The phrase in the American language that confuses me most is probably "sex object."
It could be that there's really no point in worrying about this- "not treating women as sex objects" may be one of those ideas like "turn the other cheek" that exists as something to ponder or aspire to, but usually can't be made to work in the real world. I do worry about it. I wish I didn't.
To begin with: no one in this world exists solely to provoke certain feelings or reactions in me. In particular, any woman who points out that she wasn't put on this earth to be my eye candy is absolutely right. There is no question of this. Someone who points out that depicting women as sexual beings and nothing else is demeaning also has a point. I agree it's not appropriate to depict role-models or ideals for women in such a way that their sexuality is all that comes across. You probably shouldn't put the Statue of Liberty in a bikini. At the very least, that would need a hell of a context.
However. If I knew for a fact that henceforth no woman would ever be okay with me ogling her under any circumstances, I would be very sad. My sexuality is a big part of who I am. A big part of my sexuality involves... looking.
When you're meeting a new person for the first time and you discover you're interested in them in a sexual way, it's often very, very quick. Sometimes, and I'm tempted to say most times, this is about superficial surface details... what they look like, the timbre of a voice, a particular smile or turn of phrase. And "what they look like" can boil down to the color or shape of certain features. I've been told, and liked hearing, "You have pretty eyes."
I don't think there's anything wrong with any of that, and I was trying to be gender-neutral in the previous paragraph. Women can be attracted by superficial surface details. It's kind of a truism that men are- although that has the air of bullshit common to all things that "everybody knows." It's true; it's not the whole story.
I realize objectification is often discussed as a media phenomenon, whereas I am approaching it in personal terms. I've been told many times that I shouldn't treat women as sex objects, and that's what I'm trying to talk about here. The only thing I can say about media is that there are times when a sexualized depiction of women leads to a work that's a lot worse than it "should" have been. I don't need Buffy in a wet T-shirt every fight. (But some of the sex scenes in Buffy were really hot. So were some of the fight scenes. The distinction was not always sharp.)
When I see a girl at a party and get a sudden flash of what it might be like to take off her shirt, I see a picture in my mind. I know she's a person with her own hopes and dreams and fears and desires. I'm just... not explicitly considering any of them at that particular moment, except a small subset of the desires. If I'm lucky enough to actually make out at a party, I don't imagine that she's especially concerned with the details of my thoughts and dreams either. I hope she's into what we're doing, because otherwise what's the point, and I hope everyone is having a good time. But mostly, I'm thinking about what I'm doing, what she's doing, what we're doing.
So far, I would imagine no one is finding any of this more than mildly objectionable, and maybe not even that The problem, I think, starts with this: I can predict certain superficial features that are likely to attract me more than others. Red hair. Breasts that look a certain way. A voice that's high but not too high. The particulars of my kinks aren't really relevant here. I bring them up because I have them, I know I have them, and I'm more interested in a girl if she plays into them.
(I can be, and have been, attracted to women I never would have predicted "on paper." I have developed complicated feelings, including romantic ones, for a woman I've never seen but only exchanged very personal e-mails with. Even so, I really like girls with red hair. The exceptions don't negate the general trends.)
If I somehow met a woman who pushed all of my little superficial-feature buttons in a three-minute conversation yelled out over bad techno music, I would probably be really smitten. My long-term reactions would depend more on who she really is, but the initial spark of interest... wouldn't, really. I think that's me objectifying her. At least, when I get into conversations about that, the idea of objectification tends to come up.
The thing is, I've seen women drag boys they just met into corners and make out with them. I've seen them pretty clearly be the instigators. They must be going on superficial qualities, too, which is fine. But... if the problem is about the impact of male behavior and how that reinforces sexism in society... if it turns out this discussion is really about patriarchy and social roles and phallocentrism... then I don't know how to bring my personal conduct into harmony with the way I'd like the world to be. I'd prefer not to be complicit with an oppressive social system, but chastity is not an option. (For me.)
I believe I can desire and have sex with a woman, and view her as my equal. I'm kind of counting on it. But... it's not always about holding hands. That sex with a woman I respect may involve someone being handcuffed to something. Eschewing particular sexual practices won't really help. Sex can always get weird, no matter how "vanilla" the particular encounter might seem to those who weren't in it.
I can't say that my respect for my sexual partners will shine unequivocally through my every thought, word and deed. I can and do say that I don't go to bed with people I look down on, and I don't lose respect for someone because she has sex. (How can you lose respect for someone because they had sex with you? And yet, it seems to happen.)
I can want a sexual relationship with a person I'm not interested in knowing in other ways.
I can look at a picture of a woman and fantasize without really considering her in other contexts.
I can very much want to perform certain carnal acts with a woman.
A woman is not an object, she's a person.
I don't feel there's a contradiction between the first three statements and the last one. Some other people, male and female, seem to.
Of course, and this is not unlikely, there might be something important going on here that I just don't get.
I'd love comments, especially comments that disagree with me.
I don't screen comments, as a rule, but I will on this post. If you have a comment but prefer it not be made public, let me know.