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A Rationalist's Account of Objectification?

43 Post author: lukeprog 19 March 2011 11:10PM

I'm seeking some feminist consciousness-raising, and I'm hoping some LWers (Alicorn?) can help.

Specifically, I've never understood why "objectification" is wrong.

I'm a tall white American male, so sometimes it takes a bit of work for me to understand what it's like to be a member of a suppressed group. I still need regular training in avoiding sexist language, etc.

First: my background. When I was 10ish I encountered the word "feminism" for the first time. I asked my mom what the word meant.

She said, "It's the idea that women should have the same rights and privileges as men do."

And I thought, "They have a word for that?" It seemed too obvious to deserve its own word. It felt like having a special word for the idea that left-handers and right-handers should have the same rights and privileges.

So I've always thought of myself as a feminist.

Of course, some activists (the word has positive connotations to me, BTW) pushed too far, as is the case in all large movements. At some times and places (1980s academia, I think), it was common to assert that there are almost no (average) significant differences between men and women that aren't caused by enculturation, except for genitalia. That is of course false. Hormones matter, especially during development.

Such overreaches made it psychologically easier for some non-feminists to dismiss legitimate feminist demands and resist thousands of much-needed feminist advances (which are still ongoing).

Now, on this matter of objectification. I've never understood it. I've tried to get people to explain it to me before, but they were (apparently) not well-trained in rationality. I'm hoping a rationalist can explain it to me.

Here's my confusion about objectification. Depending on what you mean by "objectification," it seems to be either something that (1) is very often perfectly acceptable, or that (2) means something very narrow and is usually not being exemplified when there is an accusation of it being exemplified.

Let me explain.

Earlier, when I tried to figure out what "objectification" was and why it was wrong, the leading article on the topic seemed to be one by philosopher Martha Nussbaum. She lays out the goal of her paper like this:

I shall argue that there are at least seven distinct ways of behaving introduced by the term, none of which implies any of the others, though there are many complex connections among them. Under some specifications, objectification… is always morally problematic. Under other specifications, objectification has features that may be either good or bad, depending on the overall context… Some features of objectification… may in fact in some circumstances… be either necessary or even wonderful features of sexual life.

Using examples, she then outlines seven ways to treat a person as a thing. Rae Langton added three more in 2009, bringing the total count to 10 ways to treat a person as a thing:

  1. Instrumentality. The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.
  2. Denial of autonomy. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
  3. Inertness. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
  4. Fungibility. The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type and/or (b) with objects of other types.
  5. Violability. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
  6. Ownership. The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
  7. Denial of subjectivity. The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.
  8. Reduction to body: treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts.
  9. Reduction to appearance: treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look.
  10. Silencing: the treatment of a person as if they lack the capacity to speak.

Consider a classic example of objectification from Playboy magazine: a photo of a female tennis player bending over, revealing her butt, above the caption "Why We Love Tennis."

The Playboy image exhibits at least eight features of objectification: instrumentalization, denial of autonomy, fungibility, denial of subjectivity, reduction to body, reduction to appearance, and silencing!

But, let's consider another example of objectification, what I'll call the Muddy People photo:

To us, these people are nothing but objects of our entertainment and pleasure. We have instrumentalized them. Moreover, they are fungible. It does not matter to us which people are covered in mud and looking silly. And just as with the Playboy example, this photo involves a denial of autonomy. Indeed, it is doubtful the permission to publish their photos was obtained. Moreover, we are not much interested in the feelings of these people but only their role in entertaining us as we gaze upon their mud-caked bodies – a denial of subjectivity. Often, nothing of these mud-covered people can be seen or known except their bodies – in many cases, only body parts, sticking every which way. This is the reduction to body. There is also clearly a reduction to appearance. Their mud-covered appearance is their only interest to us. In many cases, the emotions they might be having are totally obscured by the mud covering their faces. They are also, of course, silent to us.

So all the features of objectification found in the Playboy example, which we might feel is wrong somehow, are also shared by the Muddy People photo, which we probably feel is acceptable. Perhaps this suggests that our feelings are poor guides to moral truth. Or maybe what is wrong with the Playboy photo is something other than objectification.

Of course, there are disanalogies to be found. The Playboy example (especially with the caption) involved sexuality, and the Muddy People photo does not particularly do so. But if this is the line of thought that leads us to condemn Playboy but not the Muddy People photo, then we are bringing in another concept besides objectification.

For example, perhaps we want to say that Playboy‘s objectifications harm women by contributing to a culture of sexual prejudice, but the Muddy People objectifications do not cause any such harm. But then we are not appealing to this Kantian notion of "objectification." Rather, we are appealing to utilitarian principles. (Feminist philosopher Lina Papadaki makes similar objections to the notion of objectification.)

We all use each other as means to an end, or as objects of one kind or another, all the time. And we can do so while respecting their autonomy. I enjoy looking at the shapes and textures in the Muddy People photo while also respecting that the people whose bodies make up those shapes and textures are autonomous individuals of great value. But their value as individuals is not the point of the photo. The point of the photo, in this case, is that it's an interesting picture to look at. And that's okay, I think.

Good romantic partners use each other as a means to their own gratification while also respecting each others' autonomy. We use each other as sex objects, as emotion objects, as conversation objects, as knowledge objects, as carpool objects, and as other objects, all the time - while also respecting each others' autonomy and value. It's not clear to me what's wrong with that.

So if something like Nussbaum's analysis of "objectification" is what is meant by the term, then I don't see what's wrong with it. But if it means something much more narrow (what? I don't know), then I doubt it is exemplified nearly as often as people are accused of exemplifying it.

I reject Kant's epistemology, logic, and metaphysics - as I think any scientifically-informed person should. But even if you do accept all three, I still don't see what's intrinsically wrong with objectification as Nussbaum defines it.

Maybe I'm being dense. That has happened before. I'm not posting this with much confidence that objectification is a mostly useless concept. I'm posting this in pursuit of some consciousness-raising.

Understanding the problem is the first step toward fixing it. And right now I don't understand the problem. So if you have the time, please teach me.

Thanks.

 

Update: below, I'll keep an updated list of the most useful articles I've found so far.

Comments (306)

Comment author: Cyan 22 March 2011 05:08:16PM *  11 points [-]

An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine. A money machine.

That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing... I just hate to be a thing.

The truth is I've never fooled anyone. I've let people fool themselves. They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't. When they found this out, they would blame me for disillusioning them and fooling them.

People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn't see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.

- Marilyn Monroe

Comment author: Lightwave 20 March 2011 08:39:09AM *  7 points [-]

Here's a stab at the question about the images:

The female tennis player image has (just like words can have) certain connotations that are attached to it and they're mostly the of the type of the 10 things you've listed. The muddy people image, on the other hand, doesn't have those same connotations associated with it. So you can't just analyze the image itself, you have to take a look at it in the context of what's in people's heads related to the image. Just like what you'd do to figure out what people mean by some word.

Comment author: Jack 20 March 2011 08:07:45PM 20 points [-]

In order to flourish, humans need to be both subjectified and objectified-- that is, they they need to feel like they are in control of their life and that their wellbeing is taken as an end in itself by others (subjectified) but they also need to feel useful and wanted by others (objectified).

Of course they ideal balance between these two paradigms probably varies greatly between individuals and between groups. But I think it is plausible that our culture, in general, over-objectifies women and under-objectifies men. I don't think this is actually that controversial, most narrative protagonists are men, most people who make money from their physical attractiveness are women. Bosses tend to be men, secretaries tend to be women. Traditionally men headed families, went to work and made the important decisions. Traditionally a woman's role was to support her husband, cook for him, raise his children and look nice.

Now, if we assume that, whatever the ideal ratio of objectification to subjectification is for women, our culture over objectifies it becomes clear why feminists would oppose female objectification (one would also suspect that outspoken feminists would be among the most over-objectified relative to their ideal). The person doing the objectifying is contributing to patterns and trends that, on balance, make life worse for women. Conversely, men might be under-objectified and that is why they don't understand why women object to certain instances of objectification. For example, most men probably want to be stared and desired just for their bodies more often than they are right now.

I don't mean to suggest that the situation is symmetrical for men and women, exactly. It seems likely being over objectified is worse than being under objectified (a free person who isn't needed or wanted by anyone is probably still better off than most slaves). Men and women may also, on average, prefer different levels of objectification.

In general, if we want a culture that provides something close to the ideal amount of objectification and subjectification for everyone we probably want a system that doesn't objectify whole groups-- better for people to get the objectification they need on an individual basis which should be better calibrated.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 09:40:38PM 2 points [-]

I think that this is a very interesting and useful way of looking at it. I do think that it's better modeled as a 2d space than as a bell curve, though - I can imagine people needing very little of either kind of interaction (and probably being introverts in general) or needing unusual amounts of both (and probably being extroverts) as well as needing mostly one or mostly the other or near-equal amounts of both.

Comment author: Jack 20 March 2011 11:58:33PM 10 points [-]

Agreed. It's probably more multi-dimensional than that actually- people's preferences regarding objecthood and subjecthood vary over different domains as well. There are people who want to be totally independent financially but dominated in bed and there are people happy to be dependent on another for income so long as they get to be on top. Further, people's preferences change over time.

As usual, treating people as generalizations of their subgroup is dangerous.

There's an associated Catch-22 actually. Finding out the degree of objectification someone desires is really difficult unless you ask them (and give them the freedom to learn and explore the relevant options). But of course, this subjectifies them (to a rather extreme level relative to the tremendous restrictions on autonomy our ancestors faced). This paradox plays out constantly as far as I can tell. For example, some people are turned off when others are overly concerned with getting prior permission to engage in romantic and sexual behavior. Person A may want person B to "just grab me and lay one on". Person B may want to do the kissing but doesn't know if A wants to be objectified in this way. B can ask A, but that would subjectify A ruining the moment if, in fact A did want to be objectified. The way out is for B to find out A wants to be kissed like that in a way that either doesn't subjectify A (reading body language) or in a way where A doesn't realize (s)he's been subjectified (secretly finding out from person C who heard from person A).

Thats a pretty mundane example but I think this paradox often arises when modernity has given us choices we didn't culturally or biologically evolve to have. For example, some have suggested that a variety of purposeless is the result of most people being free to choose their profession and role in society. The freedom to live almost wherever we like perhaps damages our desire to have a place we call home. These are the kind of things the much disparaged post-modernists and adjacent thinkers talk about-- modernity undermining traditional folkways and whatnot.

Of course, for most people at most time there has been too much objectification. Such paradoxes aren't good arguments for returning to a patriarchy that tolerated rape in certain circumstances or a caste system or peonage system. And I'm not actually sure how to measure the anxieties these paradoxes create.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 March 2011 01:45:02AM 1 point [-]

Tentatively-- I don't think being a subject always means being able to explain what one wants. I'm pretty sure that words are as much an alien (at worst) or learnable with difficulty (at best) mode for some people as feeling and body language are for many of the people here.

Comment author: Strange7 18 April 2011 07:14:48AM 1 point [-]

(a free person who isn't needed or wanted by anyone is probably still better off than most slaves)

I could dispute that. If nobody needs or wants them, how will they produce surpluses from comparative advantage which can then be exchanged for resources necessary to survival? A slave has food and shelter taken care of.

Comment author: nthmost 20 October 2011 11:43:30PM 1 point [-]

That's a very fascinating and insightful way to think about this issue.

Comment author: jsalvatier 20 March 2011 12:51:11AM 5 points [-]

This Katja Grace post is related.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 01:09:17AM 0 points [-]

What a great post! Thanks for linking that.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 12:47:52AM 5 points [-]

I'm far from being the right guy to answer this, but my $0.02: if I were one of the people in that photo, I'd probably feel a bit uncomfortable by the fact that the photo had been taken without my consent and republished here.

It wouldn't be a huge thing, but it would be unpleasant.

If I felt like you were treating me like one of the people in that photo when I was, say, going on a job interview or going out to dinner, I would feel extremely uncomfortable and pretty angry about it.

That suggests to me that treating people in my life the way you describe treating the people in that photo isn't actually acceptable.

It more weakly suggests to me that treating people in that photo the way you describe treating the people in that photo isn't actually acceptable.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 12:54:38AM 3 points [-]

I can see why someone would be annoyed if treated as an object in all these ways when you're meeting them in person for dinner. But I don't see how that suggests that treating the representations of people in the photo is wrong. What's the logic, there?

Also, if the issue is consent, then do all the photos where women give consent for their nude photos to be published pass the test? I think not. That's not what you were suggesting, but then I'm not sure what you were suggesting with that paragraph. Could you elaborate?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 02:17:51AM *  2 points [-]

My logic goes something like this:

  • As I said, I estimate that I would be made uncomfortable by being aware of having my image treated the way you describe treating the images of those people, and I would therefore prefer not to have my image treated that way.

  • I consider the people in that photo part of the same reference class that contains me -- that is, we're basically all people together -- and thus I infer from my estimated discomfort about my own counterfactual experience that they also would prefer to not have their images treated that way.

  • My credibly precommitting to the general principle of not treating people in ways they would rather not be treated (whether they know I'm doing it or not) lowers everybody's estimation of the likelihood that I am treating them that way (without their knowledge), which I endorse. (1)

You may be asking a different question, though, which is something like "what's the logic for my being made uncomfortable by such photos of me being viewed in the first place?"

And, well, mostly that's not a reasoned conclusion, it's an emotional reaction. That said, being treated the way you describe constitutes a reduction of my status, and status is a valuable thing, so I might well reason my way to the same conclusion if I had enough data. It doesn't seem a particularly flawed judgment.

And, perhaps unrelatedly: yes, consent is relevant. If I give uncoerced and informed consent for someone to view certain photos of me, I am not made uncomfortable by their doing so. I infer from that, that if someone gives uncoerced and informed consent to having me view certain photos of them, they are not made uncomfortable by my doing so. Which makes that a completely different case.

