What is objectification, anyway?

7 Jun

The following are philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s criteria for objectification, that is, the act of treating a person as an object:

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.

To which Professor Rae Langton, MIT, adds the following:

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.

The criteria all refer to the treatment of a person. From this I understand that objectification is enacted in encounters between people, when one party behaves towards the other as if she or he is a means to an end, and not a human being who is entitled to have her or his needs and feelings taken into account.

There’s an almost constant stream of allegations of objectification through sexualisation currently being made in Western society. These are leveled by concerned citizens against much popular culture, and based largely on images of women that culture produces. These allegations presume an objectifying gaze, that is, they insist the viewer will inevitably reduce women portrayed in certain ways to objects to be used for sexual gratification, rather than seeing them as equal human beings. Clothing, facial expressions and postures are used as signifiers of objectification, as well as language.

The signifiers chosen by concerned citizens are based on a Judeo-Christian perception of the adult female body as unruly, dangerous and indecent, and requiring concealment except in specific circumstances such as marriage and other committed monogamous relationships. Clothing that reveals too much of the body’s “private” zones is regarded as transgressing moral codes, as are postures and language that imply female sexual desire, and/or stimulate male “lust.”

Here I should note that the objectification debate is heteronormative. Apparently gays and lesbians don’t objectify each other or if they do, concerned citizens don’t include this in their ambit.

To interpret the clothing, postures and movements as indecent one must first have a particular set of moral values. Otherwise the image will be attractive, unattractive or entirely uninteresting, and it will carry no moral weight.

An image may invite the objectifying gaze. The viewer may accept. However, it’s a big leap to assume that all viewers who find an image “sexy” will inevitably progress from that opinion to objectifying a woman the next time he or she is face to face with one, and will inevitably set about finding ways to use the woman as a means to an end. This assumption imbues the image with nothing less than supernatural powers, as well as denying the viewer’s autonomy and self-determination. It also denies the viewer agency. It denies the viewer’s subjectivity and it also silences the viewer by imposing another’s values on the viewer’s gaze. According to Nussbaum, these are all acts of objectification. In other words, when concerned citizens make these assumptions, they treat the viewer as less human than themselves.

An image can invite us to objectify, but it can’t cause an objectifying consciousness to develop where it previously did not exist.

The inability to perceive others as human like oneself is a symptom of several psychological disturbances, as well as immaturity. These factors are not brought about through viewing an image, and they will not be resolved by removing an image from public view.

The argument that women choose to display their bodies in these ways holds little credence with concerned citizens. The most frequent response is that women don’t understand they’re inviting objectification through presenting their bodies to the admiring and at times desirous male gaze.  Another argument is that society (patriarchy) has so “normalised” the objectification of women that only those policing it will notice when it’s happening.

It’s something of a leap to assert that a woman is, without any awareness or agency, issuing an invitation to men to turn her into an object when she steps in front of a camera in small clothes, or plays football in lingerie. I can think of many reasons why women choose to undertake these activities dressed in these ways, and none of them are to do with the kind of compulsive masochism implied in their critics’ interpretations of their actions.

Indeed, such an attitude towards a woman could be read in Nussbaum’s criteria as treating her as if she is lacking in autonomy and self-determination, and treating her as a person lacking in agency. It also denies her subjectivity, and attempts to silence her by imposing an interpretation other than her own on her actions. In other words, the concerned citizens are engaged in objectifying her.

It seems to me that the entire objectification movement is an attempt to impose a particular set of moral values on society. Notions of propriety, largely middle class, are disturbed for example, by the spectacle of women playing football in lingerie. This discomfort is pathologised as objectification, and extrapolated as threatening to all women and girls, who as a consequence of the LFL will be regarded as nothing more than sex objects for male gratification. While there certainly are males who act as if this is their opinion of women, the majority do not. The majority of people understand there is a difference between personal encounters, and imagery.

The charge of objectification is a serious one. It should not be trivialized to serve a moral agenda.

It seems obvious to me that the key to accepting the human right of others not to be treated as a means to an end, lies in education and not censorship. Attempting to build a society on the assumption that all its members are possessed of an objectifying consciousness and everything possible must be done to prevent them indulging that consciousness seems to me insane, and asking for trouble. Respect and value for others as equals is an acquired skill, and we depend on caregivers to instruct our young in acquisition and practice. It’s a work in progress for the human race. Concerned citizens would do better to apply themselves to encouraging and assisting this work, rather than attempting to impose a moral code that adds nothing at all to the civilizing project. An attempt that in its practice commits the very offences it claims to vehemently oppose.


123 Responses to “What is objectification, anyway?”

  1. Ray (novelactivist) June 7, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Excellent article. Damn you. I was going to write about this but yours is so good all I need do is refer to it.

    Interesting to note how the critics of objectification also objectify those women they believe are being objectified. Has MTR bothered to let those women who have chosen to enter the LFL speak? Or has she ignored their voices, thus meeting at least two of Nussbaum’s conditions, ownership and denial of subjectivity.


    • Hypocritophobe June 7, 2012 at 10:24 am #

      …..or has she/will she take the standard political option, and pick off the weakest one/one who confirms to the preferred view?
      It’s all a bit predictable.

      Please tell me there is NO objectification in the Catholic church.
      Ooops silly me,that sort of “in the name of” objectification is OK.
      It runs parallel with the ‘good old’ ‘it’s a just war’, ‘it’s our battle’, doctrine.
      “Killing in the name of.”

      And isn’t ‘playing the victim’ objectification?Self objectification?
      Does that not devalue ‘genuine’ victims?


    • Jennifer Wilson June 8, 2012 at 7:17 am #

      LOL! I know you can add to my piece, or riff on it, Ray.


      • Ray (novelactivist) June 8, 2012 at 11:58 am #

        True, and I plan to do something this weekend coz it’s very timely. But reading it again there’s some succinct sentences that I’ll be quoting. My emphasis will be on the voices of artist’s subjects…


    • AJ June 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Forget MTR, shes a relic from a past age anyway, more insidously did anyone else pick up that the description almost perfectly suits the relationship a university student has with the organisation they study at? You do not own your creative output, nor do you have any say in how your progress is determined. You are owned, fee’d and rule bound lock stock and barrel….made me think!


    • Jennifer Wilson June 12, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      And you have admirably followed on from this piece of mine, Ray! http://novelactivist.com/10795/martha-nussbaum-objectification-sexualisation-and-conservative-hypocrisy/


  2. paul walter June 7, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Definitive and written with clarity-a very specific act of respect and gift for the readership, based on a generous proposition that we are indeed willing and capable of assembling a set of ideas left for us to work out, to understand some thing in a more complete way.
    Not sure if it is relevant but on TV the other night an anthropology doco on SBS, produced an interesting little encounter between young male skateboarders and a couple of attractive girls brought in to observe the difference in the lads, before and after their arrival. The presenter observed that once the lads noticed the presence of the young women there was an immediate increase in risk taking, the lads were compelled to display despite the likelihood of an injury. They were “wired: to behave this way, their hormones unstintingly directed them to the presence and scrutiny of the girls, who looked most pleased, said and did little and whilst observing, looked quite pleased,as if they were receiving their due.
    I guess the thing is- hope am not straying to far from the point- but our attention to the opposite sex (gay people of course feel like this about others of the same sex as themselves) is not something we specifically plan. People don’t flick on an “objectification” switch out of perversity to turn into Mr Hyde. We are designed by nature and evolution to operate that way and nature flicks the switch through vision, sound, etc stimuli.
    What is happening with violence is perhaps more related to the mixing of nature and culture in groups of (once) naked apes as individuals cooperate or strive for dominance, both with females and males. Both keep the pecking order, The female is looking for signs of a strong partner who can offer protection and aid, someone to be welcomed into her life, particularly as she is saddled with childbirth and rearing, the male seeks to mate and a more dominant female will have the capacity to keep him interested on all sorts of levels, guaranteeing the survival of their off spring.
    But defeat, envy and a sense of rejection, in both sexes, and the consequences of conflict in the contest for supremacy and the advantages in choice it brings, is at the core of much that’s a bit crook in our modern society. Consider men’s loud whistling at women the street, or the male gambit of overt pr*n.
    What’s the motive with this? Is it always for sexual arousal and relief or can it be also a more subtle cultural, coded message expressing the need to display heterosexuality to potential mates as well as a protest from those further down the pecking expressing frustration at favours withheld for enemies?
    In that doco there a number of different cultural locations, from Africa to England and in each place the girls or women tended to be unobtrusive, non threatening. They sat demurely, observing with decorum, and there was a subtle message in that. They weren’t there to make trouble,but they wanted their presence sensed and they wanted to look at the men and boys. They, too, wanted to
    It maybe some who we debate with maybe actually subject to a variation this without knowing, as they seek to demonstrate health and cleanliness and worth: there must be all sorts of connotations in all sorts of variations of simple behaviour as response.
    So I start to see that sex’n pr#n is indeed an overrated problem. It doesn’t cause problems in itself, except with an individual who may already have problems of a deeper type. But did lack of porn through all those centuries prevent social chaos, wars, rape, rivalries and bitterness?
    Where the MTR’s may have a point is in the issue of technique, of brainwashing in a sophisticated age, but I agree they see things in terms of “morality” and evil and a fate worse than death,as they try to imagine their own futures. Is it perhaps also about self presentation and uncomfortable-ness as instincts collide as well as social conditioning, than on the detached level of consideration of some existential threat to civilisation?
    Yep, it was a fine thread starter.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 8, 2012 at 7:19 am #

