Sex Sells

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Oxford English Dictionary: Degrade to the status of a mere object Cambridge Dictionary Online: Treating people like tools or toys, as if they have no feelings opinions or rights of their own.

Normally when we think of objectification we tend to think about women. However, this affect all types of identities. Objectification is the seeing as or treating of an identity as an object or commodity. Further, sexual objectification or treating of an identity as an object or tool for sexual gratification.

  • Instrumentality – the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes
  • Denial of autonomy – the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination
  • Inertness – the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity
  • Fungibility – the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects
  • Violability – the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;
  • Ownership – the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);
  • Denial of subjectivity – the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Nussbaum, Martha, 1995, “Objectification”,Philosophy and Public Affairs

  • Reduction to body – the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
  • Reduction to appearance – the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
  • Silencing – the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

Rae Langton, 2009, Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Ingres’s Violin, Man Ray, 1924

According to Immanuel Kant, objectification involves the lowering of a person to the status of an object, thus removing that persons humanity, he believes that humanity is special and represents our inner worth not a relative worth. He further argues that, ” if I yield myself completely to another and obtain the person of the other in return, I win myself back; I have given myself up as the property of another, but in turn I take that other as my property, and so win myself back again in winning the person whose property I have become. In this way, the two persons become a unity of will”(Kant, 1963).

  • Monogamy is the only equitable way to maintain dignity and humanity between sexual partners
  • Without this commitment sexual activity may suffer from imbalance and lead to a lack of regard for another persons humanity
  • Legal as well as physical reciprocity, or lovers becoming each others property is the only way to avoid the objectification of one or other partner
Tom Ford for Men, Terry Richardson, 2007

Objectification occurs vastly through social means,it happens when an identity is made less than human, turned into a thing or commodity, bought and sold. When objectification occurs, a person is de-personalised, so that no individuality or integrity is available socially.

Gender Inequality

According to Ronald Dworkin we live in a patriarchial society where gender roles are culturally defined. Separated from the biology of sex, gender is socially constructed.  As a feminist Dworkin argues that in a patriarchial society the man as objectifyer has the power and the woman as the objectified has been de-humanised or turned into an object to be consumed, and is powerless.


Catharine McKinnon, 1987 has defined pornography as “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women though pictures or words that also includes women de-humanised as sexual objects, things, or commodities; enjoying pain or humiliation or rape; being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised, or physically hurt;in postures of sexual submission or servility or display; reduced to body par ts, penetrated by objects or animals,or presented in scenarios of degradation, injury,torture;shown as filthy or inferior;bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual”.

“The message I would like to give is that it doesn’t matter who the girl is,” he said.“It doesn’t depend on which class she belonged in—it can happen to anyone… We stay in a society where rich people roam in cars, and poor people who roam in public transport are in danger,” he continued.“It was my intent to mix these two things which are pretty apart from each other and make aesthetically strong images about it.”

-Raj Shetye on the work – “The Wrong Turn”

Women as Objects

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YSL Opium perfume ad featuring Sophie Dahl
  • Conforming to Body Ideals
  • Gestures, Posture and Movement
  • Female body as ornamented surface

“Our culture demands the ‘infantilisation’ of women’s bodies and faces” Sandra Lee Bartky, 1990

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Men as Objects

“Why should the cosmetics, diet, exercise, and surgery industries restrict themselves to female markets, if they can convince men that their looks need constant improvement too?”

Susan Bordo, 1999

“The increasing pressure on men to conform to unattainable standards of beauty is far from a sign of progress: it is, instead, a sign that the problem has grown”

Jennifer Saul, 2003

Italian Vogue, Steven Meisel,2005

Conclusively, both female and male have been objectified throughout the last century, female, arguably being more objectified perhaps but that is not really the point. There are different ways both genders are objectified and other identities are objectified in other different ways and this has a massive influence by how our bodies are idealised through the media and by ways of consumerism and sex.


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BA (Hons) Final Year Ceramics student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Love experimenting with material and techniques and work on a range of medium.

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