==

(1) I have sort of picked up the impression that some folks arrive in some superior fashion at the same category of conclusions that I get at through thinking about the usefulness of credibly precommitting to a class of actions by way of a notion of acausal relationships between specific actions, and that this is related to a Timeless Decision Theory that is popular here, but I don't understand that well enough to invoke it here.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 02:23:38AM 3 points [-]

Interesting.

My own emotions are different. I wouldn't mind being one of the people in the mud pit, having my photo taken unknowingly amidst such a large group.

Also, on the issue of consent: If we required consent from each person in such photographs, it would be nearly impossible to ever publish photographs of large groups of people.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 02:36:51AM 1 point [-]

Re: consent... sure, I agree. Or at least more difficult. That doesn't change my conclusions about how consent informs my judgment of whether a particular act is OK.

Re: your emotions... fair enough. If I use you as a reference class for those folks instead of me, my conclusion changes.

Comment author: Perplexed 20 March 2011 03:11:55AM 12 points [-]

I think that objectification of people is kind of like defecation or masturbation. I do it sometimes, I'm pretty sure everyone else does it too, I don't think it is particularly unhealthy, but for some reason people object when you do it publicly.

So I don't.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 03:46:19AM 1 point [-]

Interesting.

But I doubt that most women would like it if all men in the world were objectifying them in private. They'd like it better than continuous public objectification, perhaps, but still...

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 04:59:22AM 11 points [-]

I actually think it's the public thing that specifically makes it bad. The private thing is an issue, but only because saying things in private makes you more likely to say/do related things in public.

This ties in with my issue with the Hanson and Katja Grace articles. Grace and Hanson seem to be approaching the issue from a single metric - guys treating specific women like sex objects and interacting with them with that mindset. When I think a bigger problem (in a torture vs dust specks sense) is all the little comments guys will make that belittle women in their daily life.

I work in an animation studio. For a while I was in a room with 4 guys and 1 girl. The guys had a raunchy sense of humor and with some frequency, joked about things like rape. I never got to actually talk to the girl about it but my sense was that she was uncomfortable, but pretended not to be. (She'd laugh at the jokes, but occasionally I saw her grimace in a way that didn't look too amused)

She left the company eventually. Now I'm in a room with just a few guys. The sexist comments have gone up dramatically. I know the guys are joking, but I also suspect that they've internalized some of the things they say. (For example, in discussing his romantic partner, one guy says on occasion "seriously, I think girls are just crazy." I think he's only half joking, and that his perception of the girls he's been involved with are warped by the portrayal of girls, both in media and in the way he and his friends talk about them).

Comment author: Nisan 21 March 2011 03:35:35AM 1 point [-]

The last bit of your anecdote illustrates that public speech also influences private thinking. I find it disturbing that men think that way about women. One could argue, on a number of grounds, that the private bit itself is wrong.

Comment author: clarissethorn 28 March 2011 05:14:58AM 17 points [-]

I recommend the movie "Filming Desire" for what I found to be a very interesting and nuanced feminist analysis of objectification, and what happens when women try to represent sex for ourselves rather than buying into how the dominant culture represents sex (i.e., how men with stereotypical desires represent sex).

Here is an edited version of a comment I recently wrote on my own post "Ethical Pick-Up Artistry" [ http://clarissethorn.com/blog/2011/03/23/ethical-pick-up-artistry/ ], which I think is tangentially relevant:

I don’t really like the idea that men’s sexuality is generally more focused on stereotypically “hot” women, and that it’s some kind of inherent difference -- beyond cultural influences -- that it's more unusual/more difficult for men to be attracted to non-conventionally attractive women than to conventionally attractive ones, as opposed to the way attraction works for most het women. But it could be true, and if it is then I don’t feel comfortable shaming men for that. (It seems like gay men frequently exhibit similar attraction patterns to straight men, in terms of being considerably more attracted to younger partners and more, shall we say, sculpted partners. I seem to recall reading somewhere that lesbians have written critiques of ageism in gay men’s attraction patterns.)

There’s evidence for sexual fluidity but there’s no evidence for being able to consciously change sexuality. Maybe changing culture can change sexuality. There’s no evidence for this and I’m extremely reluctant to police art, porn, whatever based on a weak hypothesis, especially if the goal is to police sexuality even more than it is already policed. All the anecdotes (and sexuality scholars) I’ve encountered have said that sexual fluidity appears to happen in a way we can’t control and don’t understand. The ex-gay movement shows us that even people who are very motivated to abandon homosexuality simply cannot meet with success, and will become disillusioned witnesses against the programs that tried. What good is shame for influencing such a force?

But is it such a problem that attraction patterns are like this? Well, it sucks for conventionally unattractive women in particular. I have a lot of sympathy for this (as my frequently-noted fears of aging show). On the other hand, a lot of things about sexual attraction just aren’t fair, and if we start insisting that people are obligated to have sex with people they’re not attracted to, that’s not right either.

I think the real, and important, problem comes in when people (especially women) who are attractive are given more social power in other areas: more likely to be promoted, more likely to be seen as competent, etc (studies show that blonde hair is most universally attractive to men and that blondes make more money on average than other women). Some famous misogynist, I can’t remember which one, is on record as saying that feminism is about giving unattractive women more power in society (even leaving aside its massive misread on feminism, this statement assumes that unattractive women don’t deserve any power in society, which is obviously fucked up).

People aren’t very good at watching their biases in general, and so when I say that men generally suck at watching out for how biased they get about attractive women, I’m not trying to say something specific about men. It may be that women are less biased by conventionally attractive men because our hormones just work differently. It may also be that attractive men would be able to get ahead through their attractiveness more if women had the same amount of overall power in society as men. Regardless, it seems like the focus should be on de-biasing people to think that attractive people are better at things that have nothing to do with attraction, rather than on attempting to change men's attraction patterns.

Comment author: Strange7 18 April 2011 12:41:48AM 4 points [-]

Some famous misogynist, I can’t remember which one, is on record as saying that feminism is about giving unattractive women more power in society (even leaving aside its massive misread on feminism, this statement assumes that unattractive women don’t deserve any power in society, which is obviously fucked up).

The statement could be more charitably interpreted as meaning that feminism is about bringing the majority of women (who are not exceptionally attractive, by logical necessity from the definition of 'exceptional') up to the same level as the majority of men, with the caveat that exceptionally attractive people have no shortage of power in society regardless of their gender. That is, giving women inroads to power which depend primarily on hard work rather than a genetic lottery.

Comment author: nthmost 20 October 2011 11:34:07PM 1 point [-]

Attractive women in present society may have more power than less-attractive women, but they're at no less of an economic disadvantage in the final breakdown of how much pay each gender receives for equal work. Women are also judged far more harshly when their looks fade than are men.

It does seem like exceptionally attractive women have a lot of power, but their opportunities are corralled by their looks as well. They are more likely to be seen as sex objects ahead of any other capacities they may have.

Comment author: Strange7 23 October 2011 09:33:25PM 7 points [-]

how much pay each gender receives for equal work.

Actually it's my understanding that, among professionals who never marry or have children, men and women are paid equally.

Comment author: therufs 19 September 2013 01:27:26PM 1 point [-]

Well, what about men and women who do marry and have children?

Comment author: Strange7 12 November 2013 10:02:50PM 3 points [-]

Women end up being paid less, to a degree which various feminist organizations will gladly research and calculate. The question is, does that correspond to a problem with the labor market, or with institutions related to marriage and childcare?

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 March 2013 03:23:13PM 2 points [-]

Some famous misogynist, I can’t remember which one, is on record as saying that feminism is about giving unattractive women more power in society (even leaving aside its massive misread on feminism, this statement assumes that unattractive women don’t deserve any power in society, which is obviously fucked up).

Or that power was balanced previously, and this balance is now being upset. Even then, it only so implies because you referred to them as a misogynist who, therefore, must be criticizing feminism; on it's own, it's value-neutral or even positive (if you assume unattractive women didn't have enough power before.)

Comment author: [deleted] 21 March 2011 03:00:17AM 14 points [-]

I am not a typical feminist.

But my take (somewhat reinforced by feminist blogs and earlier feminist writers like Germaine Greer and Joanna Russ) is that a person can be portrayed as either observed or as an observer. And there are far more media representations of women as observed than as observers. The problem with this is that it promotes a habit of thinking of women as NPC's. For example: thinking of the man as the desirer and the woman as the desired, even though women also have desires. Or thinking of the man as the artist and the woman as the muse. The man as the narrator and the woman as his obsession, inspiration, or enemy.

So: the issue, in my view, is not any single act of "objectification," but a predominance of representations of women that only portray them in relation to a male observer. It promotes the idea that women don't have their own point of view or creative capacity.

Comment author: rabidchicken 22 March 2011 05:00:35AM 6 points [-]

Potentially unusual anecdotal evidence; I have been groped three times in as many years by complete strangers (who were females of about my age). It wasn't a big deal to me, and I imagine that anyone who knew about it would just find it hilarious. Sexual harassment of men is probably heavily underreported, so people tend to forget it exists.

The media just reflects popular assumptions, so if you encourage people to reconsider their beliefs about how each gender behaves you might be able to equalize objectification.

Comment author: Raemon 21 March 2011 02:59:57PM 3 points [-]

On the train today I saw a lottery advertisement that said "Good things can happen any time." It featured a man and woman in a movie theater. The man is staring up at the screen, ignoring the woman, who is staring at him with a coy smile on her face, about to make a move.

Comment author: HughRistik 25 March 2011 08:19:23AM *  21 points [-]

lukeprog said:

I'm a tall white American male, so sometimes it takes a bit of work for me to understand what it's like to be a member of a suppressed group.

It's a high-status truism in polite, liberal middle-class society that white males are not oppressed (except perhaps on the dimensions of class and sexual orientation). That's exactly the sort of belief that should be interrogated on LW.

I propose that you have more insight into the oppression of other groups than you think, because you actually are a member of an oppressed group (males). You just haven't been trained to conceptualize your experiences as oppression, like women have been trained by feminism.

For many readers, the notion that men are "oppressed" may be controversial. This view of oppression is denied by mainstream academic feminists. Nevertheless, some feminists do believe that men are oppressed (though not "as much" as women).

Rather than argue that men are oppressed myself, I will refer to feminist sociologist Caroline New's amazing paper Oppressed and Oppressors? The Systematic Mistreatment of Men, which I discussed a while ago on my blog:

I shall argue that both women and men are oppressed, but not symmetrically. While men are positioned to act as systematic agents of the oppression of women, women are not in such a relation to men. Yet unsurprisingly, given the inescapably relational character of gender, the two oppressions are complementary in their functioning—the practices of each contribute to the reproduction of the other. In particular, the very practices which construct men’s capacity to oppress women and interest in doing so, work by systematically harming men.

Why do you think you aren't a member of a suppressed/oppressed group? What thought process led you to accept that premise?

I don't know about you, but I accepted that view in the past because I was encultured with it. Since you are someone who was socialized with another set of beliefs that you now question (religion), are alarm bells going off in your head yet? Even if it's most reasonable to conclude that white males are not oppressed, I hypothesize that most people who hold that belief do so for the wrong reasons, and can't actually show why it's true.

"Objectification" is another such concept. We know that it's yet another piece of jargon for a bad thing that men do to women. But we don't really know what it and why it's wrong, nor it is demarcated from ethical forms of imagery.

Back to you:

Of course, some activists (the word has positive connotations to me, BTW) pushed too far, as is the case in all large movements. At some times and places (1980s academia, I think), it was common to assert that there are almost no (average) significant differences between men and women that aren't caused by enculturation, except for genitalia. That is of course false. Hormones matter, especially during development.

Social constructionism is alive and well in Women's Studies programs today. For instance, I encountered claims that both sexual orientation and sex (i.e. male/female) are socially constructed.

Of course, social constructionism isn't the only objection to feminism. See this post for some other books that critique feminism. Keep in mind that not all feminists make these sorts of errors, but particular groups of feminists do, and don't get sufficiently called on it.

Comment author: Philip_W 22 June 2012 03:39:40PM 12 points [-]

Could you please taboo "oppression" and its synonyms? You seem to be using it as a sort of discrimination/cognitive bias affair which doesn't seem to fit colloquial use of oppression.

Oppression in common usage appears to signify systematic stereotyping with a net negative effect for the population group in question, or specific behaviors associated with oppression of a group, in which case neither males nor white males are oppressed, even though there are indubitably cases where discrimination and cognitive biases turn out negatively for specific subgroups (such as male nurses, cuckolds, divorcees, etc.)

"Objectification" is another such concept. We know that it's yet another piece of jargon for a bad thing that men do to women. But we don't really know what it and why it's wrong, nor it is demarcated from ethical forms of imagery.

Objectification is a well-defined and experimentally verified to exist phenomenon by which women in western society at least judge themselves by the impression others have of their physical bodies, which correlates, amongst other things, to eating disorders.

While the connection between sexual imagery and objectification is less easily findable with google scholar, here is a study which correlates violence in watched pornography with short-term aggressive behavior.

With this definition of objectification - the identification of women and their physical appearance (9 on the list) - it is obvious that the Playboy magazine is an example of an act of objectification, while people playing in mud is not: the playboy magazine serves to display a prime specimen of the female body, while the other image serves to display a prime specimen of people playing in mud.

Hence, the only assumption we need to make is that playboy magazines cause the same objectification which causes psychological damage to women is that objectifying specific women or seeing women being objectified causes the objectification of other women, which frankly does not seem unbelievable because it's basic "monkey see, monkey do".