      Thank you PW. What I so like about NPFS is our enjoyment of one another’s perspectives: so many comments are intellectually stimulating, and I think we have a safe environment here in which to explore ideas. Most of the time anyway!


      • Julia June 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

        I agree…it’s what I like about NPFS also…thoroughly enjoyed such a well-written reminder…Thank you Jennifer…this is one of your better ones


  3. Sam Jandwich June 7, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Yes, fantastic article from a true humanist, who doesn’t have to shout to make herself heard*-)

    That said, I am a bit sensitive to the notion that we still have a ways to go in achieving gender equality. To me it’s a positive sign that things like the LFL and the portrayals of women in “game of thrones” that you were talking about yesterday (not to mention the raunchy, burlesque roller derbys which are so much good fun!) can become acceptable – and can be accepted acceptably – within certain contexts. But at the same time I see the fact that these things still largely pertain to the realm of fantasy and don’t really cross over into everyday life as a sign that the gains are tentative.

    Partly I think this is a generational thing – and here I give the example of the organisation I work for, which works in the social services sector, and it seems by consequence is staffed mainly by women. There seems to me to be quite a divergence in styles between women in their late 40s and above who grew up in less gender-sensitive times, and tthose who are more of my generation – say late 20s to late 30s. I always find the older generation adhere remarkably strictly to notions of hierarchy, and also to more “traditional” conceptualisation of social problems (man as perpetrator, woman as victim), whereas the younger female staff are both more approachable, and also more disposed to seeing social problems as dialectic, complex, reciprocal. Despite the fact that the modern feminist movement was kicked off by women now in their 50s and 60s, it seems it’s their progeny who are actually living by it.

    And using this example of generational influence, what does make me worried is the fact that, if kids these days are growing up in a world where they have unlimited access to more liberated expressions of gendered material, but without the background understanding of how we came to be in this position in the first place, then the whole thing might well go topsy-turvy. I’ve certainly had some conversations with mothers of teenage girls who are finding that the ways in which teenage boys relate to their daughters is quite heavily influenced by these kids’ (ie both the males’ and females’) extensive knowledge of pornography. It will be interesting to see how this evolves as this generation grows up, but yes, I get the sense that, while censorship is futile, we may also be falling behind as a society in our efforts to educate (even if parents are doing a pretty good job…).


    • Jennifer Wilson June 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      Did you see the SBS Insight on young people and porn? It was brilliant, actually asked them about their experiences, I think I did a post on it, must look. They begged for guidance and education. They clearly are not getting what they need.


      • samjandwich June 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

        Oh no it’s late, and I’m just about to go to bed.

        But luckily I’m sick again, so I’ll have plenty of time to watch it tomorrow! Thanks for the recommendation.


        • Jennifer Wilson June 8, 2012 at 7:09 am #

          “luckily” you’re sick again? Winter is not treating you well? 🙂


    • paul walter June 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

      Sam, too true. Thirty is the time when you’ve finally got your shit together after the adventure of growing up – break out!
      Like Sir Francis Drake or Florence Nightingale, you are embarking on the great projects of your real, adult life, Fast forward thirty years and you get yours truly. Sadder and no wiser, just on the odd occasion finally accepting things as they are without rancor and laughing at your own previous absurdity, conceits, naivety and foul ups. you’ve spent your energy breaking orbit, but that’s also a Rubicon, no going back.
      What’s actually happened between the conservatives and us is actually an ongoing dialectic. Our aim ought not be to crush them but debate them, teach them, learn from them, refute them and be refuted when a fair point is raised, because no one has the full story.
      In the end they will say they have to do what they do to survive, the irony is that’s exactly our position too, but from the opposite trajectory. Yet its a society in discourse to improve its way of coping, the day either we, OR the conservatives or both, stop caring and taking the trouble to debate, THAT’S when we are going to the death of society.


    • AJ June 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      Just one small point, I think you forgot that the notion of equality was always bullshit, even Greer said so ….I invite you to chew this thought over “Are men ever going to gestate a foetus for 9 months?” Equality is a fine notion never yet achieved in human history, (and I would argue never will be – even the amazon women myth is now debunked) and impatient women have stopped waiting and make a lot more than award rates (and most salaried men) in private businesses or careers of their own nowdays. (I bet Julia is in the top few %) I think I prefer the French notion, viva la difference, lets just enjoy the opposite sex (or same if thats your thing) without attempting to standardise us into a single gender – Just MHO of course.


      • helvityni June 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

        AJ, never mind MTR and Germaine Greer, do YOU think Lingerie Football and Baby Beauty Pageants add anything worthwhile to Australian way of life, or should I say to Oz culture?


        • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

          I think that’s answerable on a couple of different levels because both the things you mentioned are substantively imported from US culture and therefore to some extent seen as foreign impositions. If that somehow makes them seem worse than AFL or Dame Edna just because they’re not authentically Australian then it may be part of a reason not to like them if not a particularly good one. After all we don’t regard Cricket and Surfing as un-Australian even if we’re not devotees.

          I think the other thing to be said about that line of questioning would be that to be inclined to agree wouldn’t be the same as to value my instinctual distaste for them over other’s right to engage in such activities as long as they’re doing no harm. My preference if these events were organised for nobody to attend would not extend to encouraging people to stay away because I know that would become a gift of publicity in itself. Any antipathy I bear them is I think a matter of taste rather than something I could argue in the sense that I might be able to show that they do manifest harm.


          • helvityni June 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

            Nothing is bad just because if comes from America or from say, India, but something like Lingerie football is crap no matter where it came from, even if it originated from Finland… 🙂 I saw some of it on TV and found it distasteful titillation, why are we even talking about it…
            Dame Edna is wonderful, so are many things Australian, export them to America, and let’s welcome their good things here…


            • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

              I think Edna did okay in the US.

              But what I was getting at was the way that there’s a level of antipathy towards anything that is bad from overseas as if it reflects badly on some isolated piece of supposed entertainment that it comes from the US but we lap up every other sitcom, drama and movie out of Hollywood. if that’s not you beef that’s good, but I’ve heard it coming from others in the past and I thought it might rate a mention.

              As for whether titillation makes something crap. maybe it does, but since I’m not a fan of the LFL maybe I’ll just change channels or what something worthwhile elsewhere.


            • Hypocritophobe June 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

              When they ban Sumo wrestling I will sign the Lingerie football petition.
              To paraphrase a Scottish friend,
              The only good thing to come out of America is the road to Canada.

              Strangely (Helvi and Gerard),the God Botherers et al have used every reason other than yours to argue a ban on LFL.

              And as for bans, as HG continually says,show me the harm Gerry,show me the harm.

              I take more offence at the adoption of patriotic red-neck flag waving on Australia day and Thanksgiving lolly scabbing,long before harmless nubile sporting events.
              I can choose not to view/support/endorse the latter.The former invades my life and community more and more each year.


