A Rationalist's Account of Objectification?

by lukeprog4 min read19th Mar 2011327 comments

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Sex & Gender
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I'm seeking some feminist consciousness-raising, and I'm hoping some LWers (Alicorn?) can help.

Specifically, I've never understood why "objectification" is wrong.

I'm a tall white American male, so sometimes it takes a bit of work for me to understand what it's like to be a member of a suppressed group. I still need regular training in avoiding sexist language, etc.

First: my background. When I was 10ish I encountered the word "feminism" for the first time. I asked my mom what the word meant.

She said, "It's the idea that women should have the same rights and privileges as men do."

And I thought, "They have a word for that?" It seemed too obvious to deserve its own word. It felt like having a special word for the idea that left-handers and right-handers should have the same rights and privileges.

So I've always thought of myself as a feminist.

Of course, some activists (the word has positive connotations to me, BTW) pushed too far, as is the case in all large movements. At some times and places (1980s academia, I think), it was common to assert that there are almost no (average) significant differences between men and women that aren't caused by enculturation, except for genitalia. That is of course false. Hormones matter, especially during development.

Such overreaches made it psychologically easier for some non-feminists to dismiss legitimate feminist demands and resist thousands of much-needed feminist advances (which are still ongoing).

Now, on this matter of objectification. I've never understood it. I've tried to get people to explain it to me before, but they were (apparently) not well-trained in rationality. I'm hoping a rationalist can explain it to me.

Here's my confusion about objectification. Depending on what you mean by "objectification," it seems to be either something that (1) is very often perfectly acceptable, or that (2) means something very narrow and is usually not being exemplified when there is an accusation of it being exemplified.

Let me explain.

Earlier, when I tried to figure out what "objectification" was and why it was wrong, the leading article on the topic seemed to be one by philosopher Martha Nussbaum. She lays out the goal of her paper like this:

I shall argue that there are at least seven distinct ways of behaving introduced by the term, none of which implies any of the others, though there are many complex connections among them. Under some specifications, objectification… is always morally problematic. Under other specifications, objectification has features that may be either good or bad, depending on the overall context… Some features of objectification… may in fact in some circumstances… be either necessary or even wonderful features of sexual life.

Using examples, she then outlines seven ways to treat a person as a thing. Rae Langton added three more in 2009, bringing the total count to 10 ways to treat a person as a thing:

  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.
  8. Reduction to body: treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts.
  9. Reduction to appearance: treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look.
  10. Silencing: the treatment of a person as if they lack the capacity to speak.

Consider a classic example of objectification from Playboy magazine: a photo of a female tennis player bending over, revealing her butt, above the caption "Why We Love Tennis."

The Playboy image exhibits at least eight features of objectification: instrumentalization, denial of autonomy, fungibility, denial of subjectivity, reduction to body, reduction to appearance, and silencing!

But, let's consider another example of objectification, what I'll call the Muddy People photo:

To us, these people are nothing but objects of our entertainment and pleasure. We have instrumentalized them. Moreover, they are fungible. It does not matter to us which people are covered in mud and looking silly. And just as with the Playboy example, this photo involves a denial of autonomy. Indeed, it is doubtful the permission to publish their photos was obtained. Moreover, we are not much interested in the feelings of these people but only their role in entertaining us as we gaze upon their mud-caked bodies – a denial of subjectivity. Often, nothing of these mud-covered people can be seen or known except their bodies – in many cases, only body parts, sticking every which way. This is the reduction to body. There is also clearly a reduction to appearance. Their mud-covered appearance is their only interest to us. In many cases, the emotions they might be having are totally obscured by the mud covering their faces. They are also, of course, silent to us.

So all the features of objectification found in the Playboy example, which we might feel is wrong somehow, are also shared by the Muddy People photo, which we probably feel is acceptable. Perhaps this suggests that our feelings are poor guides to moral truth. Or maybe what is wrong with the Playboy photo is something other than objectification.

Of course, there are disanalogies to be found. The Playboy example (especially with the caption) involved sexuality, and the Muddy People photo does not particularly do so. But if this is the line of thought that leads us to condemn Playboy but not the Muddy People photo, then we are bringing in another concept besides objectification.

For example, perhaps we want to say that Playboy‘s objectifications harm women by contributing to a culture of sexual prejudice, but the Muddy People objectifications do not cause any such harm. But then we are not appealing to this Kantian notion of "objectification." Rather, we are appealing to utilitarian principles. (Feminist philosopher Lina Papadaki makes similar objections to the notion of objectification.)

We all use each other as means to an end, or as objects of one kind or another, all the time. And we can do so while respecting their autonomy. I enjoy looking at the shapes and textures in the Muddy People photo while also respecting that the people whose bodies make up those shapes and textures are autonomous individuals of great value. But their value as individuals is not the point of the photo. The point of the photo, in this case, is that it's an interesting picture to look at. And that's okay, I think.

Good romantic partners use each other as a means to their own gratification while also respecting each others' autonomy. We use each other as sex objects, as emotion objects, as conversation objects, as knowledge objects, as carpool objects, and as other objects, all the time - while also respecting each others' autonomy and value. It's not clear to me what's wrong with that.

So if something like Nussbaum's analysis of "objectification" is what is meant by the term, then I don't see what's wrong with it. But if it means something much more narrow (what? I don't know), then I doubt it is exemplified nearly as often as people are accused of exemplifying it.

I reject Kant's epistemology, logic, and metaphysics - as I think any scientifically-informed person should. But even if you do accept all three, I still don't see what's intrinsically wrong with objectification as Nussbaum defines it.

Maybe I'm being dense. That has happened before. I'm not posting this with much confidence that objectification is a mostly useless concept. I'm posting this in pursuit of some consciousness-raising.

Understanding the problem is the first step toward fixing it. And right now I don't understand the problem. So if you have the time, please teach me.

Thanks.

 

Update: below, I'll keep an updated list of the most useful articles I've found so far.

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In order to flourish, humans need to be both subjectified and objectified-- that is, they they need to feel like they are in control of their life and that their wellbeing is taken as an end in itself by others (subjectified) but they also need to feel useful and wanted by others (objectified).

Of course they ideal balance between these two paradigms probably varies greatly between individuals and between groups. But I think it is plausible that our culture, in general, over-objectifies women and under-objectifies men. I don't think this is actually that controversial, most narrative protagonists are men, most people who make money from their physical attractiveness are women. Bosses tend to be men, secretaries tend to be women. Traditionally men headed families, went to work and made the important decisions. Traditionally a woman's role was to support her husband, cook for him, raise his children and look nice.

Now, if we assume that, whatever the ideal ratio of objectification to subjectification is for women, our culture over objectifies it becomes clear why feminists would oppose female objectification (one would also suspect that outspoken feminists would be among the most over-... (read more)

4AdeleneDawner10yI think that this is a very interesting and useful way of looking at it. I do think that it's better modeled as a 2d space than as a bell curve, though - I can imagine people needing very little of either kind of interaction (and probably being introverts in general) or needing unusual amounts of both (and probably being extroverts) as well as needing mostly one or mostly the other or near-equal amounts of both.

Agreed. It's probably more multi-dimensional than that actually- people's preferences regarding objecthood and subjecthood vary over different domains as well. There are people who want to be totally independent financially but dominated in bed and there are people happy to be dependent on another for income so long as they get to be on top. Further, people's preferences change over time.

As usual, treating people as generalizations of their subgroup is dangerous.

There's an associated Catch-22 actually. Finding out the degree of objectification someone desires is really difficult unless you ask them (and give them the freedom to learn and explore the relevant options). But of course, this subjectifies them (to a rather extreme level relative to the tremendous restrictions on autonomy our ancestors faced). This paradox plays out constantly as far as I can tell. For example, some people are turned off when others are overly concerned with getting prior permission to engage in romantic and sexual behavior. Person A may want person B to "just grab me and lay one on". Person B may want to do the kissing but doesn't know if A wants to be objectified in this way. B can ask A, bu... (read more)

2NancyLebovitz10yTentatively-- I don't think being a subject always means being able to explain what one wants. I'm pretty sure that words are as much an alien (at worst) or learnable with difficulty (at best) mode for some people as feeling and body language are for many of the people here.
2nthmost10yThat's a very fascinating and insightful way to think about this issue.
2Strange710yI could dispute that. If nobody needs or wants them, how will they produce surpluses from comparative advantage which can then be exchanged for resources necessary to survival? A slave has food and shelter taken care of.
0MotivationalAppeal6yThis comment is good, but it could be improved by using symmetric terms to describe the two conditions. Objectified: Others will.. 1) give you few freedoms or choices, 2) dominate you, make decisions for you, control you, 3) have uses for you, 4) initiate romance with little confirmation of your participatory consent 5) want/expect you to care about their well being 6) not care about your well being 7) support you with resources / financially 8) value you for your attractiveness, help, concern, (and child raising and housekeeping) a) rather than for your financial support or decision making / control 9) want you to value them for their financial support and decision making / control a) rather than for their attractiveness, help, concern Subjectified: Others will... 1) give you many freedoms and choices, 2) submit to you, rely on you to make decisions for them, want you to control them 3) want you to use them for things, 4) want you to initiate romance with little confirmation of their participatory consent 5) care about your well being 6) want/expect you to not care abut their well being 7) depend on you for resources / financially 8) value you for your financial support and decision making / control a) rather than for your attractiveness, help, concern 9) want you to value them for their attractivenss, help, concern, (and child raising and housekeeping) a) rather than for their financial support or decision making / control Is that a fair, symmetric restatement of your points?

lukeprog said:

I'm a tall white American male, so sometimes it takes a bit of work for me to understand what it's like to be a member of a suppressed group.

It's a high-status truism in polite, liberal middle-class society that white males are not oppressed (except perhaps on the dimensions of class and sexual orientation). That's exactly the sort of belief that should be interrogated on LW.

I propose that you have more insight into the oppression of other groups than you think, because you actually are a member of an oppressed group (males). You just haven't been trained to conceptualize your experiences as oppression, like women have been trained by feminism.

For many readers, the notion that men are "oppressed" may be controversial. This view of oppression is denied by mainstream academic feminists. Nevertheless, some feminists do believe that men are oppressed (though not "as much" as women).

Rather than argue that men are oppressed myself, I will refer to feminist sociologist Caroline New's amazing paper Oppressed and Oppressors? The Systematic Mistreatment of Men, which I discussed a while ago on my blog:

I shall argue that both women and men are oppress

... (read more)

Could you please taboo "oppression" and its synonyms? You seem to be using it as a sort of discrimination/cognitive bias affair which doesn't seem to fit colloquial use of oppression.

Oppression in common usage appears to signify systematic stereotyping with a net negative effect for the population group in question, or specific behaviors associated with oppression of a group, in which case neither males nor white males are oppressed, even though there are indubitably cases where discrimination and cognitive biases turn out negatively for specific subgroups (such as male nurses, cuckolds, divorcees, etc.)

"Objectification" is another such concept. We know that it's yet another piece of jargon for a bad thing that men do to women. But we don't really know what it and why it's wrong, nor it is demarcated from ethical forms of imagery.

Objectification is a well-defined and experimentally verified to exist phenomenon by which women in western society at least judge themselves by the impression others have of their physical bodies, which correlates, amongst other things, to eating disorders.

