Thursday, December 29, 2016

Objectification Gone Wild!

I don’t think I’ve written this kind of article before. This will be something of a response to – and kind of a continuation of – an article I personally didn’t write, and which was written by an author I don’t know and have never met.  So I’m going out on a limb here, and will be making some assumptions.

The article in question is Kira Davis’ excellent "Sorry,Ariana Grande – You Can’t Make ‘Sex’ Your Image And Then Complain About Being Objectified" available over on RedState, and if you’re one of those readers who actually enjoys knowing the context of what you’re reading, stop now, go there, read that, come back, and pick up where you left off.  You can even jump over to the Fox News source article if you wish (click the “recently took to Twitter” link at the top of her article). Your choice. Whatevs.  I’ll wait.

Side note: I wanted to give Kira Davis an advance “heads-up” about this article, but couldn’t locate her email address anywhere on RedState. So Kira, if you’re reading this, sorry for the surprise! I’ll try not to put words in your mouth, and if you have any objections to my content, just let me know and I’ll update this article immediately. Thanks!

The drivers behind this article are certain objections raised on Twitter by (I assume) ardent Ariana Grande fans ‏@naturaIIyariana and @elinorbutera, both of whom have been kind enough to discuss their disputes in an open and civil manner. I felt their objections deserved to be answered to the degree I can, not being the original author.

If you skipped RedState’s article, here’s a very brief summation:
  • Ariana Grande recently encountered an overly-excited and overly-forward fan, who expressed himself via IMHO absolutely heinous rudeness. A “What the hell is wrong with you? Were you raised in a barn”-level of uncivilized sexual comment was made by said fan. Ariana was rightly offended.
  • As recorded in the Fox News article, part of Ariana’s response was: “This may not seem like a big deal to some of you but I felt sick and objectified.” (Emphasis mine)
  • You can tell from the title of Kira Davis’ article what her take on the matter is.
  • Twitter responses abounded.  Many were of the “She (Ariana) should be able to dress as she wants to without being objectified” variety, and again – emphasis mine.
So far, everyone has been in agreement that the fan’s behavior was inexcusable.  The guy was a real jerk. 

My guess is he was raised wrong, has no manners, doesn’t know how to treat a woman respectfully, barely meets the definition of civilized, etc., etc.  I’m comfortable assuming he’s a troglodyte until or unless someone comes up with contrary evidence. So Ariana taking offense is completely understandable and appropriate.

But then she and many of her fans follow up by totally missing the mark.

Ladies, there’s no way I can get through this without opening myself up to a charge of “mansplaining”, so I’m going to have to ask you to cut me some slack, hang on to your anger, roll back your ire, and simply listen to me for a bit, DESPITE the unvarnished fact that I’m an over-50’s white male. I’m going to be as open and honest with you as I can be, and I need you to understand that I’m telling you the truth whether you want to hear it or not, and whether you like it or not. OK?

OK! Here goes:

You’ve been lied to.

You’ve been lied to your entire life.

It isn’t recent, and it isn’t your fault.  Hell, ANYONE can be lied to. And anyone can be deceived, and this is especially to be expected when you’re not hearing any “other side”. This started a LONG time ago – I don’t even know how long ago. At least as far back as the “burn your bra” ‘60s and probably before.

But now, you’re the victim of a gigantic chunk of “cognitive dissonance” sitting in your brain, messing you up.  And this is because you’ve been taught – generations of women have been taught – to believe that certain mutually exclusive things can be simultaneously true. 

Girls/Women these days can say, perfectly honestly and with a straight face, any version of “I want to be considered beautiful, I want to be wanted, but I don’t want to be objectified”, and then go on to read magazines with names like "Allure" while having no clue they just uttered something functionally insane.

Being Objectified”, buzzword though that may be, isn’t the problem.

Being SOLELY Objectified is PART of the problem, because when you’re solely objectified you’re not respected, you’re not wanted for things other than your beauty, and things like talent, ability, intelligence, resourcefulness, compassion, tenacity, etc., etc., are completely disregarded.  Of COURSE you don’t want to be JUST objectified.

But the other part of the problem is not truly understanding what “being objectified” really means.

It means “being sexually desired” by another human being.

That’s it! 