        • paul walter June 8, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

          Helvi, I know you specifically ask AJ for his comment.
          However, AJ is not back yet and I see Hudgod has offered comment, so can;t resist joining the affray no longer.
          If I may be permitted to translate with out giving offence, what Hudson is actually saying is that he is inclined to go along with you, its a load of crap, but doesn’t want to say so in case he looks puritanical and unfair.
          Hence am at a dire place, but will endure. I know the ghosts of Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno, etc are looking benevolently down from above:
          Call me a snob, I don’t care..


          • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 7:57 pm #


            I’m more than willing to say that LFL and beauty pageants are a load of crap as a matter of personal taste. What I’m not about is trying to persuade people to my taste with disingenuous appeals to unidentified harm.

            I’m more inclined to ponder whether a subjective dislike of something honestly represented as such isn’t more persuasive, as well as a whole lot more valid, than the kinds of claims about harm that others like MTR would make by appealing to effects based “research” and the like.

            There is I think a level of dis/endorsement of activities that are meant to be entertaining whereby taste and who among your cohorts might share a taste for a particular thing probably matters more than people acknowledge. If the obvious conclusion is that LFL would be a guy thing that is hardly surprising. What would be harder to conclude from that is that we’ve much say in what guys who enjoy that kind of thing do with their time and money.

            Taking baby beauty pageants as your example and working from widespread antipathy across a larger cross section of society you may just find that whether you have reason to get rid of them or not they’re bound to wane for reasons of sheer unpopularity,

            So working back towards the main argument from objectification, that was the kind of argument that says we don’t like something because…. and posits a questionable line of reasoning. Ironically I think that does come about when people seek to avoid defending their taboos because they don’t like to be seen as puritanical.

            The more interesting question may well be whether those same people would be more persuasive were they willing to front up to arguing their case from subjective dislike of whatever it is they’re against rather than trying to ban things all the time. After all I think that their supporters generally buy into these causes from a subjective perspective nearly all of the time.

            I’d be interested to hear more about how you think Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno, etc might interpret all of this?


          • helvityni June 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

            Paul, I addressed my post to AJ, because she seems to be the only other female here at the moment…I have not read too many of you blokes condemning this underwear ball-kicking…I started to wonder if I’m the only who finds it totally idiotic, I’m sure it is dangerous too, poor girls are getting hurt without no protective clothing…
            Melinda might be against this activity because she thinks it’s naughty, I’m against it because I find it silly…go back where you came from….


            • paul walter June 9, 2012 at 1:39 am #

              The media feeds off trivia, keeps the rubes minds off things like the drone bombings in Afghanistan, or another agonising famine on the Horn of Africa, or what induced the GFC and what actions was taken and why, for example. Instead, Adorno in particular is said to have suggested that the titillating, inane nature of media content in consumer capitalism degrades the people, in denying real information about the world and instead offering up up distractive material for often morbid fantasising and dumbed down escapism.
              In a way, I share Tankard Reist’s concerns about the quality of media and the obsession with titivation, the violent and the morbid. But this is how its come to pass, that consumer capitalism is the underlying current form of economic and cultural production and reproduction that leaves society hierarchical, oligarchic and conflicted.
              As some have said here though, if there is a problem with toxic culture it’s not because people are animals but because they’re conditioned but capitalism and its underlying basic premise of injustice.
              The Frankfurt School, many of whom were Jewish intellectuals who fled from Germany in the thirties, abhorred the employ of media to control information and public opinion and create a dangerous dislocation from reality that led to war.
              Marcuse and Fromm who were influential in America the sixties, resented puritanism as a means for creating the ambience of discontent that seeks consolation in control freakery and power and advocated that people get outside the system, do their own thinking and living.”Tune in, drop out” and “make love not war” were catchprases for the hippies. Perhaps Frankfurters borrowed from the Weber /Tawney Thesis of the same era, and the rise of the uptight, religiously ideological and thwarted, aggressive WASP mindset.
              Influenced by Nietzsche, the earlier Frankfurt members had suggested people redeem and renovate themselves through culture in the form that engages and develops critical faculties and the ability to avoid the system’s commodification of you as a vegetable and production unit for others benefit.
              The sixties protest and counter culture movements, thus arose against the system’s conditioning of despair and anxiety, of commodification, consumer
              fetishism and “objectivisation”: by their reckoning.
              If you can’t love anyone because, “You’re crippled inside”, you are indeed left instead to vicarious pleasures of vengeance and controlly-ness, or often just Brady Bunch apathy.
              As the drone ss trikes demonstrate, “objectivisation” is a bad trait in cases where bosses or politicians arbitrarily separate themselves as above normal conduct and mores through exceptionalism,
              (Hypothetically) If the President issues an Executive Order to take someone out, she’s not considering
              that person’s rights or thinking of the “other” as a self like herself, because the targetted person is
              void; “objectified” as a logistical problem, like packing a suitcase, rather than an “other” with perhaps legitimate grievances of their own, let alone kids. What’s happening is a lethal form of “othering” or
              objectivisation which betrays both a prior (induced?) staggering ignorance of the point of life and nature of reality, demonstrates Marx’s point as to the alienation of humanity, what brings it about and what comes from it, given the preconditions of dishonesty and suppression that have people blind to other people, that create fear subjectivism, division and scapegoating. If functionalism and “whatever it takes” is the dominant mode for our times, I just wonder how sane that is and how long before we are so out of touch with reality collectively that some thing like Afghanistan is the welcomed norm rather than the anomaly I’d think of it as.
              A similar weird for our time is the strange attitude fat westerners who have not experienced poverty and suffering on the scale an Indian peasant suffers it, for example, have toward the global starving and asylum seekers.
              Can’t we do better?

              Sorry Helvi, I know what you are saying and given the amount of dross we seem to drowning in, yes, I have sympathy for what you say.
              Hudgod,also and rest, sorry for long-winded bullshit, hard to get it out right tonight.


            • doug quixote June 9, 2012 at 5:39 am #

              I will condemn it if you like – I will never watch it if it was the only program on TV. Push the ‘off’ button.

              But certainly not because I am ‘offended’ or because it is ‘lewd’ or something of the sort.


            • helvityni June 9, 2012 at 8:27 am #

              Look what happened to our wonderful Aussie Hamburger, a complete meal on its own; it’s been replaced by muck from McDonald’s…
              Let’s be vigilant, see how we are growing larger by the day by our harmless American ‘take-outs’…,


        • AJ June 9, 2012 at 8:38 am #

          My apology for the delay in replying, birthday celebrations intervened. I think Baby Beauty Pageants border on obscene, I can understand the motivation where over proud parents want to display their little darlings but stage mother syndrome has lead to so many of those little darlings to crash and burn with Hollywood syndrome later in life. A Definate no to those any ANY country! Lingerie Football is a fairly shallow product designed to appeal to the sector of the population that think with a part of the body nowhere near the neck (if you get my meaning). The women choosing to do it are exploiting their looks for financial gain and to me are no different from pole dancers, dizzy models and others who play on their looks for personal gain. Some people will buy all kinds of junk with their money, its nothing I would choose but each to their own on that one.


  4. doug quixote June 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Bravo Jennifer! A wonderful article that perfectly analyses the whole debate.

    I hope it reaches the audience it so richly deserves.



    • Jennifer Wilson June 8, 2012 at 7:13 am #

      Many thanks DQ. The result of many conversations here and on Twitter. Our electronic think tanks.


      • Jennifer Wilson June 8, 2012 at 7:14 am #

        WordPress just wouldn’t let me comment on my own blog. We fought. I won.


  5. hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Very interesting article and may I say as close to a flawless examination of the issue in as few as words as I’ve thus far encountered.

    Reading Martha Nussbaum’s definitions I was struck by the thought that she might almost as easily be constructing a definition for slavery instead of objectification. While we know that the word objectification is most often used as code for a chauvinistic kind of sexism, stepping back from that loaded language may even allow us to see it redefined in terms of what we do when we admire art. I’m thinking of the visual arts in particular when I say that imagery does in a manner of speaking go out into the world entering into the consciousness of others in a way that allows them to use it as they will, which is to say separately and on occasion quite differently from its subjects.