While the connection between sexual imagery and objectification is less easi... (read more)

0waveman5yYou seem to be saying that objectification is something women do to themselves. Is this your intention?
0Philip_W5yPeople don't have that amount of fine control over their own psychology. Depression isn't something people 'do to themselves' either, at least not with the common implications of that phrase. Also, this was a minimal definition based on a quick search of relevant literature for demonstrated effects, as I intended to indicate with "at least". Effects of objectification in the perpetrator are harder to disentangle.
-2MugaSofer8yA specific factor having a net negative effect does not preclude other factors resulting in a net positive relative to other groups, unless I parsed that wrong. That is an excellent definition and we should probably adopt it here, but it doesn't quite match up with common usage in most situations. Also, a belated hi. Sure hope you decided to stick around.
-4pnrjulius9yUpvoted because it's a well-sourced and coherent argument. Which is not to say that I agree with the conclusion. Okay, so there may be this effect of women being identified with their bodies. But here's the thing: WE ARE OUR BODIES. We should be identifying with them, and if we're not, that's actually a very serious defect in our thinking (probably the defect that leads to such nonsense as dualism and religion). Now, I guess you could say that maybe women are taught to care too much about physical appearance or something like that (they should care about other things as well, like intelligence, kindness, etc.). But a lot of feminists seem to be arguing that we should not care about how our bodies look at all, which is blatantly absurd. Indeed, one thing that I know I have done wrong in my life and that other people have done to me to hurt me is to ignore my body. I have a tendency to think in terms of my mind and body being separate things, like my body is just a house my mind lives in. And then other people tend to treat me as some kind of asexual being that has transcended bodily form. The result is a very screwed-up body image and a lot of sexual frustration. On the definition you just gave, I am apparently under-objectified.
9pnrjulius9yI'm not sure I would call it "oppression", but it's clearly true that heterosexual men are by far the MOST controlled by restrictive gender norms. It is straight men who are most intensely shoehorned into this concept of "masculinity" that may or may not suit them, and their status is severely downgraded if they deviate in any way. If you doubt this, imagine a straight man wearing eye shadow and a mini-skirt. Compare to a straight woman wearing a tuxedo. See the difference?
-1MugaSofer8ySince "sex" is usually defined as biological, and thus by definition not cultural ("gender"), then this statement seems nonsensical or underspecified. Could you clarify it with "sex" tabooed? (Incidentally, it amuses me that "sexual orientation is a social construct" parses as liberal, while "homosexuality is a choice/lifestyle" parses as conservative. Despite being nearly identical in meaning and implications.)
2TimS8yNot alike in implications at all. Whether something is a choice is different from whether something feels like a choice. Also, as wedrifid said [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/4vj/a_rationalists_account_of_objectification/8k7b] , some people are born with their sex unclear. Often, surgery is performed to "correct" the baby to a particular sex. I think that less constrictive gender roles would solve most of the social pressure in those circumstances. To the point that I think distinctions between sex and gender are analytically worthwhile. But not everyone who dislikes the current gender roles agrees with my assessment.
0Creutzer8yHow so? I don't think a weakening of gender roles will help to change the fact that most people aren't going to be sexually attracted to someone who's biologically sort of in between the sexes. Or are you referring to a different social pressure than the one towards surgery?
-1MugaSofer8yI suppose it depends on how hard you think rejecting social constructs is, at that. Still, the mere existence of a "cure for gay" would massively reshape the debate, let alone one as easy as, well, willpower and objectivity.
2wedrifid8yPhenotype is physical and not (completely) determined by genetics. A physical form that is, for whatever reason, a certain shape may be defined by social construction to be "female" or male" depending on the details of the culture. Most obvious applications here would be whether a guy who has operations to get some pieces cut off and takes some hormones is called a "female", whether people who place dress-ups but mean it are called their desired sex and whether someone born with testicles and no ovaries but looking like this [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cameron_Richardson] is a female [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin_Deep_(House\]).
5fubarobfusco8y"Socially constructed" is usually a fancy way of saying "taught". Bodies are out there in the world, part of the territory. The idea that some of them are "male" bodies and some are "female" bodies is something that is taught to kids. That doesn't mean it's thereby right or wrong: the existence of God and of electrons are both things that are taught, too. In the case of electrons, the things that are taught about them have been checked against the territory in a lot of ways, although not entirely. (For instance, a lot of people would tell you that nothing that runs on a couple of AA batteries can give you a deadly shock: batteries are safe; wall current is dangerous. This is wrong.) In the case of God, the things that are taught are not really checked against the territory so much. And in the case of maleness and femaleness, it's kind of in between. There is a lot of fallacious thinking that gets passed off (mistaking of statistical generalizations for universal truths, for instance) and a lot of data that kind of get swept under the rug because they make someone uncomfortable — kind of in the same way that people who believe in a nice friendly God like to sweep uncomfortable data under the rug, too. The quality of thinking about sex (i.e. male and female bodies) is not as rigorous as the thinking about electrons (and most people have a lot of wrong ideas about those!) but it's not as fuzzy as the thinking about God. But one of the things people are taught about sex is that they're supposed to be very sure of it. And that's a recipe for bad rationality.
2TimS8yAs a friendly addendum, I think your point that people are "supposed to be very sure of it" is an important part of the concept. A more LW friendly version of this point is Paul Graham's Keep Your Identity Small [http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html]
-1MugaSofer8yAh, I see. "Gender is not determined by sex."

I recommend the movie "Filming Desire" for what I found to be a very interesting and nuanced feminist analysis of objectification, and what happens when women try to represent sex for ourselves rather than buying into how the dominant culture represents sex (i.e., how men with stereotypical desires represent sex).

Here is an edited version of a comment I recently wrote on my own post "Ethical Pick-Up Artistry" [ http://clarissethorn.com/blog/2011/03/23/ethical-pick-up-artistry/ ], which I think is tangentially relevant:

I don’t really like the idea that men’s sexuality is generally more focused on stereotypically “hot” women, and that it’s some kind of inherent difference -- beyond cultural influences -- that it's more unusual/more difficult for men to be attracted to non-conventionally attractive women than to conventionally attractive ones, as opposed to the way attraction works for most het women. But it could be true, and if it is then I don’t feel comfortable shaming men for that. (It seems like gay men frequently exhibit similar attraction patterns to straight men, in terms of being considerably more attracted to younger partners and more, shall we say, scul... (read more)

8Strange710yThe statement could be more charitably interpreted as meaning that feminism is about bringing the majority of women (who are not exceptionally attractive, by logical necessity from the definition of 'exceptional') up to the same level as the majority of men, with the caveat that exceptionally attractive people have no shortage of power in society regardless of their gender. That is, giving women inroads to power which depend primarily on hard work rather than a genetic lottery.
2nthmost10yAttractive women in present society may have more power than less-attractive women, but they're at no less of an economic disadvantage in the final breakdown of how much pay each gender receives for equal work. Women are also judged far more harshly when their looks fade than are men. It does seem like exceptionally attractive women have a lot of power, but their opportunities are corralled by their looks as well. They are more likely to be seen as sex objects ahead of any other capacities they may have.
8Strange710yActually it's my understanding that, among professionals who never marry or have children, men and women are paid equally.
1therufs8yWell, what about men and women who do marry and have children?
5Strange77yWomen end up being paid less, to a degree which various feminist organizations will gladly research and calculate. The question is, does that correspond to a problem with the labor market, or with institutions related to marriage and childcare?
-9pnrjulius9y
2MugaSofer8yOr that power was balanced previously, and this balance is now being upset. Even then, it only so implies because you referred to them as a misogynist who, therefore, must be criticizing feminism; on it's own, it's value-neutral or even positive (if you assume unattractive women didn't have enough power before.)
-1[anonymous]6yedit: goddam formatting doesn't work with complex posts. PM me if you're interested in reading this in full... For those who don't know, the above user is a rising star in feminist, men's rights, and that kind of circles. Or well, I've heard of him/her, and was surpised to see the name. So I'm stopping to comment. I'd like to address some claims made about sexual fluidity that I find concerning. * Conversion therapy is stigmatised by scientific communities [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_therapy] * Conversion therapy is primarily conducted by secular partners of religious organisations that were formed in protest of allegations of non-scientific approaches to LGBT psychiatry [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Association_for_Research_%26_Therapy_of_Homosexuality] Some individuals sexual identitites are indeed fluid, as conceeded by psychiatric authorities, however, it the common misconception is that they aren't [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_orientation#Fluidity] * However, defining sexualities as fluid is not neccersarily useful. There are well articulated (albeit unconvincing) teleological arguments suggesting that fluidity is essential to transition to homosexuality: * sexual fluidity is sensational [http://www.mashable.com/2015/05/18/fluid-sexuality/] * sexual identity [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_identity] as distinct from sexual orientation is treated as a seperate concept within the academic domains of sexual discourse * There are compelling arguments for activists to legitimise bisexuality: * the concept of situational sexuality [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_sexual_behavior] complicates things. How can one distinguish between an enduring aspect of their identity and a situational characteristic? * sexual fluidity may be underreported due to hate crimes [http://www.aic.gov.au/crime_community/crimeprevention/resources/groups.html]
1bogus6yMy understanding is that people vary a lot as to how sexually fluid they are, and conversion therapy "works" on sexually fluid folks (albeit trivially, by getting them to change their overt behavior) but hurts those that are not. That's why it's criticized by the scientific community.

I think that objectification of people is kind of like defecation or masturbation. I do it sometimes, I'm pretty sure everyone else does it too, I don't think it is particularly unhealthy, but for some reason people object when you do it publicly.

So I don't.

2lukeprog10yInteresting. But I doubt that most women would like it if all men in the world were objectifying them in private. They'd like it better than continuous public objectification, perhaps, but still...

I actually think it's the public thing that specifically makes it bad. The private thing is an issue, but only because saying things in private makes you more likely to say/do related things in public.

This ties in with my issue with the Hanson and Katja Grace articles. Grace and Hanson seem to be approaching the issue from a single metric - guys treating specific women like sex objects and interacting with them with that mindset. When I think a bigger problem (in a torture vs dust specks sense) is all the little comments guys will make that belittle women in their daily life.

I work in an animation studio. For a while I was in a room with 4 guys and 1 girl. The guys had a raunchy sense of humor and with some frequency, joked about things like rape. I never got to actually talk to the girl about it but my sense was that she was uncomfortable, but pretended not to be. (She'd laugh at the jokes, but occasionally I saw her grimace in a way that didn't look too amused)

She left the company eventually. Now I'm in a room with just a few guys. The sexist comments have gone up dramatically. I know the guys are joking, but I also suspect that they've internalized some of the things they say. (For example, in discussing his romantic partner, one guy says on occasion "seriously, I think girls are just crazy." I think he's only half joking, and that his perception of the girls he's been involved with are warped by the portrayal of girls, both in media and in the way he and his friends talk about them).

1Nisan10yThe last bit of your anecdote illustrates that public speech also influences private thinking. I find it disturbing that men think that way about women. One could argue, on a number of grounds, that the private bit itself is wrong.

An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine. A money machine.

That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing... I just hate to be a thing.

The truth is I've never fooled anyone. I've let people fool themselves. They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't. When they found this out, they would blame me for disillusioning them and fooling them.

People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn't see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.

- Marilyn Monroe

Interesting exercise: going through your list of '''10 ways to treat a person as a thing''' and see how many of them the 'LW consensus' satisfies.

1) Instrumentality. The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.

Well, we're mostly consequentialists.

2) Denial of autonomy. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.

Are you claiming to have free will or something?

3) Inertness. The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.

See 2.

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.

Shut up and multiply!

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.

Ok, we don't do these two.

7) Denial of subjectivity. The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Fortunately this isn't that common but there is an occasional tendency... (read more)

Really, I think the list overcomplicates matters.

Status is a valuable commodity, so behaving in a way that lowers someone else's status is therefore acting against their interests; non-person objects generally have lower status than people, so treating people as though they were non-person objects is therefore acting against their interests.

1Raemon10yYeah, I think this is pretty accurate.
0[anonymous]9yGood point. I'd rather have people treat me like the Mona Lisa than, say, a stereotypical mother-in-law.
6Alicorn10yRegarding free will, the metaphysics of choice are not actually what is at issue when the list mentions "autonomy", "self-determination", "agency", and "activity". (I can't tell if you knew this, and were making a joke, or not.)
0Eugine_Nier10yHowever, there doesn't appear to be a clear 'Schelling line' between the metaphysics of choice and what you do mean by those terms. Thus people and movements that start out arguing against free-will tend to end up arguing against "autonomy", "self-determination", and "agency" in the sense you mean.
7Strange710yIf we go with the assumption that humans are strictly deterministic machines, "autonomy" could be thought of as the degree to which it's easier to predict a human's future actions by looking at their internal state, rather than by looking at the orders they receive.
4AdeleneDawner10yIs it at all useful to think of the issue in terms of "treating people as if they had free will/autonomy/etc, as a reasonable way of dealing with the fact that we can't model each other to a consistently acceptable degree of accuracy"?
4Armok_GoB10y5) At least I would consider an unwillingness to be uploaded as silly irrationality and do it to people anyway rather than have somehting bad happen to them if that was the other option.
-3Will_Newsome9y(On that note but totally unrelated to gay shit like "objectification": It's amazing how difficult it is to talk to someone sane, reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned, honest, without obvious incentives to lie, &c. who reports an experience that, if it actually happened, could only be explained by psi. There are anecdotes where pseudo-explanations like "memory bias" just don't cut it—in order for you to confidently deny psi you have to confidently accuse them of lying, and in order to confidently accuse them of lying you have to have a significantly better model of human psychology than I do. I think not realizing that such people are in fact numerous is what kept me from even considering psi for Aumannesque reasons—like most LessWrong types I'd implicitly assumed all reports of psi were either fuzzy in their details such that cognitive biases were a defensible explanation, or were provided by people who were less than credible. Once you eliminate those two categories the skeptic is left with a lot of uncomfortable evidence just waiting to be examined. Of course the evidence will never be very communicable to a wide audience, per the law of conservation of trolling.)
4TheOtherDave9yFor my own part, I have low confidence in my ability to identify individuals as sane, reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned, honest, without obvious incentives to lie, etc. I'd be interested in how you go about reliably distinguishing such people from humans in general; I would find that a useful skill to learn.
-2Will_Newsome9yWhy do you have low confidence in your abilities? It seems to me that there are many cases in which it should be obvious to you whether or not a person has one of those qualities. E.g., I can be reasonably certain that my step-mother is sane, reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned, and without obvious incentives to lie—so if she reported psi phenomena, I would have to accuse her of lying for some completely non-transparent reason. (My step-mother doesn't seem like the trolling type.) I don't recall any false positives in my experience, though I seem to vaguely recall false negatives. FWIW all the girls I've ever been close friends with have been Slytherin, so I might have abnormally much experience with natural liars (though well-intentioned ones). Er also I scored perfect or near-perfect on some emotion facial expression reading quiz thingy at SingInst, and I've been weirdly sensitive to peoples' microexpressions since childhood. I don't know if I learned any of the relevant skills, nor am I certain I possess them, but for the cases I have in mind I suspect I do, and that most other intelligent non-autistic-spectrum humans do also, especially the schizotypal ones.
4TheOtherDave9yFor convenience, call T a threshold such that if someone clears T I can reliably trust that their reports of a phenomenon I otherwise consider unlikely ought to be either believed or classed as a lie. That is, when you describe someone as "sane, reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned, honest, without obvious incentives to lie, etc. " we understand that to mean that the person clears T. I have low confidence in my ability to recognize people who clear T because of the numerous incidences in my life where, for example, two people who appear to me to clear T give me mutually exclusive accounts of the same experience, or more generally, where people who appear to me to clear T give me accounts that turn out to be false, but where I discern no reason to believe they're lying. The conclusion I reach is that ordinary people say, and often genuinely believe, all kinds of shit, and the fact that someone reports an occurrance isn't especially strong evidence of it having occurred. If that's not actually true of ordinary people, and I've simply been unable to distinguish ordinary people from the people of whom that's true, it would be awfully useful to learn to tell the difference. Edit: I should add that I also have plenty of evidence that I don't clear T, and I might also be generalizing from one example.
4siodine9yhttp://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781%2800%2900227-4/abstract [http://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781%2800%2900227-4/abstract] Reminds me of an experience I had as a kid where I woke up in the middle of the night, and was unable to move, with a ghost asking me for help. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis] I ran to my parents' room, and I knew what I was about to say would make me look stupid or confused, but I also knew I was right -- I saw and heard that ghost. So, I made the story as convincing as possible; I left out any little details that might have drawn suspicion to my experience.
2amit9yWhy not? First obvious way that comes to mind: take someone that the audience trusts to be honest and to judge people correctly and have them go around talking to people who've had experiences and report back their findings.
-1Will_Newsome9yThat's a multi-step plan: at least one of those steps would go wrong. By hypothesis we're talking about transhuman intelligence(s) here (no other explanation for psi makes sense given the data we have). They wouldn't let you ruin their fun like that, per the law of conservation of trolling. (ETA: Or at least, it wouldn't work out like you'd expect it to.)
0Gastogh9yCan you give an example or two of such anecdotes?
[-][anonymous]10y 16