It should also be noted that every last posited "defining characteristic" is directly implied by characteristic #9. #8 through specification and the others by negative phrasing, and that #9 is in fact the apparent scientific definition of the concept. So while the other characteristics increase the probability of objectification, they don't guarantee it.

Of course, social constructionism isn't the only objection to feminism. See this post for some other books that critique feminism. Keep in mind that not all feminists make these sorts of errors, but particular groups of feminists do, and don't get sufficiently called on it.

One last thing: Your statement that not all feminists are social constructivists implies that the truth value of social constructivism doesn't affect the truth value of feminism, but rather the truth value of whatever those feminists do believe that makes them social constructivists, assuming there are rational feminists who are not social constructivists.

PS: Hi, I'm new here. Please be patient with me if I'm in error.

Comment author: pnrjulius 05 July 2012 01:41:41AM -2 points [-]

Upvoted because it's a well-sourced and coherent argument.

Which is not to say that I agree with the conclusion. Okay, so there may be this effect of women being identified with their bodies.

But here's the thing: WE ARE OUR BODIES. We should be identifying with them, and if we're not, that's actually a very serious defect in our thinking (probably the defect that leads to such nonsense as dualism and religion).

Now, I guess you could say that maybe women are taught to care too much about physical appearance or something like that (they should care about other things as well, like intelligence, kindness, etc.). But a lot of feminists seem to be arguing that we should not care about how our bodies look at all, which is blatantly absurd.

Indeed, one thing that I know I have done wrong in my life and that other people have done to me to hurt me is to ignore my body. I have a tendency to think in terms of my mind and body being separate things, like my body is just a house my mind lives in. And then other people tend to treat me as some kind of asexual being that has transcended bodily form. The result is a very screwed-up body image and a lot of sexual frustration. On the definition you just gave, I am apparently under-objectified.

Comment author: pnrjulius 05 July 2012 01:37:38AM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure I would call it "oppression", but it's clearly true that heterosexual men are by far the MOST controlled by restrictive gender norms. It is straight men who are most intensely shoehorned into this concept of "masculinity" that may or may not suit them, and their status is severely downgraded if they deviate in any way.

If you doubt this, imagine a straight man wearing eye shadow and a mini-skirt. Compare to a straight woman wearing a tuxedo.

See the difference?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 12:51:11AM 3 points [-]

I suspect that the main problem with objectification is when it's the only way that certain people interact with certain other people. It doesn't seem to be entirely avoidable, in any case, but recognizing that a person has agency and all that when it's important makes it okay to focus on other things at other times. It's also an issue when people are, or feel like they are, only treated in objectifying ways - socially-normal neurotypicals seem to have an innate need for validation of themselves-as-people that being treated in objectified ways interferes with.

As to the two pictures, the framing of the first, both in the sense of how it's composed and in terms of the caption, seems to me to make it more problematic than it would be on its own, and more problematic than the second picture. There are many fewer contextual and body language cues, and we're specifically prompted to see the subject as a body to be judged and (in a fantasy sense) used. The second picture has no such prompting, and it's entirely possible to read it as a group of individual people, wonder about what they're doing, try to guess at what they're thinking, and so on. (What are those people at the top of the picture looking at? That guy on the bottom near the right, is he helping that person up, or about to headbutt them? The woman in the upper right with her hair in a bun looks like she's having fun, and maybe just made a friend, and I hope that person next to her doesn't fall!)

You may want to see if you can find a good explanation of the term "male gaze". Unfortunately I don't have one - in fact if you do find a good one I'd appreciate it if you shared - but it seems highly relevant from what I've gathered.

Comment author: FAWS 20 March 2011 01:33:40AM 8 points [-]

You may want to see if you can find a good explanation of the term "male gaze". Unfortunately I don't have one - in fact if you do find a good one I'd appreciate it if you shared - but it seems highly relevant from what I've gathered.

Male Gaze.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 01:58:28AM 6 points [-]

... I continue to be surprised by and impressed with TVTropes' usefulness when it comes to social issues. Thanks!

Comment author: FAWS 20 March 2011 01:05:44PM 9 points [-]

The framing allows everyone to turn their mind killers off, and the mission statement of entertainment means that concepts have to be presented so clearly that understanding them takes almost no effort at all, while there simply is no incentive to try to make anything sound profound.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 01:24:55AM 0 points [-]

What would you think if the Muddy People photo was accompanied by the caption "Mud fights make for pretty pictures"?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 March 2011 03:29:00AM *  12 points [-]

Interesting exercise: going through your list of '''10 ways to treat a person as a thing''' and see how many of them the 'LW consensus' satisfies.

1) Instrumentality. The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.

Well, we're mostly consequentialists.

2) Denial of autonomy. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.

Are you claiming to have free will or something?

3) Inertness. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.

See 2.

4) Fungibility. The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type and/or (b) with objects of other types.

Shut up and multiply!

5) Violability. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.

6) Ownership. The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.

Ok, we don't do these two.

7) Denial of subjectivity. The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Fortunately this isn't that common but there is an occasional tendency by some prominent commenters to dismiss personal experience as anecdotes.

8) Reduction to body: treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts.

What, are you claiming you have a soul or something?

9) Reduction to appearance: treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look.

Ok we generally avoid this.

10) Silencing: the treatment of a person as if they lack the capacity to speak.

There's a tendency to consider some people so hopelessly biased that one should disregard anything they say.

Taking Bayseanism and consequentialism seriously tends to reduce humans to the status of tools and victory points.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 20 March 2011 11:32:32PM 3 points [-]

5) At least I would consider an unwillingness to be uploaded as silly irrationality and do it to people anyway rather than have somehting bad happen to them if that was the other option.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 06:48:40AM 10 points [-]

Really, I think the list overcomplicates matters.

Status is a valuable commodity, so behaving in a way that lowers someone else's status is therefore acting against their interests; non-person objects generally have lower status than people, so treating people as though they were non-person objects is therefore acting against their interests.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 06:54:58AM *  1 point [-]

Yeah, I think this is pretty accurate.

Comment author: Alicorn 20 March 2011 03:37:06AM 5 points [-]

Regarding free will, the metaphysics of choice are not actually what is at issue when the list mentions "autonomy", "self-determination", "agency", and "activity". (I can't tell if you knew this, and were making a joke, or not.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 March 2011 03:54:41AM 1 point [-]

Regarding free will, the metaphysics of choice are not actually what is at issue when the list mentions "autonomy", "self-determination", "agency", and "activity".

However, there doesn't appear to be a clear 'Schelling line' between the metaphysics of choice and what you do mean by those terms. Thus people and movements that start out arguing against free-will tend to end up arguing against "autonomy", "self-determination", and "agency" in the sense you mean.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 10:02:02PM *  4 points [-]

Is it at all useful to think of the issue in terms of "treating people as if they had free will/autonomy/etc, as a reasonable way of dealing with the fact that we can't model each other to a consistently acceptable degree of accuracy"?

Comment author: Strange7 18 April 2011 06:07:41PM 4 points [-]

If we go with the assumption that humans are strictly deterministic machines, "autonomy" could be thought of as the degree to which it's easier to predict a human's future actions by looking at their internal state, rather than by looking at the orders they receive.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 22 June 2012 12:54:11PM *  -2 points [-]

Fortunately this isn't that common but there is an occasional tendency by some prominent commenters to dismiss personal experience as anecdotes.

(On that note but totally unrelated to gay shit like "objectification": It's amazing how difficult it is to talk to someone sane, reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned, honest, without obvious incentives to lie, &c. who reports an experience that, if it actually happened, could only be explained by psi. There are anecdotes where pseudo-explanations like "memory bias" just don't cut it—in order for you to confidently deny psi you have to confidently accuse them of lying, and in order to confidently accuse them of lying you have to have a significantly better model of human psychology than I do. I think not realizing that such people are in fact numerous is what kept me from even considering psi for Aumannesque reasons—like most LessWrong types I'd implicitly assumed all reports of psi were either fuzzy in their details such that cognitive biases were a defensible explanation, or were provided by people who were less than credible. Once you eliminate those two categories the skeptic is left with a lot of uncomfortable evidence just waiting to be examined. Of course the evidence will never be very communicable to a wide audience, per the law of conservation of trolling.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 June 2012 01:26:25PM 2 points [-]

For my own part, I have low confidence in my ability to identify individuals as sane, reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned, honest, without obvious incentives to lie, etc. I'd be interested in how you go about reliably distinguishing such people from humans in general; I would find that a useful skill to learn.

Comment author: Gastogh 24 June 2012 09:45:55PM 1 point [-]

There are anecdotes where pseudo-explanations like "memory bias" just don't cut it—in order for you to confidently deny psi you have to confidently accuse them of lying,

Can you give an example or two of such anecdotes?

Comment author: amit 22 June 2012 06:05:48PM *  1 point [-]

Of course the evidence will never be very communicable to a wide audience

Why not? First obvious way that comes to mind: take someone that the audience trusts to be honest and to judge people correctly and have them go around talking to people who've had experiences and report back their findings.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 22 June 2012 06:12:08PM *  0 points [-]

That's a multi-step plan: at least one of those steps would go wrong. By hypothesis we're talking about transhuman intelligence(s) here (no other explanation for psi makes sense given the data we have). They wouldn't let you ruin their fun like that, per the law of conservation of trolling. (ETA: Or at least, it wouldn't work out like you'd expect it to.)

Comment author: nawitus 24 March 2011 11:59:44AM *  11 points [-]

"I'm a tall white American male, so sometimes it takes a bit of work for me to understand what it's like to be a member of a suppressed group."

Females are suppressed, and so are males. Gender roles suppress both genders. They also offer advantages to both genders.

List of male privileges: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/

List of female privileges: http://masculistadvice.blogspot.com/2008/06/female-privilege-list.html

It is true that popular discourse paints females as the suppressed group and males as the non-suppressed group.

"So I've always thought of myself as a feminist."

Feminism goes beyond technical gender equality of having the same rights and privileges. I'm a feminist too, because I think politics should solve problems facing women. And I'm also a masculist (or a men's rights activist), since men's problems should be solved too.

"Of course, some activists (the word has positive connotations to me, BTW) pushed too far, as is the case in all large movements."

The main problem with feminism today is that all the political gender equality resources are directed to feminism. It should be evenly distributed between masculism and feminism.

Comment author: nthmost 20 October 2011 11:40:44PM 3 points [-]

Why would you reference a list of "female privilege" that includes circumcision? That's not exactly helping you prove your point.

Comment author: pnrjulius 05 July 2012 01:43:49AM 3 points [-]

Because female circumcision is rare and illegal in developed nations?

There's obviously a female advantage here, at least in the Western world. Mutilating female genitals draws the appropriate outrage, while mutilating male genitals is ignored or even condoned. (I've seen people accused of "anti-Semitism" just for pointing out that male circumcision has virtually no actual medical benefits.)

Comment author: wedrifid 05 July 2012 02:36:38AM 9 points [-]

Mutilating female genitals draws the appropriate outrage, while mutilating male genitals is ignored or even condoned.

The mutilation of male genitals in question is ridiculous in itself but hardly equivalent to the kind of mutilation done to female genitals.

Comment author: pnrjulius 05 July 2012 04:29:55AM *  10 points [-]

The mutilation of male genitals in question is ridiculous in itself but hardly equivalent to the kind of mutilation done to female genitals.

Granted. Female mutilation is often far more severe.

But I think it's interesting that when the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed allowing female circumcision that really just was circumcision, i.e. cutting of the clitoral hood, people were still outraged. And so we see that even when the situation is made symmetrical, there persists what we can only call female privilege in this circumstance.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 24 March 2011 12:09:52PM -3 points [-]

The main problem with feminism today is that all the political gender equality resources are directed to feminism. It should be evenly distributed between masculism and feminism.

Ideally this would be true, but it's not. Women and men are both oppressed by gender roles, but women get the worst of it on net.

Comment author: FAWS 24 March 2011 12:35:44PM *  4 points [-]

I am reasonably sure you are right, but how useful is that sort of accounting? Society should be fair to each and every individual, not "fair" to both genders on aggregate (the two traditional genders don't even cover everyone). If one gender suffers from unfairness in certain ways that isn't made any better by the other gender suffering an equal amount of unfairness elsewhere, it's made twice as bad because that means twice as much total unfairness.

IMO equality resources should be distributed so as to fix the maximum amount of unfairness. Women suffer more unfairness so presumably most resources would be directed towards them anyway, but there could easily be a number of low hanging fruit on the male side.

Comment author: nawitus 24 March 2011 01:50:57PM *  13 points [-]

"Women suffer more unfairness so presumably most resources would be directed towards them anyway, but there could easily be a number of low hanging fruit on the male side."

This claim is often made, but I haven't seen any calculations to back it up. I'm active in the gender equality debate in Finland, so I can only talk about Finnish statistics:

  • Men are forced to serve on average 8,5 months in "slave work". No modern work regulations apply. I personally witnessed many broken bones and other health problems which happened to my friends during my service. Work was often 24/7 for weeks. Psychological stress is commonplace.
  • Men make 80 % of suicides, and 80 % of the homeless are men.
  • Women have higher wages by 2 percent.
  • Men have less success in studying
  • Men don't have sexual power
  • Men face the majority of violence (and men face as much domestic violence as women)
  • Mutilation of boys for religious reasons is legal, but mutilation of girls is illegal.
  • Men die seven years earlier
  • 60% of unemployed people seeking work are men

(I can provide sources for these, but they would be in Finnish, so I don't think most people are that interested, check http://mies.asia for more information though)

Obviously, women also face problems like rape and lack of leadership positions in corporations. On the political front, we have a female president and a female prime minister.

I'm not claiming definately that men suffer more, but this non-technical examination seems to imply it. At least it has not been proven that women suffer more nowadays.

Until such calculation has been made, I think it should be reasonable to direct 50% of equality resources for feminism, and 50% for masculism.