    So we might regard slavery, be it sex trafficking or even wage slavery, as a form of objectification on the part of those who impose and benefit most from those activities. And in the case of art being an object of admiration is still objectifying the subject matter after a fashion. Thus there are far worse examples of human objectification, and some of which far from condemning we may even regard as positive. If we know the difference between the two and can give good reasons why, then regarding sexual objectification as bad requires us to likewise regard the reasons for our disapproval.

    Now the point of that is just to say that when disapproval relates to sexual taboos it isn’t the objectification of the individual who is portrayed in that picture that raises concerns but the meaning that is conveyed in terms of how the viewer relates to it that causes them to be offended primarily because a taboo is broken that they regard to be of some considerable importance.

    I don’t think there’s anything more to this that taboos being offended against, and I don’t even think that it necessarily takes religion for that to occur. Some taboos have good reasons for existing, most are redundant and a good number are just plain perverse in themselves making us feel guilty about our natural sexual natures in ways that are downright unhealthy.

    On the subject of accidental nudity that was raised recently in another article; one of the responses I had to this article when thinking about why taboos occur was the realisation that modesty is the original accident of history. I think that at some point when our ancestors put on clothes for no other reason than to keep warm they couldn’t have realised that their resultant inability to survey a potential sexual partner’s virtues as a mate might lead to accidental titillation. And indeed that revealing our naked bodies to one another would come to be almost exclusively done only during sex to the point where nudity itself became associated with sexuality and clothes with the means to moderate promiscuity.

    The bottom line here is that sexual taboos are mostly taboos against either abuse on the one hand or promiscuity on the other. Abuse I think we broadly agree about wanting to prevent. But we have real problems with promiscuity in that attitudes vary not only with respect to what we might choose for ourselves but also in relation to people’s issues with the behaviour of others.

    If we could make the whole problem disappear just by getting people to mind their own business then that might seem an attractive option. But I don’t know that it is true to say that as individuals were entirely comfortable not using clothes to moderate our sexuality. So whilst ever we continue to maintain a sense of appropriate dress across a range of circumstances where we want to control how other’s impressions of us are formed I think there will always be people who get it wrong, make issues out of unimportant stuff, and need to be moderated by the majority.

    I think you can criticise religion for their attitudes towards sexuality, and you’d be right, but to say that making religion go away makes taboos and censorious prudishness disappear belies the underlying human cause for all of this. If we merely created gods to cover for inadequacies in our understanding, then revaluating our faith neither adds nor subtracts from the sum total of our knowledge nor changes the basic underlying error of our ways. It makes no difference to bemoan clotted religion if people can’t be persuaded to a better idea of how things ought to be. Understanding the issues in terms of almost anything but guilt and taboos would at least be making a good start.


    • Ray (novelactivist) June 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      That’s partly true in regard to nudity. The other reason people wore clothes was to mark status. In ancient societies the poor wore very little. In a discussion about ancient India, where nudity was common, an Indian academic explained that in Southern India only high caste women were allowed to cover their breasts because the shawl was a sign of status. The lower caste women were forced to go topless by law. Very often taboos are designed to reinforce power. The original word ‘tabu’ is Polynesian and covers a wide range of social rules, few of which actually concerned sex or nudity, and many which applied to food.


    • Ray (novelactivist) June 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      I should add that adornment and decoration had an important part to play as well. Embarrassment in regards to nudity is very culturally specific. In the Christian West we can give full credit to the Garden of Eden myth. Btw, it was only historically recently that nudity was considered a problem in India. There are accounts from the first European traders regarding the nudity of the Indians and of having an audience with a bare breasted Rani. Modern Bollywood has borrowed Victorian English attitudes. The Indians were never naturally prudish – as is evidenced by early sculptures. Btw, the art of sewing arrived with the Muslims, prior to that Indians resorted to various forms of single cloth wrapped in various ways. Other examples of where public nudity was common: Japan, Ancient Egypt, the Mesoamerican cultures, Babylon – and of course slaves in all cultures.


      • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

        I think there are all sorts of arguments that you could make for the utility of clothing, and protection whether from the cold or just to keep the sand out of where sand gets on the beach are equally valid. I suspect that ideas about status and adornment more likely than not came after the invention of body coverings in the way that one thing usually leads to another in an increasingly sophisticated sequence of events.

        Cultures where attitudes towards nudity are at variance with our own may well hold some of the few hopes we have of navigating our way clear of our prudish follies. But I still think that for a lot of cultures the advent of clothing must have preceded any recognised concept of nudity in connection with sexuality rather than there having been any natural inclination to be embarrassed by our bodies. That was really my main point.

        As for Cain and Abel I get Nick’s point in the sense that it was offered but can’t help wondering at the irony of the scenario given that this was notionally the most incestuous family in all of mythology. If by Wife you meant Eve then not only is Cain jealous he’s probably also suffering from something of an Oedipus complex.


        • Nick June 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

          I thought it might be fun to mix in some biblical temptation and loss of innocence with a somewhat more plausible story why Cain offed his brother — though it’s true I didn’t think it through. You’re right, hudsongodfrey, what an Oedipus mess that would have been!

          Speaking of which, I saw A Dangerous Method for the first time a few weeks ago. Interestingly presented idea that sexual repression and prudery are forms of mental contagion, and cause the society they afflict to go slowly mad…


          • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

            Try this,


            • Nick June 9, 2012 at 2:29 am #

              Lol 🙂 Thanks for that. Yep, that’s another way of saying it. Mad I tells ya. Jung comes off far worse than Freud and his 24 kids btw…he just couldn’t for the life of him give up the rich wife! The last shot of the film tells the story beautifully. I had a funny dream early this morning. My friend Andrew and I built a space-craft, and apart from flying really well, it did something special, but I can’t remember what that was. We’d also composed a song to go with it, for launch purposes or something. I was showing another friend the space-craft, and playing the song we’d wrote, which featured the word ‘butterfly’ a lot. Which, oddly, worked really well! Really nice melody and progression, this strange mix of simple beauty tinged with sadness…it was perfect for our space-craft. I was really proud of it, and it made me want to cry. And then all of a sudden these other chords started appearing…they were kind of cheesy and stupid, unnecessarily soppy, and I was thinking “What’s Andrew done? He’s obviously been working on this without me, and dropped these new chords in and they’re kinda terrible! This is not how the space-craft song should go at all!”. A few seconds later my partner woke me up, and on the tv I’d left on the night before, the female host of Hi-5 was singing a song about butterflies 😉

              Oh, look…that was my song!? Now I’m even more embarrassed.


    • Nick June 8, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Great writing, Jennifer.

      “put on clothes for no other reason than to keep warm”

      Definitely that, hudson (and Ray)…but did evolving to walk upright and both the physical protection and hding of what were now exposed sensitive parts, have something to do with it too. Not sure if I’d want to get into a fight with a vicious animal or another human with my danglies looking like such an obvious target. I also can’t imagine Cain being too happy with Abel showing his appreciation for Cain’s wife quite so obviously…I’m sure he told them both of them to put some bloody clothes on! If he didn’t rock Abel over the head that is. Seriously though, I’m wondering if this may have even happened a few hundred thousand years earlier than dealing with the problems of ice ages and moving north from the savannah and whatnot…(just food for thought btw, have no idea of the truth either way)


      • Ray (Novelactivist) June 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

        Hey Nick,

        Until we took their land and imposed our aversion to nudity most Aborigines (except those in cold climes in winter) went about completely naked – that’s around 60-40,000 years of dangly bits out and proud whilst hunting. Check out the film Ten Canoes. Also consider the very many African tribes that once hunted naked – and they have lions and hyenas 😉 As for erections – they happened. I guess it depended on the context. And in case you were wondering, most of these tribal groups were pretty relaxed about sex – there was little privacy.


        • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

          Hello Ray,

          I’m hardly the anthropologist I might need to be to make the relevant observations. My theory was that clothes may lead to prudishness about nudity and indeed the opposite seems to be true of South American tribes as well as your account of traditional Australian aboriginal societies in pre-colonial times. Am I to take this as supportive of my idea regardless of whether we think these societies were more or less well adjusted when it came to sexuality than we are or not?


