also demand that beauty cease to be the standard of women’s value in socially determinative sense.
What is at issue here for me is not merely that this is objectifying fantasy of the lowest level—a mere desiring after the bare abstract immediacy of shaped flesh in mere superficial appearance—it is that women far more than men are trapped by their bodies without any choice, determined externally in ways they find they have no control over. They can never walk around comfortable in their mere bodies because the public is always judging; they can never forget they are women even in the activities which have nothing to do with being a woman, while men seem to always forget themselves. It is perhaps because of this forgetfulness of men that they took the word ‘man’—a word once denoting the general species and not the gender—for themselves, since to themselves, their experience seems universal. For women, their bodies are, against their own will, an object of fantasy for another, which from their perspective refuses or is incapable of looking beyond their mere body to see their real personality, i.e. their genuine personhood. In all a woman does, she most often must take into account that she is a woman and can hardly lose herself in the universal and consider herself to simply be man as human.
A Renaturalization of the Body
Why are women still so objectified? A big reason is the hidden body. Everyone is well aware of the experience of things becoming a mere normality after experiencing them every day. If the female and male body were such a common thing such that they were as common as the people walking by on a trip to the mall, there would soon be no veil to leave even the faintest fantasy hinted of their being bodies. The mere sight of breasts and vaginas would, for the vast majority of us, lose their immediate allure. This is not to say there would be nothing sexy to be gleamed about them, but rather that more would be required to arouse us, and we could all more or less easily walk around minding our own business without turning heads whenever we see some breasts walking past. The naked body would no longer be an instant sign of desiring sex nor would invite such a reaction from the average passerby.
Our discomfort with our bodies in the private presence of our own selves is telling. Most people who live alone do not walk around inside their homes naked any more than they do outside, and it does not strike them that they are uncomfortable with their own bodies. The making of what is natural to be something unnatural is quite striking in our world, yet it needs not be so and should not be so.
To the end of renaturalizing the body, I think nudism as a socially encouraged and acceptable norm must be a Left goal in a new society. In order to fight our alienation from our own bodies, and reductive physical objectification of the female sex in particular, we must consider ways to spread the acceptance of the nude body as far as can be done. Children, teens, and adults—everyone—should find themselves comfortable in their own skin not just privately but also publicly. The current socialization which leads to shame of the body in general, but even more the shame of the aging body, needs to end. It is a pernicious problem born of a completely unnecessary and easily avoidable root cause.
If you’re wondering what I think is a realistic aim of how to deal with these things, I’d like to point you to the documentary Do Communists Have Better Sex? It overviews sexuality in the GDR. How sex not being a taboo, and the body not being an alien thing to us, made for a hell of a better sex life. The GDR was no paradise and didn’t do everything right, but they are an empirical example of what we can expect to happen when we have a whole social project aimed at liberating us from past dogma and unnecessary shame.