Who is being Objectified?

‘This analysis of fifty of the bestselling pornographic videos in Australia shows that women are not objectified in this genre more than men . Of our twelve measures, seven can be analysed to measure gendered differentiation of objectification in pornography. We excluded the kinds of sex acts, and sex acts causing orgasm from this part of the analysis – this data is important and suggestive but cannot be compared in this particular way as there exists no agreed scale to quantify the pleasure different sex acts cause each gender. We also excluded measures of violence from gendered comparison, as they are too few in the sample to allow comparison of gender roles to be meaningful.

Of these seven measures, one shows women being more objectified than men (presence of orgasms, where women have fewer orgasms). Three show men being more objectified than women (in time spent looking at camera, where men return the gaze less; in time spent talking to the camera, where they are also less engaged; and in initiating sex, where men are more sexual objects than active sexual subjects in seeking their sexual pleasure in the sample). Three measures showed no large difference in objectification between men and women (naming, central characters and time spent talking to other characters). […]

In the mainstream of pornographic videos in Australia we found […] and a very small amount of violence – and then, only when we erred on the side of inclusiveness in deciding whether situations might be consensual or not. The majority of scenes containing violence came from videos which were explicitly marketed to women.

Overall, women were no more objectified than men in the mainstream of pornography. These results are reassuring. This is the first study, we believe, to survey and attempt to reconcile the measures employed in previous content analyses of pornography. By choosing to use the term ‘objectification’ as the key concept under which various other forms of undesirable representation (including violence) can be measured, we believe that we have offered a potentially useful new approach to the analysis of pornography; one that allows for analyses that are sensitive to the specificity of filmic representations, that work within accepted social science definition of aggression, and can be easily articulated to ongoing public debates about the genre. We hope that other researchers will take up this approach to provide a more detailed understanding of the workings of pornography across media, and across cultures.’

– McKee, Alan (2005) The Objectification of Women in Mainstream Porn Videos in
Australia. The Journal of Sex Research 42(4): p. 277-290

Sexual Objectification

When feminists decry the objectification of women, most people immediately think of the images that saturate our magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in varying stages of undress, dolled up and presented for the male gaze. Yet, while sexual objectification is a huge problem, it is, in fact, only a fraction of the objectification of women that permeates our world.

English: Studio portrait photo of Betty Grable...

Portrait photo of Betty Grable

Because it is all too obvious and difficult to ignore, people tend to focus on sexual objectification. The difference between the way women and men are portrayed in national newspapers and other media is stark – women are too often reduced to the sum of their body parts, heavily Photoshopped to fit into an ever narrowing ideal of female beauty.

Yet, an overemphasis on the ‘sexual’ aspect can obscure the much more problematic aspect of ‘objectification’, the iceberg of which sexual objectification is the visible tip. After all, being presented in a sexual way doesn’t always mean objectification.

Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of all this is that we are socialising generation after generation to view the world, and the women in it, from the point of view of men. As a result, only men are seen as full and complete human beings, not women. Women are objectified – this means women are denied agency, and are seen from the outside, their own consciousness, their thoughts and feelings, utterly overlooked. This is a far greater problem than ‘just’ a provocative image here and there.