          • Ray (Novelactivist) June 9, 2012 at 10:09 am #

            Yeah, I’m supportive of your idea. Fact is we were naked as we left Africa and we adopted clothes much, much later. It also depended on technology and the climate. First furs, then with the advent of agriculture we were able to develop various materials, linen, cotton, wool, silk. Status comes into the equation because the rich could afford manufactured material, whereas the poor were forced to go naked, semi-naked – again depending on the climate.


            • Nick June 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

              Ray, at the risk of boring you senseless.


              Human hair loss was 1.2M years ago.

              Hide-scraping tools found from 780,000 years ago…a fancy rug for the cave? More likely, water bags…

              Body lice evidence of clothing up to 170,000 years ago, coinciding with ice age.

              Multiple truth answer: We had the technology to fashion and wear clothes if and when we needed — but of course we didn’t always choose to. Some humans and even other hominids left Africa wearing them, others didn’t…


      • niche20008 June 8, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

        Cheers, Ray. Yeah, I had a feeling there might not be much truth to it. Still, I will read up some more out of interest. If there’s one thing about clothing, it’s not universal in any sense around the world — or wasn’t before modern global industry and rail and aeroplanes* and image transmission.

        Australian Aborigines might not have worn them, but I don’t think they had any land predators to contend with either? The same would apply to a lot of island dwellers…

        First stop was this article, which wasn’t useful (ie. didn’t appeal to my selection bias enough), but on a tangent:

        “Gilligan’s guess is that human hair loss came about as a side-effect of a slowing of the expression of the genetic code in our species, meaning that we’re essentially juvenile mammals in physiological terms, if not in mental capacity.”


        Nope…he’s wrong I reckon. Hair loss came about because humans, once we got down from the trees, evolved to be serious long distance runners (as a method of hunting). Hair, apart from where it was still useful for other reasons (protection from the sun, protection of our sensitives) was aerodynamically useless. You’ll note that most creatures that run have short fur…not shaggy hair (like our ape cousins, who don’t)…

        * those exoskeletons with wings we evolved so we could fly and travel faster and further like the insects and birds to gather our food and wood, and start new families further away from our over-bearing parents!


        • Nick June 8, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

          Sorry, getting carried away 🙂 Forgot your bit about the African tribes…all interesting to think about though…


    • AJ June 10, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      Hudsongodfrey, no doubt your posts make a valuable contribution but could you attempt to make them shorter please? Just an executive summary will do if you can manage. I find I tend to immediately scroll past them towards more pithy responses.


      • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2012 at 10:34 am #

        It may seem counter intuitive but shorter posts take time to edit down. So I can only apologise for not having the time.


        • doug quixote June 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

          Don’t listen to detractors, HG. I read your posts and I’ve come to accept that a leopard won’t change its spots.

          It is what you have to say rather than how you say it.


      • helvityni June 11, 2012 at 9:14 am #

        AJ, I do not have any problems with Hudson’s posts. he is a good person looking for the truth in any issue, he is tolerant and well-behaved…he is genuine…
        With you AJ, I get the feeling that you a bob-each-way-kind of person, you are only direct when you are criticizing someone, like what you doing here.. you writing on Jennifer’s blog is just one of many ‘yous’…..
        And DQ, I’m not talking about your Tara here 🙂


        • helvityni June 11, 2012 at 9:16 am #

          edit: you are a….


          • AJ June 11, 2012 at 9:34 am #

            I note that you are the only person here that responds directly to me, for that I thank you. I have been accused before of getting short with people who are long winded, but I lead a busy life and prefer brief distilled summary argument that demonstrates some effort towards a final fact, opinion or conclusion. I dont have any other “you’s” but noted you once thought I was posting on another blog in regard to the MTR issue. I assure you I only ever use one ID. I am changeable in my views as more information comes to light. If you find this inconsistent, I can understand your feeling it a little hard to fire at.


            • doug quixote June 11, 2012 at 9:53 am #

              I have tried to summarise HG in the past, AJ, but sometimes many words are needed to give nuance of meaning, eh HG?

              HG refers to Pascal’s quip, “I apologise for writing you such a long letter; I didn’t have enough time to make it shorter”.


            • hudsongodfrey June 11, 2012 at 9:59 am #


              I responded directly to you as the relative position of my post below and indented with respect to yours indicates. And I don’t mind a well intended criticism. If I were as talented as the boys from the chaser I’m sure I’d have hundreds of detractors.


              • Jennifer Wilson June 11, 2012 at 10:15 am #

                I am completely uninterested in how long or short anybody’s posts are. Whatever floats the boat.


  6. paul walter June 8, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    The comment concerning Aborigines interests me, it has me in mind of a doco that partly involved aborigines, observing that aboriginal girls and women in fact do have a sort of modesty code, exactly as westerners have.
    The women and girls, altho basically naked, when in male company particularly, are encouraged to sit in a certain way, legs not crossed or open, rather outstretched but together.The mums inculcate into their daughters the importance of not letting men “look there”, this is considered immodest, undignified.


    • Nick June 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      paul, Aborigines have teems of social etiquette. I’d suggest the difference whether you’re asked to feel sinful and shameful ‘in the eyes of the father’ for breaching the rules. If you’re a young girl who crosses her legs in front of men — or sits down with a bowl of food next to her brother — you’ll get a swift backhand from your elders, and be ostracised from the group for the rest of the day. There’s no room for feeling embarrassed about it. You just learn quickly. Marriage and flirting codes between clans are intensely regulated. Male and female Aborigines of various tribes have worn pubic coverings made of woven string and shells in social company for hundreds if not thousands of years…


  7. gerard oosterman June 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    If LFL isn’t the pits of bad taste, could we take it further and say that, allowing society to kill themselves with bad dietary habits, we ought also to just leave this to choice. You and I might not like to eat sugar, fat, and salt, but many do and love it. Let nothing be done about, it is freedom of choice.
    Surely a society that seeks to try and reach a bit higher ought to be able to disapprove and condemn things that drag it lower.
    Smoking used to be portrayed as having almost medicinal properties, calm nerves and used by fighter pilots to bravely drop bombs. We now know this not to be so.
    So, let’s all graze on trans-fat, smoke our heads off and linger around at lingerie LFL.
    I know you also disapprove but can’t quite see that freedom should go the way that freedom is misused in the US aimed at the lowest denominator. It is a form of carnage of freedom and very harmful. ( but it might make some money)


    • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

      Hey Gerard,

      You have some good points there in that the idea of making the comparison between LFL and something we actually know is definitively bad for us is an interesting one.

      Well I guess we all like something that is bad for us if we do too much of it. But most of us either abstain from some of those things entirely or we just use a little moderation to avoid doing too much of whatever it is that might harm us.

      All things considered I’m just not as sure as you appear to be that we can’t or shouldn’t try and trust people with their own dietary habits. And if they do knowingly abuse their bodies what’s to say we’re responsible for the damage that they do to themselves anyway?

      I guess if some of us could’ve altered history we might never have allowed a legal tobacco industry, but look where prohibition of liquor or drugs ever got us? Maybe your Dutch experience can reflect on how marijuana is tolerated over there? I tend to the view that people are going to be better off allowed grow a couple of plants in the back yard than to get stuck into hydroponic skunk weed that’s an order of magnitude stronger and even more likely to cause harm.


      • gerard oosterman June 9, 2012 at 7:53 am #

        We are off to Melbourne but just a quick reply. I suppose all that ought to be tolerated but… with a strong stigma attached. A kind of disclaimer. A societal frown.
        The Dutch are slowly closing down the pot shops and not renewing their licenses. The evidence towards the link of pot and schizophrenia is getting too strong. Also, too many foreigners going bananas over pot and can’t seem to responsibly enjoy freedom and as a result getting over-excited…start dealing in it.
        Got to catch the plane now. I was last in Melbourne 1956 when trains were made of weatherboards. So am excited.