EDIT: There have been a downvote, but I don't really understand why. Of course, Finland is only one nation, but similar lists have been made in USA for example. If this site assumes that we should only talk about USA, I think that's unfair, since there's a significant Finnish representation. I'm clearly talking about the situation in Finland, and the situation differs from country to country.

There are of course some countries, where women have less freedom than men etc. I don't think it makes sense to talk about a global average here, since equity politics are not a global, but local question.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 March 2011 07:09:04PM *  10 points [-]

Ideally this would be true, but it's not. Women and men are both oppressed by gender roles,

I agree that any meaningful definition of oppression must apply to both genders. I've tried to imagine definitions of "oppression" by which only women are oppressed, but they must be extremely contorted. It's impossible to define "oppression" as only effecting women without being blind to certain systematic harms that happen to men, or without trying to define it that way.

but women get the worst of it on net.

I've heard this claimed, but I've always wondered what this comparison means. "The worst of it on net" implies some sort of aggregation function for oppression. What is this function, and what are the units of measurement?

To make a quantitative comparison, your quantities must have the same units. That's difficult when attempting to compare social harms. If someone asks you, "what's worse, men being considered more dangerous to children, or women being considered less legitimate in positions of authority in the workplace?" the answer is "what a stupid question... those things have different units."

Maybe there is some magic oppression function, and someone somewhere has completed the philosophical tour de force that would allow us to meaningfully compare oppressions of different groups in a quantitative manner.

Or maybe the emperor is wearing no clothes, and the people who advance this argument are being biased and self-serving, just like any political advocacy group.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 28 March 2011 10:02:17PM 0 points [-]

if they are non-intercomparable, you cannot justify an even split.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 March 2011 11:47:12PM 2 points [-]

Where did I make an even split?

Comment author: Will_Sawin 29 March 2011 01:46:05AM 1 point [-]

You responded to Normal Anomaly, who responded to nawitus, who suggested an even split. It was a reasonable guess that you supported it.

The general version of my argument is:

You have to choose SOME split, given an inconvenient enough world. Which do you pick? How do you justify it?

Comment author: HughRistik 01 April 2011 09:13:55PM 2 points [-]

nawitus was talking about an ideal split of resources to aid each gender. Since he proposed a 50/50 split of resources, he might well believe that there is an even split of "oppression," but you'd have to take that up with him.

I'm not sure it makes sense to choose any split, because shitty things that happen more often to women are measured in different units than shitty things that happen more often to men. We would need some way to convert those quantities into the same units to make a comparison. Even in an inconvenient enough world, I'm not sure you can make a split of a quantity measured in feet and a quantity measured in pounds.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 04 April 2011 03:15:45AM 4 points [-]

Clearly some specifics are in order:

You have $100. You must only spend it in some combination on a) issues that are clearly specific to men or b) issues that are clearly specific to women. Which do you pick?

Even less convenient world:

I, the Grand High Poo-Bah of the World, have just appointed you Director of Spending on Gender-Specific Oppression. I have outlawed all charitable spending on gender-specific oppression not routed through your office. I have given you a budget equal to the current spending on gender-specific oppression, or to a randomly selected figure. If you do not pick how to spend it, I will take it back and spending it on professional baby-punchers. How do you spend it?

Any kind of moral ontology is totally irrelevant in a real-world situation where you actually have to pick.

Comment author: Strange7 18 April 2011 06:16:08AM 5 points [-]

Under circumstances like that I would start by requisitioning some census data from the Director of Figuring Out What Gender Actually Is, to determine the number of males, females, and misc/other. Initial budgeting would assume a uniform per-capita distribution of gender-specific oppression.

Then I would do some surveys, focus groups, statistical analysis of written complaints, and so forth to identify the main problems in each category. Naturally, information-gathering for a specific gender's problems comes out of the budget for that gender, although there might be some post-hoc fiddling around if a survey intended to address one issue provides unexpected insights outside it's category.

Once the issues are identified, I would set up teams of economists, anthropologists, etc. (mixed specialties in any given team) for in-depth analysis of causes and possible solutions. Each problem gets more than one team, each team is expected to come up with a predictive model of the problem before anyone proposes solutions, and then to have multiple possible courses of action with cost/benefit analysis for each, including the null option and at least one option which is completely stupid.

After the possible courses of action are laid out, each team is handed the full analysis of two or more interventions proposed by other teams and assigned the task of mapping out how those courses of action might interfere with each other. Bonus points for spotting errors or oversights in the other team's analysis, or ways that multiple interventions could be cost-effectively combined. The result is one or more new proposals which are then added to circulation.

Eventually, a few 'gems' would emerge: plans with exceptionally high cost/benefit ratios, exceptionally low risk of negative externalities, or that would otherwise be unconscionable to avoid acting on. Each of these gets as much funding as necessary, up to... let's say about 80% of the relevant category or categories.

After the gems are polished off, either to the point of diminishing returns or concern over too many eggs in one basket, the remainder of any given categorical budget is distributed between contingency planning against the possibility of flaws in the 'gems,' the various second-string plans (with an eye toward political expediency), and various long term concerns such as follow-up studies.

Does that seem reasonable?

Comment author: Will_Sawin 18 April 2011 03:49:57PM 1 point [-]

Yes, but it of course depends on some form of inter-comparability of the costs and benefits of different approaches. Such a tool for comparison should enable you to, with all the analysis that you've laid out here, come up with a highly accurate estimate for % of oppression of men vs women vs. other. (For instance, you would probably find that oppression of other is higher than either oppression of men or oppression of women.)

So I don't see why we disagree.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 12:32:43AM *  8 points [-]

Disclaimer: I'm hetero-male. I strongly consider myself a feminist. It'd be nice if we didn't need a word for moral equity of the sexes. But we have far enough to go that it's still an issue. I work in media production, and media production is heavily steeped in sexism. I have to make a conscious effort to make sure my work doesn't contribute to the problem. I read a few feminist blogs to keep myself thinking about issues I would likely forget about otherwise, or at least not consider as strongly.

I don't consider objectification an inherent bad thing, but in many contexts it produces similar, repetitive detrimental effects on society. You will probably be able to argue about individual cases and find that some aren't that bad or whathaveyou. But the problem is big, and real, and complex enough, that for purposes of encouraging widespread action, it's a lot easier to tell people "objectifying women is bad" than telling them to "carefully analyze how individual artworks are likely to impact society, measure their utility, and censure the ones that cause the most harm."

The people-in-mud photo is objectifying people in general. But what makes objectification bad is that it makes some people into objects and others into people who use objects. The people-in-mud photo is fine because it doesn't make any kind of statement (conscious or otherwise) about specific groups of people. It's just a bunch of folks in the mud. They could be anyone. Because they're covered in mud, it's not even clear what race they are.

The playboy picture is explicitly objectifying women, and setting men up to be the ones who do the objectifying. It's creating an imbalance of power, which is the kind of objectification that's actually wrong.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 12:58:31AM 2 points [-]

So, just to be clear: Is it your suggestion that what makes objectification wrong is the imbalance of power it (sometimes) creates, because the power imbalance causes harms to the disempowered group?

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 01:07:45AM 1 point [-]

It's one thing. There's a lot of interconnected things going on, but it's the most obvious difference between the two photos. I'll have more to say later, but this is a big topic and I want to get it right. As Alicorn says, you should stew for a while.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 02:13:15AM 0 points [-]

This post seems to be making the same point, and the ensuing discussion is interesting.

Interesting quote: "No objectification without due subjectification." (Holly.)

Comment author: cousin_it 20 March 2011 09:20:51AM *  11 points [-]

Reading this post and comments was almost physically painful to me. Offense is a solved problem. Why are we still discussing it? Are we going to have a free will debate next week? Though I understand that people may get offended at the thought that their feelings of offense are how a status-seeking algorithm feels from inside, and all the "deeper" reasons coming to mind are just post hoc rationalizations. It must feel like trivializing the rainbow...

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 20 March 2011 09:33:36AM *  4 points [-]

The relevance of that link isn't lost on me, but it's not obvious to me that lukeprog's question is equivalent to "why does objectification offend people?"

Riding my cruelty hobby-horse a little more: I think that I find cruelty offensive. I'm open to a status-seeking explanation for that but it seems likely to me that more is going on.

Comment author: cousin_it 20 March 2011 09:40:20AM *  3 points [-]

The relevance of that link isn't lost on me, but it's not obvious to me that lukeprog's question is equivalent to "why does objectification offend people?"

I think you can get on fine just knowing the answer to the question "how to tell if something will offend someone?", and avoid cluttering your mind with irrelevant stuff like "objectification" and "the criterion of violability".

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 10:03:13AM 4 points [-]

cousin_it,

Apparently, lots of people think objectification is relevant. I'm asking "Why?"

And no, I'm not asking about offense.

Comment author: cousin_it 20 March 2011 10:41:32AM *  13 points [-]

Well, the status hypothesis easily explains why the Playboy photo will displease many women in a way the mud photo won't. Do you have any other puzzling questions?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 03:30:04PM 6 points [-]

Well, the status hypothesis easily explains why the Playboy photo will displease many women in a way the mud photo won't.

It gives an answer, but it doesn't necessarily give complete answer, or at least not a complete answer in relation to the reference class 'feminists'.

Lowered status is not just bad in and of itself. It also has other effects - making a certain reference class be considered less desirable for certain jobs or social positions, making a certain reference class be less likely to have their complaints or observations taken seriously, making it more likely that a certain reference class will not have their rights upheld or their needs taken into account when laws are passed, and so on. Feminists and other activists - at least the ones that I'm aware of - tend to focus much more on those kinds of issues, some of which are life-threatening, than on the simple emotional discomfort of being offended.

Comment author: cousin_it 20 March 2011 05:22:38PM *  6 points [-]

I know very well that status isn't about "simple emotional discomfort"! Did anyone ever say that it was? Status is up there with money and health among the most important stats of every human being, a huge factor in pretty much everything. Which makes it an even better idea to "follow the money" or "follow the status" whenever you see two parties arguing over something that doesn't look like a factual issue. Even when you yourself are one of the parties.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 08:35:44PM 2 points [-]

The comment I replied to doesn't make that clear, and can fairly easily be interpreted as 'they're just complaining because they feel offended; there's no reason to take them seriously, it's just status'. That's not the only possible interpretation, obviously, but it's the one I was speaking to. I'm glad that it's not what you intended.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 20 March 2011 11:09:14AM 1 point [-]

Do you think that accurate predictions of people's behavior is most of what's required from a theory of right and wrong?

Comment author: cousin_it 20 March 2011 02:02:34PM *  7 points [-]

(Sorry for deleting my previous reply, it missed the mark.)

I wasn't trying to answer the question "why is objectification wrong", but rather "why do many people think objectification is wrong?" I think offense is a big part of the answer to the latter. See Righting a Wrong Question. This trick seems to be be especially useful with moral questions, e.g. "why is it wrong to kill" leads to making up stuff like unalienable rights, while "why do people think it's wrong to kill" leads to evolutionary psychology and other issues that at least have the potential of becoming scientific.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 03:49:26PM 7 points [-]

Agreed with this as far as it goes, but I think it can go further.

A real understanding of the status issues involved does more than answer "will people be offended by objectification?" It also answers "does objectification harm people?"

This isn't a moral question. That is, whether it's wrong to harm people or not, and in what ways and under what circumstances it's wrong, is a different question.

Comment author: cousin_it 20 March 2011 05:28:09PM 2 points [-]

A real understanding of the status issues involved does more than answer "will people be offended by objectification?" It also answers "does objectification harm people?"

Yes! Thanks a lot for pointing this out, it makes the picture even more complete.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 23 October 2011 10:49:49PM 1 point [-]

Doesn't it seem likely that the algorithm for determining whether something will offend someone will contain a reference to objectification or something related to it pretty closely?

Just because you can conceptually draw a larger box around something doesn't mean it hasn't got parts.

Comment author: cousin_it 24 October 2011 12:35:25AM *  4 points [-]

Doesn't it seem likely that the algorithm for determining whether something will offend someone will contain a reference to objectification or something related to it pretty closely?

Such an algorithm probably wouldn't work for people from past epochs, who had a concept of offense quite similar to ours, but didn't have a concept of objectification. And it wouldn't work very well even today in my home country (Russia). Linking offense to status seems more robust to me.

Comment author: jsalvatier 20 March 2011 05:14:40PM 1 point [-]

To clarify, when A is cruel to B and C observes it (maybe not directly) who is being offensive to who?

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 20 March 2011 05:25:04PM 2 points [-]

A to C

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 03:16:38PM 0 points [-]

I'm open to a status-seeking explanation for that but it seems likely to me that more is going on.

Same question as to lucidfox above: can you say more about what you think the "more" is? What's left over?

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 20 March 2011 04:13:48PM *  0 points [-]

I might have been understating it: it sounds funny to say "what's left over when you take away status" when I meant to express skepticism that status had much at all to do with the bad evaluation of cruelty.

I was trying to point out an abstract bad thing that doesn't seem to be political or coalitional, and therefore not so related to status-seeking. Cruelty seems to be such a thing, much more so than objectification. That I think it's accurate to say that instances of cruelty "offend" me then seems to contradict the thesis that offense is all about status. Maybe this is a semantic problem and you could say that I find cruelty to be horrible not offensive, or something like that.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 05:53:36PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I agree that there's a semantic problem here... specifically, as you say, the problem of understatement.

The planet Jupiter is, in fact, larger than a duck... but saying so is a strange linguistic act because there are so many more important things you could have said instead. Cruelty is, in fact, offensive -- but more importantly, it has net negative consequences.

And status actually turns out to be a fairly useful way to talk about the consequences of cruelty (over and above the consequences of equal amounts of non-cruel suffering).

