Dear 100 Hour Board,
I have been reading lately about objectification, or treating a person “as an object or a thing. It is part of dehumanization, the act of disavowing the humanity of others,” according to a Wikipedia article. I wonder how prevalent objectification is in our society, and how do you know whether you objectify others?
Martha Nussbaum, distinguished feminist author and philosopher, said that a person is objectified if one or more of seven criteria apply. The seventh criteria is “denial of subjectivity,” meaning “treating the person as though there is no need for concern for their experiences or feelings.” You find evidence of this when you hear something like “I don’t need to understand, nor do I care to know how men feel about this issue.” You can substitute for “men” the word “women,” or “sexists,” or “liberals,” or “homophobes,” or “racists,” or “Trump and Trump supporters,” or any other person or group of people you are tempted to feel are somewhat less human than you.
It is sometimes hard to see in ourselves the faults we deplore in others. So, my two-part question is, how do we learn to recognize when we objectify others, and what can we do as individuals to stop ourselves from objectifying other people? In other words, what can we do to determine if we ever dehumanize groups we disagree with, and how can we develop more concern and interest in the experiences or feelings of others who are different from us?
Based on a few factors, I'm going to guess this question is directed at me and my answer from BQ #91428.
Specifically, it seems taken from this quote:
"You're right that I don't know what it's like for a guy, but you're wrong that I should care, because I shouldn't and I don't."
Out of context, like in the way you paraphrased it, that absolutely comes across as though I'm denying the subjectivity of men. Which would be reprehensible behavior if that were my general opinion on life.
However, that statement was given in reference to a specific question that we received. A question that was in essence complaining about how difficult it is to see women in public and not objectify them. While that particular statement is not my most eloquent or explanatory writing, I stand by its sentiment in the context of the question. The asker of the question was seeking to negate the responsibility for his objectification of women. That doesn't mean he is less of a human than I am. It means that on this particular subject, I think he's wrong and it seemed as though he needed to face the harsh reality.
I was correct that I don't know what it's like to be a man. I don't get erections and it's not culturally acceptable to blame all my problems on other people. However, I do have an idea what the world is like when we give credence to men who have difficulty controlling their desire to objectify women. It's called every century prior to the 20th (and continuing into the 21st, though thankfully to a lesser degree).
I'm not saying the asker of the question isn't entitled to their opinion, or that they aren't free to share their opinion. I am saying their opinion is not relevant in modern discussion, and any issues they have with seeing women are their problem and not worth being considered by anyone else.
There is a difference between treating people subjectively and taking a stance on their opinions. Immediately dismissing another person's opinions or even actions doesn't equate to dismissing the actual person. Saying it's bad to objectify women doesn't mean the person who is objectifying women has been dehumanized.
It is also not a bad thing to not want to understand every mindset ever. For example, I really don't want to ever get inside the head of a WWII Nazi who thought it was fun to torture and kill Jews. This isn't because I am dehumanizing the Nazi, but because I don't want to get up close to something so horrifying.
Finally, applying a negative moniker to another person isn't necessarily dehumanizing. Reason being, some people are genuinely horrible. It may not be nice, but there are times where calling someone something bad is perfectly accurate.
I believe that accountability is inseparable from choice. If you give away accountability, you give away your agency. Put another way, if you blame someone else, you give up believing you have power to effect the situation. A similar thing happens when you focus on what someone else is doing wrong, and how that effects you. I want to establish that as the baseline for my approach to modesty, racial groups, political affiliations etc. For example, I do everything I can to take accountability for my privileged status as white middle class. That means trying to speak up for minority groups, vote in a way that benefits them, and stay quiet when they need space to speak. But I don't believe that alone is a solution. My accountability will do nothing for them if they don't also take control of their life's progress.
In the case of question BQ #91428 that Luciana already recalled: I claim accountability for the way I dress. I dress modestly because I believe I have power to send the message I prefer. However, I cannot choose the thoughts of others and therefore cannot take accountability for them. I mentioned this a little in BQ #91572 (which question is a positive example of a man trying to understand modesty, and my answer to that question is a lot easier to understand than this. Maybe check it out.)