That’s it entirely and exclusively.

When someone makes you the object of their desire, you’re being objectified. 

Seriously.  And you can break it down further than that! It’s been proven that both men and women objectify women. Human beings of both sexes are prone to initially seeing and assessing women as a collection of parts – a group of objects – before seeing her as a whole person.

Nice legs! Great rack! Eyes you could lose yourself in!

Men, just naturally and completely without choosing to, take it a step further - we even process the sound of the female voice with a different part of our brains than we do for other men. Male voices we process as data. Female voices we process as music. 

Sidebar: This also explains - if not excuses - why "bossy" or "disagreeable" men and women are described differently at the office. A male loudmouth is usually just blown off as nothing much, and certainly nothing out of the ordinary, while an angry-toned female is often described in considerably worse unflattering terms. Again, this doesn't excuse calling a woman bad names, but discordant female voices hit men as poorly-tuned instruments and off-key singers - they are impossible to tune out and cause us physical pain. 

Now look, I HATE IT when people try to tell me what I think. How dare they! Nobody's telepathic! How offensively presumptuous must someone be to tell another human being “You don’t really think or feel the way you THINK you think or feel, you actually think or feel this other way...”?  But nevertheless, sometimes those outsiders are correct, and it’s ourselves who lack self-awareness.

Quick personal example:  I suspect that NOBODY objectifies me these days. I certainly hope not. Nor do I give them reason to.  Sure, my outward appearance matters – if I consistently wear a suit at the office I’m treated differently, and I even act differently, than if I regularly dress down.  That’s normal. PLUS I’m a guy, so I’m not subject to routine objectification by default. Plus I was hired exclusively for my knowledge, talent, and experience, which is a good thing because if I was hired for my looks my family would starve. Plus I’m old and overweight. By now I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. “Being objectified” isn’t something I ever have to worry about. It isn’t a concern of mine. Not even when I was young.

But what was an obviously related concern of mine when I was young was my appearance. I was not without my own vanity! Decades ago, back in my own hard rock days (I’m trying to make this example relevant to the whole “Ariana Grande” theme here), many people considered my carefully crafted image to be “Robert Plant wannabe”. I was offended by this. No, seriously, I was. 

Yes I had long curly blonde hair that reached down to my belt line in back, and yes I once opened a concert with “The Immigrant Song” and could even hit all the notes, but to accuse me of being any kind of wannabe, much less a Robert Plant wannabe, was extremely offensive.

But guess what?  It was also accurate. Those people were right.  Oh, I wasn’t lying when I vehemently denied it… I was simply wrong. I lacked the necessary self-awareness to perceive the truth of what I was doing.  Looking back from this late vantage point I have no trouble saying “OF COURSE I was a Robert Plant wannabe – I just was honestly incapable of realizing it or admitting it to myself at the time”.

Now remember:  Ariana Grande is young. As are many of her fans.

She's also busy. And talented. And successful. And although I don’t know her workout schedule or cosmetics budget I’m willing to make a guess that she likely expends incredible time, effort, and expense to maintain her smoking-hot image.

I’m going to skip right over her lyrics, wardrobe, and choreography because Kira Davis dealt with those, and as far as I’m concerned that stuff is just polish on the artifact.  The treasure – the object to be desired here – is Ariana herself. That is her intention, and her goal.

So when she says it "hurts my heart that so many young people are so comfortable" when it comes to using phrases that objectify women "with such ease." I see this as evidence of a deeply confused woman, if only regarding the topic of human sexual attraction.

Since she puts such heroic effort into actually being sexy, when she says she doesn’t want to be seen as a sex object, I’m sorry, but as politely as possible I just have to respond “Yes you do – you just may not understand what that means”.

Likewise, when I (and I assume others) say she's built her career on "selling sex", I'm not calling her a whore. I don't mean it in the sense of prostitution, I mean it in the sense of Marketing - the same way clothing designers, car manufacturers, and heck - once upon a time - toothpaste(!) uses "sex appeal" to make their products more desirable.

By and large I agree with pretty much everything Kira Davis said in her RedState article, BUT I think her argument falls ever so very slightly short in the two quotes I cite below.  FTA:

  • "Objectification is par for the course when your job depends on selling an image that isn’t based in any part on real life."
  • "Sorry, honey but you can’t base a career on selling sex and then get angry when your horny fans treat you like a sex object."