Comment author: lucidfox 20 March 2011 11:17:46AM *  4 points [-]

What is almost physically painful to me is declaring problems "solved" when they clearly aren't.

To say the LW provided finished solutions to millennia-old problems would be treating millennia too lightly.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 03:14:47PM 4 points [-]

Perhaps.

And perhaps the same goes for any explainer... that is, if it turns out that the "this is what it feels like to be a status-management algorithm" explanation for offense wasn't original with LW, perhaps it wouldn't matter, because it's equally dismissive to assume that anyone solved it.

But surely there has to be a limit to that, doesn't there? Problems, including millenia-old problems, do eventually get solved.

So I guess my question is: why is it clear that this one isn't solved via an understanding of social status and the mechanisms for attacking and defending it? What's left over?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 March 2011 08:57:31PM *  8 points [-]

In my opinion, one reason why many people tend to dislike status-based explanations is that these explanations have unpleasant implications because of the fixed-sum nature of status. Status may not be precisely a fixed-sum good, but that does seem to be a very good approximation. Therefore, if the status of a certain individual or group is raised, that usually means that someone else's status has been lowered as result, and the change that produced this rise in status must have come at someone else's expense.

It follows that the advocates of some status-altering social change cannot accurately present it as an unalloyed good and a win-win situation for everyone; it is always analogous to redistribution of wealth, rather than everyone becoming richer. Of course, the former is a tougher sell, and makes for a much less convincing case.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 10:36:26PM 1 point [-]

Well, of course a lot depends on how much energy and resources are being expended on maintaining the status differential in the first place, and how much opportunity cost is reflected in it, and how many players the world contains.

That is, if we work for the same company and I'm your manager, and I am spending half my time trying to keep you down and you spend half your time trying to sabotage me, a status-altering social change that rendered us peers might turn out to raise both of our statuses relative to other groups, as well as make both of our lives easier and more enjoyable.

But, yes, I agree with you that many people who resist status-altering social changes are thinking in fixed-sum terms.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 March 2011 10:51:38PM *  2 points [-]

There are actually two issues there: the distribution of the status itself, and the cost in other goods and resources expended in pursuing and maintaining it. An arms race in pursuing status (e.g. by expensive signaling, or by costly efforts to keep others down) is indeed a problem of collective action that leads to awful negative-sum games, and a social change that prevents this arms race may be beneficial for everyone if it leads to a similar status distribution, only without the cost. But in contrast, it's unclear whether a Pareto-improvement in status itself is possible.

In the boss-employee example, the change may benefit both parties by eliminating the negative-sum game in which they're stuck. It may also benefit everyone else by a tiny amount by making the economy slightly more productive. But if both the boss and the worker raise their status in the society at large as a result, that will come at the expense of others' status -- even if it means an infinitesimal reduction of status for each person in a great mass of people who are now below each of them in the status hierarchy, rather than a large reduction for some clearly identifiable party. (It's roughly analogous to how successfully passing a small amount of perfectly forged money represents an infinitesimal taking from everyone else by making their money slightly less valuable.)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 20 March 2011 01:34:55PM 2 points [-]

I wouldn't say "solved problem" for something so convoluted, and it's worth discussing roughly-understood things to refine the understanding, but I agree that that particular way of parsing the issue has lots of explanatory power.

Comment author: jsalvatier 20 March 2011 05:10:43PM 6 points [-]

Yes, but future discussions should at least reference past discussions if they were considered fruitful.

Comment author: Alicorn 20 March 2011 12:15:54AM 8 points [-]

"thousands of much-needed feminist advances" seems to link to the "sex differences in humans" article.

I agree with you about it being silly to have a word for advocating the moral equality of the sexes (although I use this as a reason not to label myself "a feminist", in much the same way that I would consider it vaguely silly to identify with a word labeling the advocacy of the moral equality of left- and right-handed people).

I don't really like being summoned to do this consciousness-raising job on the basis of "Sayeth The Girl". For one thing, I wrote that long enough ago that I now find it (like virtually everything else I wrote long enough ago) embarrassingly badly crafted, and I leave it up only as part of a policy that I shouldn't delete stuff I publish just because it's gotten embarrassing. For another, I have never wanted the job of Feminism Police on Less Wrong, and have largely stepped back as more people have been willing to do the needed work.

If you are willing to do your consciousness-raising by reading stuff, you could read some blogs and follow links like crazy (feminist bloggers are pretty good about linkage) and keep going until everything you run into looks familiar. This is the sort of topic you need to simmer in more than study like there will be a test later.

If for some reason you think talking to me in particular would be helpful (and you're reasonably caught up on what I've already written onsite on the subject so I don't need to repeat myself) I'm up for it but would prefer to do so offsite, via IM (or e-mail if IM is impractical).

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 March 2011 12:40:07AM *  9 points [-]

If you are willing to do your consciousness-raising by reading stuff, you could read some blogs and follow links like crazy (feminist bloggers are pretty good about linkage) and keep going until everything you run into looks familiar. This is the sort of topic you need to simmer in more than study like there will be a test later.

This sounds like saying that you should keep reading authors who share a given ideological standpoint until you're successfully propagandized by them. I don't see how this approach could lead to an unbiased understanding of any subject. [Edit: I mean any subject that is an issue of strong ideological controversy, as this one clearly is.]

Comment author: Gray 20 March 2011 05:08:35AM 15 points [-]

This sounds like saying that you should keep reading authors who share a given ideological standpoint until you're successfully propagandized by them. I don't see how this approach could lead to an unbiased understanding of any subject.

You don't limit bias by restricting what you read, but by exactly the opposite--by reading more, and from more varied, ideological perspectives. Alicorn didn't say to reading nothing except feminist ideology; and you completely missed her conditional, "If you are willing to do your consciousness-raising by reading stuff".

She is obviously speaking to the people who desire to understand the concepts involved. If you want to evaluate feminism, you need to understand the concepts, and to do that you need read things written by actual feminists. I think Cyan is right, you're arguing in a way that you wouldn't if this was about about something that wasn't feminism.

Comment author: Cyan 20 March 2011 01:03:52AM 12 points [-]

How do you feel about the practice of advising LW newbies to read the sequences?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 March 2011 01:58:26AM *  4 points [-]

Cyan:

How do you feel about the practice of advising LW newbies to read the sequences?

The analogy would be if someone didn't understand some well-defined and useful concept that is discussed in the sequences, and you directed him to read the relevant sequence material, which presumably contains an accurate explanation. The assumption is that the concept is useful and well-defined, rather than an incoherent ideological buzzword, and that the sequences contain a correct explanation of it. (And to the extent that these assumptions don't hold, the advice would be bad.)

However, as a different example, suppose someone is confused about some incoherent ideological concept, like, say, the Marxist notion of "dialectic." Now if you direct this person to read Marxist authors persistently until the idea starts to make sense, you're effectively instructing him to submit to ideological propaganda until he is successfully propagandized. (Especially if this person is already familiar with a significant body of Marxist literature and asks a cogent question that seems to expose some flaws in the concept.)

Now, the question is whether the notion of "objectification" and the feminist authors of the linked blogs are more similar to the first or the second example. Clearly, I believe that the latter is a closer analogy, which I don't find surprising, considering that this is an area of intense ideological warfare and the authors in question in fact represent a more radical wing of one side in this conflict.

Comment author: Cyan 20 March 2011 03:42:56AM *  8 points [-]

Yup, that was what I was getting at: contrary to your original statement, your true objection isn't to the approach per se but to the content.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 March 2011 04:27:47AM 3 points [-]

Honestly, I don't see what exactly I wrote that is contrary to my original statement. The content is relevant insofar as the recommended reading represents the output of one side in an ideological struggle, and my original comment is consistent with that.

Could you clarify what precisely you mean by " approach per se" here?

Comment author: Cyan 20 March 2011 03:46:29PM *  4 points [-]

There's a tension in your original statement between value-laden phrases such as "ideological" and "successfully propagandized" and the very general remark about the approach not leading to "an unbiased understanding of any subject" (emphasis added). What I'm driving at is that your objection was really to the recommended content; you didn't quite address this head-on in the original statement but rather made an incorrect fairly general counterargument to reading widely on a given subject (or "simmering", as Alicorn put it). (The italicized phrase is my reply to your request for clarification.)

Your reply to my question about the sequences did address this head-on. At this point I'm just trying to clarify my rhetoric.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 March 2011 07:28:27PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the clarification. In retrospect, I agree that my original comment was poorly worded.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 05:56:32AM *  2 points [-]

There's two separate issues to be compared:

"Go read the Sequences" : "Go read a bunch of Feminist Blogs" :: "Go read 'Circular Altruism'" : "Go read a particular article about 'Objectification."

"Objectification" and "Shut Up and Multiply" are buzzwords. They are important concepts that you need to understand in depth, even if you disagree with the ramifications and phrasing of them, if you want to discuss particular issues in a meaningful way.

"The Sequences" and "A bunch of a feminist blogs" are large collections of work that include essays of varying quality and importance. "Go read the sequences" is something I've definitely heard a lot here. Outsiders sometimes assume we mean "I don't feel like talking to you until you're part of our cult" when we say it. When in fact, they contain a lot of useful information that will change your mind about some things - but you are unlikely to start updating if you just read one particular article, especially if you've previously been biased against its topic.

Comment author: Alicorn 20 March 2011 12:49:03AM 7 points [-]

I'm not advocating reading them until one agrees with them on every particular, or even any particular. Familiarity is a different goal entirely. It's a little like learning another language: which, sure, learning a new language has its effects on your thought process, but it's not so sinister as you imply. Notably, you could combine simmering in feminism with simmering in men's right's advocacy, or even whackaloon level misogyny, without seriously harming the ability to learn the feminist blogosphere's culture and language.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 12:55:42AM 3 points [-]

I'd also suggest looking for blogs of people who were active in the feminist movement and left it because of conflicts between the movement (note: not the concept of feminism itself) and other activism, like racial or class or disability or transgender activism, if one wants to hear about issues with feminism-as-a-movement. I can probably even dig up a few examples, if there's a call for it.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 01:26:03AM 1 point [-]

Yes please!

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 March 2011 04:59:51AM *  1 point [-]

I also just came across this, which is a quote from a book that looks relevant. (More quotes from the same book here.)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 02:09:24AM 1 point [-]

Here is the most recent example from my blogroll, and it has links to a few others as well.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 02:19:05AM *  1 point [-]

It doesn't critique feminism in general, and of course doesn't shed any light on objectification, but that's an interesting inside critique of a large part of a particular movement. Thanks for the link.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 20 March 2011 05:22:10AM 2 points [-]

Presumably, in "I don't understand why objectification is wrong" you have a plain English meaning of "wrong" in mind, and not something technical. Still, I wonder if you can explain what kinds of answers you would be looking for to a simpler or more abstract version of your question. Objectification is tendentious and controversial. Is there something more unanimously agreed on to be wrong whose wrongfulness can be explained in rational terms?

Take cruelty. If someone posted here "I have never understood why cruelty is wrong" and asked for help and arguments, what would people come up with?

Comment author: lukeprog 20 March 2011 10:05:54AM 2 points [-]

Right; I don't have a technical definition for 'wrong' in mind. Whatever people mean by 'wrong' when they say objectification is 'wrong', that's what I'd like to understanding. I might disagree, but before I can agree or disagree I need to understand what is being claimed.

Comment author: atucker 20 March 2011 06:34:47AM *  2 points [-]

I agree that explaining why wrong is wrong is complicated (though, the metaethics sequence, particularly this and this, do a good job).

I'm interested in what people mean when they say "objectification".

So like, what's objectifying, why is it objectifying, etc. Stuff that makes it more obvious to a heterosexual male (who, to his knowledge either hasn't been or doesn't mind being objectified) what people are talking about when they say "objectification". In a way that just fleshes it out some more.

Comment author: Pfft 20 March 2011 11:07:58PM 2 points [-]

I think cruelty is a tricky example, because it's wrongness seems very close to axiomatic. But there are more tractable examples. If I ask "I have never understood why driving an SUV is wrong", you can reply that they harm the environment by consuming lots of fuel, and in a car accident they increase the risk of harming the other party.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 05:44:05AM 1 point [-]

I think this is a very important question but am not sure how to answer it in a way that'd be satisfying to everyone.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 01:34:21AM *  3 points [-]

I don't want to make this an issue, at least until I'm more familiar with it. But I recall at least one comment in another thread questioning the concept of "privilege." Can someone link to a good, rational article that argues against the concept of privilege?

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, I recommend this article

(Please don't debate the issue here yet. I think it's relevant but I want to gather information before I decide if it's worth bringing up in more detail. If you do want to talk about it PM me).

Comment author: Sniffnoy 20 March 2011 05:05:49AM 2 points [-]

Well, I'll go ahead and say that I find the terminology suboptimal. If I understand correctly, privelege is what results from not being marked. Therefore while the terminology may accurately reflect the phenomenologically, it misdescribes the supposed mechanism. And ideally the language we use should indeed reflect the mechanisms, to make reasoning about it more intuitive. Instead of the privelege of the unmarked we should (if we think this account is accurate) speak of the dispriveleged of the marked.

I will say that use of the term "privelege" is useful in pointing out just what you gain from not being marked, because naturally that's not something the unmarked thing of very often. But I'm not sure it's the most helpful outside that rhetorical function.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 05:42:13AM 1 point [-]

I will say that use of the term "privelege" is useful in pointing out just what you gain from not being marked, because naturally that's not something the unmarked thing of very often. But I'm not sure it's the most helpful outside that rhetorical function.

I don't think the function is merely rhetorical. Getting people to understand the advantages they have is an important subgoal of feminism. Ultimately we want to make it so that women have all the privileges that men have. But doing so requires not just the efforts of women but the understanding and efforts of men.