I am not a typical feminist.

But my take (somewhat reinforced by feminist blogs and earlier feminist writers like Germaine Greer and Joanna Russ) is that a person can be portrayed as either observed or as an observer. And there are far more media representations of women as observed than as observers. The problem with this is that it promotes a habit of thinking of women as NPC's. For example: thinking of the man as the desirer and the woman as the desired, even though women also have desires. Or thinking of the man as the artist and the woman as the muse. The man as the narrator and the woman as his obsession, inspiration, or enemy.

So: the issue, in my view, is not any single act of "objectification," but a predominance of representations of women that only portray them in relation to a male observer. It promotes the idea that women don't have their own point of view or creative capacity.

9rabidchicken10yPotentially unusual anecdotal evidence; I have been groped three times in as many years by complete strangers (who were females of about my age). It wasn't a big deal to me, and I imagine that anyone who knew about it would just find it hilarious. Sexual harassment of men is probably heavily underreported, so people tend to forget it exists. The media just reflects popular assumptions, so if you encourage people to reconsider their beliefs about how each gender behaves you might be able to equalize objectification.
4Raemon10yOn the train today I saw a lottery advertisement that said "Good things can happen any time." It featured a man and woman in a movie theater. The man is staring up at the screen, ignoring the woman, who is staring at him with a coy smile on her face, about to make a move.

"I'm a tall white American male, so sometimes it takes a bit of work for me to understand what it's like to be a member of a suppressed group."

Females are suppressed, and so are males. Gender roles suppress both genders. They also offer advantages to both genders.

List of male privileges: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/

List of female privileges: http://masculistadvice.blogspot.com/2008/06/female-privilege-list.html

It is true that popular discourse paints females as the suppressed group and males as the non-suppressed group.

"So I've always thought of myself as a feminist."

Feminism goes beyond technical gender equality of having the same rights and privileges. I'm a feminist too, because I think politics should solve problems facing women. And I'm also a masculist (or a men's rights activist), since men's problems should be solved too.

"Of course, some activists (the word has positive connotations to me, BTW) pushed too far, as is the case in all large movements."

The main problem with feminism today is that all the political gender equality resources are directed to feminism. It should be evenly distributed between masculism and feminism.

4nthmost10yWhy would you reference a list of "female privilege" that includes circumcision? That's not exactly helping you prove your point.
8pnrjulius9yBecause female circumcision is rare and illegal in developed nations? There's obviously a female advantage here, at least in the Western world. Mutilating female genitals draws the appropriate outrage, while mutilating male genitals is ignored or even condoned. (I've seen people accused of "anti-Semitism" just for pointing out that male circumcision has virtually no actual medical benefits.)

Mutilating female genitals draws the appropriate outrage, while mutilating male genitals is ignored or even condoned.

The mutilation of male genitals in question is ridiculous in itself but hardly equivalent to the kind of mutilation done to female genitals.

The mutilation of male genitals in question is ridiculous in itself but hardly equivalent to the kind of mutilation done to female genitals.

Granted. Female mutilation is often far more severe.

But I think it's interesting that when the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed allowing female circumcision that really just was circumcision, i.e. cutting of the clitoral hood, people were still outraged. And so we see that even when the situation is made symmetrical, there persists what we can only call female privilege in this circumstance.

-2MugaSofer8ySee, now I'm wondering what the effects would actually be. Is it possible that "true" female circumcision would still have greater adverse effects? I'll note that I predict roughly the same outrage level regardless, but it still seems like an important question.
0TheOtherDave10yCan you clarify what you mean by "evenly distributed"? For example, by "evenly" do you mean 50/50 between these two causes? Do you mean distributed proportionally based on the number of men and the number of women in the community? Do you mean distributed proportionally to reflect the gender distribution in the community (which is noticeably more complex than "number of men" and "number of women")? Do you mean distributed proportionally based on the degree to which different genders experience differential harm under the current arrangement? Do you mean something else?
5Alexandros10yThing is, none of these criteria justify a 1000:1 funding ratio. (estimate pulled out of thin air)
1TheOtherDave10yWell, my question had to do with the 1:1 aid-resource-split policy suggestion. If you want to suggest instead that the aid-resource split be N:1 where N<1000, in favor of a group o be determined later, I would support that... though I think it's a woefully underspecified policy.
4pnrjulius9yThe answer should be obvious: Expected utility. In practical terms, this means weighting according to severity, because the quantity of people affected is very close to equal. So we focus on the worst forms of oppression first, and then work our way up towards milder forms. This in turn means that we should be focusing on genital mutilation and voting rights. (And things like Elevatorgate, for those of you who follow the atheist blogosphere, should obviously be on a far back burner.)
0nawitus10y"For example, by "evenly" do you mean 50/50 between these two causes?" Yes. More information here: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/4vj/a_rationalists_account_of_objectification/3r3j [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/4vj/a_rationalists_account_of_objectification/3r3j]
3TheOtherDave10yI don't quite see the connection between the information you cite, and the 50/50 split policy recommendation. From my perspective, if we can spend resources in such a way that we collectively get the most bang for the buck and reduce the spread of the curve, that's a win. (In real life those goals are often in conflict, but that's beside my point right now.) If it so happens that the way to do that is to equally support men and women in a particular community, then a 50/50 split of resources makes sense in that community. If that's not the case, then a different resource split makes more sense. Whether that split is weighted towards men or women will depend on the facts of the situation. Maybe I conclude based on the information you cite that I should support Finnish men more than Finnish women, for example. But I don't see how that data justifies a 50/50 split.
2nawitus10yMy data justifies slightly more resources for men, but until we have proper scientific research on the question, I'm okay with a 50/50 split. The split is currently about 97/3 in favor of women, so going to 50/50 would help significantly.
2TheOtherDave10yAh, OK. If you are proposing 50/50 as a political compromise rather than actually asserting that it's the correct target, then my questions are beside the point. Never mind, then.
4nawitus10yI made a list of problems in a comment on a website. That's not a good way to make politicial decisions. We need a proper study of the question. I think a priori the 50/50 split between genders is a good balance. You can call that a political compromise, I call it "don't make quick decisions without proper scientific research".
6TheOtherDave10ySo, I have to actively disagree with this. Not for any reason having anything at all to do with gender or politics or any of that, just on pure decision-making grounds. At every point, we ought to make decisions based on our best estimates based on the evidence we have. If your best estimate isn't 50/50 (which it isn't: you believe the data justify slightly more resources for Finnish men) then it isn't, and there's no reason to use 50/50 rather than your actual best estimate. This has nothing to do with avoiding making quick decisions. You'd be making an equally quick decision to support 50/50 as to support 51/49 or 52/48. This has nothing to do with gathering more data. By all means, study the question properly, and change your estimates as new evidence comes in. Absolutely. But in the meantime we still have to do something, and specifically we ought to make decisions based on our best estimates based on the evidence we have at that time, which in your case is not 50/50. Of course, we've got a cultural (and possibly genetic, I don't know) bias towards an equal-distribution strategy... that "feels fair." So it feels like 50/50 is some kind of special number that you should support instead of your best estimate. But I see no reason to endorse that bias (other than the political one of it being easier to sell a solution that "feels fair").
-6Normal_Anomaly10y

Reading this post and comments was almost physically painful to me. Offense is a solved problem. Why are we still discussing it? Are we going to have a free will debate next week? Though I understand that people may get offended at the thought that their feelings of offense are how a status-seeking algorithm feels from inside, and all the "deeper" reasons coming to mind are just post hoc rationalizations. It must feel like trivializing the rainbow...

6lucidfox10yWhat is almost physically painful to me is declaring problems "solved" when they clearly aren't. To say the LW provided finished solutions to millennia-old problems would be treating millennia too lightly.
3TheOtherDave10yPerhaps. And perhaps the same goes for any explainer... that is, if it turns out that the "this is what it feels like to be a status-management algorithm" explanation for offense wasn't original with LW, perhaps it wouldn't matter, because it's equally dismissive to assume that anyone solved it. But surely there has to be a limit to that, doesn't there? Problems, including millenia-old problems, do eventually get solved. So I guess my question is: why is it clear that this one isn't solved via an understanding of social status and the mechanisms for attacking and defending it? What's left over?

In my opinion, one reason why many people tend to dislike status-based explanations is that these explanations have unpleasant implications because of the fixed-sum nature of status. Status may not be precisely a fixed-sum good, but that does seem to be a very good approximation. Therefore, if the status of a certain individual or group is raised, that usually means that someone else's status has been lowered as result, and the change that produced this rise in status must have come at someone else's expense.

It follows that the advocates of some status-altering social change cannot accurately present it as an unalloyed good and a win-win situation for everyone; it is always analogous to redistribution of wealth, rather than everyone becoming richer. Of course, the former is a tougher sell, and makes for a much less convincing case.

2TheOtherDave10yWell, of course a lot depends on how much energy and resources are being expended on maintaining the status differential in the first place, and how much opportunity cost is reflected in it, and how many players the world contains. That is, if we work for the same company and I'm your manager, and I am spending half my time trying to keep you down and you spend half your time trying to sabotage me, a status-altering social change that rendered us peers might turn out to raise both of our statuses relative to other groups, as well as make both of our lives easier and more enjoyable. But, yes, I agree with you that many people who resist status-altering social changes are thinking in fixed-sum terms.
1Vladimir_M10yThere are actually two issues there: the distribution of the status itself, and the cost in other goods and resources expended in pursuing and maintaining it. An arms race in pursuing status (e.g. by expensive signaling, or by costly efforts to keep others down) is indeed a problem of collective action that leads to awful negative-sum games, and a social change that prevents this arms race may be beneficial for everyone if it leads to a similar status distribution, only without the cost. But in contrast, it's unclear whether a Pareto-improvement in status itself is possible. In the boss-employee example, the change may benefit both parties by eliminating the negative-sum game in which they're stuck. It may also benefit everyone else by a tiny amount by making the economy slightly more productive. But if both the boss and the worker raise their status in the society at large as a result, that will come at the expense of others' status -- even if it means an infinitesimal reduction of status for each person in a great mass of people who are now below each of them in the status hierarchy, rather than a large reduction for some clearly identifiable party. (It's roughly analogous to how successfully passing a small amount of perfectly forged money represents an infinitesimal taking from everyone else by making their money slightly less valuable.)
4[anonymous]10yThe relevance of that link isn't lost on me, but it's not obvious to me that lukeprog's question is equivalent to "why does objectification offend people?" Riding my cruelty hobby-horse a little more: I think that I find cruelty offensive. I'm open to a status-seeking explanation for that but it seems likely to me that more is going on.
3cousin_it10yI think you can get on fine just knowing the answer to the question "how to tell if something will offend someone?", and avoid cluttering your mind with irrelevant stuff like "objectification" and "the criterion of violability".
5lukeprog10ycousin_it, Apparently, lots of people think objectification is relevant. I'm asking "Why?" And no, I'm not asking about offense.

