I was a ballet dancer most of my twenties and thirties and I remember how I would grind my teeth when all my years of work and dedication would be reduced to a discussion about the “dancer ass.” Or seeing the ballerinas flinch when guys would leer and ponder “how flexible they must be.” Women were the most egregious, sometimes grabbing a feel without asking.
It was humiliating, and the worst of it was that people figured it was the kind of attention I wanted. I mean, why else would I flaunt my stuff on stage like that?
Another isn’t bothered:
I don’t have any problem with being objectified. I rather enjoy it.
So much that I have a few kinky videos on YouTube and Xtube. And a profile on Recon and Gearfetish. I like knowing that people get turned on when they look at me … heading towards the Pride Parade in full leather. I was living in suburban New Jersey at the time so I drove into Manhattan. Parked somewhere, I don’t remember specifically any more, around 23rd and 8th because we’d be ending the day at the Eagle. Got on the subway and got more than a few looks from men and women. I went with the flow and would very discreetly lick my upper lip when I caught someone ogling me.
There is a delicate tension between objectification and self-esteem-boosting desire, overtly expressed. It would be foolhardy to pretend that human beings have no inherent want to be desired by others. I remember one occasion from highschool when a friend and I were meeting some people for a movie, and we ran into a mutual acquaintance who was hanging out with someone I thought was cute. I went over to talk to her, and after a few seconds, she looks over my shoulder and goes “who’s your friend?” with none-too-obvious interest. Needless to say, being transparent is not the funnest experience in the world, but you do learn from it nonetheless (namely, to stop hanging out with friends who are more attractive than you are!).
There is no question that it can be isolating and damaging to be consistently looked over. Which is why I often find myself minutely torn when reading stories about people who mourn being objectified, because I’ve encountered quite a few people who it seems would love nothing more than to experience a bit of objectification themselves. Being starved of sexual attention can be isolating and hurtful as being inundated by it.
Yet objectification is not confined to sexual attention, without more. Objectification is harmful because it can manifest as a sociology of reduction and exclusion. It is inter-connected with numerous gender-related constructs that, at the present time, tend to fall heavier on women than men. The damage done by objectification does not disappear simply because there are those among us who end up in isolated corners of social experience after our countenance slips quietly through the multifarious appetites and agencies which inhabit the market of human sexuality, and are starved for sexual attention and intimacy as a result. That some would have their self-esteem boosted through a particular type of sexual attention doesn’t make the case of people who are exposed to too much of it less problematic. And there are of course, matters of degree which can make all the difference in the world between an oppressive interaction and a reasonable one.
One pines for a happy medium, of course. But utopian visions of human sexuality are as doomed to failure as every other vision of humanity that presupposes perfectibility. What seems certain is that D’Angelo’s case proves that objectification is not simply an issue which affects women. That doesn’t mean we should abandon celebrations of physical human beauty. But perhaps the solution is less about overturning so-called kyriarchal systems, and more about simply observing Aretha Franklin’s age-old wisdom.
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