        • AJ June 9, 2012 at 9:00 am #

          I read about the closing down of Amsterdam’s cafe’s. I wonder if the paranoia is inflicted by the overly strong weed produced nowdays or from the world wide condemnation and fear that arises from excessive police busts, payoffs and the like? Probably a bit of both – or a vicious cycle. Harm minimization strategies recognize that prohibition rarely works, and that almost time began, humans have leaned towards drugs of one kind or another. You can go overboard with banning strategies (cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea, a lot of food stuffs are drugs too). In the end it comes down to whats socially acceptable versus what isnt. Hence gym/adrenalin junkies are ok since they use “natural” forms of addictive adrenalin, those that use “bad” substances are not. From what I can understand users of marijuana use it to bury there problems, chill out, de-stress or whatever. There are literally dozens of ways of getting the same effect, lie on a shady but sunny lawn for a while for example. The human predeliction for self harm is astonishing.


        • Ray (Novelactivist) June 9, 2012 at 10:12 am #

          As I understand it foreigners got to be too much of an issue, especially close to the border. Amsterdam has always been a mecca.


  8. CrazyHorse June 9, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    This makes for an interesting read, including the comments –


    • Ray (Novelactivist) June 9, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      Sigh. Another silly piece by an Anglophone prude. Thing is, of all of the European cultures, the English speaking are the most prudish when it comes to nudity. The Finns (and Scandinavians) have the tradition of the social sauna – have a dinner party, then get nekkid in the sauna, kids too. The Germans have had a well established naturist movement for over 100 years. Lots of nude beaches and resorts in Spain, France, the Dalmatian coast. I just find it really, really boring reading about an Anglophone prude agonising over nudity. Grow up. Get over it. Here in Australia, with our climate and beaches, we could attract a significant tourist business… a missed opportunity.


      • hudsongodfrey June 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

        Japanese Onsen baths,but take a local with you by way of having the proper introduction to their way of doing things, unless you go to some really touristy place where they wear swimsuits anyway.


        • Ray (Novelactivist) June 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

          Families bathe together – and in the past the Japanese had mixed sex bathing. After WW2 there was a lot of pressure placed on the Japanese to conform to Western mores. The Americans destroyed warehouses full of shunga. Btw, Japan has a tradition of homosexuality, particularly amongst the Samurai and certain Buddhist sects. The Edo period was noted for its bisexuality, male and female.


          • hudsongodfrey June 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

            Which reminds me what an interesting case the sexual attitudes of Japanese people make in some ways. Shunga has its modern equivalent in Hentai. Indeed some of it mimics the Shunga style. But the weird things are the unabashed way Japanese men often read these in public places and their penchant in the animated form for pixelating the genitals of any sexually explicit films.


            • Ray June 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

              Well, we are digressing but Japanese censorship is interesting. Censorship was imposed by the Americans with a Japanese twist. They decided pubic hair was too much so artists drew smooth pudenda, helping to create a child-like look. Over time the pixilation has disappeared to be replaced by a black bar over part of the genitals, and the bar has got thinner and thinner. Then we get to Lolicon (child pron) which is permitted because it doesn’t involve real children. I’ve been looking into this because my next novel has an anime/manga background. Japanese pop culture is complex and fascinating.


              • Jennifer Wilson June 10, 2012 at 7:35 am #

                And isn’t there the sex with octopus thing from Japan – I did a post here somewhere & someone explained that the penis was censored in imagery so tentacles took its place? Resulting in some marvellous paintings.

                Sorry, am a little incoherent today. Have done something to my musculature & am stoned on anti inflammatory drugs.


            • Ray June 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

              Forgot to add that child sexual abuse rates in Japan are much lower than the West


            • Jennifer Wilson June 10, 2012 at 7:42 am #

              What is also interesting is the Japanese reputation for great politeness and respect in daily dealings with others. Some friends of mine were living in Tokyo when the earthquake hit and found the quietness with which the locals dealt with the situation extraordinary. No hysteria. Very orderly. Very eerie for Westerners.


            • Ray June 10, 2012 at 10:50 am #

              Hi Jennifer,

              The octopus theme dates from a famous shunga by Hokusai and predates US imposed censorship. There’s a good book on the pre-war Japanese erotic imagination called ‘Sex and the Floating World’ by Timon Screech (great name). Shunga are very graphic and they shocked westerners, not least because they included explorations of taboo topics: bestiality, pederasty, group sex, fetish, voyeurism, masturbation, pedophilia, etc (the Americans were particularly shocked at the number of shunga that had children present as witnesses – not participants – I’ve reproduced one in which a father has sex with the mother whilst she comforts one child and another plays nearby). http://novelactivist.com/1088/the-anthropology-of-sex-privacy/2/

              As Hudson has pointed out the shunga tradition lives on in anime and manga, however with some strange western derived censorship laws. Gone are the large, detailed genitalia of shunga, but the vivid sexual imagination remains, including the exploration of taboos.

              Much of this comes from Shintoism which has no taboos on nudity or sex. In fact cleanliness is part of the Shinto tradition, hence the communal bathing. And the Japanese also thought that a good life included sexual adventurism. Some would argue that the first novel ever written was ‘The Tale of Genji’ written in 1010 by a Japanese noblewoman, Murasaki Shikibu. It details the erotic adventures of the said Genji, which include seducing boys when women were not available, and falling in love with a young girl of 10. Note – written by a woman to entertain other women!


              • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2012 at 11:17 am #

                I’ve often wondered as to the social norms among the Inuit in their igloos, or other tribal cultures in their huts, yurts, teepees etc… There’s scarcely provision for privacy there. But then living conditions throughout a range of urban societies haven’t fared that much better even up to quite recently in parts of Europe.

                Of the parts of the world which culturally different from our own we can more easily draw varied conclusions about how culture affected sexual attitudes. But if accounts of overcrowded Dickensian London are to be believed then maybe the notions we have of embarrassment along with our modern penchant for privacy are a more recent invention than we realise.

                I noted also out of interest in the picture you mentioned that you’d posted on your blog, that there’s a crouched figure in the background with their face hidden behind their robe which is drawn up over their head. A servant perhaps signifying that family members shared a level of openness that was not reserved for outsiders?


              • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

                P.S. Ray,

                I’d like to think that these Shunga images taken in the light of Shinto beliefs represent a departure from the way most western erotica functions as pure fantasy. Which is just to say that most comparable western imagery reflects anything BUT real life. I’m also thinking that modern Hentai has been corrupted away from the traditional Japanese sensibility having come to reflect a more characteristically western fascination with titillation.


            • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2012 at 11:04 am #

              Hello Jennifer,

              I lived in Japan for a few months and found the level of civility just amazing.

              People have lost wallets in Hiroshima only to have them returned in Tokyo soon after, with all the cash still inside.

              They sell beer out of vending machines on the street because under age drinking isn’t a problem. People are prepared to obey the law in a self regulating kind of way simply because they truly get the nature of the trade off between better behaviour and a better society.

              Looking at morals through a different society makes you realise that our notion of Western superiority is clearly biased. If Christianity wants to take credit for that then I’m sure they can have the blame for more sexual hang-ups and higher levels of crime than Japan enjoys.

              On the other hand one still wants to get back home after a while. Maybe as outsiders the generalisations we make about different societies aren’t as subtle as the exceptions we make about individuals as we get to know them. Most travellers have stories about how people they got to know revealed themselves to be somewhat different than the supposed national norm. I think we relate to our friends and families similarly most of the time. Which is just to say that despite our lament that Christian culture makes Australians a little backward, or the notion that we’re all racists, I think I know fewer who are than who aren’t.


            • Ray June 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm #


              Privacy is a privilege of those who can afford more than one room. The simple fact is that for most of history across most cultures, there was little or no privacy.

              I wish I could find the report, but an African born sex therapist told of her frank upbringing in which she would often witness her parents having sex. She said the kids would joke about it at school by imitating the sound their parents made.

              According to modern, western narrative these kids ought to have been traumatised, yet she made the argument that they were better adjusted.


            • Ray June 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm #


              Shunga was all about fantasy. Turns out the Japanese had a much richer erotic imagination. I also think they are clear that it is fantasy, not reality. Don’t forget Lolicon, which is essentially child porn. The western argument is that the availability of such images ought to inspire the abuse of children. Yet, as I said, the Japanese have much lower rates of child sexual abuse – about a third that of the west. This would suggest an ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, no?


        • doug quixote June 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

          The Japanese have no Christian or Muslim hang-ups about nudity or sex; it is a non-issue.