Well, the status hypothesis easily explains why the Playboy photo will displease many women in a way the mud photo won't. Do you have any other puzzling questions?

8AdeleneDawner10yIt gives an answer, but it doesn't necessarily give complete answer, or at least not a complete answer in relation to the reference class 'feminists'. Lowered status is not just bad in and of itself. It also has other effects - making a certain reference class be considered less desirable for certain jobs or social positions, making a certain reference class be less likely to have their complaints or observations taken seriously, making it more likely that a certain reference class will not have their rights upheld or their needs taken into account when laws are passed, and so on. Feminists and other activists - at least the ones that I'm aware of - tend to focus much more on those kinds of issues, some of which are life-threatening, than on the simple emotional discomfort of being offended.
6cousin_it10yI know very well that status isn't about "simple emotional discomfort"! Did anyone ever say that it was? Status is up there with money and health among the most important stats of every human being, a huge factor in pretty much everything. Which makes it an even better idea to "follow the money" or "follow the status" whenever you see two parties arguing over something that doesn't look like a factual issue. Even when you yourself are one of the parties.
4AdeleneDawner10yThe comment I replied to doesn't make that clear, and can fairly easily be interpreted as 'they're just complaining because they feel offended; there's no reason to take them seriously, it's just status'. That's not the only possible interpretation, obviously, but it's the one I was speaking to. I'm glad that it's not what you intended.
2[anonymous]10yDo you think that accurate predictions of people's behavior is most of what's required from a theory of right and wrong?

(Sorry for deleting my previous reply, it missed the mark.)

I wasn't trying to answer the question "why is objectification wrong", but rather "why do many people think objectification is wrong?" I think offense is a big part of the answer to the latter. See Righting a Wrong Question. This trick seems to be be especially useful with moral questions, e.g. "why is it wrong to kill" leads to making up stuff like unalienable rights, while "why do people think it's wrong to kill" leads to evolutionary psychology and other issues that at least have the potential of becoming scientific.

Agreed with this as far as it goes, but I think it can go further.

A real understanding of the status issues involved does more than answer "will people be offended by objectification?" It also answers "does objectification harm people?"

This isn't a moral question. That is, whether it's wrong to harm people or not, and in what ways and under what circumstances it's wrong, is a different question.

1cousin_it10yYes! Thanks a lot for pointing this out, it makes the picture even more complete.
0[anonymous]10yNo, but statements like "X will show such-and-such reaction to Y" are observer-independent, while statements like "X should do Y" are observer-dependent. I enjoy LW more when it sticks to the former kind. I hope to never see the day when the "Wrong" in "Less Wrong" shifts its meaning to "morally wrong according to a certain theory of right and wrong". Of course others may not necessarily share my taste for talking about true/false instead of good/bad, but talking about true/false also seems to be more useful and less fallacy-laden.
2Luke_A_Somers10yDoesn't it seem likely that the algorithm for determining whether something will offend someone will contain a reference to objectification or something related to it pretty closely? Just because you can conceptually draw a larger box around something doesn't mean it hasn't got parts.
6cousin_it9ySuch an algorithm probably wouldn't work for people from past epochs, who had a concept of offense quite similar to ours, but didn't have a concept of objectification. And it wouldn't work very well even today in my home country (Russia). Linking offense to status seems more robust to me.
1jsalvatier10yTo clarify, when A is cruel to B and C observes it (maybe not directly) who is being offensive to who?
2[anonymous]10yA to C
0TheOtherDave10ySame question as to lucidfox above: can you say more about what you think the "more" is? What's left over?
0[anonymous]10yI might have been understating it: it sounds funny to say "what's left over when you take away status" when I meant to express skepticism that status had much at all to do with the bad evaluation of cruelty. I was trying to point out an abstract bad thing that doesn't seem to be political or coalitional, and therefore not so related to status-seeking. Cruelty seems to be such a thing, much more so than objectification. That I think it's accurate to say that instances of cruelty "offend" me then seems to contradict the thesis that offense is all about status. Maybe this is a semantic problem and you could say that I find cruelty to be horrible not offensive, or something like that.
0TheOtherDave10yYes, I agree that there's a semantic problem here... specifically, as you say, the problem of understatement. The planet Jupiter is, in fact, larger than a duck... but saying so is a strange linguistic act because there are so many more important things you could have said instead. Cruelty is, in fact, offensive -- but more importantly, it has net negative consequences. And status actually turns out to be a fairly useful way to talk about the consequences of cruelty (over and above the consequences of equal amounts of non-cruel suffering).
1[anonymous]10yThe status explanation doesn't leave as much room for a similar statement about objectification -- in fact it explicitly disclaims that there's a more important aspect of objectification than its offensiveness. I think this is what's at stake for a lot of the comments here that defend the concept and reproach of objectification. If I see what you're getting at I disagree. For instance it's not usually possible to lower an animal's status, but cruelty to animals is deeply upsetting for me.
0TheOtherDave10yI agree with you that this notion that status is something unimportant -- that it's all about "high school popularity contests and all that sort of thing" (to quote Skatche) -- underlies a lot of the discussion so far. And as I said here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4vj/a_rationalists_account_of_objectification/3q4x], I think this is simply wrong... unwarrantedly dismissive of the real effects of status. Low status gets people killed. As for animals, yes, we disagree: I would say that an animal being treated cruelly is in a lower-status position, one in which it has less ability to effect its preferences, than one being treated kindly.
3Vladimir_Nesov10yI wouldn't say "solved problem" for something so convoluted, and it's worth discussing roughly-understood things to refine the understanding, but I agree that that particular way of parsing the issue has lots of explanatory power.
6jsalvatier10yYes, but future discussions should at least reference past discussions if they were considered fruitful.

Here's a stab at the question about the images:

The female tennis player image has (just like words can have) certain connotations that are attached to it and they're mostly the of the type of the 10 things you've listed. The muddy people image, on the other hand, doesn't have those same connotations associated with it. So you can't just analyze the image itself, you have to take a look at it in the context of what's in people's heads related to the image. Just like what you'd do to figure out what people mean by some word.

Disclaimer: I'm hetero-male. I strongly consider myself a feminist. It'd be nice if we didn't need a word for moral equity of the sexes. But we have far enough to go that it's still an issue. I work in media production, and media production is heavily steeped in sexism. I have to make a conscious effort to make sure my work doesn't contribute to the problem. I read a few feminist blogs to keep myself thinking about issues I would likely forget about otherwise, or at least not consider as strongly.

I don't consider objectification an inherent bad thing, but in many contexts it produces similar, repetitive detrimental effects on society. You will probably be able to argue about individual cases and find that some aren't that bad or whathaveyou. But the problem is big, and real, and complex enough, that for purposes of encouraging widespread action, it's a lot easier to tell people "objectifying women is bad" than telling them to "carefully analyze how individual artworks are likely to impact society, measure their utility, and censure the ones that cause the most harm."

The people-in-mud photo is objectifying people in general. But what makes objectification bad is ... (read more)

3lukeprog10ySo, just to be clear: Is it your suggestion that what makes objectification wrong is the imbalance of power it (sometimes) creates, because the power imbalance causes harms to the disempowered group?
0Raemon10yIt's one thing. There's a lot of interconnected things going on, but it's the most obvious difference between the two photos. I'll have more to say later, but this is a big topic and I want to get it right. As Alicorn says, you should stew for a while.
0lukeprog10yThis post [http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/06/30/i-objectify-men/] seems to be making the same point, and the ensuing discussion is interesting. Interesting quote: "No objectification without due subjectification." (Holly.)

The problem isn't objectification of women, it's a lack of non-objectified female characters.

Men are objectified a lot in media. As a simple example, the overwhelming majority of mooks are male, and these characters exist solely to be mowed down so the audience can see how awesome the hero(ine) is (or sometimes how dangerous the villain is). They are hapless, often unthinking and with basically no backstory to speak of. Most of the time they aren't even given names. So why doesn't this common male objectification bring outrage?

I think the reason is tha... (read more)

6[anonymous]6yThe types of objectification are different, as you touch on. Men are not sexually objectified as often. When they are, they are shown in a position of power or self-direction, with women in contrasting positions of passiveness and submissiveness. This is most visible in advertising because it's the place where men are portrayed as specifically male rather than as people (with the assumption that all people worth knowing about or portraying must be men). Your example of random mooks? They're there to shoot and die and follow orders. You can replace them with robots or ambulatory plants or aliens with no discernable gender. Calvin Klein ads? The men are there to be masculine. Men are allowed to be short or tall, fat or thin, strong or weak. They can have long noses and bulbous noses and button noses and earlobes that hang down. Women have several molds they can fit -- they can be crones or grandmothers, or they can be minor variants of generic white sexy woman at different ages, between fifteen and thirty. Even when women are portrayed as skilled, intelligent people with their own backstories and interests, you'd be hard pressed to find one that isn't portrayed in a way to make sexual objectification easy, even if it makes no sense with their story. Amita from Far Cry 4, for instance, is one of two leaders of a terrorist group fighting against an oppressive dictatorship. You'd expect that she'd have scars. You'd expect she'd be too busy to maintain long hair. You'd expect muscles. You'd expect powerful body language. You wouldn't exactly expect her to have turquoise earrings, wear eyeliner, have immaculately plucked eyebrows, have skin as smooth as marble, and wear a pouty / concerned expression half the time. The huge problem is that women's perceived value can never exceed the ease with which they can be objectified.
2Lumifer6yThat may be a cached impression. I doubt my viewing habits are typical, but a competent heroine who kicks ass is rather typical in contemporary movies, I think. You contradict yourself. Your second sentence basically says that men are sexually objectified. Besides, a great deal of advertising is dedicated to portraying women as.. .specifically feminine :-) Says who?
-11[anonymous]6y
-8Azathoth1236y

"thousands of much-needed feminist advances" seems to link to the "sex differences in humans" article.

I agree with you about it being silly to have a word for advocating the moral equality of the sexes (although I use this as a reason not to label myself "a feminist", in much the same way that I would consider it vaguely silly to identify with a word labeling the advocacy of the moral equality of left- and right-handed people).

I don't really like being summoned to do this consciousness-raising job on the basis of "Sayeth ... (read more)

If you are willing to do your consciousness-raising by reading stuff, you could read some blogs and follow links like crazy (feminist bloggers are pretty good about linkage) and keep going until everything you run into looks familiar. This is the sort of topic you need to simmer in more than study like there will be a test later.

This sounds like saying that you should keep reading authors who share a given ideological standpoint until you're successfully propagandized by them. I don't see how this approach could lead to an unbiased understanding of any subject. [Edit: I mean any subject that is an issue of strong ideological controversy, as this one clearly is.]

This sounds like saying that you should keep reading authors who share a given ideological standpoint until you're successfully propagandized by them. I don't see how this approach could lead to an unbiased understanding of any subject.

You don't limit bias by restricting what you read, but by exactly the opposite--by reading more, and from more varied, ideological perspectives. Alicorn didn't say to reading nothing except feminist ideology; and you completely missed her conditional, "If you are willing to do your consciousness-raising by reading stuff".

She is obviously speaking to the people who desire to understand the concepts involved. If you want to evaluate feminism, you need to understand the concepts, and to do that you need read things written by actual feminists. I think Cyan is right, you're arguing in a way that you wouldn't if this was about about something that wasn't feminism.

How do you feel about the practice of advising LW newbies to read the sequences?

3Vladimir_M10yCyan: The analogy would be if someone didn't understand some well-defined and useful concept that is discussed in the sequences, and you directed him to read the relevant sequence material, which presumably contains an accurate explanation. The assumption is that the concept is useful and well-defined, rather than an incoherent ideological buzzword, and that the sequences contain a correct explanation of it. (And to the extent that these assumptions don't hold, the advice would be bad.) However, as a different example, suppose someone is confused about some incoherent ideological concept, like, say, the Marxist notion of "dialectic [http://brahmsiano.wdfiles.com/local--files/prueba-archivos/dial%C3%A9ctica.pdf] ." Now if you direct this person to read Marxist authors persistently until the idea starts to make sense, you're effectively instructing him to submit to ideological propaganda until he is successfully propagandized. (Especially if this person is already familiar with a significant body of Marxist literature and asks a cogent question that seems to expose some flaws in the concept.) Now, the question is whether the notion of "objectification" and the feminist authors of the linked blogs are more similar to the first or the second example. Clearly, I believe that the latter is a closer analogy, which I don't find surprising, considering that this is an area of intense ideological warfare and the authors in question in fact represent a more radical wing of one side in this conflict.

