Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Is it wrong for a woman to dress in a sexually arousing manner lest it lead to objectification? This has been the topic of discussion (and, sometimes, non-discussion) over at Signs of the Times (here and here).

When I see a woman who displays her sexuality openly, I don't leap to the conclusion that she is a sex object and nothing else. For all I know, she might be a doctor, lawyer, history professor or CEO. Certainly, she is also a human person. To think otherwise would be for me to "objectify" her.

Of course, there is a minority of folks who will objectify her for her fashion choice. There are two reasons why one might think the existence of this minority ought to cause women to suppress their sexuality. First, one might think that the unpleasantness of being objectified by a fool outweighs the pleasantness of a sexual display. I don't think very many believe the scales tip this way. Most would argue that the woman runs her life, not the fools.

A second reason for women to suppress their sexuality in light of foolishness would be to avoid reinforcing the stereotype that a woman who dresses scantily is just an object through and through. If open sexuality were a reinforcer of the stereotype, it still wouldn't override a woman's right to live as she sees fit. After all, the problem with the stereotype is that it limits a woman's freedom, so supppressing that freedom is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The interesting thing that occurred to me during this debate is that public displays of sexuality ("hoochification") actually do work to overcome the objectifying stereotype. How will objectifiers learn that open sexuality is not mutually-exclusive of humanity without observing open sexuality in the presence of humanity?

[If S->~H, the falsifying pattern is (S ^ H). The theory cannot be falsified if S is never present.]

Indeed, dehoochification retards women's rights. I don't think the objectifying stereotype would vanish if we put women in burqas for 25 years. I suspect the reverse would result, and women who exposed their faces after 25 years of suppression would be seen as nothing but sluts (c.f., Iran).

I'm not saying that everyone ought to display their sexuality publicly and at all times. I'm just saying that there's nothing wrong with some people doing so some of the time.


Robin Zebrowski said...

There feels like a slippery slope here (not on your part, on the part of people who believe women should wear brown jumpsuits and look frumpy instead of feeling good about themselves.) These are the reasons something like 110 million women have been castrated across the globe. The argument is usually that it makes them less appealing for targets of rape.

So, if the misogynists are still turned on by frumpy brown jumpsuits, the next step seems to be forced female genital mutilation (never male, though...)

Doctor Logic said...

You are right, of course, Robin.

It seems to be part of a broader philosophy that if a liberty has adverse side-effects, it's always better to take away that liberty rather than address the side-effects. It's heavily fear-based.