          • hudsongodfrey June 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

            Well its an interesting aside that maybe not so relevant to the issue at hand I’ll grant you that much.

            Perhaps the interest is to be found in wondering why we came to be culturally imbued with such different attitudes.


          • doug quixote June 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

            Ah, but it is relevant. Around the world, wherever Christian missionaries have gone and wherever Muslim propagandists (or whatever they call their proselytisers) have gone the women have been forced to cover up, and even the men have been shamed into “modesty” by the prurient ideas of the bacwa crew.

            South Pacific, South America, South East Asia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Africa – you name it the misionaries have got their claws into the native population. Even southern China.

            Naivete and innocence had no chance against the monotheists with their promise of eternal life, and their threat of eternal damnation.

            If only it were true!


            • hudsongodfrey June 9, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

              So you reckon it’s all down to god bothering then?

              I tend to think that once we hit on the idea of explaining things by making up these gods we simply used them to explain other inclinations that came over us from time to time. Which leaves us pondering the anthropological reasons why certain things evolved lest we similarly fall into the trap of justifying anything our inclinations suggest to us without adequate reasons.


            • doug quixote June 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

              Indeed; it is all too convenient, if you want to say :

              “No, you cannot do that!”

              “Why not?” comes the reply –

              “Because God says so, and you will burn in Hell forever if you do! So there!”

              Ends all arguments, does it not?


            • AJ June 10, 2012 at 8:08 am #

              Not sure about that, the belief in God is only a fantasised belief from lessor powers in greater ones, whatever mainfestation that takes. For instance Gaia theory, mentors, even dad’s and mums take on this quality for those in lesser positions. If you are talking about the organised religions well they are like charities, governments and other spruikers in the “Vote for me” game and usually like to divert people to look up to something better than the sales people. Even science requires belief to develop a proposal for new research. Not believing in God is also a belief system for some, It’s all pervasive except in the dead or seriously disturbed, its just one of those quirky failings we humans have.


            • AJ June 10, 2012 at 8:12 am #

              Oh my god, did I really just type that!


            • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2012 at 10:32 am #

              No Jennifer Game of thrones isn’t real, but Celebrity apprentice is, and that’s the scary part!


            • Nick June 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

              “So you reckon it’s all down to god bothering then?”

              Hmm, I can think of three other historical/anthropological factors which don’t directly involve religion.

              What’s common to most cultures around the world, at some point in their history, is the loin cloth and the skirt.

              This suggests that most cultures have found the need for some basic covering up. It’s about practicalities which relate to sex (including basic physical protection of the genitals) not sexual ‘hangups’ per se.

              1) The Transit Of Venus Theory – when explorers travelled around the world in their state of the art ships featuring the latest in beautifully encased magnetic compass technology, they brought back pictures of the natives wearing loin cloths and skirts. Forever after, less clothes would be associated with ‘savagery’ and ‘primitivism’.

              2) The Hooray And Up She Rises Theory – we’re a nation of convicts. We’ve always had the need to socially better ourselves. Appearance is everything.

              3) The My Intuition Knows It’s True Theory – it’s because we’ve lived in houses for so long. Finding this one difficult to explain…

              Worth noting all of these fit somewhere within Rae Langton’s categories of objectification Jennifer listed in the OP.


            • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm #


              Well whatever the case I think that the best thing we can do with attitudes we’re inclined to question is to make the kinds of attempts at an answer that you’ve been doing. If at the same time we’re explaining away religion then I’m a happy guy!

              On your loincloth idea, I guess the very presence of the garment itself has to be explained by the practical need to protect the genitals rather than by modesty for the idea that it makes them inferior to be entirely satisfactory to an educated person of the time. To the less educated classes in Europe at the time I think anyone who didn’t conform to their cultural norms was regarded as inferior first and their inferiorities identified by way of justifying what was essentially the same kind of racism that persists today.

              Your second point is predicated mainly on the first. But it can’t be discounted on the basis of racism. The idea that haute couture exists to this very day catering to those whose willingness to spend excessively on fashion has obvious links with a desire to signify status by sparing no expense on their garments.

              Your third is the most interesting because I think intuition is emotional, and emotions are informed by attachments rather than the kinds of values that we recognise in our rational thinking. We’re attached to our social and customary norms which are to both protect and adorn our bodies with clothing. Many of us are also quite attached to the kind of propriety that may come from social or religious proscriptions. So that, while religion may be able to be discounted on first principles, the social and psychological impact of misplaced belief may be no less real.

              So if we can say that we are or should be less inclined to be racist, elitist or wedded to the view that prudishness is somehow preferable to a healthy frankness towards sexuality then maybe we ought to be able to reason away the religious preoccupation with sex as a guilty pleasure.


            • Nick June 10, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

              Thanks, hudsongodfrey…I have a tendency to waffle on and polemicise and get side tracked all over the place…I’m finding more so on this blog than anywhere else 😉 Personally, I blame paul walter for encouraging it in me. It’s all in the spirit of questioning though. My thoughts and opinions are far less fixed than they might come across in writing. Thanks again, Jennifer, for providing the space.

              You’ve given me lots to think about there, as has everyone else, and I’ve given myself a lot to think about. At this point, I think I’ll take some time to let it at all settle in before doing too much more ‘throwing stuff out there’ commenting on the issue…plus I have a huge amount of plastering to try to get finished in the next few days!

              “the practical need to protect the genitals rather than by modesty”

              One last thing. Ray was quite right in that Aboriginal tribes on the whole tended to go about naked. No wonder unreconstructed enlightenment culture viewed them as the absolute base of humanity…they didn’t even have the decency to wear a loin cloth! (Or take a towel with them into the sauna or Euro-style nude bathing that ain’t just for drying off…or constructing giant hedges around our nudist colony…we’re never quite as free and easy with our nakedness as we think…)

              However, a little bit of reading and talking to people revealed there were several Aboriginal tribes who did choose to adopt pubic coverings as previously mentioned. They weren’t worn all the time though. They were the kind of thing you’d put on for social ceremonies and the like – *meetings with other tribes*. Maybe tribes whose men you didn’t quite trust with getting an eyeful of your young women just yet. That kind of thing can lead to bar fights…

              Frankness about sexuality is fine and good (removing the guilt factor and all the rest)…but in the real world we have things like social competition as part of our evolutionary make up…it’s not always pretty. Again, not modesty as such, but practical attempts at protection and safeguards. A need to formalise the process of courtship so that it doesn’t all break down into a bloody and regrettable mess (the excesses of schoolies week etc)


            • Ray June 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

              Just a note about The Transit of Venus theory. Very often European artists would put loincloths on their drawings of the natives so as not to offend European sensibilities. If you look at early colonial drawings of Aborigines, some are depicted naked and some, mysteriously, have white loincloths. Fact is Aboriginal technology had not created cloth. Any clothing was either animal or vegetable. So don’t forget the early explorers were doing a good deal of self-censorship.


            • Nick June 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

              That’s very true, Ray.

              Alternative nonsense theory: some artists can draw realistic hands, others faces etc…maybe our colonial illustrators were just bad at drawing penises!


            • Nick June 11, 2012 at 12:09 am #

              “On your loincloth idea, I guess the very presence of the garment itself has to be explained by the practical need to protect the genitals rather than by modesty for the idea that it makes them inferior to be entirely satisfactory to an educated person of the time.”

              Doh. I get what you were saying now. Sorry hugo, I really did read this sentence all wrong.

              “The idea that haute couture exists to this very day catering to those whose willingness to spend excessively on fashion has obvious links with a desire to signify status by sparing no expense on their garments.”

              There’s another not unrelated purpose to haute couture, which is to set the fashion of the season. The big design houses are tied in with the mainstream clothing companies, and while nobody seriously expects more than a handful of people to spend >$10,000 on a garment (which would barely cover those people’s monthly flower bills), what they do expect is a lot of people *who want to look the part* to see what costs >$10,000 and then go buy the moderately priced knock offs they’ve already manudactured and have ready to stock the shelves with. Something about Nabokov’s butterflies in all of that. Appearance is everything.


