Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Objectifying people based on appearance

A good-looking young woman just walked by out my window and I, following millennia-old lizard-brain instincts, turned to watch. She didn't see me doing so, but if she had happened to glance this way, I would have felt compelled to look away or pretend I hadn't been looking at her. I wouldn't want her to take umbrage at me ogling her, "objectifying" her, and odds are good (not certain, but good) that she'd be the type that would be offended. But personally I think her reasons are nonsense.

If I stop and look at her, I'm merely enjoying that she's pleasurable to look at. I'm not making secret plans to go up to her. I'm not even fantasizing about her. I'm simply enjoying the view. (I'm told most guys go straight from "she's nice to look at" to "I'd like to do her", but I have never been that way. Though if I did, I'm not sure that'd change anything, provided that the thought stopped there.)

Her concern is that I'm objectifying her; I'm ignoring the unique individual she is and simply admiring the shallowest surface factor, her appearance. And I am. The question is, is that so bad? How about the woman walking by right now who is entirely unremarkable and who I am not sparing a second glance. Am I objectifying her? Each of these people has a million unique traits. In one case, I ignore all million, and in the other, I only ignore 999,999 of them. Which is worse?

For the moment she walks by I'm treating her as a nice-view-object. If she were working at the bookstore and I was buying a book, I'd be treating her as a cashier-customer-service object. If she were working at my office I might be treating her as a timesheet-processing object. The simple fact is, in a typical day you probably see or deal with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Half of them you ignore entirely, and most of the rest you treat as one object or another. The number of them you treat as more than an object in a given day you could probably count on one hand.

Everyone does that and there's nothing wrong with it. Imagine trying to get through a day if every single person you had any interaction with, even so shallowly as looking at them walking by, you stopped to try to get to know, to treat as a person, to understand their unique qualities, their histories and hopes. You'd never get off your front porch, and if you did, you'd probably be arrested.

So why is it that appreciating someone's beauty is more offensive than any of the thousand other ways I'll be objectifying someone today? Seems to me on reflection it should be one of the least offensive.

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

That's a tough one, and I wish I had a satisfactory answer. Part of it is that while my lizard brain wants to examine potential mates, her lizard brain wants to avoid unwanted mates and dangerous predators. So we're somewhat at cross purposes, you see.

For me, this is one of the few areas of civilized life where I approve of the "cool" ethos. It's OK (and kind of unavoidable) to look, but there's a difference between looking and staring.