I don’t think it’s an inherently bad thing to look at a fellow adult in a highly sexualised way. I don’t even think it’s a bad thing to think about them as an object of lust. Literally an object.
Okay. What I did there is start in a deliberately provocative way to get your attention.
And what I did there is try to point it out as a way of defusing what is quite a delicate and potentially explosive topic.
It’s true, though. You’re an object. I’m an object. By that I just mean that we are physical things. Lumps of matter. It’s a way of categorising human beings that is both technically accurate, but also enormously reductive and missing critical context.
We are objects. But that’s not all we are.
The real danger, I think, is allowing yourself to have a limited viewpoint. If you only consider someone as a sex object, then that can be an enormously harmful thing for both you and them, in different ways.
If you are able to recognise that they are a sexual creature, and that they are a frustrated artist, and that they are a son or daughter, and that they have a troubled relationship with spirituality, and that they are a talented teacher, and so on… Then you have context. You are thinking about them as a person with dozens of complex, intersecting, sometimes even conflicting identities.
A brief aside. I can’t find a video of it, but there was a really interesting moment on one Graham Norton show, years ago. They went to the audience for something – I think they were asking for volunteers to show their ‘hidden talents’. The camera settled on a Chinese guy, early twenties maybe. Looked kind of goofy, honestly. Big baggy sweatshirt. Hello, what’s your name, what’s your secret talent, etc. etc. He takes off the sweatshirt and he is absolutely rippling with muscles. Just in incredible shape. The crowd gasp, and Graham says “Well I wasn’t expecting THAT!”
Seems kind of innocuous, and 99 times out of a 100 I would have agreed, and that moment would just be drowned amongst then thousand other memories. But I remember thinking… Why not? Why couldn’t he be muscular? And of course it’s because he already had a ‘thing’. He was goofy Chinese guy. Having a second thing, a second facet, breaks our brains a bit. We condense people down to comfortable soundbites for… I dunno. Easier memory storage? Blonde girl. Glasses guy. Tall dude. Hot brunette.
Sexual objectification destroys lives. I absolutely don’t mean to underplay how damaging and widespread it is, particularly for women. But I do find it very interesting.
I think of you, reader, as an object. But (whether I know you or not, although the former is dramatically more likely) I also think of you in a lot of other ways. I don’t always give them the appropriate weighting. But I do at least always try to keep them in mind.