  9. paul walter June 11, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    To tell the truth, the Assange thread consolidated a lot of detail (relative to what we’re used to) and opposing views of this grey, complex story, equally plausible depending on who you give the benefit of the doubt to, amongst all the contradictory accounts.
    It’s true I’ve been a bit “off”, lurking bug, gastric trots and all of the usual winter nostrums have failed.That’s apart from any self inflicted stuff:
    “Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
    Thou art not so unkind
    As man’s ingratitude,
    Or tooth so keen..”.
    In retrospect I’ve realised I should not be too quick in condemning the women.
    This would depend on whether their later appeals to have the case dropped (particularly, perhaps Wilen) were genuine, or no..
    I think It seems funny that initially the thing was felt to be not serious enough and then suddenly popped up again, presumably after Swedish intelligence had been leaned on by the Americans.
    Am inclined to believe that Assange maybe did slip up a bit in his dealings with the women, in bed.
    Was he given generous hospitality by his hosts but then like a bad guest bolted his offerings at table rather than take his time, and scarpered rather than “helping with the dishes”, in bedroom terms, to reciprocate the hospitality.
    The hosts, feeling aggrieved and abandoned at a immature or selfish breach of sexual etiquette, complained loudly in the wake, but later became philosophical and put it down to experience- a dud root.
    But by then it was too late. It had been removed from the hands of the initial protagonists by more powerful forces with agendas of their own.
    Oth, if it was a classic honey trap, Don Juan himself mightn’t have pleased them.
    So Doug, Nick, anyone else I might have been a bit “short” with, sorry.
    The Assange/Manning thing angers me deeply and most of this is actually down to the filthy politics at the bottom of it all. It’s also a sore point, for some vicious treatment received at a feminist blog concerning it, when the story initially broke.
    It’s too complex, verging on Le Carre, so am glad for the criticism here, for making me have a longer think, if there are people involved who have been duped to get at Assange, I don’t want to be part of a lynch party that jumped to conclusions and then found out different later.

    “Known unknowns; unknown knowns.”


    • doug quixote June 11, 2012 at 6:37 am #

      Apology accepted, Paul. No-one is right all the time and it takes a generous spirit to acknowledge it. BTW, your idea of being “a bit short” seemed very mild to me! I’ve been insulted by experts, and though it is annoying at times, ultimately : sticks and stones may break my bones . . .
      I certainly don’t want to lynch Assange, just have everyone realise that he is no caped crusader. Much that he helped reveal has been of service to the world.


      • paul walter June 11, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

        I butchered the last para Doug. I basically meant I wouldn’t want to
        be part of a posse out to metaphorically lynch. the women, without knowing a F–k of a lot more.
        As AJ hints a little darkly, contemplation of the various pathologies in play opens a whole new dimension, almost from “the viewpoint of god” and it’s a devastating and exceptionally long range view and reveals little optimism, gazing into the specimen tank.
        It becomes suggestible that in a way Assange actually reflects or personifies the system itself as well as being in conflict with it
        Executive orders, impassively delivered drone bombings of objectivised “others” , arbitrary detentions, imposed by the supposedly civilised, random parts of the world $trillion dollar swindles paid for almost as gangster extortions by the1% by the public.
        It’s a plausible reading AJ gives, from that point you wonder how the rest involved would stack up too, if put to some scrutiny as to pathology: Ny and the other Swedish officials and the shadowy politicians futher up that food chain, the ugly and corrupted people and organisations exposed in Wiki leaks and so on.
        Urquhart or Sir Humphrey Appleby politicians and bureaucrats, the erosion of justice and law dislocated from the concepts that define them- all marvellous prospects for the study of the species and
        individuals, operating in an atmosphere of conflict and uncertainty.
        Hudsongodfrey suggested a sort of pause for breath in proposing that it may be that a fair system is acting with proportion and balance to an actual security risk for the protection of order against a deviant.
        I think the concept of quantative and qualitative rupture also applies to civilisation to the extent that that the “defending civilisation” meme applied by the authorities becomes oxymoronic.
        But it was an excellent and necessary consideration that couldn’t be ignored, so I propose that hudgod’s proposition and my pessimism comprise two poles with which action actually occurs, which still means some thing murky and LeCarre-ish.
        It’s not Jet Jackson the Flying Commando, in the form of Obama, or Byronic Asange setting forth to disperse outright villains and save the Free World or shatter oligarchy. But maybe the shatter oligarchy vision is too harsh also, humans show fantastic traits also and we do have some sort of remarkable civilisation up and running, but my reading is, even some thing as perfect as current human affairs could always yield further room for improvement. were sufficient scrutiny applied.


    • AJ June 11, 2012 at 6:39 am #

      How you view the Assange case all depends on which place you view it from. Remember Assange was originally a member of the underground in the early days of computing. My experience with white hat and black hat hacking showed that nearly all of them were ultra private people trying to discover a secret about the opposing side. Assange has the profile of someone seeking power but rather than join with vested interest power blocks of whatever political stripe he chose to oppose the establishment. Now women familiar with these type of people know that the males in particular don’t get much sex and use the oldest trick in the book to disable any northern hemisphere politician – a sex scandal. Hence an escalation to the routine boxing ring for these type of spats – the courts of the world. I offer no opinion on who is right and who is wrong in this case except to point out that the original purity of the internet – all knowledge was meant to be shared – has long been taken over by commercial and other forms of vested interest. Assange clings to a very old and somewhat dated philosophy that the modern world has sped past.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 11, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      🙂 Well said, sir.


    • hudsongodfrey June 11, 2012 at 10:44 am #


      Get well soon…. and as we all know medicinal comfrey goes down well with a supplemental chaser.

      Maybe none of us can really make a judgement as to what went on behind closed doors, Nor would we want to afford somebody who had violated another person to get away with it.

      In light of the other discussions we’ve had here, whether we might overreact to sexual violation as opposed to physical assault might make for an interesting debate. But the premise shouldn’t be to manufacture a cop-out for bad behaviour so as to excuse somebody we may see as a political ally.

      On the other hand there are factors in Assange’s case to do with a sequence of events. He was accused, there were investigations that fizzled, and then after he thought he was in the clear they were revived in an odd way that seeks custody of him for the purposes of questioning which he has offered to co-operate while still in England.

      Reviving the investigations against Assange occurred against the background not of new evidence coming to light but of international outrage brought about by some of Wikileaks most embarrassing releases of US State Department cables. This is most concerning on a level which says that if we should shun making partisan excuses for Assange then so should others be restrained from levelling partisan charges him.

      So while it may well be unfair not to hear out accusations against Assange, the real issue is his custody. If only it were possible to pursue the investigations without the unconscionable risk to his liberty from the US they this would have been cleared up long ago.

      At the end of the day if you’re cognisant of the fact that both sides of the debate are partisan, then the only remaining criteria we have to adjudge is whether the punishment fits the crime?

      If it cannot be established that extradition to Sweden won’t place Julian Assange at risk of later extradition to the United States where they appear intent upon levelling hastily concocted and possibly even capital charges against him then he has a reasonable fear of persecution and should be granted asylum.


      • doug quixote June 11, 2012 at 11:38 am #

        Granted asylum by whom? That is the question.


        • hudsongodfrey June 11, 2012 at 11:52 am #

          I think you can only claim asylum from the country you’re currently in. If it was good enough for the UK to grant it to Marx then maybe Assange has a shot.

          Surely Geoffrey Robertson would know. We’d have to be getting way ahead of ourselves to presume to advise his ilk here.

          If it were true then that doesn’t mean that Australia couldn’t do anything. Refugees are resettled all the time and so I suppose the offer could be made to get him back here should we so choose.


          • doug quixote June 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

            I’ll willingly defer to Geoffrey Robertson. The problem is that Assange has no reasonable fear of persecution by Sweden. He perhaps does have some grounds for a fear of persecution by the USA, but they are not the ones seeking his extradition.


            • hudsongodfrey June 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

              Yes I know. And the law is an ass in this matter.


    • Nick June 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      Cheers, Paul. No apology required. Fwiw, I didn’t reply to your last comment on the Assange thread because I mostly agreed with it. I probably should have said so at the time.

      But I think your post above is spot on.

      Best wishes with your health and friendships.


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    As if we didn’t know this was the main game………………….


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