In defense of sexual objectification

| Staff Columnist

As Gabe Cralley recently wrote in Student Life (last Monday, I believe), the posters for Sex Week promoted events using scantily-clad women “assaulting passersby with their bedroom eyes.” If I am reading his article correctly, he has a problem with the fact that only girls were being used to advertise Sex Week. He then went on to bemoan our culture for promoting unrealistic body images and a narrow view of sex.

While I agree with many of the aforementioned points, I disagree with the general tone that the article had. I read it as less of a blistering social critique and more of a recitation of familiar points that are neither controversial nor truly thought provoking. Above all, the undertone that I often find in discussions of female objectification is a negative, prohibitive view of sex, which usually gets cast as fundamentally demeaning. That is why I am writing in defense of the human sexual urge and in defense of the often uncontrollable preferences that one finds in one’s self.

I agree with Cralley on one point—why isn’t there a wider array of people represented in the posters? I’m not necessarily calling for more variety in ethnicity—after all, attempts at tokenism can be offensive, and it would be bad to offend people in a misguided attempt at blanket “political correctness” —but why not have more men or any other gender presentation on the posters?

After all, one of the headliner events of Sex Week was Anal Pleasure 101, and I would delicately like to point out that the anus is a body part shared by both genders. Targeting half of a potential demographic is just more effective. Are we afraid that by putting a man on the poster we’ll be accused of gay stereotyping? I think that that attitude—a lip service to political correctness but an unwillingness to do anything that might be perceived as controversial­—is more harmful than misguided but sincere advertising.

In response to another of Cralley’s points and in response to the larger discourse about sexual objectification, I think that sexual objectification is more complicated than the amount of skin shown or the model’s body type (however large the bosoms). It is one of those gray areas where a strictly utilitarian outlook doesn’t hold, because the motivations of the model do change the nature of the act. As for the ubiquity of a certain type of sexual image (female, white, lithe, well endowed), I think it is evidence of a lack of sexual imagination more than anything else. This is not the evil that we sometimes make it out to be, only the evil of banality and unbalance. I do not think that by attempting to curb all sexual images we will ever change that perception of “normal” sexuality.

After all, if our Sex Week promoters really can’t think of sexier images than hot white girls, then we should probably just be disappointed with our Sex Week promoters, not society at large. Why not write to let them know that the posters they made were far too vanilla for our diverse (and perverse) tastes? That’s what I’d do. I mean, I won’t be happy until they host an event entirely about *censored*.

Finally, I would like to highlight the ubiquity throughout time and cultures of pornography and sexual imagery. It is a valid point that we are probably more fixated on it than previous cultures, given our mass media and consumer culture. We have to ask ourselves, if we have a problem with it, what precisely is the nature of our problem? Are we upset by the sheer display of sexuality and our desire to see it, or are we upset when we feel that such a display is being manipulated or viewpoints aren’t represented fairly? I think that making these distinctions in critiques lends more precision, and, in my view, gives a much more charitable place for sexual desire in our psychology.

Ann is a junior in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at aejohnson@wustl.edu.