I think the problem is not privilege in particular (whether you focus on "privilege" of white men or the disprivilege of others is splitting hairs IMO), but the way sexism and racism have become demonized in general. The most obvious forms of prejudice have been driven underground. This is a good thing. But there are still numerous ways in which women are subtly discriminated against. Such as, say, having the entire english language set up in a way that establishes them as "other."

The goal of the privilege discussion is to get men to notice and care about these things. It's possible that focusing on ways women are disprivileged will be more effective that how men are privileged. Dunno. But that effectives is the metric by which I measure the value of the word "privilege."

Comment author: FAWS 20 March 2011 01:47:48AM 4 points [-]

I have nothing against the concept of privilege, but perhaps the name is unfortunate. Privilege is mostly the state of being able to enjoy the absence of discrimination and similar bullshit against oneself so that one never even has to think about such issues, right? The word makes it sound like it's something bad, something you should feel guilty for, when in fact the only problem is that everyone should get that and many groups don't.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 01:54:06AM *  0 points [-]

Is there a better name you would use for it? I think it means pretty much what it says it means. Note that the article I linked begins by trying to disassociate privilege from guilt.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 March 2011 05:07:35AM 1 point [-]

The conventional name for the concept FAWS described above is 'rights'.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 05:26:01AM *  2 points [-]

I think there's a distinction. I have the right to vote. If I were black, living in particular areas or time periods, I might still have to worry about whether that right will end up mattering in the real world. I guess I'd say that "privilege" is the word for rights that are not fairly implemented in practice.

(though I don't actually believe in 'rights' as something that exists in the abstract. They're conventions we use because people collectively prefer to have them.)

Comment author: Zaq 20 March 2014 04:30:28PM 2 points [-]

The problem isn't objectification of women, it's a lack of non-objectified female characters.

Men are objectified a lot in media. As a simple example, the overwhelming majority of mooks are male, and these characters exist solely to be mowed down so the audience can see how awesome the hero(ine) is (or sometimes how dangerous the villain is). They are hapless, often unthinking and with basically no backstory to speak of. Most of the time they aren't even given names. So why doesn't this common male objectification bring outrage?

I think the reason is that there are also plenty of male characters who aren't objectified. Male characters with clear agency abound in fiction, far more so than female characters. And this way, male viewers can identify with the agency-bearing male characters, and the objectified mooks become far less problematic.

The issue isn't with there merely being a bunch of objectified female characters. The issue is that until very recently, objectified characters were pretty much all that women got. If we get a healthy number of non-objectified female characters with clear agency, who obtain value in a myriad of ways (and not just by being sexy), then the objectified ones won't be nearly as problematic.

Comment author: steven0461 20 March 2011 12:32:59AM 2 points [-]

I voted this down, as it seems to me that bringing the topic up again will do far more harm than good.

Comment author: Raemon 20 March 2011 12:43:29AM 7 points [-]

I think the issue is complicated and it definitely skirts the edges of mindkilling politics. But it's an important issue (both to the world in general and to us in particular), and if it's all possible for us to tackle in a respectful manner, we should.

Comment author: steven0461 20 March 2011 01:14:14AM *  8 points [-]

We didn't particularly successfully tackle the issue in the last few hundred commenter-hours devoted to it. I'm worried that there's a comparatively small number of people who just really like talking about these topics, and they tend to dominate the voting because they're a concentrated interest opposing the diffuse interest of site quality.

Comment author: Skatche 20 March 2011 06:58:23PM *  1 point [-]

Warning: potentially triggering.

Well, okay, first let's review some statistics. At least one in six women will be raped over the course of their lives; actually the numbers I see are usually significantly higher than this (rape statistics suffer due to extreme under-reporting). Moreover, about half the time it will happen (the first time) before they turn eighteen. Lastly, about two thirds of rapes are committed by friends and acquaintances of the victims.

So, if you take an adult woman at random from your community, there is a significant chance (again, the numbers on the site I linked to are abnormally low, but they give some idea) that she has already been raped or sexually assaulted by someone she knew, and is therefore very aware of this danger; even if she hasn't been raped, she has most likely been taught at a young age to fear rape and to take appropriate precautions (you'd think we'd start teaching men not to rape, but no, it's apparently up to women to stop this from happening to them).

So what does this have to do with objectification? Well, look at what happens on the relatively rare occasions that rapes lead to criminal trials: the woman is interrogated about what she was wearing when it happened, whether or not she fought back (because if she was too scared to move, it must have been consenting), why she was out drinking/walking/dancing, whether they acted in a friendly manner toward the attacker. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the victim is emotionally brutalized for the duration of the trial, and then the rapist never spends a day in jail. Through it all, the implicit message is clear: the only reason women might demonstrate comfort in their own bodies is if they're looking to attract men, and indeed this is their sole purpose, and if they happened to actually "get" a man during that time, they should feel grateful and not niggle over little details like consent.

So, confronted by people who take this objectifying attitude toward women, your average female - who might have already been raped at some point in her life, and is certainly aware of the possibility - is likely to get a little upset, and rightly so. If she feels like you're basically a decent group of men who might just be a little misguided, she might give you the benefit of the doubt and speak out, hoping you will listen. More likely, though - if she's not yet comfortable with the group, or if her voice has been repeatedly ignored - she will remain silent, and take leave of the group at the earliest available opportunity. The risk is not just to her social status but to her body, her sexuality and her dignity.

(I am infuriated by the suggestion that offense is precisely and only a form of status-seeking behaviour. Some white, heterosexual males might perhaps display their progressive values for the sake of signaling social status; but for visible minorities, there is quite a lot more at stake.)

This is not the only reason to avoid objectification, but it is certainly sufficient and compelling enough on its own, I think.

Comment author: Emile 22 March 2011 08:19:08PM *  11 points [-]

At least one in six women will be raped over the course of their lives; actually the numbers I see are usually significantly higher than this (rape statistics suffer due to extreme under-reporting).

That only holds if the fact that rapes are under-reported was not used in calculating the estimate that one in six women will be raped. The site you linked to gives no reason to think that's the case, it's pretty likely that less than one in six women reports a rape, and then estimates of reporting rate were used to get an estimate of one in six.

(Edit to add) That is, if the "1 in 6" is an actual estimate of rapes; the Eric Raymond piece Eugine Nier linked seems to indicate that there never was such an estimate, the 1 in 6 number originally also included attempted rape, and then turned into a number of actual rapes by a game of Chinese whispers.

Comment author: nthmost 20 October 2011 11:48:41PM 2 points [-]

Even if the actual measurement is 1 in 6 rapes-AND-attempted-rapes, that's still horrible, and still connotes chronic psychological trauma to an entire category of human being.

Comment author: Skatche 23 March 2011 05:30:37AM *  1 point [-]

Actually, most of the numbers I've seen in my researches are in the ballpark of one third to one half, with about one quarter of women being raped before they turn 18. The site I linked to was simply the first that came up in a Google search, so I wouldn't have to dig for references, and so that I could give an estimate on the conservative side.

It's true that such statistics are methodology-sensitive, but everything I know about rape seems to suggest that the weight is heavily toward under-reporting. Women who report being raped are liable to face an onslaught of abuse and victim-blaming from the criminal system and even from their own peers, and rape trials rarely end in conviction, so a lot of victims never bother. Even then, many rape victims suffer from psychological problems (which contribute to their being targeted), and therefore come to believe that they deserved what happened to them, no matter how degrading or violent. In this case they may not conceive of it as rape, especially if the rapist is their partner or spouse.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 07:56:36PM 14 points [-]

I am infuriated by the suggestion that offense is precisely and only a form of status-seeking behaviour. Some white, heterosexual males might perhaps display their progressive values for the sake of signaling social status; but for visible minorities, there is quite a lot more at stake.

I suspect you underestimate the effects of status.

I have watched my status in the U.S., as a queer man, increase significantly over the last twenty years; this has translated directly into increases to my safety, my liberty, pretty much every aspect of my life. There is quite a lot more at stake in seeking and protecting status than you seem to be respecting.

All of that said, I apologize for infuriating you.

you'd think we'd start teaching men not to rape, but no, it's apparently up to women to stop this from happening to them

FWIW, I and many of the men I know were in fact taught not to rape. So we do seem to be starting to teach that, in at least some places and times.

Comment author: Skatche 20 March 2011 08:59:40PM 1 point [-]

Well, fair enough. I still feel that the term "status" carries all the wrong connotations - images of high school popularity competitions and all that sort of thing - but I can see that wasn't your intention, so I'm sorry for singling you out.

FWIW, I and many of the men I know were in fact taught not to rape. So we do seem to be starting to teach that, in at least some places and times.

Yeah, progress is being made. I mainly see this sort of thing happening on university campuses, which means it's still only reaching a minority, but it's a start. I'd like to see this (handled properly) as part of standard high school sex education before I'd say we're really getting there, and ideally it would be taught at home to each individual child by their parents.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 March 2011 10:23:27PM 5 points [-]

Re: the connotations of "status" -- for my part, I care more about having some label for the thing we're talking about than I care what the label is.

Do you have a preferred term?

In some contexts one can talk about "rank," or "privilege," or "juice," or "clout," or even "wealth," but I find them all too specialized for general use. I use "status" precisely because it can apply just as readily to high-school students trying to avoid ostracism as prison inmates trying to avoid assault as poverty-stricken peasants trying to avoid starvation, which is useful when trying to talk about the thing they all have in common.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 11:08:42PM 3 points [-]

"Kyriarchal advantage" is a bit of a mouthful, but it might be useful, especially if you want to differentiate between status that's granted as a result of being in a particular reference class vs. status that has been personally earned.

Comment author: Raemon 21 March 2011 12:47:56AM 0 points [-]

Thank you for that post. I'm not sure what "Kyriarchal" is supposed to mean, but the article made a lot of sense and shows how complicated it is.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 March 2011 12:50:36AM 4 points [-]

Well, "Kyrie" is generally translated as "Lord," so a kyriarchal system is presumably one which is ruled by the people who rule it.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 March 2011 01:18:31AM *  1 point [-]

Yep, basically that - any system where certain people intrinsically have more status/power than others is kyriarchal. Notably, most activism communities are still just as kyriarchal as mainstream society, except with regards to the specific issue that they're doing activism about. (Some of them are even kyriarchal with regards to their own issue - notably disability activism, where many activists focus on getting more power for people in situations like their own without much concern for other kinds of disabilities.)

Comment author: Skatche 21 March 2011 12:20:09AM 1 point [-]

I thought about it, and unfortunately I can't think of a good, widely-known alternative, although as far as neologisms go, I find this "Kyriarchial advantage" rather appealing.

Comment author: FAWS 20 March 2011 09:26:56PM *  9 points [-]

Defense against status attacks is in no way illegitimate, status is one of the most valuable commodities humans have, and often considered literally worth dying for, as proven by countless suicides in defense of status ( seppuku, Romans falling onto their sword etc). Just because current society brands recognized status moves as illegitimate doesn't mean denying the status component of social problems makes it go away, or that they can still be usefully analysed without.

Yes, describing a legitimate behavior in status terms factually constitutes a very serious attack on people who depend on the viability of that behavior if it is accompanied with the usual delegitimazation. And discussion here so far possibly hasn't taken that into account sufficiently and so inadvertently damaged many legitimate causes that depend on the power of offense. But that doesn't change any facts.

Rape looks in large parts like a status problem to me (I in no way mean to make light of rape, as said status is extremely important, even worth dying for). One of the things that make rape so horrible is that it's pretty much the largest status degradation possible (and since status can be worth dying for the status component alone can move rape into roughly the same moral class as murder).

My suspicion is that most of the difficulties rape victims you describe can in large part be attributed to rape victims having lower status in the relevant eyes just for being rape victims, and pretend status blindness preventing anyone form recognizing this and compensating for it consciously. And one cause for the prevalence of rape seems to be the completely unfair way womens status is lowered just by being sexual while the opposite is true for men.

I suspect that if women had a higher status in general rape would also be less frequent, but since differences in rape incidence between countries seem to be dominated by the rate of underreporting and the wideness of the legal definition of rape there seems to be no way to check this by comparing the rate with womens apparent status in each country.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 March 2011 07:19:06PM 4 points [-]

Well, okay, first let's review some statistics. At least one in six women will be raped over the course of their lives; actually the numbers I see are usually significantly higher than this (rape statistics suffer due to extreme under-reporting).

Eric Raymond gives a good discussion here of what's wrong with that statistic.

This doesn't leave me with the feeling that your other statistics are accurate.

Comment author: Emile 22 March 2011 10:03:20PM 2 points [-]

By the way, I've been reading through the comments on that post, some of them are quite good, there's some willingness to work the maths out, change one's mind that seem to be signs of mature, rational discussion (there's also a bit of political feces-flinging, but that can be easily ignored).

Comment author: Skatche 20 March 2011 08:45:46PM *  3 points [-]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that Mr. Raymond's argument is roughly as follows:

  • Not all rapes are forcible.
  • Incidence of forcible rape among women is lower than 1 in 6.
  • Therefore the incidence of rape among women is lower than 1 in 6.

I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to puzzle out the error in that one. Also note that there's no mention of how "over-reporting" and "false allegations" are determined. My guess is that this is based on the conviction rate (I don't know how else you'd do it), in which case you run into precisely the problems I mentioned.

Comment author: Emile 22 March 2011 08:30:04PM 6 points [-]

No, his argument is more than that, I suggest you read it again. You seem to have skipped the part where he says that the "1 in 6" statistic covered both rapes and attempted rapes.

Basically he looks for where the "1 in 6" figure comes from, and finds a figure that are lower. You may criticize his methodology, but recalculating the value yourself seems like a better strategy than repeating a statistic of dubious origin.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 March 2011 08:57:16PM 4 points [-]
* Not all rapes are forcible.
* Incidence of forcible rape among women is lower than 1 in 6.
* Therefore the incidence of rape among women is lower than 1 in 6.

