A discussion in the comments between myself and cyanidecupcake led me to consider the differences between self-ownership and self-objectification.
Ownership is, fundamentally, a relation between one individual and society as a whole regarding control over some man-made object (ownership cannot logically be derived from a state of non-ownership, therefore it is logically impossible to justify ownership of natural resources). Using the power inherent in society, we all make a deal that anyone who tries to usurp that control may be violently stopped. Depending on the scope of the control, we may call this system property, rent, commons, and so on.
Objectification means to abstract human beings as purely physical objects of desire, and to evaluate women based on the sole standard of how much they fulfill socially constructed male desires, a process which we call the male gaze. In short, it separates oneself as a subject and the other as an object, as long as one sees oneself as a human being. Objectification is a process which inscribes itself within Patriarchy as a form of devaluation of women and exploitation of women’s bodies.
At first glance, there does not seem to be any connection between the two concepts. But remember that I argued that hierarchy is property, and the Patriarchy is, amongst other things, the expression of gender hierarchy, meaning that men as a class claim ownership over women as a class. This claim used to be legal and literal; nowadays in the Western world it thankfully has no more legal status, although we still operate under most of its corollaries (e.g. the rape culture, pressure to marry and have children, near-universal objectification).
I’ve already extensively discussed self-ownership, so I will not start another such discussion here. Self-ownership, briefly put, is the logically impossible concept of a human being owning emself, and is used to justify property rights and the absence of positive rights (therefore the absence of actual rights for the individual, since actual rights require positive rights) under ideal capitalism.
Self-objectification is the result of an individual woman integrating the male gaze and adapting herself to its requirements. This means that the woman starts seeing herself as an sexual object and evaluating herself based on the fuckability mandate.
Because objectification is a class phenomenon, self-objectification arises because women are told how to conform through a mediation system composed primarily of parenting and its gender mania, the mass media and its constant objectification, and authority pressure. These factors are all consistently far more oppressive than the society they exist in, because they all have vested interests in preserving gender roles, even if there may be disagreement on how exactly those roles should be apportioned.
Further muddling the issue is that self-objectification in a patriarchal society creates its own reward system (secondary gains for being an obedient inferior).
I bet there are plenty of women who have, from time to time, felt flattered by a look or compliment in the street. There are many more who have felt threatened, unsafe, and angered by being yelled at out the window of a passing truck or stared down on public transit. Whatever Lees feelings and experiences are is fine — what isn’t “fine” is to write an entire article about how great being objectified makes her feel without acknowledging that these feelings aren’t about “mating calls” so much as they are about patriarchy.
Being admired by men for one’s own body can be very gratifying, but it comes at the price of one’s full person (including one’s desires, feelings and intelligence) being rejected. This is a no-win situation for all women: the women who actively pursue the male gaze cannot win because they will never be recognized as full human beings (no matter whether you’re a porn actress, a scientist, or prime minister), and the women who do not pursue the male gaze cannot win because they will automatically be classified as marginal. This is a crummy game where the table is rigged and the dice are weighted.
Competition between women is another obvious effect of self-objectification. If the individual woman is an object and the role of that object is to attract male attention, then other (self-objectifying) women are necessarily competitors. And this will be magnified in male-dominated areas, the areas where women need to cooperate the most.
This leads me to market competition. Women already start at a disadvantage, since they get paid less and are generally seen as less competent than the men in their field. I have little to add on these topics that hasn’t already been said before.
But there’s another issue, and here is where self-ownership and self-objectification join up. If we understand self-ownership as an economic process (I look at myself as an object which produces and is controlled by that process of production), then we can understand that we’re simply looking at two facets of objectification: the human being as a sexual object (object of desire) and as a commodity (object of profitability).
As a worker, you are conceived as a resource (a “human resource”) which must be exploited optimally in order to generate a maximum of profits. As an individual, you must internalize this conception and see yourself as an object of profitability in order to appear valuable to your employers. Failing to do so means you are more likely to lose the game.
Permit me to extend this reasoning even further. As some readers may have noticed, evolutionary psychology is one of my pet topics when we’re talking about explanations for human action, and I think it’s relevant here as well.
I have already pointed out that evopsych is incompatible with individuality, because it is predicted on the (unjustified) assumption that the individual is merely a vehicle for genetically transmitted behavioral strategies which are hardcoded in every human brain. The individual, in this view, is not an active subject but a passive robot, as Richard Dawkins eloquently tells us:
We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.
This is an extremely bleak view of human existence. It’s also inaccurate. For one thing, sequences of genes are not selfish, or even entities for that matter. For another, there is a gigantic leap between the fact that certain sequences of genes have an extremely tenuous connection to the organism’s survival and stating that our identity revolves around preserving genes. We are blindly programmed survival machines, sure, but that has little to do with preserving genes.
According to evopsych, men are programmed to objectify women and cheat on them, women are programmed to be attracted to men who have more resources, men and women are programmed to seek different kinds of work, and so on. It universalizes the worse of conditioned Western gender roles as innate human impulses. As I see it, the psychological objectification inherent in evopsych leads to justifying sexual objectification and commodification as well.
Incidentally, there is evidence that self-objectification correlates with women being less likely to engage in feminist activism. To me this seems to lead into a vicious circle: objectification leads to lower activism, which leads to less voices speaking counter to the mediation system, which leads to more objectification.
Maybe we should say objectification is selfish too. That makes about as much sense as selfish genes.