I wrote this in one sitting.
People talk about objectification like it’s a bad thing.
In order to understand it, first make it value-neutral. Then you can see how it’s everywhere – how human society depends on it. Then you can start judging the ethics of objectification with some competence.
To objectify a person is to make that person into an object. The definition is apparent in the etymology: again, let go of your emotionally-charged moral embellishments to the meaning (if I as an INFP can do this, so can you). Speaking of etymology, “person” comes from a word meaning “mask,” an object.
What do we do with objects? We admire them, we may collect them, but we use them, and rely on them. Think of all the objects you rely on throughout your day, from clothes to utensils to vehicles. Imagine human beings living in ancient or prehistoric times, crafting their tools with care and detail lacking in mass-produced consumer goods. Think of how a peasant would use his hoe or ax: strike too harshly and you might starve.
What do we do with each other? We use each other. Whenever we relate to another human being in a limited and directed capacity of that human’s being, we are objectifying. To objectify a human is first to require the human to affect a persona. Countless well-meaning people pushed English into using “person” in a way that hides the objectification at the root of the word.
Think of the service personnel you rely on, personally and impersonally: servers at a restaurant, mail carriers, plumbers, construction workers, farmers, factory workers (who made your clothes?). You’re objectifying them: you depend on them to fulfill functions, as a prehistoric human depended on tools. Do you have a job? Then you are being objectified. You’re getting paid for it, but you’re not getting paid to be yourself. You’re compensated for the time in which you condescend, in which you set the totality of your self aside to fulfill a function to others, most likely through the means of a system that regards you as a replaceable tool, even if the other human beings you work with would like to relate to you as a human being. Human Resources will put some definite limits as to how far that can go.
I mentioned I’m INFP. We do poorly at objectification: after all, we’re the ones who are notorious for talking to inanimate objects! This is why we tend to be so useless to society: we can easily develop value systems and ideals that insist on relating to other human beings in their totality as the only moral way. And we attach jealously and stubbornly to our value systems – maybe more so than anyone else. During the past six years or so as I’ve seen and heard reports of institutions and mob mentality growing more dogmatic and unforgiving (in other words, “woke” mentality and “cancel culture”) I’ve half suspected some conspiracy of INFPs behind it all.
So I repeat: if I can strip value judgments from my understanding of objectification as a starting point to competent understanding, anyone can. Maybe even feminists.
This post was inspired by a conversation my sweetie and I had after she read a narc-med (that’s my term for social media) post about objectifying women. The OP was enlightened enough to recognize that a man admiring a woman for her beauty is not necessarily objectifying her.
I am glad to see people refuse to shame men for admiring the beauty of women. But I wonder. It seems to me that saying “attraction is not objectification” relies on a value judgment which insist that objectification is malevolent and harmful.
If we understand objectification as value-neutral, then we can recognize that to admire a woman for her beauty, or to be attracted to any person because of how that person looks, is objectification, and we can remain at ease. No need for hand-wringing or sounding the alarm for patriarchy or misogyny.
If we understand objectification as value-neutral, and as a practice that human society depends on, we can make competent ethical judgments about it, and not least that includes considering the degree. Consent too? Sure.
If you followed this very far – like into the conceptual mindscapes INFPs inhabit constantly – would it make you more uncomfortable about how our society is structured now, economically? I expect it would. Seeing a bigger, messier picture of how humans and our societies function tempers idealism. When idealism is tempered by an acceptance of the grief of resignation to the inevitable, then a human being has achieved some maturity.