The point here is that feminists tend to use a definition of "rape" that is vastly more general then what the word commonly refers (it tends to boil down to "any sex you regret in the morning") to in order to inflate the statistics.

Also note that there's no mention of how "over-reporting" and "false allegations" are determined.

I'm not sure, how are you determining your "extreme under-reporting"?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 20 March 2011 09:15:59PM 5 points [-]

The point here is that feminists tend to use a definition of "rape" that is vastly more general then what the word commonly refers (it tends to boil down to "any sex you regret in the morning") to in order to inflate the statistics.

I haven't spent a whole bunch of time on this topic, but I've never actually run into a definition of rape that could be described that way. Citation?

Comment author: Raemon 21 March 2011 12:02:37AM 1 point [-]

The comment Skatche just made above I think does a pretty good job of explaining what feminists consider rape, and I think it's easy to infer why non-feminists who only hear the cursory explanation get confused and feel that feminists are "exaggerating" it.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 March 2011 12:20:54AM 1 point [-]

I'm actually aware of the concept of enthusiastic consent, and even considered including an explanation of it in my comment. It's not obvious to me how that could look even remotely close to 'any sex you regret the next morning' - the principle of enthusiastic consent leads to a definition that doesn't even particularly correlate with that unless you add a qualification that one of the partners must consider it rape in order for it to be rape.

Comment author: nick012000 22 March 2011 12:30:09PM 5 points [-]

Considering that some feminists have argued that all heterosexual sex is rape, he's not exaggerating that much. The ones who make the studies he was referencing do things like making questionnaires that ask questions like "Have you ever pushed a girl into bed to make her have sex with you?" and counting that as rape to inflate the statistics, because more rapes = more money for the rape services they work for.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 March 2011 01:50:35PM 4 points [-]

If I came to believe that I'd made someone have sex with me by applying force, and we hadn't previously negotiated the terms of that scene, I would consider that an instance of rape and I would feel pretty awful about it.

So I don't reject the results of that survey on those grounds.

I understand that you do reject it, and presumably you would similarly disagree about that hypothetical case. A lot of people would. I understand why, and I don't want to get into a discussion of which of us is correct because I don't expect it to lead anywhere useful.

But you should at least be aware that your position isn't universally held, even among men who believe in the existence of consensual heterosexual sex.

Comment author: nick012000 22 March 2011 01:57:58PM 3 points [-]

Well, obviously there's a difference between violently throwing someone into a bed, and joking around and playfully pushing them on the shoulder to signal them to get into the bed, but my point is that the studies conflate the two and everything in between them and classify them all as rape. Just check "yes" in the box, and voila, you're a rapist.

Comment author: Skatche 22 March 2011 07:24:25PM 1 point [-]

Upvoted for actually bothering to listen to what feminists are saying. That model has long since fallen out of favour, though, for obvious reasons: see e.g. Rethinking Rape by Ann J. Cahill. The "enthusiastic consent" model is currently one of the most popular, and I think it captures pretty accurately what we should consider a healthy, versus an unhealthy or coercive, sexual encounter.

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 March 2013 09:00:03AM 1 point [-]

The "enthusiastic consent" model is currently one of the most popular, and I think it captures pretty accurately what we should consider a healthy, versus an unhealthy or coercive, sexual encounter.

That ... sounds like it would predictably overestimate the amount of rapes. Unhelpful though this may be, not everyone has adopted "enthusiastic consent" in their day-to-day lives.

Comment author: Skatche 20 March 2011 09:27:41PM *  8 points [-]

For under-reporting, look here. Even amongst high-school students, the incidence rate was as high as one in five women, and half of these had never told anyone about the incident.

The point here is that feminists tend to use a definition of "rape" that is vastly more general then what the word commonly refers (it tends to boil down to "any sex you regret in the morning") to in order to inflate the statistics.

I'm sorry, but this is absolute nonsense. In fact this is precisely the kind of nonsense that gets used to systematically belittle and trivialize rape victims, and which leads to the under-reporting I mentioned.

The typical popular model of sexuality goes something like this. The woman has, i.e. possesses, sex; the man wants to get it from her. She, on the other hand, wants to hold onto it for the best mate she can find (in order to get married, etc.). Therefore his job is to put on the moves, and her job is to put on the brakes. However, if she resists, then she's a bitch, because he deserves it after all, therefore she better not resist. If she does resist she might just be playing hard to get, because after all she really wants it, so as long as she's not resisting too hard you can keep pushing anyway, either ignoring her protests or whining until she gives in. If she regrets it in the morning, well, she shouldn't have been such a slut anyway. Because this is after all the sexual norm, she probably won't even think of it as rape, and might never think to mention it to anyone.

Feminism makes the radical suggestion that this model is totally, balls-out insane and that maybe our notion of a healthy sexual interaction should necessarily include enthusiastic consent on both sides. If you want a more complete summary of the feminist position, "Yes Means Yes" is a good introductory source. I don't think I can do as good a job of explaining as the authors can, so I'm going to leave this off here.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 March 2011 09:20:19PM 12 points [-]

Though obviously the consequences aren't as severe, it works the other way too: it can be the woman who has the model that she must play hard to get even when interested (thereby diminishing the information value of even the sincere rejections), and the man who views this mentality as batshit insane. (Consider the effects on the incentive profile and the kind of man this selects for.)

Comment author: Skatche 23 March 2011 05:16:36AM 4 points [-]

Yes, absolutely. This is actually where "Yes Means Yes" got its name: the authors were looking for a positive view of female sexuality, which is to say, the freedom for women not only to turn down propositions but also to fully explore their own desires.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 24 March 2011 09:06:10PM *  6 points [-]

But enthusiastic consent doesn't always happen, because women routinely use male sexual aggressiveness as a filter. These women make the man do all of the initiation and all of the advancing, and may put up "last-minute resistance" to having sex the first time, because they only want to have sex with men who are aggressive enough to overcome this resistance.

This is probably related to the high prevalence of rape fantasies among women. Men seldom fantasize about being raped; surveys indicate most women have. And most romance novels depict the heroine being raped, usually by the hero. And I've had women ask me to pretend to rape them, because it gets them more excited.

And it's also related to the strong attraction some women feel towards violent men. Even men who display violence only towards women. Men who are in prison for murdering their wives get unsolicited offers of marriage from women who haven't met them. The more violent the murder was, the more solicitations they get.

The best thing women can do to make men stop acting aggressively towards women, is to stop rewarding men who act aggressively towards women.

(Of course, to do so would be to deliberately change evolved human values.)

Comment author: Skatche 25 March 2011 03:41:59AM 7 points [-]

I have mixed feelings about this. In the first place, while I've seen this dominance-seeking theory tossed around, I've never heard it from a reliable source, nor backed by solid evidence. I consider it reasonably likely that there are some women out there who prefer to be pseudo-"forced" into sex, but I have no reason to think they are anything close to a majority - in fact, I've never met a woman who feels this way, though my social circle is not necessarily representative of the general population in this respect. As a model of typical human sexual roles, this is most likely false - a bit of wrongheaded folk psychology tossed around by Nice Guys™.

There's always a significant danger, when making these sorts of claims, of victim-blaming: of putting the responsibility on rape victims to solve their own problems. I think you're right, however, in identifying feminine sexual roles as part of a more general problem: even beside the rape epidemic, our sexual milieu is far from healthy. I think there is indeed a burden on women to learn to take the initiative and ask for what they want, simply because no one else can do it for them. Even mock rape scenes can be safely enacted if properly negotiated beforehand.

In the meantime, however, men can facilitate the process by healthier gender roles ourselves. Sure, a little bit of swagger is a turn-on, in men and women alike. But this is not the same thing as being pushy. A man who can coolly and confidently articulate his desires (when appropriate) in a way that doesn't impose them on the object of his attraction becomes about an order of magnitude more attractive himself.

Comment author: wnoise 24 March 2011 10:42:59PM 7 points [-]

The best thing the subset of women who reward men who act aggressively towards women can do is stop rewarding. Those who already don't reward it don't have "stop rewarding it" as an option.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 24 March 2011 11:24:14PM 6 points [-]

True. But they do have the option of shunning other women who reward it. Or of mentioning it as an option, when they write books about male aggression.

Comment author: Skatche 25 March 2011 03:43:35AM 4 points [-]

That women should learn to take a more assertive role in their own sexual fulfillment is one of the main themes of Yes Means Yes, and is more or less the unanimous view of mainstream feminism today.

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 March 2013 08:56:19AM 3 points [-]

The typical popular model of sexuality goes something like this. The woman has, i.e. possesses, sex; the man wants to get it from her. She, on the other hand, wants to hold onto it for the best mate she can find (in order to get married, etc.). Therefore his job is to put on the moves, and her job is to put on the brakes. However, if she resists, then she's a bitch, because he deserves it after all, therefore she better not resist. If she does resist she might just be playing hard to get, because after all she really wants it, so as long as she's not resisting too hard you can keep pushing anyway, either ignoring her protests or whining until she gives in. If she regrets it in the morning, well, she shouldn't have been such a slut anyway.

While this is a phenomenally stupid and dangerous position to hold, it does not in any way disprove or even address the claim that these studies are conflating actual rape, of the kind which causes serious trauma and involves forcing someone to have sex with you, (for a wide definition of "forcing", of course,) with consensual sexual activity which is later "regretted". I'm not going to endorse that claim, but talking about how some people interpret refusal as "playing hard to get" or selfishness or any of a number of things rather implies that you have pattern-matched Eugine - correctly, for all I know - onto your model of the misogynist Enemy rather than engaged with his point.

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 March 2013 08:49:03AM 1 point [-]

To be absolutely clear here: your problem with "objectification" is because it encourages slut-shaming rape victims? Because I'm still unclear after reading your comment as to how there's cause and effect there.

Comment author: Skatche 15 March 2013 10:30:54PM *  1 point [-]

Not quite. One of my problems with objectification is that it implies certain attitudes which -- among other things -- create a favourable environment for rapists. That being said, I wrote the above comment at a time when rape was particularly salient to me, and may have overstated its relevance to this issue; I would now argue, more generally, that objectification openly expressed within a social group signals to women (almost by definition!) that they are regarded as objects and will not receive the status of full personhood within that group. Because these attitudes can be difficult if not impossible for women to correct by speaking out, many make the decision to withdraw from the group, further tilting the power balance toward the men.

Comment author: nick012000 22 March 2011 12:42:03PM *  -3 points [-]

Personally, I like objectifying women. I get erotic pleasure from it, along with a lot of other things that involve women being degraded and humiliated; put simply, my fetish is for the lowering of women's status.

Obviously, I would need to compartmentalise this to function in day to day society, as well as avoid violations of ethics; rape is, after all, very wrong, even if it is a quite sexy idea. So, would any of the other Less Wrongers be willing to help me more efficiently box it off, so I can open it up without needing to do what amounts to mentally chanting "SLUT SLUT SLUT GONNA RAPE YOU AND FILL YOU WITH CUM" whenever I want to masturbate to pornography, and to minimize leak-through so I'll stop doing things like licking my lips when I see a sexy woman.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 March 2011 03:30:40PM 8 points [-]

I get the frustration of being into something that's not perfectly nice and sanitary and "appropriate." And I understand the impulse to rebel and rant when you see a post that tells you that your preferences are Bad. But I do encourage you to stick around and keep a cooler head; in the long run, it is rewarding to participate in some forums and activities that are non-sexual and don't involve smutty language.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 March 2011 10:27:03PM 10 points [-]

I hope this is being downvoted for the second paragraph and not the first paragraph. There are women out there whose fetish is their status being lowered, and they need boyfriends too.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 March 2011 11:06:08PM 20 points [-]

Even if it were being downvoted for the first paragraph, this would not necessarily constitute disapproval of the existence of the fetish. It is an altogether too personal announcement, as opposed to something more appropriate like "Complicating the issue is the fact that objectification, like many other things, can be sexually fetishized; there is not an obvious solution for dealing with "leaks" from the fetish-oriented mindset into the rest of an individual's behavior."

(I downvoted the grandparent, mostly because I felt the comment was staggeringly inappropriate in its entirety, and it also put me in a position where I did not dare reply. Not out of any fear for my safety - I had none resulting from the comment - but because it prompted me to consider any reply I might make to be some kind of sexually-charged interaction however innocuous the content might be. After all, nick012000 does not claim to have achieved adequate compartmentalization. I feel like I'm entitled to not knowingly participate in someone else's sex life if I don't want to - that is, whatever they get off on thinking about later is fine, but as soon as they tell me that some ordinary thing I'm doing may be sexually charged for them, my choice is to end the interaction or to voluntarily have a sexual interaction. So effectively, informing me of such a thing is driving me away from a place I was otherwise interested in being.)

Comment author: nick012000 23 March 2011 11:40:24AM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable; that wasn't really my intent. Getting assistance in better compartmentalisation techniques was my intent, though I figured I'd get some downvotes given that the Less Wrong community usually tries to reduce compartmentalization, not increase it, though decreasing compartmentalisation does not seem like a good idea in this case for the reasons I laid out in my previous post.

I assure you, I did not post that for any sort of sexual thrill; it'd take something like cybersex or an erotic story for me to get a sexual thrill out of anything I've written, so unless you start cybering with me or something, you're safe, Alicorn. ;) I'm simply open about that part of my sex life, partly because of Asperger's Syndrome mind-blindness, and partly because I'm planning on working in a sensitive field once I finish university and I won't need to worry about being blackmailed about it if I'm not worried about people finding out.

Comment author: AlephNeil 23 March 2011 02:43:48PM *  8 points [-]

This is not good enough.

