Examining Objectification: Symptoms, Roots and Remedy

Since I’ve heard of the term “sexual objectification”, I found it challenging to relate with, and have noticed a similar phenomenon among other men.

I’m not entirely sure when I first heard the term, perhaps as recently as the early 2010’s, or shortly before. If I had heard the term in school, I don’t recall.

Thinking of women as objects doesn’t make sense at face value. I could see myself as over-sexualizing, though I didn’t have the words for that, either. I tried to consider if I participated in objectifying of women, and it simply didn’t compute to me.

Looking back now, it’s obvious that I have engaged in objectification. But even after it became clear that I have, I still wasn’t certain precisely what that meant.


What even is Objectification?

The word gets used a lot, popularly, we know the type of behavior it refers to, but do we know what it really means? The answer to that may depend on your experience on the receiving end of objectification.

I must properly assess and recognize objectifying tendencies within myself and the world around me, because I want to live in a world where people are treated as humans, not simply as vehicles for the fulfillment of someone elses fantasy.

Understanding objectification

Objectification is not a simple problem, but I've begun by breaking it down into manageable lines of inquiry.

While we are collectively used to thinking mainly of sexual objectification, objectification is also found in the practices of colonization, slavery, and is even found within common uses of our language.

Humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself - Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

From my own experience, and what I've heard among my peers, many men find it challenging to recognize objectification in our own behavior. But we don't necessarily go out of our way looking for it, either.

How often have women experienced my behavior as objectifying? That is clearly the question to ask.

The problem, of course, is that those most in need of asking that question have least incentive to do so.

Woman as Other

Where I'm lacking the ability to experience objectification as far as its widely understood, I'll defer to some of the pioneering thinkers on the subject.

Simone de Beauvoir is talking about women [...] up till the present in many cases, are placed in a situation where they're there primarily to function as an object to reflect back [...] that allows the men to feel assured of themselves – Gregory B. Sadler; Woman as Other

In her 1995 paper, "Objectification", Martha Nussbaum offers the following points to describe the treatment of a person as an object:

  1. Instrumentality; The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.
  2. Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
  3. Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
  4. Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types.
  5. Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary-integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
  6. Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
  7. Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Men struggle relating to the idea of objectifying women, because we don't necessarily have an experience thinking of women as objects. But here we are focused on the experience of women, not how men are thinking about their own behavior.

Rae Langton (2009, 228–229) added a few more features to Nussbaum’s list:

  • 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.

With these specific descriptions its much easier to identify where my own behaviors have fallen among this range.

Beyond Sexual Identification

For Simone de Beauvoir, objectification is not unique to the experience of women. She proposes that any group defining themselves as superior always do so in juxtaposition with the Other. She posits the Objectification of women as an example of this othering, just as Black Americans, aboriginal peoples, and many peoples across the globe have been subjected to.

This post deals mainly with the objectification of women because of its relevance to my life experience, and as a starting point for further examination.

Causes of objectification?

Our personalities and habits of mind are created through a combination of nature, biology, culture and upbringing.

Objectification, in the sense of othering, is an expression of power. We’ve all inherited, or been impressed upon by, patriarchal and objectifying values, in varying respects.

The patterns of objectification are systemic, being impressed upon us through our education and culture.

Its a mistake to think that objectification is primarily sexual in nature. A growing body of research supports that objectification is an expression of power.

Areas for Improvement

Objectification has been handed down by dominators, as a component of the popular culture, in modern and ancient history. Even while structures that benefit from retaining status quo may encourage that culture, as a people we must create a focused effort to tend to redressing unhealthy patterns encouraged by those power structures.

Objectification has perpetuated because it benefits the powerful, and the masses have been largely compliant through ignorance, men seeing it as “just the way things are” unless given a specific education.

The following areas are contributing factors, and require improvements to reduce the spread of objectifying practices. Some of this has begun to change, but bears mention.


  • Lack of education about womens experience being objectified.
  • Lack of emphasis in emotional intelligence through schools \ media.
  • Children are not taught proper social skills, but left to form a "natural" pecking order.
  • Lack in appropriate sexual education, and rites of passage appropriate to the modern world.


  • Alcohol and Drugs (Addiction)
  • Sexual Taboo and other Societal norms, present and cumulative.
  • Literature, Media and Advertising
  • Powers who benefit from subversion of women, and conflict among people.

