Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Is objectification always a bad thing?

It's all too easy to take a widely accepted statement as a universal truth. But if we are to be thinking people, rather than knee-jerk puppets, we should always question anything presented as such a truth. So, for instance, we all know it's wrong to objectify people. But is it really? Is there any scientific basis for this assumption, or is it based on 'common sense' that objectification is inherently a bad thing?

The reason I bring it up is two recent discussions on Facebook. One was on the matter of Poldark, the BBC TV series. As usually seems to be the case with this programme, the main topic was the body of the actor playing the eponymous Mr P. This is surely just as much objectification as the old, thankfully departed Page 3 girls in the Sun, and my immediate reaction was to condemn it. But I really couldn't, because it was hard to see what harm was being done. If the women involved had been making the remarks directly to the actor, then it certainly would have been inappropriate, but is a touch of objectification really such a bad thing when it comes to images (still or moving)? After all, is n'tthat what we do whenever we produce a photograph or a painting with a person in it? Surely we shouldn't be banning all representation of people?

The second controversial discussion was one I started, having seen a couple of men haplessly attempting and failing to select a packet of nappies in a supermarket. I said 'It may be sexist, but still funny watching men in supermarket, unable to decide which pack of nappies to buy.' I got the response below:

Leaving aside the fact that it was a joke, not a 'liberal trope' (what's liberal about it, anyway? Liberals think men make great parents), in effect when we engage a stereotype like this we are once again objectifying. And certainly some stereotypes can be misused. But they are also very useful shorthand communication tools, and personally I think, in this instance, totally justified.

Is all objectification acceptable? Probably not. But has the pendulum swung too far against it? I suspect so.

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