"The empowering thing about modesty as a concept is that we have some control over how people perceive and interact with us. The fallacy behind it is that we are always in control of all of those thoughts and interactions, or that somehow it is a direct causal relationship. We cannot control all of it. It isn't our fault or responsibility. But we can try and control our sphere for our own sakes."
When a man blames a woman for his thoughts, he has in a way given up his own power and control.
How do you recognize when you're objectifying someone? The only way in heaven or hell is to be humble and ask yourself. In my experience, this requires us to stop talking, especially about ourselves. Stop raging about what others do to you, how unfair, immoral etc. Take accountability for your role in your own success and morality. It isn't their fault if you objectify them. They didn't invite it. Whether it's an immodest woman, a person of color, or a Trump supporter.
How do we stop ourselves from objectifying? We listen to those we might objectify. We learn their stories, look for similarities, and champion their well-being. Think of ways you could have arrived at the same conclusions they did. You don't have to choose those conclusions, but try to understand them.
If you can't do that, leave them alone. You don't deserve to change someone you haven't tried to understand. And oftentimes, once you try to understand them, you stop wanting to change them.
My dad is a Trump supporter. I adamantly hate Trump. And while we do get into arguments, we also have great conversations where we come to understand the other's side, even if we don't agree with it. What I've learned is that there's a difference between objectifying people and tolerating their beliefs. My dad is a fantastic person, even if I think he's been a bit duped by the Republican party, and he's amazing for being willing to talk calmly about issues that we disagree strongly on. However, there are some moments where I have to tell him his ideas are completely wrong, like believing that Obama was born in Kenya (my dad changed his mind once I sent him evidence), or that Trump isn't racist or intentionally touting racist ideas (still working on that one). And there are times I have to change my mind (gun control and foreign policy). The difference is distinguishing the person from the idea.
This can get tricky when it comes to multiple people sharing the same (incorrect, offensive, unappealing) concern with one person. That one person may be patient with the first one or two people. They may be able to gently correct the issue, point out where the problem is and why the concern may be seen as offensive, and help the questioner better understand the issue. But by the time the tenth person comes along with the same issue and the same problematic language (or the same person keeps coming back time and time again), that one person may snap. That doesn't necessarily mean they're dehumanizing others, but their measure of patience of dealing with issues like this is worn out.
So, to come back to BQ #91428. We've received multiple questions about female (note: it is always female) modesty on the Board. 9 out of 10 questions are based on dehumanizing women and making them into sex objects, meant solely to either tempt or pleasure men. Honestly, it's tiring answering these questions. Our snappy responses do not necessarily mean that we're dehumanizing you, but that we're tired of dealing with this issue when we've tried so many times to politely answer it and explain why policing women's bodies is just plain bad.
Pat, I gave you one (hopefully) polite and well thought out answer on why I felt your view of modesty was lacking and even harmful. Your response to claim that we're dehumanizing you (readers, if you're confused there were some emails behind the scenes) for pointing out the error in your thinking is frankly absurd. Your response to being called out on incorrect views is to assume that those opposing you are dehumanizing you and then ask a cryptic question in an attempt to publicly shame those people and indirectly call them out. Unfortunately, I really don't see how any of our responses are going to change your mind on this topic. You're determined to be a victim and convinced that we, who disagree with your views, are dehumanizing you. You disappoint me, Pat. I spent a lot of time on my last answer hoping you'd be better than this.
-guppy of doom
I feel like objectification comes from unhealthy generalizations that we make. For me, the best thing to do in these cases is to get to know and empathize with someone who agrees with me. It is more okay to be frustrated with someone that you understand than someone that you don't fully understand.
One quote that I like from Elder Bednar is (and I'm paraphrasing), "When you can no longer feel love for the other person, that is when you have gone too far." Likewise, when we can't feel love for those we disagree with as a group, we probably should take a step back and question what it is that is motivating us to disagree with them.
I hope this helps,