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The Process of Objectification
Jason: Dear James, recently I had a discussion with a very passionate young woman about the subject of rape and objectification of women. She argued that young men should be taught not to rape and not to objectify women. I conceded that teaching young men to respect women was a good idea. I didn’t bother telling her about the self and the difference between objects and self, but it did make me think later…
If all objects are appearing to self and are imbued with attraction and repulsion, then is it even possible to refrain from objectifying objects, including women? What then would be a more accurate way to define what feminists mean by the often quoted mantra “women are not objects”?
Maybe what they mean is that women’s bodies are not objects to be sought after. But this is obviously not true in nature. Women are naturally attracted to men’s bodies and men are attracted to women’s bodies as objects appearing to self.
Not that I wish to teach Vedanta to feminists, but there is obviously some way that dharma is expressing itself in the statement “women are not objects.” What would be a more accurate way to express this ideal?
James: Objectification of women – or anything else, for that matter – is an unconscious process that really only ameliorates when the person sees through their own experience that it does not deliver what it purports to deliver – lasting satisfaction. So you can’t really “teach” a person not to objectify. It will create a conflict and he or she will have to repress the tendency. However, inquirers can gain control over the process by understanding it and controlling the tendency to identify with it.
Actually, the objects are not imbued with attraction and repulsion. All objects are value-neutral. If the attraction and repulsion were in the objects, then the same object would produce the same attraction or repulsion in everyone. An individual’s likes and dislikes create (objectify, or project) positive or negative values onto objects. It is an unconscious process. A gay man, for example, is not attracted to a woman’s body. People are just attracted to getting their desires satisfied – the object be damned – and in many cases a man will use deceit or violence to satisfy his sexual desires.
What women mean – and Vedanta agrees – is that men should not assume that they have a right to sex. But tell that to a very randy man. There is a solution but it will never be attractive, because it involves women and men developing enough dispassion with reference to physical pleasure that the women don’t put themselves in compromising situations and men learn to appreciate the right of women to say no.
Jason: So then “objectification” is quite literally the projection that an object can give us pleasure or pain, and then we act compulsively on these beliefs based on our likes or dislikes?
Jason: The way out of this debacle is to understand that our idea is faulty. And what gives us pleasure will inevitably give us pain as well?
James: Yes. For pleasure to be pleasure there has to be pain. How can you evaluate pleasure except with reference to its opposite? This is what is meant by duality. Liberation from duality is pleasure without pain – it is steady bliss.