Yup, that was what I was getting at: contrary to your original statement, your true objection isn't to the approach per se but to the content.

2Vladimir_M10yHonestly, I don't see what exactly I wrote that is contrary to my original statement. The content is relevant insofar as the recommended reading represents the output of one side in an ideological struggle, and my original comment is consistent with that. Could you clarify what precisely you mean by " approach per se" here?
4Cyan10yThere's a tension in your original statement between value-laden phrases such as "ideological" and "successfully propagandized" and the very general remark about the approach not leading to "an unbiased understanding of any subject" (emphasis added). What I'm driving at is that your objection was really to the recommended content; you didn't quite address this head-on in the original statement but rather made an incorrect fairly general counterargument [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Fully_general_counterargument] to reading widely on a given subject (or "simmering", as Alicorn put it). (The italicized phrase is my reply to your request for clarification.) Your reply to my question about the sequences did address this head-on. At this point I'm just trying to clarify my rhetoric.
2Vladimir_M10yThanks for the clarification. In retrospect, I agree that my original comment was poorly worded.
3Raemon10yThere's two separate issues to be compared: "Go read the Sequences" : "Go read a bunch of Feminist Blogs" :: "Go read 'Circular Altruism'" : "Go read a particular article about 'Objectification." "Objectification" and "Shut Up and Multiply" are buzzwords. They are important concepts that you need to understand in depth, even if you disagree with the ramifications and phrasing of them, if you want to discuss particular issues in a meaningful way. "The Sequences" and "A bunch of a feminist blogs" are large collections of work that include essays of varying quality and importance. "Go read the sequences" is something I've definitely heard a lot here. Outsiders sometimes assume we mean "I don't feel like talking to you until you're part of our cult" when we say it. When in fact, they contain a lot of useful information that will change your mind about some things - but you are unlikely to start updating if you just read one particular article, especially if you've previously been biased against its topic.

I'm not advocating reading them until one agrees with them on every particular, or even any particular. Familiarity is a different goal entirely. It's a little like learning another language: which, sure, learning a new language has its effects on your thought process, but it's not so sinister as you imply. Notably, you could combine simmering in feminism with simmering in men's right's advocacy, or even whackaloon level misogyny, without seriously harming the ability to learn the feminist blogosphere's culture and language.

5AdeleneDawner10yI'd also suggest looking for blogs of people who were active in the feminist movement and left it because of conflicts between the movement (note: not the concept of feminism itself) and other activism, like racial or class or disability or transgender activism, if one wants to hear about issues with feminism-as-a-movement. I can probably even dig up a few examples, if there's a call for it.
1lukeprog10yYes please!
2AdeleneDawner10yI also just came across this [http://lipsbetweenthehips.tumblr.com/post/3814198697], which is a quote from a book [http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/ourschools-ourselves/feminism-real] that looks relevant. (More quotes from the same book here [http://www.racialicious.com/2011/03/08/feminism-for-real-deconstructing-the-academic-industrial-complex-of-feminism/] .)
2AdeleneDawner10yHere [http://meloukhia.net/2011/03/why_im_leaving_feminism.html] is the most recent example from my blogroll, and it has links to a few others as well.
1lukeprog10yIt doesn't critique feminism in general, and of course doesn't shed any light on objectification, but that's an interesting inside critique of a large part of a particular movement. Thanks for the link.
-3Strange710yDeliberately infecting yourself with the appropriate set of memes, yes.
0lukeprog10yI fixed the link, thanks. I know you don't want the job of Feminism Police. AnI didn't intend to "summon" you - hence the ? after you name - but I did request help. And it seems you're offering it - via IM - and I appreciate it. Let me do some more simmering, and then maybe we'll chat in IM. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing if anyone else can provide some insight. Cheers.
1Alicorn10yIt was the "on the basis of Sayeth the Girl" that I objected to more than the mere fact of the summoning. If you'd summoned me on the basis that I am the most karmalicious female poster or something, I wouldn't have remarked on it except maybe to verbally preen. AIM: Alicorn24; MSN: alicorn@elcenia.com; GTalk: elcenia@gmail.com (Anyone IMing me should identify themselves early on so I know you are not a random stranger.)
0lukeprog10yThanks. I'm making the rounds on the feminist blogs again. This one [http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/] is particularly useful, in addition to those you linked to.

For feminist blogs that aren't horribly ideological echo chambers, I recommend Clarisse Thorn and Ethecofem.

I'm a big fan of Finally Feminism 101. It shows how badly certain feminist arguments fall down when actually articulated. For instance, good luck parsing the argument for why male privilege exists, but female privilege doesn't:

No, what is commonly called “female privilege” is better described as benevolent sexism.

If I understand this correctly, FF101 would look at "women and children first" situations like the Titanic, HMS Birkenhead, and Srebrenica Massacre and say that women disproportionately being protected is not "female privilege," but rather "benevolent sexism." And keep in mind that by "benevolent sexism," FF101 means sexism towards women, not towards men. Even though it's the men who end up dead.

Because it's so much more sexist to be patronized with a spot on a lifeboat, rather than being left to die. For some reason, men getting disproportionately assigned to death doesn't count as sexism (towards men) or as a lack of privilege in the eyes of FF101. Something is very wrong with their moral philosophy.

So, why do women lack ... (read more)

8Alicorn10yRegarding "women and children first" etc. I agree with you completely that being put on a lifeboat is better than not being put on a lifeboat. Full stop. The men are clearly getting the raw end of this deal. They're being treated as disposable while the women and children are identified as precious. That is sexism, it's against men, and it's bad; the 101 FAQ is just wrong about that. However, that doesn't preclude the conceptualization of "women and children first" from being sexist against women (although a mere conceptualization does not actually, here, get any women killed and therefore is not as bad as the above, that doesn't mean it's not there or does not provide an example of a certain kind of generally propagated sexism-against-women that might call for investigation). The story about the Titanic encourages us to view the men as making a noble sacrifice and interpret the women who were saved as being, yes, precious, indispensable, but vaguely weak and pathetic. Being seen to make a noble sacrifice is inadequate recompense for discriminatory lifeboat assignments, but it is not zero, and the people who wrote the FAQ aren't hallucinating, they just have tunnel vision.
6HughRistik10yI completely agree, There is plenty of sexism to go around for everyone. The notion of sexism only effecting one gender comes from feminism, and I don't share it. So by pointing out sexism towards men in one context, I am in no way precluding sexism against women.
3waveman8yThis is a classic move, first dissected in Jean Curthoys's "Feminist Amnesia". When you are losing the debate about real human beings, when people start to point out pesky facts like the death gap, the homelessness gap, the conscription exemption, the violence gap, the infanticide gap, then change the subject to the concepts of man / women. Abuse Pythagoras for making up a list in which "male" is preferred to "female". And ignore all the ways that female is preferred to male (nurturing, cooperative, caring, nice, sharing, etc etc). The trouble with this move is that whatever we may conclude about the relative merit of concepts, the dead men are still dead. It would be more honest to do a scorecard and see if, on average, men have it better than women. Not the top 0.01%of men, but men in general. According to the OECD's analysis, in most countries they do not. http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/#/11111111111 [http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/#/11111111111] Even better, one could analyze how well off people are, and try and work out the factors that contribute to that. It may well be that the usual suspects are not the most important. As long as we stick to crude and prescientific techniques like picking out some semi-random characteristics as important, we are not going to get very far. A case in point: should Barack Obama's (obviously black, female) daughters qualify for affirmative action and preference getting into college, over a white male who was brought up in poverty?
2TheOtherDave10yOut of curiosity: is there any actual evidence that the "women and children first" trope actually does preferentially get men killed due to discriminatory lifeboat assignments (or equivalent) on any kind of significant basis? Or is this more of a cultural trope attached to some suggestive anecdotes? I mean, I understand how in theory it would have that result if in real emergency situations people actually behaved that way. And I understand how this can make the aggregate situation worse for men than women, if it is the strongest factor influencing people's behavior rather than just countering other equally sexist factors (e.g., socially conditioning women to not aggressively seek their own lifeboat seats). I'm just wondering whether it in fact does so in the real world.
4NancyLebovitz8yResearch on men, women, and children in shipwrecks [http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22119-sinking-the-titanic-women-and-children-first-myth.html] Short version: Men really were more likely to have died on the Titanic, partly because the captain's order of "women and children first" was interpreted to mean "men not permitted on lifeboats" rather than as "men get remaining seats". However, in most shipwrecks, men had the advantage. Also, captains typically didn't go down with their ships. wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_children_first]
0waveman8yNote that this study deliberately excluded shipwrecks where it was known women had survived at higher rates. My reading of the evidence is that, where time exists for an orderly exit, women did better. In exigent circumstances, where it was everyone for themselves, men fared better because they are stronger, better swimmers, etc. It is interesting that on the Titanic, women survived at much higher rates than children.
0TheOtherDave8yThanks for the info!

This Katja Grace post is related.

0lukeprog10yWhat a great post! Thanks for linking that.
2Raemon10yI feel that both that post and the accompanying Robin Hanson article ignore some important issues. I'm working on a response that explains why, but doing it right is going to take time.
1lukeprog10yI do appreciate the effort, Raemon!
0jsalvatier10yditto.
1jsalvatier10yIf you're not already reading Katja, you should be.

I don't want to make this an issue, at least until I'm more familiar with it. But I recall at least one comment in another thread questioning the concept of "privilege." Can someone link to a good, rational article that argues against the concept of privilege?

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, I recommend this article

(Please don't debate the issue here yet. I think it's relevant but I want to gather information before I decide if it's worth bringing up in more detail. If you do want to talk about it PM me).