We prefer to simplify cause and effect to a linear relationship, but that's not how life works.

It will be necessary to look beyond the aggravating factors, to determine which practices promote healthy and respectful relations with all, regardless of dominant prejudice.


Appreciating the world as experienced by others

Film and Television has, up to this point, largely focused from the male perspective, its female characters supporting the male lead being portrayed with minimal depth. Men will always have difficulty relating with women on their own terms for as long as there is limited access to stories having women in lead roles.

Well, that is changing, especially with modern television programming and the popularization of youtube. To begin, the easiest thing any of us can do is spend time with a curated set of media exemplifying the 'others' in our world.

Mental and Emotional Hygiene

Emotional intelligence and mental health are both areas that have just come into their own over the past few decades, and there is much better care and information accessible than ever before.

I believe that our, to this point, limited knowledge of human psychology and practices supporting emotional wellness have played a lead role in enabling this type of objectifying behavior. To this point its largely remained in our collective shadow, evading conscious examination.

Left un-treated, it's common for anyone to have repressed and unprocessed suffering ([complexes](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_(psychology))) that can lead us to react irrationally and hurt the ones we love, not to mention people who we've set aside as 'other'.

Social Intelligence

For most of us, we never got taught how to relate socially. The knowledge and research surrounding human social behaviors and body language has also blossomed in recent decades, enabling much greater precision in communication with and understanding amongst each-other.

That knowledge is becoming more widely available, but is far from systematically organized or widely accessible.

It will be so much easier for us to avoid objectification if we are better prepared to recognize and accept the human condition and experience.

Personal growth and development

While there are many avenues for developing ourselves as people, for many personal growth and development happens largely by accident, beyond whatever growth we enjoy through the care of standardized educational establishments.

While it's not as easy for adults to learn new skills or languages as it is for children, adults have every opportunity to continue our personal growth and development. However, we are left to our own devices in that regard, but are rather encouraged towards take whatever job we can get and busy ourselves around consumables.

Men who are lacking in the areas of personal growth and development are more likely to be insecure with themselves and more likely to fall to the relative comfort of assumed superiority and objectification.


Addiction (alcohol)

The problem of addiction follows along a path that our other factors have laid. It handily follows that if we have any weakness in emotional health, social skills, or are lacking in personal development, addiction awaits with arms open.

Any addiction could increase our tendency towards objectifying behavior, but alcohol's role deserves careful attention, since it's the most socially acceptable intoxicant that can significantly impact our judgement and character, by allowing us to avoid the natural pains of introspection.

Sexual Taboo

Under the color of righteousness and morality, taboos around sex ensure that every 'good' parent is frightened to discuss sexual matters with children, or with children present. Religious parents often refuse their children to participate in sexual education.

Taboos around sex ensure that children learn about sex from peers and pornography, instead of responsible and caring adults. By the time parents or educators get around to talking to children about sex, we've already gotten our worst and most influential lessons on the subject.

Especially when taboos are placed around natural human processes and drives, then we are much easier to manipulate.

I believe that until we learn to communicate with children in a natural way about sex, rather than leaving their first lessons in the hands of their crudest influences, we won't solve the problem of sexual objectification.


Next to our education and recognition of womans experience in the world. The media (movies, television, music) are the vehicles used to propel culture across the globe.

I'll be interested to explore the history of objectification in literature and get a sense for its origins.

Moving forward

This outline marks the beginning of examining objectification and its causes. I intend to continue from here, to explore these themes in more detail.

I would like to understand objectification, more broadly, and determine how to combat its problematic elements.

To the extent that objectification is symptomatic, we must address the underlying causes, both individually and collectively.

What I haven’t included here is any discussion of any research findings that can help to inform of what objectification is and how it expresses physiologically, but also any insights from said research that might help to counteract its presence in our state of being.

Nonviolent Communication - Judging what people are

Recently, I’ve had an interesting insight from my studies in Nonviolent Communication that sheds some light on the subject. In nonviolent communication, Marshall Rosenberg taught that the root of violence on the planet is use of static language judging what people are: (“You are incredible!” “You’re gross!”). Instead we communicate with people how we’re feeling as a result of their interaction with our needs. But that static language judging what people are is a type of objectification, too!!!


Clearly there is a lot more to unpack, here. But this is a difficult subject to work on, in multiple ways. For now, still learning and growing.