I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable

That's not what a real apology looks like. Better would be "I'm sorry. I can see now that I shouldn't have said what I said in a forum such as this."

I assure you, I did not post that for any sort of sexual thrill; it'd take something like cybersex or an erotic story for me to get a sexual thrill out of anything I've written, so unless you start cybering with me or something, you're safe, Alicorn. ;)

This is making matters worse. Don't backhandedly suggest that Alicorn 'cybers' you, or even 'put' the image of cybering 'out there'. This is doing exactly what Alicorn doesn't want, namely making your interaction on this forum "sexually charged".

(I want to help you, btw. I may very well have Asperger's myself, so to some extent this is a case of "there but for the grace of FSM go I".)

Comment author: nick012000 24 March 2011 02:00:06AM *  4 points [-]

That's not what a real apology looks like. Better would be "I'm sorry. I can see now that I shouldn't have said what I said in a forum such as this."

I can see what you mean, but I would be more likely to say something like "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." The reason I said it is because this thread seemed like the best place to say it, so saying that I shouldn't have said it here is obviously incorrect.

suggest that Alicorn 'cybers' you, or even 'put' the image of cybering 'out there'. This is doing exactly what Alicorn doesn't want, namely making your interaction on this forum "sexually charged".

Huh? I was trying to do the opposite; to reassure her that it wasn't sexually charged, because she wasn't cybering with me. O_o

Comment author: Gray 24 March 2011 06:30:52AM 16 points [-]

I think the problem is that you don't understand how you made a mistake. Therefore, you're unable to apologize.

The problem isn't that your intentions are wrong. Intentions aren't obvious things, and people are not authorities on their own intentions, especially when it comes to sex. A man will pursue a woman without realizing it; or they realize it "in the moment" but afterwords confabulate an alternative explanation.

But none of us are entirely in control of our desires, and nor should it be expected that, given certain desires, that we wouldn't try to satisfy them. But sexuality is full of ulterior motives, and this is what makes relations between the sexes so difficult. I upvoted Eliezer's post because the substance of what he said is correct, and if you said only the first paragraph I wouldn't have so much of a problem with it. Maybe it could have been said better, but it's only a blog comment.

But in the context of "making women more comfortable in online communities" I think we have to deal with the scenario where women have to adopt the heuristic of "guilty until proven innocent" whenever discussion seems to be the least bit sexually charged. This is the heuristic I think we all should adopt.

This may seem to be too complicated and error prone, or even unfair. But they say that our gesture of waving to each other came from when knights on horseback would wave their hand to signal that they didn't possess a weapon. The knight couldn't just object "But I don't have any weapons, why should I have to wave?" It has to be proven, because his intentions aren't clear.

So I think it is useful to find some sort of anti-erotic wave, a way of signaling to women, or others, that they don't possess any sexual intent. I think, when the subject of sex is touched, this is done by speaking in a way that isn't liable to produce a mental image. Just as when the knight waves, he proves he isn't carrying a weapon; by signaling an anti-erotic wave, you prove that you aren't carrying any erotic intent. And you do this by producing discussion which is erotically inert.

I understand completely why your discussion made sense to you, there's no indication that you were directing your post to any of the women here, and your first paragraph seems particularly on-topic in an enthymematic way. I don't think you did anything immoral; just next time, be sure to signal your anti-erotic wave.

This is also my attempt at a rational justification for this principle, so critique is welcome.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 March 2011 07:18:23PM 5 points [-]

Good work actually explaining to nick about social norms. Readers should note that he identifies as having Asperger's Syndrome and "mind blindness," and is trying to learn.

Comment author: Gray 25 March 2011 12:25:29AM 2 points [-]

Well, I'm just coming to understand them at an intellectual level. Thank you for your posts related to PUA. I've found many of them insightful, and I'm trying to put something together that works for me.

Comment author: HughRistik 25 March 2011 01:38:09AM 1 point [-]

I'm glad; you're welcome.

Comment author: ciphergoth 25 March 2011 02:01:16PM 4 points [-]

I worry a little that you might dismiss some of the reaction as motivated by a problem with the fetish itself, so I wanted to say that, speaking as someone who has similar fetishes, who has acted on them many times, and who is out and proud about it: you should listen to what people are saying here about why what you've said here was inappropriate.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 March 2011 04:25:42AM 8 points [-]

unless you start cybering with me or something

This suggests - yes, very indirectly - that that's a thing that could plausibly happen. Also, the wink suggests 'there is subtext here'. Taken together, they imply things that I assume you weren't intending to imply - along the lines of 'I am talking with you about sex in part because we have a relationship where that kind of discussion happens, rather than purely for instrumental reasons'.

Comment author: FAWS 24 March 2011 09:15:46PM *  1 point [-]

I see that you want to make an honest apology. Here is a suggestion for an honest apology that hopefully won't sound like a faux apology:

"Sorry. I did not intend to make you upset. I acknowledge that it was my post that made you upset (I take your word for it. I don't completely understand how, but that's my own problem). I regret that I was not able to make my point without upsetting anyone."

An apology requires accepting responsibility for what you are apologizing for. It would be better to include a concession towards avoiding similar problems in the future ("I shouldn't have ...", "I'll ... next time" ), but I don't know which such statements you can honestly make.

I haven't tried anything like the suggestion myself so I can't guarantee results. It should work here, but I'm doubtful about other contexts. You probably shouldn't include the part in parentheses if the other person doesn't know you have Asperger's.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 March 2011 09:31:31PM 4 points [-]

It would be better to include a concession towards avoiding similar problems in the future ("I shouldn't have ...", "I'll ... next time" ), but I don't know which such statements you can honestly make.

Also consider "I will work on figuring out how to avoid that mistake in the future", if you're not sure what you actually did wrong. Figuring out where the mistake was in the first place is an early step in figuring out how to avoid it in the future, so this covers that, without highlighting just how close to the beginning of the process you are (which tends to make people uncomfortable). It also implies but doesn't state that you will actually take steps to avoid the mistake in the future, so if you decide that the effort of avoiding that mistake is not worth the inconvenience to others, you won't have lied.

Comment author: ciphergoth 25 March 2011 01:48:09PM 2 points [-]

I regret that I was not able to make my point without upsetting anyone

suggests that the point could not have been made without causing upset, which isn't true.

Comment author: FAWS 25 March 2011 01:51:44PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps "... did not manage to make my point ..." ?

Comment author: Perplexed 24 March 2011 08:31:23PM 1 point [-]

There are women out there whose fetish is their status being lowered, and they need boyfriends too.

I hope that they don't learn that here is the place to find them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 March 2011 08:43:16PM 13 points [-]

Not that one fetish in particular, no. But speaking much more generally, part of the concept behind the rationalist mate is that we're supposed to do a bit of consequentialist reasoning before going "Ew!", and try to set things up so that people are happy instead of making them do the ideologically correct thing.

The main way "objectifying women as sexual fetish" is a problem ("problem": something that prevents people from being happy) is if (1) the person doesn't understand the difference between having a sexual fetish and stating an ethical value or (2) if there's a large difference between the number of men who have that fetish and the number of women, so that they can't pair up.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 24 March 2011 10:15:41PM 2 points [-]

Hrm... just a thought re point 2: in the case of group1 of gender A enjoying lowering the status of their partners, and group2 of gender B enjoying having their status lowered, if size group 1 < size group 2, that could work out.

ie, I'd imagine that a situation where members of group 1 having harems of members of group 2 could potentially work well on both sides of the equation.

size group 1 > size group 2, however, could potentially be more of a problem since in that case the analogous solution does not seem to present itself as working as well for both groups.

(Or did I miss some obvious aspect of the relevant psychology?)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 March 2011 11:25:46PM 5 points [-]

Well, the problem with e.g. the number of women who enjoy lowering male status and the number of men who enjoy their status being lowered is that group 1 << group 2 to a degree unsolvable with any realistic harem size.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 24 March 2011 11:53:03PM *  0 points [-]

Hrm... Fair enough then. (Actually, to what extent are there stats on that sort of thing available? ie, do we actually know that in that case the the ratio is that bad?)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 March 2011 11:54:27PM 1 point [-]

IIRC there are stats and it is that bad.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 25 March 2011 12:16:30AM 3 points [-]

Yet another way in which the world fails to be optimized, in that case. To borrow a reddit meme: "Scumbag Reality"

Comment author: Alicorn 24 March 2011 10:19:00PM 4 points [-]

If group1 > group2, then group1 members can agree between themselves to share members of group2 with each other, which seems like it might be satisfactory given enough flex in the relationship preferences of those involved.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 24 March 2011 10:26:27PM 1 point [-]

That occurred to me, but I see a problem with that outcome like so: From the perspective of members of group 2, being traded around/used like that would be enjoyably status lowering...

However, from the perspective of members of group 1, if you have a small subgroup of them sharing a member of group 2, then if they perceived that at all as part of the sexual interaction, then they might have a problem with the fact that each of them are failing to lower the status of the majority of others in the interaction. (ie, members of group 1 interacting with other members of group 1, having to do so on an equal basis only getting to dominate/degrade the (fewer) members of group 2.)

(Or did I misunderstand a key aspect of this sort of thing?)

We need a mathematical theory to analyze optimal arrangements for these sorts of relationships given various input demographics! :) (Why yes, I am in a rather silly mood at the moment. ;))

Comment author: ciphergoth 25 March 2011 01:51:29PM 0 points [-]

Speaking as a member of both groups, I don't think this is going to be a problem in practice :-)

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 25 March 2011 04:25:50PM 0 points [-]

You're a member of group 1 of gender A and group 2 of gender B?

*ducks*

Seriously though, which part are you claiming wouldn't be a problem? Eliezer's suggestion that the numbers are sufficiently different as to cause a problem? My suggestion as to a problem that occurs when the numbers are skewed in a certain direction?

Comment author: Strange7 18 April 2011 12:15:02AM 3 points [-]

That may sound flippant, but consider: http://healthymultiplicity.com/Zyfron/Gemini/?webcomic_post=episode-67-d-none-of-the-above http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switch_%28BDSM%29

There probably is at least one person in exactly that situation, and it would be very important to clarify if they were, because their optimal solution is likely to be different from most peoples'.

Comment author: rabidchicken 21 March 2011 07:20:51PM 1 point [-]

Perhaps I have been studying AI to much, but I do not really think of myself or anyone else as an observer at all. Sure I have an unusual capacity to react to my environment, but the entire process can be reduced down to a large number of electrical signals interacting in predictable ways. What I find strange is NOT thinking of people as objects. Does this have any effect on how I treat women? I don't think so... except perhaps an unusual ability to ignore people of both genders completely.

Comment author: Raemon 21 March 2011 08:15:55PM 3 points [-]

Perhaps I have been studying AI to much

If by "too much" you mean "you are now a very different algorithm from most of humanity," then yes.

For the record, I think of people as objects AND as observers (or, really, as "people.") I think in terms of objects when I'm trying to solve derive an answer for my own purposes and remain objective. I think in terms of people when I want my "human relationships" needs to be filled.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 05 May 2013 06:12:56PM 0 points [-]

Seeing the list, the objection to objectification is in Stirner's terms an objection to not taking the the object as sacred, but instead viewing it as an object to be consumed and enjoyed.

Comment author: virtualAdept 22 March 2011 02:18:54AM *  0 points [-]

I've read through the comments thus far, but relatively quickly, so please point out and forgive if any of this is exact rehash.


First, and directly concerning text in the post: one of the listed Ways to Objectify is denial of autonomy, and that is discussed briefly after the list. In later examples, lukeprog describes how we...

"...all use each other as means to an end, or as objects of one kind or another, all the time. And we can do so while respecting their autonomy."

The post implicitly casts denial of autonomy as the defining Bad Thing about objectification. On the surface, I'd agree that that is one of, if not the most inherently negative aspect of objectification, but I need to think about it some more.


Ultimately, I do not think objectification (action with one or more of the listed traits) is necessarily a Bad Thing; if I did it would place me in the anti-pornography, anti consensual sadomasochism camp of feminism, which of course involves a desire to restrict the autonomy of adults... and while that circle isn't usually trotted out as an argument for why objectification isn't inherently bad, the symmetry is worth noting, at the least. It also lends some sense to the idea that denial of autonomy is, in fact, the major problematic factor out of those listed.

On the broad scale, I'm inclined to agree that the feminist argument against objectification is primarily utilitarian rather than categorical (and utilitarian for all the reasons that various people have already explained). The feminist utilitarian arguments (of which the rape culture argument is one) also usually depend on the unequal circumstances of women in current society. The takeaway message should then be to be aware of and understand how and to what extent you're interacting with, and yes - objectifying - people you meet. If you're a photographer who hires a model for a photoshoot, the resultant photos are going to involve several aspects of objectification, but (presumably) no harm or attack on the model. If you're treating a woman who works with you in some manner that is not dependent on her appearance with any of the listed behaviors beyond instrumentality, you're committing harm.


Having said that, it should also be fairly obvious that I don't consider instrumentality a problem.

Comment author: hairyfigment 21 March 2011 03:04:08AM 0 points [-]

The Playboy picture likely counts as objectification but seems like a terrible example. I'd illustrate it using someone keeping women around as status symbols. And note that it matters little for our purpose if one makes the women wear skimpy clothing like Hugh Hefner does -- giving them curfews and rules against dating so as not to embarrass the old man -- or puts them all in burqas. By contrast, finding a women attractive in part because she wants to have sex seems very far from objectification. (Technically I believe making a women sincerely beg for sex can never count, though it might fall under a different offense.)

I mention this because I saw commenters saying that men want to feel more objectification, and this seems false almost by definition. Men want more sexual attention that respects their wishes. Maybe someone with more time or smarts to spare can link this with the status discussion in an interesting way.