4FAWS10yI have nothing against the concept of privilege, but perhaps the name is unfortunate. Privilege is mostly the state of being able to enjoy the absence of discrimination and similar bullshit against oneself so that one never even has to think about such issues, right? The word makes it sound like it's something bad, something you should feel guilty for, when in fact the only problem is that everyone should get that and many groups don't.
0Raemon10yIs there a better name you would use for it? I think it means pretty much what it says it means. Note that the article I linked begins by trying to disassociate privilege from guilt.
1atucker10yI think the concept of privilege is probably important, but I'm male and wouldn't totally know. Maybe defaultness as an alternative word? It seems pretty non-loaded to me.
4Skatche10yI think "defaultness" is altogether too non-loaded. To be in the default (the usual term is "unmarked [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markedness]") category does tend to confer advantage, but not always (for example, "rich" or "upper class" are marked). Privilege refers not only to the advantage enjoyed by certain classes of people over some minorities, but also to the blindness that privileged people tend to have toward the oppression the minorities face. It's called "privilege", rather than just "not-oppression", because treating privilege as unmarked contributes to its invisibility.
3TheOtherDave10yI will add to this that I frequently make a point of talking about "unexamined privilege" rather than "privilege" when I want to communicate the unmarked nature of it, precisely because the increasingly popular habit of using "privilege" to indicate not only the state of having advantages but the state of being unaware of those advantages causes a lot more confusion than it's worth (e.g., tedious discussions about whether it's preferable to get rid of one's privilege, which with the more confusing unpacking leads to the answer "Well, yes and no.").
0FAWS10yMy impression was that it was enough that you could be blind towards oppression, no actual blindness required, and that you wouldn't stop being privileged just because you became aware of oppression, i. e. that recognition of privilege didn't automatically negate it. Is that wrong?
1Skatche10yEr, yes, you're right. Privilege is the advantage enjoyed by the unmarked, or (capacity for) blindness toward oppression. One or the other will suffice, you don't need both.
0Raemon10yCome to think of it, "Status Quo Bias" is pretty relevant.
0Eugine_Nier10yThe conventional name for the concept FAWS described above is 'rights'.
3Raemon10yI think there's a distinction. I have the right to vote. If I were black, living in particular areas or time periods, I might still have to worry about whether that right will end up mattering in the real world. I guess I'd say that "privilege" is the word for rights that are not fairly implemented in practice. (though I don't actually believe in 'rights' as something that exists in the abstract. They're conventions we use because people collectively prefer to have them.)
3Sniffnoy10yWell, I'll go ahead and say that I find the terminology suboptimal. If I understand correctly, privelege is what results from not being marked. Therefore while the terminology may accurately reflect the phenomenologically, it misdescribes the supposed mechanism. And ideally the language we use should indeed reflect the mechanisms, to make reasoning about it more intuitive. Instead of the privelege of the unmarked we should (if we think this account is accurate) speak of the dispriveleged of the marked. I will say that use of the term "privelege" is useful in pointing out just what you gain from not being marked, because naturally that's not something the unmarked thing of very often. But I'm not sure it's the most helpful outside that rhetorical function.
3Raemon10yI don't think the function is merely rhetorical. Getting people to understand the advantages they have is an important subgoal of feminism. Ultimately we want to make it so that women have all the privileges that men have. But doing so requires not just the efforts of women but the understanding and efforts of men. I think the problem is not privilege in particular (whether you focus on "privilege" of white men or the disprivilege of others is splitting hairs IMO), but the way sexism and racism have become demonized in general. The most obvious forms of prejudice have been driven underground. This is a good thing. But there are still numerous ways in which women are subtly discriminated against. Such as, say, having the entire english language set up in a way that establishes them as "other." [http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html] The goal of the privilege discussion is to get men to notice and care about these things. It's possible that focusing on ways women are disprivileged will be more effective that how men are privileged. Dunno. But that effectives is the metric by which I measure the value of the word "privilege."
-2Sniffnoy10yAs I said, I agree it's effective at that. But if that's the whole goal, then surely more accurate/precise terminology should be switched to when actually discussing what's going on rather than getting people to notice?
6Raemon10yI really don't think there's anything inaccurate about the language. Privilege vs disprivilege are flipsides of the same coin. Compared to the myriad conflicting definitions of, say, Rationality [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/4vb/can_we_stop_using_the_word_rationalism/] , the lack of precision with the word "privilege" seems pretty minor to me. The cost of getting an entire community to change its definition is probably not worth the small improvement that would be gained by clarity to those just learning about it.
3Raemon10yActually, the more I think about it, the more I think "privilege" really is the right word, and that yes, it needs to place the emphasis on men. There are multiple goals to the privilege discussion, but I think the most important is to fight against the notion that men are "normal" and women are "other." The article that lukeprog linked had an important point: perfect equality is percieved as biased towards women. A woman who chooses to keep her maiden name is perceived as "owning the relationship," simply because it deviates from the "normal." It's "emasculating." In many circles, a group with 50% female population is perceived as "overwhelmingly female." See also Eliezer's take on Male Rationality [http://lesswrong.com/lw/bd/my_way/] Being other is inherently status lowering. Framing the discussion in terms of men having "normal" privileges and women having "abnormal" disadvantages is completely counterproductive. The privilege discussion is not about how to fix the problem (where I'd agree that precise language is important to make sure that everyone understands the solution) so much as establishing that the problem exists. And it makes perfect sense for feminists to do so in a way that raises women's status rather than continuing to lower it.
-2Sniffnoy10yI must object to the idea that the talk a phenomenon should be compartmentalized into different "discussions" with different "objectives" rather than attempting to obtain a sensible unified description that can be specialized as needed. It's true in general very different models may be needed for different aspects of a problem if the problem is hard enough, but that doesn't seem to actually help your case here. Furthermore: Er, isn't that the whole goal of feminism? In any case, it seems like we're talking somewhat at cross purposes. I'm demanding language be accurate so we can discuss problems precisely and work with them, while you are suggesting we sacrifice accurate language in order that we may fight the problem through the language itself. I don't see how we can resolve which approach is better without access to a lot of information we don't have.
3Raemon10yI may be wrong about this (I should probably check in on some feminist forums and get opinions from people working more seriously in the field) but I would say that the privileged discussion has a subgoal that is necessary for the supergoal of "actually fixing the problem." The goal of the privileged discussion is there to discuss what the problem IS and get people involved with it, because you can't actually fix the problem until a critical mass of people care. There is nothing inconsistent about that. I do not think there is such a thing as language without inherent impact. Demanding the kind of precise, abstract language we use here has a way of abstracting problems and removing the emotional context from them. Which is important. Sometimes. But emotional context is not meaningless. It is the emotional context that made the movement necessary in the first place. A technical dialogue that makes men normal and women abnormally is automatically contributing to lower status. It's not neutral. Agree with this. But my current take is: if the privilege discussion (and feminist movement) were just beginning now, I'd estimate the likelihood of technical language being superior maybe 30-40%. But since there's already a big movement with inertia that has chosen to use certain words, attempting to switch gears now would be problematic in all sorts of ways, and I think the effort of changing reduces the likelihood down to 5-10% tops. Really though, the issue is that the rest of the world does not share Less Wrong's rational standards. Feminism is part of the rest of the world, and yes a lot of feminists would probably benefit from being more rational. Use of the world "Privilege" is probably no more or less technically accurate than the general level of discourse throughout Feminist blogs. It's also no less technically accurate than the general level of discourse in the Western world. (I actually think it's several steps ABOVE the normal accuracy of discourse about women/m
-2MugaSofer8yHow about, crazy though this may sound, a woman advocating rationality?
0Raemon8yThat sounds like an excellent idea. My point was specifically targeted at guys that don't understand the array of signals they are sending.
1MugaSofer8yI wonder what gender someone anonymous would be treated as, if a woman could say this without bad signals and a male couldn't.
0Raemon8yI think an anonymous person would probably be assumed to be male. Fair? Maybe not, but the set of circumstances that resulted in that situation weren't really fair either.
-1MugaSofer8yOne would think a feminist community would strive to avoid such assumptions, though. So I'm left wondering.
0fubarobfusco8yHold off on proposing solutions. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ka/hold_off_on_proposing_solutions/] In subjects like this, a lot of the discussion seems to be about: * Hey, I have this problem .... * Oh, me too! Nice to meet you. * A lot of us seem to have this problem, or something like it. * It reminds me of this other problem _____. * Hold on, it's not like _____ for me because _____. * Is it like _____ for you? Yes, and _____ too. * Oh wow, it's good to hear this isn't just me being weird! * Is it similar to _____? Maybe, in these ways, but not in those ways. * What kinds of things have people done about it? Did that help? * If we _____, we'd best be sure not to _____ by mistake .... In other words, a lot of it is about confirming that a problem exists, that people are dealing with a shared reality and not just having unrelated personal difficulties, establishing that they can trust one another to discuss what might be difficult things to talk about, and establishing a vocabulary for talking about the problem — so that individuals have a better understanding of their situation and are able to choose what to do individually on the basis of others' situations too. Insisting that the problem be talked about in one particular vocabulary — that your language is "accurate" and the other person's language "sacrifices accuracy" — doesn't sound like the sort of thing that would help solve problems of this sort.
0Sniffnoy8yI'm not sure where you got the idea I was proposing a solution. I'm just pointing out that I think the current terminology is not accurate in terms of mechanism, and suggesting that we use terminology that better reflects the underlying mechanism (if I'm correct that it does not). Admittedly, that is a question in itself -- and in that sense I suppose I am proposing a solution to that particular subproblem -- but I make no claim that better terminology will somehow solve the ultimate problems feminism fights. Rather I'm suggesting we be clear on what's going on first (and use terminology that reflects that); that suggests far away from proposing solutions. I'm not really sure what to make of this statement. Some terminology is better than other terminology. Either what I'm suggesting more accurately reflects the situation, or it doesn't. Maybe I'm right or maybe I'm wrong, but that the question of which terminology is better is a question that can be discussed is something that should be uncontroversial.
2Raemon10yI'd like to know why I was downvoted. If I was downvoted because you think privilege isn't a useful concept, I'd appreciate it if you provided a good article (or your own words in PM) discussing why.
-2Eugine_Nier10yThe problem I have with the concept of privilege, is that in practice it's used as a way to avoid responsibility and rationalize failure. And not to infrequently guilt trip those who have achieved success, your article's professions that invoking privilege is not about guilt notwithstanding. Rationalist should win [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Rationalists_should_win], not sit around whining [http://lesswrong.com/lw/8t/whining_vs_winning/] that they lost because of bad luck/someone else's privilege..
6Raemon10yI do not doubt that there are plenty of people sitting around complaining about society rather than accomplishing their goals. But the discussions of privilege I've seen were written from a position of (at least moderate) success, and the point wasn't to identify reasons they failed, but to identify flaws in a system and try to fix them. The existence of people who use it to complain isn't relevant to whether the problem exists and how to fix it if it does.
2Broggly10ySometimes you win via trying to influence social mores such that a previously disadvantaged group is treated more fairly. Remember, "win" refers to your entire utility function which can include the wellbeing of others.
1atucker10yThis thread is about understanding what objectification is, in order to avoid offensive behaviors, understand why those behaviors are offensive, and better empathize with people who find them offensive. The fact that people use it as an excuse (what would feminists be excusing?) isn't really relevant, and dismissing the validity of those feelings (especially on the grounds that they wouldn't be acting like rationalists to complain) seems counterproductive. On top of that, I still think that understanding how the concept of objectification works would still be important in understanding what to do about it.
-1Eugine_Nier10yI don't think "avoiding offensive behaviors" is a worthy goal. Especially when you consider that a lot people tend to get offended by truth. Should we stop promoting atheism in the name of not offending theists? This is not just an abstract question. There are currently people using arguments based on privilege (something like 'western' privilege in this case) to argue that people should avoid saying or doing anything that would offend Muslims.
3atucker10yI think it is a worthwhile goal. There's a difference between being offensive because someone is fundamentally opposed to something that you're trying to do, something you are, or something you think, and being offensive simply out of your own ignorance about what people find offensive. A lot of times people aren't offended by the truth so much as how its told. And when someone is actually fundamentally offended by my being an atheist, then whatever, I'm not changing that. Rationalists should win, and that involves not shooting yourself in the foot for no reason.
1lukeprog10yAlso [http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/faq-what-is-male-privilege/] .

I'm far from being the right guy to answer this, but my $0.02: if I were one of the people in that photo, I'd probably feel a bit uncomfortable by the fact that the photo had been taken without my consent and republished here.

It wouldn't be a huge thing, but it would be unpleasant.

If I felt like you were treating me like one of the people in that photo when I was, say, going on a job interview or going out to dinner, I would feel extremely uncomfortable and pretty angry about it.

That suggests to me that treating people in my life the way you describe tr... (read more)

4lukeprog10yI can see why someone would be annoyed if treated as an object in all these ways when you're meeting them in person for dinner. But I don't see how that suggests that treating the representations of people in the photo is wrong. What's the logic, there? Also, if the issue is consent, then do all the photos where women give consent for their nude photos to be published pass the test? I think not. That's not what you were suggesting, but then I'm not sure what you were suggesting with that paragraph. Could you elaborate?
2TheOtherDave10yMy logic goes something like this: * As I said, I estimate that I would be made uncomfortable by being aware of having my image treated the way you describe treating the images of those people, and I would therefore prefer not to have my image treated that way. * I consider the people in that photo part of the same reference class that contains me -- that is, we're basically all people together -- and thus I infer from my estimated discomfort about my own counterfactual experience that they also would prefer to not have their images treated that way. * My credibly precommitting to the general principle of not treating people in ways they would rather not be treated (whether they know I'm doing it or not) lowers everybody's estimation of the likelihood that I am treating them that way (without their knowledge), which I endorse. (1) You may be asking a different question, though, which is something like "what's the logic for my being made uncomfortable by such photos of me being viewed in the first place?" And, well, mostly that's not a reasoned conclusion, it's an emotional reaction. That said, being treated the way you describe constitutes a reduction of my status, and status is a valuable thing, so I might well reason my way to the same conclusion if I had enough data. It doesn't seem a particularly flawed judgment. And, perhaps unrelatedly: yes, consent is relevant. If I give uncoerced and informed consent for someone to view certain photos of me, I am not made uncomfortable by their doing so. I infer from that, that if someone gives uncoerced and informed consent to having me view certain photos of them, they are not made uncomfortable by my doing so. Which makes that a completely different case. == (1) I have sort of picked up the impression that some folks arrive in some superior fashion at the same category of conclusions that I get at through thinking about the usefulness of credibly precommitting to
3lukeprog10yInteresting. My own emotions are different. I wouldn't mind being one of the people in the mud pit, having my photo taken unknowingly amidst such a large group. Also, on the issue of consent: If we required consent from each person in such photographs, it would be nearly impossible to ever publish photographs of large groups of people.
1TheOtherDave10yRe: consent... sure, I agree. Or at least more difficult. That doesn't change my conclusions about how consent informs my judgment of whether a particular act is OK. Re: your emotions... fair enough. If I use you as a reference class for those folks instead of me, my conclusion changes.
-1MugaSofer8yMy logic is similar, but I assumed the Playboy photo was staged, and thus the model presumably gave permission and indeed was paid for their trouble. So I think my reaction to that one is probably caused by something else.

I suspect that the main problem with objectification is when it's the only way that certain people interact with certain other people. It doesn't seem to be entirely avoidable, in any case, but recognizing that a person has agency and all that when it's important makes it okay to focus on other things at other times. It's also an issue when people are, or feel like they are, only treated in objectifying ways - socially-normal neurotypicals seem to have an innate need for validation of themselves-as-people that being treated in objectified ways interferes w... (read more)

You may want to see if you can find a good explanation of the term "male gaze". Unfortunately I don't have one - in fact if you do find a good one I'd appreciate it if you shared - but it seems highly relevant from what I've gathered.

Male Gaze.

9AdeleneDawner10y... I continue to be surprised by and impressed with TVTropes' usefulness when it comes to social issues. Thanks!

The framing allows everyone to turn their mind killers off, and the mission statement of entertainment means that concepts have to be presented so clearly that understanding them takes almost no effort at all, while there simply is no incentive to try to make anything sound profound.

