Ozy keeps writing about objectification, which they seem to use synonymously with “fetishization”. I had high hopes they would finally be the person who uses that word in a way that makes sense, so I can stop just assuming it’s a totally made-up horrible useless concept. But this was not to be.
Ozy is bisexual and gets upset when people with a fetish for bisexuals proposition them, describing it as “some asshole dude deciding that your sexuality is for his entertainment” and saying that “I am deeply creeped out by dudes who are more attracted to me because I’m bi”.
They are equally upset when people “objectify” fat people, trans people, Asian people, black people, dominant people, submissive people, et cetera. If I understand this right, they say being attracted to a dominant person just because they’re dominant is “believing that people you’re attracted to exist for your boner”; being attracted to fat people is equivalent to telling them “look, people who are attracted to you are so rare that you should be willing to fuck literally anyone who’s attracted to you”.
It is probably a bad sign when, in order to criticize a concept, you have to make your hypothetical target example say and think things totally unrelated to that concept and much worse than it.
Look. Suppose Bob is a sadomasochistic amputee who has a fetish for fat transgender Asian women. And suppose he happens to live next to Alice, a fat transgender Asian woman who has a fetish for sadomasochistic amputees. They can either both sit alone in their rooms, feeling like approaching the other would be vaguely sinful for reasons they can’t exactly parse. Or they can, as the economists say, derive gains from trade.
I don’t think Ozy objects to Bob and Alice starting a relationship. I just think they object to either of them ever asking the other whether they’d like to start a relationship. If the Relationship Fairy fell out of the sky and magically informed them that they were interested in each other, then it would be totally acceptable. But if one of them has to go and check, then that’s wrong, because it might make one of them feel “objectified”.
But if you lash out in anger any time someone investigates whether they can make a mutually beneficial deal with you, such that fear of this reaction prevents everyone all around the world from ever trying to make mutually beneficial deals with anyone else, then the problem is with you.
I have not had much experience with psychiatry yet but one of the things I have learned is that human fetishes are one of the most powerful forces in the world. I met a man who had used up pretty much his entire life savings going to niche prostitutes who would satisfy his fetish; eventually it came out and led to a divorce. We asked him: did you ever ask your wife if she might be interested in doing this with you, so you didn’t have to cheat on her in the most expensive possible way? “No, of course not, it would have been so embarrassing, imagine what she would have thought of me, I couldn’t degrade her like that.”
I have just enough faith in the fundamental perversity of the Universe to consider it inevitable that his wife shared the same fetish and was probably going to expensive prostitutes of her own, like a disgusting x-rated version of Gift of the Magi. If they had just talked to each other they could have sorted out the whole debacle. But no, because of this concept of “objectification” we can’t have nice things.
And I am still loading the dice in Ozy’s favor by mentioning all these sadomasochistic fetishes and amputee fetishes that make it look like objectification is something perverted. What if you like guys with red hair? Guys who dress in suits? Girls who play the harp? Girls with an unwavering committment to leave the world a better place than it was when they arrived, which shines brightly forth through their every word and action?
(I have both of the latter two fetishes. It’s terribly embarrassing and you must never tell.)
But seriously. How come we think “attracted to a girl who plays the harp” is socially acceptable, but “attracted to a transgender woman” is a disgusting fetish?
(Ohmigod. I just realized my girlfriend doesn’t actually love me for who I am. She just loves all of my characteristics.)
As far as I can tell, the distinction seems to be that liking someone because they play the harp is the sort of thing associated with wanting a long-term relationship partner, and liking them because they’re transgender is the sort of thing associated with wanting to have casual sex.
If someone likes you because you’re transgender, you have to not just politely say no, but become extremely offended and yell at them, or else people will suspect you’re the kind of person who thinks having casual sex with people is okay, ie a slut.
Which is fine, if you’re one of those conservative people who think sluttiness is a real thing and you must never have casual sex because that is wrong. Yet the people attacking “fetishization” claim to be sex-positive. For them to continue hating on “objectification” doesn’t compute.
I talked to Ozy about this, and they finally said that their real problem is people assuming they deserved sex with them because the person had a bisexual fetish and Ozy was bisexual. And that sometimes this led to them being pushy or pressuring them for sex.
This is obviously a legitimate complaint. It’s just not a complaint about objectification.
If someone learned everything about Ozy, and fell deeply in love with them for their amazing personality, and then said “I deserve sex with you, whether you’re interested or not, and it has nothing to do with your bisexuality, it’s solely because I’m deeply in love with your amazing personality” and then kept pressuring them about it, then even though this is exactly the opposite situation it would be exactly as bad.
But the point is, there is absolutely zero wrong with objectifying someone. There is a lot wrong with ignoring other people’s right not to consent. But we knew ignoring non-consent was bad already. All the concept of “objectification” adds is giving you an excuse to hate innocent people because they’re in the vague periphery of a bad thing. Screw that.
I wrote this about gender because people only read blog posts when they’re about gender or politics, but the same principle of “Informed consent is sufficient and all that worrying about objectification adds is preventing mutually beneficial deals” applies to pretty much all discussion of objectification including in philosophy.