I’d put it rather that “sexual objectification” is par for the course when you’re dealing with human beings. It’s natural, it’s normal, and unlike some other natural and normal things (like murder and cannibalism), sexual objectification isn’t in-and-of-itself a bad thing. How we DEAL with those drives is really what’s at issue, and not to beat the horse too deep into the ground but that fan’s behavior really was offensive.

Sexual objectification is actually pretty darn handy for keeping the species going! And Ariana should be glad of this because without the sexual objectification which helps sell her albums by the cargoship-load, she would be just another supremely talented, fascinating, dynamic, penniless, and totally unknown singer out there, of which there are already too many to count.

I don’t want to be a male chauvinist pig about this, but when I hear Ariana say it hurts her heart that woman are objectified so easily, what I’m really hearing is a legitimately emotionally hurt young woman misidentify the source of her pain.

She doesn’t want people to be rude and offensive to her, and I assume that is especially true when in public. Great! I’m on board with that. The guy was a jerk.

She doesn’t want to be “just” a sex object. Great! I’m on board with that. Good news too, because she doesn’t have to be and already isn’t. Her fans recognize her other talents, and by “other” I mean “other than just being eye candy”.

She wants to be respected and treated with respect.  Good. She should be. Two thumbs up.

She doesn’t want to have to wear a burka to get around unmolested. Brutal! I totally agree.

She wants to be valued.  Jazz Hands! She is.

She wants to be desired.  Oops, now we’ve come full circle!

Listen people; sexual objectification is absolutely inescapable. It’s baked right into the species. 

Women and men (but let’s focus on women here) have taken pains to make themselves more attractive to each other probably for as long as the species has existed, and certainly for as long as written history. Hamlet complains about Ophelia’s makeup and (for lack of a better term given this context) choreography.  

Heck - temptation, lust and the cultivation of desire are pretty staple topics in stories and histories throughout time, even showing up in our very oldest texts like the Mahabharata and the Book of Job. People talk about the “patience of Job”, but he “made a pact with his eyes not to stare at maidens” so as to keep his sexual desires under his control – and I don’t know anyone with that rigorous level of self-discipline.

I’m not stretching things, nor am I insulting Ariana Grande, to point out that her performances are focused far more on inflaming those desires, not squelching them.  Nor am I condemning her for it.

Her FANS equate “Being Objectified” with “Being Disrespected”. It’s not. Being objectified is not the problem. 

Being treated poorly by jerks is.

Ariana should be free to be who she wants to be.

Now girls and ladies, here’s the only part of the blame I’ll place on you… and before I spell it out, remember that you’re NOT to blame for having been lied to. You’re not to blame for having been deceived about this. BUT since we’re hopefully in agreement that it is the MEN’s responsibility to behave honorably no matter how carbonated Ariana may make their testosterone levels, it is likewise YOUR responsibility to recognize what IS and what is NOT part of the makeup of human beings, and to not criminalize being a normal human being. When you’re out of step with Reality, you’re going to be confused, conflicted, and miserable, so listen up!

Turning “objectifying women” into “thought-crime” is wrong.

You MUST let men be free to THINK what they are absolutely helpless to NOT NOT-THINK. That is, unless you're into gelded half-males.

What a man DOES with those thoughts, how he ACTS upon them – well you go right ahead and take issue with that if his actions are objectionable. 

But the thoughts themselves?  The ACTUAL OBJECTIFICATION OF WOMEN

Hands off! That’s not your business. 

That’s healthy male brain chemistry, and it’s private unless a man takes steps to share or act upon his thoughts.

You can't have it both ways - if Ariana Grande is to be free to stir up desire in her fans - and she is - then her fans are free to feel that desire. It can't be any other way. 

And - NEWSFLASH! - "feeling that desire" is exactly the same thing as "sexually objectifying" her.

You were lied to when you were told that men objectifying women - in their own minds - was wrong and something to be offended by in and of itself, independent of any actions such thoughts inspired.

You are now responsible for recognizing that lie for what it is, and abandoning it. 

GOOD NEWS!  You’ll be much freer, and happier, for doing so.

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