1lukeprog10yAlso [http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/08/26/faq-what-is-the-%E2%80%9Cmale-gaze%E2%80%9D/] .
0lukeprog10yWhat would you think if the Muddy People photo was accompanied by the caption "Mud fights make for pretty pictures"?
1AdeleneDawner10y"Pretty" in particular is a word that gives me a lot of trouble - I've never actually been able to pin down a coherent, consistent meaning for it. Assuming that you're trying to get at a message of "the only interesting aspect of this picture is its aesthetics", though, I suspect that I would indeed find it objectionable, particularly if the picture itself was also edited to remove any bits that might be interesting for other reasons or to put focus on some particular aesthetic aspect at the expense of allowing other interpretations. (I'm more of a visual thinker than a textual one, so I find the composition of pictures to be more relevant than the captions, which I often don't even read. Some people are the opposite, so both are important in general.)
[-][anonymous]10y 2

Presumably, in "I don't understand why objectification is wrong" you have a plain English meaning of "wrong" in mind, and not something technical. Still, I wonder if you can explain what kinds of answers you would be looking for to a simpler or more abstract version of your question. Objectification is tendentious and controversial. Is there something more unanimously agreed on to be wrong whose wrongfulness can be explained in rational terms?

Take cruelty. If someone posted here "I have never understood why cruelty is wrong" and asked for help and arguments, what would people come up with?

3Pfft10yI think cruelty is a tricky example, because it's wrongness seems very close to axiomatic. But there are more tractable examples. If I ask "I have never understood why driving an SUV is wrong", you can reply that they harm the environment by consuming lots of fuel, and in a car accident they increase the risk of harming the other party.
3lukeprog10yRight; I don't have a technical definition for 'wrong' in mind. Whatever people mean by 'wrong' when they say objectification is 'wrong', that's what I'd like to understanding. I might disagree, but before I can agree or disagree I need to understand what is being claimed.
2Raemon10yI think this is a very important question but am not sure how to answer it in a way that'd be satisfying to everyone.
1atucker10yI agree that explaining why wrong is wrong is complicated (though, the metaethics sequence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Metaethics_sequence], particularly this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/sz/moral_error_and_moral_disagreement/] and this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/sm/the_meaning_of_right/], do a good job). I'm interested in what people mean when they say "objectification". So like, what's objectifying, why is it objectifying, etc. Stuff that makes it more obvious to a heterosexual male (who, to his knowledge either hasn't been or doesn't mind being objectified) what people are talking about when they say "objectification". In a way that just fleshes it out some more.

Perhaps I have been studying AI to much, but I do not really think of myself or anyone else as an observer at all. Sure I have an unusual capacity to react to my environment, but the entire process can be reduced down to a large number of electrical signals interacting in predictable ways. What I find strange is NOT thinking of people as objects. Does this have any effect on how I treat women? I don't think so... except perhaps an unusual ability to ignore people of both genders completely.

4Raemon10yIf by "too much" you mean "you are now a very different algorithm from most of humanity," then yes. For the record, I think of people as objects AND as observers (or, really, as "people.") I think in terms of objects when I'm trying to solve derive an answer for my own purposes and remain objective. I think in terms of people when I want my "human relationships" needs to be filled.

I voted this down, as it seems to me that bringing the topic up again will do far more harm than good.

9Raemon10yI think the issue is complicated and it definitely skirts the edges of mindkilling politics. But it's an important issue (both to the world in general and to us in particular), and if it's all possible for us to tackle in a respectful manner, we should.
9steven046110yWe didn't particularly successfully tackle the issue in the last few hundred commenter-hours devoted to it. I'm worried that there's a comparatively small number of people who just really like talking about these topics, and they tend to dominate the voting because they're a concentrated interest opposing the diffuse interest of site quality.
[-][anonymous]5y 0

Alan Soble questions the widely held Kantian view according to which human dignity is something that people have. He argues that objectification is not inappropriate. Everyone is already only an object and being only an object is not necessarily a bad thing. In one sense, then, no one can be objectified because no one has the higher ontological status that is required to be reduce-able by objectification. In another sense, everyone is vulnerable to objectification, and everyone can and may be objectified, because to do so is to take them to their correct ontological level.

3gjm5y(That paragraph is quoted from the Wikipedia article "Objectification"; why not credit your source?) That seems to me like a rather silly argument. Sure, everyone and everything is an object and in that sense treating someone as an object, or thinking of them as an object, can't possibly do any harm. But that obviously isn't what people are complaining about when they complain of "objectification". It couldn't be. Whatever your ontology, whatever you think of Kant, etc., it is generally agreed that people have minds, preferences, personalities, etc. When someone complains of "objectification" they generally mean (don't they?) that people are being treated in ways that neglect those specifically-personal features; in ways that treat them as objects-that-are-not-people. (Perhaps "depersonalization" would have been a better term.) For what it's worth, I am inclined to agree with Luke's analysis: what it's reasonable to complain of in cases of "objectification" is generally something else other than "objectification" itself as such. (But if there is a systematic pattern that some sorts of person get objectified much more than others, or get objectified in ways that consistently result in others getting a distorted view of what they're like, that could be worthy of complaint.) Regardless, there's no way an observation as trivial as "everything, people included, is an object; therefore 'X treats Y as an object' carries no information" can possibly tell us anything useful about ethics.
2[anonymous]5yit's redundant. It's not attributable to me, hence the quote. If someone is interested in attribution they can google it. after all: These are abstract objects themselves. They are the map to a mental territory. That's not true. Here's a more formal statement to help you understand the paradox that tells us one of the logical steps below is falsely specified: * objectification is treating something as an object (agreed) * everything is an object (agreed) * therefore everything is objectification (agreed) * if everything is objectification, and objectification is absolutely bad, then everything is absolutely bad (agreed) the false assumption is that: * objectification is absolutely bad It's not. If I hadn't been treated as the object of human and civil rights, I may not have the quality of life I have today, for instance.
1gjm5yOnly in the sense in which everything is redundant that can be found by googling. I don't find this a very useful sense. Sorry, but I don't know what relevance that bit of your comment has. Yup. Your apparent expectation that I'll disagree with that, and the argument you go on to present, make me think you have a wrong idea about what we disagree about. I am not denying that people are objects. I am saying: yes, of course, people are objects for at least one reasonable definition of "objects", but it should be obvious that no one complaining about objectification is complaining about treating people as objects in that sense. No, that is not "agreed"; it is the very point I am disagreeing with you about. Well: either that or "everything is an object", your next bullet point, depending on what definition of "object" we use. Suppose someone says this: "The Nazis treated Jews like animals: they transported them by rail to concentration camps where they were herded and given serial numbers and killed at will." and consider the following response: "But Jews are animals: they are, like all the rest of us, members of the species Homo sapiens, and as such animals rather than plants or fungi or archaeobacteria or rocks or whatever". Every actual statement in that response is perfectly correct, with an "inclusive" definition of "animal", but it completely fails to engage with the original statement which uses "animals" in its (very common) sense of "non-human animals" (one might say "mere animals"). Probably not even most Nazis would say that Jews are animals in that sense. Similarly, when someone complains that, say, some instance of pornography treats women "as objects", they obviously don't mean "objects" in the same sense in which all of us are objects. You can paraphrase their complaints by inserting words like "non-human" or "subhuman", or you can just accept that they're using "objects" in a more restrictive sense. But if you treat them as saying only that humans
2[anonymous]5yYes I misunderstand your key point Paraphrasing or recategorising aren't the only valid options. That is just one strategy people who use to resolve dissonance between the tone someone may use when saying: that attributes negative affect to the treatment, and the innocuous formulation of syntax when that tone is disregarded and the truth value evaluated independently. I reckon the issue with objectification is more about human tendency to self-pity, seek validation and such. Historically women where happier than men until steady declines from the 1970's till today. This coincides with the birth of second wave feminism, which seems to have taken an important human rights movement and turned it into a circlejerk of bitching about trivial things like objectification, while neglecting the important mission of first wave feminism in the less well off parts of society and the world. I reckon many people, particularly socially incompetent people feel the need to pander to social movements and their world views, and particularly gravitating around women, in order to compensate for their confusion. We don't see posts about ''colonialism''' or race to the same extent as gender on LessWrong for instance, because we have sex drives and not ''impress exotic people drives''. An example of pandering to social movements controlling for the gender effect is Wahabist Islam, which ignorant regular folk will strongly defend (aggregated under the banner of things like ""islam is peaceful'' or ''most muslims aren't like that'', when the real issue is a subset of them from a specific set are consitently like that, regardless of region (from Thailand to China to Africa), regardless of the character of the leader or whatever.
0gjm5yDo feel free to present others. (I confess that I'm not quite sure what you mean: aren't the only valid options for doing what? I say you should paraphrase or recategorize because if you keep the words and keep their meaning then you end up representing people who complain of "objectification" as saying something absolutely 100% ridiculous, which it is not reasonable to suppose they are doing. Are you saying there are other options for interpreting their words that don't require them to be total morons? Or are you saying that you're quite happy treating them as total morons, and that's what your other options are for?) The remainder of your comment appears to me to have nothing to do with the point at issue, being more a general complaint that feminists are unreasonable and socially incompetent people pander to social movements. Whatever truth there may be in that, it has very little to do with what people mean when they talk about treating people "as objects". I do not believe you. (Of course there are some people ignorant of what "Wahhabi" means, but it is not honest to take whatever they may say about Islam generally and pretend that they are saying it specifically about Wahhabism. If you give an accurate description of Wahhabi Islam to those regular folk they will mostly not defend it. If they happen to be regular folk who know what Wahhabism is, they will mostly not defend it.)

Seeing the list, the objection to objectification is in Stirner's terms an objection to not taking the the object as sacred, but instead viewing it as an object to be consumed and enjoyed.

I think this is a problem about talking about two different things with the same word. When most people talk about objectification, they are talking about utilitarian principles, yes. Objectification is not actually the issue. But they are calling the issue objectification because is sounds right.

Objectification is not actually the issue. What non-rationalists call objectification is.

I've read through the comments thus far, but relatively quickly, so please point out and forgive if any of this is exact rehash.


First, and directly concerning text in the post: one of the listed Ways to Objectify is denial of autonomy, and that is discussed briefly after the list. In later examples, lukeprog describes how we...

"...all use each other as means to an end, or as objects of one kind or another, all the time. And we can do so while respecting their autonomy."

The post implicitly casts denial of autonomy as the defining Bad Thing a... (read more)

The Playboy picture likely counts as objectification but seems like a terrible example. I'd illustrate it using someone keeping women around as status symbols. And note that it matters little for our purpose if one makes the women wear skimpy clothing like Hugh Hefner does -- giving them curfews and rules against dating so as not to embarrass the old man -- or puts them all in burqas. By contrast, finding a women attractive in part because she wants to have sex seems very far from objectification. (Technically I believe making a women sincerely beg for se... (read more)

Warning: potentially triggering.

Well, okay, first let's review some statistics. At least one in six women will be raped over the course of their lives; actually the numbers I see are usually significantly higher than this (rape statistics suffer due to extreme under-reporting). Moreover, about half the time it will happen (the first time) before they turn eighteen. Lastly, about two thirds of rapes are committed by friends and acquaintances of the victims.

So, if you take an adult woman at random from your community, there is a significant chance (agai... (read more)

I am infuriated by the suggestion that offense is precisely and only a form of status-seeking behaviour. Some white, heterosexual males might perhaps display their progressive values for the sake of signaling social status; but for visible minorities, there is quite a lot more at stake.

I suspect you underestimate the effects of status.

I have watched my status in the U.S., as a queer man, increase significantly over the last twenty years; this has translated directly into increases to my safety, my liberty, pretty much every aspect of my life. There is quite a lot more at stake in seeking and protecting status than you seem to be respecting.

All of that said, I apologize for infuriating you.

you'd think we'd start teaching men not to rape, but no, it's apparently up to women to stop this from happening to them

FWIW, I and many of the men I know were in fact taught not to rape. So we do seem to be starting to teach that, in at least some places and times.

2Skatche10yWell, fair enough. I still feel that the term "status" carries all the wrong connotations - images of high school popularity competitions and all that sort of thing - but I can see that wasn't your intention, so I'm sorry for singling you out. Yeah, progress is being made. I mainly see this sort of thing happening on university campuses, which means it's still only reaching a minority, but it's a start. I'd like to see this (handled properly) as part of standard high school sex education before I'd say we're really getting there, and ideally it would be taught at home to each individual child by their parents.
5TheOtherDave10yRe: the connotations of "status" -- for my part, I care more about having some label for the thing we're talking about than I care what the label is. Do you have a preferred term? In some contexts one can talk about "rank," or "privilege," or "juice," or "clout," or even "wealth," but I find them all too specialized for general use. I use "status" precisely because it can apply just as readily to high-school students trying to avoid ostracism as prison inmates trying to avoid assault as poverty-stricken peasants trying to avoid starvation, which is useful when trying to talk about the thing they all have in common.
4AdeleneDawner10y"Kyriarchal [http://unapologeticallyfat.blogspot.com/2009/10/kyriarchy-101.html] advantage" is a bit of a mouthful, but it might be useful, especially if you want to differentiate between status that's granted as a result of being in a particular reference class vs. status that has been personally earned.
0Raemon10yThank you for that post. I'm not sure what "Kyriarchal" is supposed to mean, but the article made a lot of sense and shows how complicated it is.
7TheOtherDave10yWell, "Kyrie" is generally translated as "Lord," so a kyriarchal system is presumably one which is ruled by the people who rule it.
3AdeleneDawner10yYep, basically that - any system where certain people intrinsically have more status/power than others is kyriarchal. Notably, most activism communities are still just as kyriarchal as mainstream society, except with regards to the specific issue that they're doing activism about. (Some of them are even kyriarchal with regards to their own issue - notably disability activism, where many activists focus on getting more power for people in situations like their own without much concern for other kinds of disabilities.)
1AdeleneDawner10yGlad it's appreciated. I've been waiting for an opportunity to pull that out. ^.^
1Skatche10yI thought about it, and unfortunately I can't think of a good, widely-known alternative, although as far as neologisms go, I find this "Kyriarchial advantage" rather appealing.

At least one in six women will be raped over the course of their lives; actually the numbers I see are usually significantly higher than this (rape statistics suffer due to extreme under-reporting).

That only holds if the fact that rapes are under-reported was not used in calculating the estimate that one in six women will be raped. The site you linked to gives no reason to think that's the case, it's pretty likely that less than one in six women reports a rape, and then estimates of reporting rate were used to get an estimate of one in six.

(Edit to add) That is, if the "1 in 6" is an actual estimate of rapes; the Eric Raymond piece Eugine Nier linked seems to indicate that there never was such an estimate, the 1 in 6 number originally also included attempted rape, and then turned into a number of actual rapes by a game of Chinese whispers.

3Skatche10yActually, most of the numbers I've seen in my researches are in the ballpark of one third to one half, with about one quarter of women being raped before they turn 18. The site I linked to was simply the first that came up in a Google search, so I wouldn't have to dig for references, and so that I could give an estimate on the conservative side. It's true that such statistics are methodology-sensitive, but everything I know about rape seems to suggest that the weight is heavily toward under-reporting. Women who report being raped are liable to face an onslaught of abuse and victim-blaming from the criminal system and even from their own peers, and rape trials rarely end in conviction, so a lot of victims never bother. Even then, many rape victims suffer from psychological problems (which contribute to their being targeted), and therefore come to believe that they deserved what happened to them, no matter how degrading or violent. In this case they may not conceive of it as rape, especially if the rapist is their partner or spouse.
2nthmost10yEven if the actual measurement is 1 in 6 rapes-AND-attempted-rapes, that's still horrible, and still connotes chronic psychological trauma to an entire category of human being.

Defense against status attacks is in no way illegitimate, status is one of the most valuable commodities humans have, and often considered literally worth dying for, as proven by countless suicides in defense of status ( seppuku, Romans falling onto their sword etc). Just because current society brands recognized status moves as illegitimate doesn't mean denying the status component of social problems makes it go away, or that they can still be usefully analysed without.

Yes, describing a legitimate behavior in status terms factually constitutes a very serious attack on people who depend on the viability of that behavior if it is accompanied with the usual delegitimazation. And discussion here so far possibly hasn't taken that into account sufficiently and so inadvertently damaged many legitimate causes that depend on the power of offense. But that doesn't change any facts.

Rape looks in large parts like a status problem to me (I in no way mean to make light of rape, as said status is extremely important, even worth dying for). One of the things that make rape so horrible is that it's pretty much the largest status degradation possible (and since status can be worth dying for the s... (read more)

6Eugine_Nier10yEric Raymond gives a good discussion here [http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3011] of what's wrong with that statistic. This doesn't leave me with the feeling that your other statistics are accurate.
7Skatche10yCorrect me if I'm wrong, but it appears that Mr. Raymond's argument is roughly as follows: * Not all rapes are forcible. * Incidence of forcible rape among women is lower than 1 in 6. * Therefore the incidence of rape among women is lower than 1 in 6. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to puzzle out the error in that one. Also note that there's no mention of how "over-reporting" and "false allegations" are determined. My guess is that this is based on the conviction rate (I don't know how else you'd do it), in which case you run into precisely the problems I mentioned.
8Emile10yNo, his argument is more than that, I suggest you read it again. You seem to have skipped the part where he says that the "1 in 6" statistic covered both rapes and attempted rapes. Basically he looks for where the "1 in 6" figure comes from, and finds a figure that are lower. You may criticize his methodology, but recalculating the value yourself seems like a better strategy than repeating a statistic of dubious origin.
8Eugine_Nier10yThe point here is that feminists tend to use a definition of "rape" that is vastly more general then what the word commonly refers (it tends to boil down to "any sex you regret in the morning") to in order to inflate the statistics. I'm not sure, how are you determining your "extreme under-reporting"?

For under-reporting, look here. Even amongst high-school students, the incidence rate was as high as one in five women, and half of these had never told anyone about the incident.

The point here is that feminists tend to use a definition of "rape" that is vastly more general then what the word commonly refers (it tends to boil down to "any sex you regret in the morning") to in order to inflate the statistics.

I'm sorry, but this is absolute nonsense. In fact this is precisely the kind of nonsense that gets used to systematically belittle and trivialize rape victims, and which leads to the under-reporting I mentioned.

The typical popular model of sexuality goes something like this. The woman has, i.e. possesses, sex; the man wants to get it from her. She, on the other hand, wants to hold onto it for the best mate she can find (in order to get married, etc.). Therefore his job is to put on the moves, and her job is to put on the brakes. However, if she resists, then she's a bitch, because he deserves it after all, therefore she better not resist. If she does resist she might just be playing hard to get, because after all she really wants it, so as long as ... (read more)

Though obviously the consequences aren't as severe, it works the other way too: it can be the woman who has the model that she must play hard to get even when interested (thereby diminishing the information value of even the sincere rejections), and the man who views this mentality as batshit insane. (Consider the effects on the incentive profile and the kind of man this selects for.)

6Skatche10yYes, absolutely. This is actually where "Yes Means Yes" got its name: the authors were looking for a positive view of female sexuality, which is to say, the freedom for women not only to turn down propositions but also to fully explore their own desires.
9PhilGoetz10yBut enthusiastic consent doesn't always happen, because women routinely use male sexual aggressiveness as a filter. These women make the man do all of the initiation and all of the advancing, and may put up "last-minute resistance" to having sex the first time, because they only want to have sex with men who are aggressive enough to overcome this resistance. This is probably related to the high prevalence of rape fantasies [http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psyched/200805/why-do-women-have-erotic-rape-fantasies] among women. Men seldom fantasize about being raped; surveys indicate most women have. And most romance novels depict the heroine being raped, usually by the hero. And I've had women ask me to pretend to rape them, because it gets them more excited. And it's also related to the strong attraction some women feel towards violent men. Even men who display violence only towards women. Men who are in prison for murdering their wives get unsolicited offers of marriage from women who haven't met them. The more violent the murder was, the more solicitations they get. The best thing women can do to make men stop acting aggressively towards women, is to stop rewarding men who act aggressively towards women. (Of course, to do so would be to deliberately change evolved human values.)

The best thing the subset of women who reward men who act aggressively towards women can do is stop rewarding. Those who already don't reward it don't have "stop rewarding it" as an option.

9PhilGoetz10yTrue. But they do have the option of shunning other women who reward it. Or of mentioning it as an option, when they write books about male aggression.
6Skatche10yThat women should learn to take a more assertive role in their own sexual fulfillment is one of the main themes of Yes Means Yes, and is more or less the unanimous view of mainstream feminism today.
9Skatche10yI have mixed feelings about this. In the first place, while I've seen this dominance-seeking theory tossed around, I've never heard it from a reliable source, nor backed by solid evidence. I consider it reasonably likely that there are some women out there who prefer to be pseudo-"forced" into sex, but I have no reason to think they are anything close to a majority - in fact, I've never met a woman who feels this way, though my social circle is not necessarily representative of the general population in this respect. As a model of typical human sexual roles, this is most likely false - a bit of wrongheaded folk psychology tossed around by Nice Guys™ [http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Nice_guy_syndrome]. There's always a significant danger, when making these sorts of claims, of victim-blaming: of putting the responsibility on rape victims to solve their own problems. I think you're right, however, in identifying feminine sexual roles as part of a more general problem: even beside the rape epidemic, our sexual milieu is far from healthy. I think there is indeed a burden on women to learn to take the initiative and ask for what they want, simply because no one else can do it for them. Even mock rape scenes can be safely enacted if properly negotiated beforehand. In the meantime, however, men can facilitate the process by healthier gender roles ourselves. Sure, a little bit of swagger is a turn-on, in men and women alike. But this is not the same thing as being pushy. A man who can coolly and confidently articulate his desires (when appropriate) in a way that doesn't impose them on the object of his attraction becomes about an order of magnitude more attractive himself.
4MugaSofer8yWhile this is a phenomenally stupid and dangerous position to hold, it does not in any way disprove or even address the claim that these studies are conflating actual rape, of the kind which causes serious trauma and involves forcing someone to have sex with you, (for a wide definition of "forcing", of course,) with consensual sexual activity which is later "regretted". I'm not going to endorse that claim, but talking about how some people interpret refusal as "playing hard to get" or selfishness or any of a number of things rather implies that you have pattern-matched Eugine - correctly, for all I know - onto your model of the misogynist Enemy rather than engaged with his point.

The point here is that feminists tend to use a definition of "rape" that is vastly more general then what the word commonly refers (it tends to boil down to "any sex you regret in the morning") to in order to inflate the statistics.

I haven't spent a whole bunch of time on this topic, but I've never actually run into a definition of rape that could be described that way. Citation?

3Raemon10yThe comment Skatche just made above I think does a pretty good job of explaining what feminists consider rape, and I think it's easy to infer why non-feminists who only hear the cursory explanation get confused and feel that feminists are "exaggerating" it.
2AdeleneDawner10yI'm actually aware of the concept of enthusiastic consent, and even considered including an explanation of it in my comment. It's not obvious to me how that could look even remotely close to 'any sex you regret the next morning' - the principle of enthusiastic consent leads to a definition that doesn't even particularly correlate with that unless you add a qualification that one of the partners must consider it rape in order for it to be rape.

Considering that some feminists have argued that all heterosexual sex is rape, he's not exaggerating that much. The ones who make the studies he was referencing do things like making questionnaires that ask questions like "Have you ever pushed a girl into bed to make her have sex with you?" and counting that as rape to inflate the statistics, because more rapes = more money for the rape services they work for.

7TheOtherDave10yIf I came to believe that I'd made someone have sex with me by applying force, and we hadn't previously negotiated the terms of that scene, I would consider that an instance of rape and I would feel pretty awful about it. So I don't reject the results of that survey on those grounds. I understand that you do reject it, and presumably you would similarly disagree about that hypothetical case. A lot of people would. I understand why, and I don't want to get into a discussion of which of us is correct because I don't expect it to lead anywhere useful. But you should at least be aware that your position isn't universally held, even among men who believe in the existence of consensual heterosexual sex.
4nick01200010yWell, obviously there's a difference between violently throwing someone into a bed, and joking around and playfully pushing them on the shoulder to signal them to get into the bed, but my point is that the studies conflate the two and everything in between them and classify them all as rape. Just check "yes" in the box, and voila, you're a rapist.
4TheOtherDave10yI agree that there's a difference between those two things. I agree with you that conflating the difference between those two things is problematic. I disagree with you that the example you give conflates that difference. If I had pushed someone onto a bed to signal to them that I wanted to have sex with them (I've undoubtedly done this many times, though I can't currently remember specific examples) I would not say "yes" if asked whether I'd ever pushed someone onto a bed to make them have sex with me. The key word for me is "make." If I make you have sex with me, that's different from playfully encouraging you to have sex with me.
4AdeleneDawner10yExactly so. I do think that wording the question that way is a bit questionable, though, since it can easily be misread.
0TheOtherDave10y(nods) Surveys are problematic that way, in general. The only way I know of to get around it is to phrase every question several different ways and look for variation among the answers based on the phrasing. The safest move is probably to simply discard any question where the answer depends too much on the phrasing, although in practice that probably means discarding all survey results ever. Mostly, survey results are good for comparing results on the same survey over time.
2Skatche10yUpvoted for actually bothering to listen to what feminists are saying. That model has long since fallen out of favour, though, for obvious reasons: see e.g. Rethinking Rape by Ann J. Cahill. The "enthusiastic consent" model is currently one of the most popular, and I think it captures pretty accurately what we should consider a healthy, versus an unhealthy or coercive, sexual encounter.
0MugaSofer8yThat ... sounds like it would predictably overestimate the amount of rapes. Unhelpful though this may be, not everyone has adopted "enthusiastic consent" in their day-to-day lives.
2wedrifid8yI, for example, occasionally merely agree amicably to have sex, without any enthusiasm. (For example if it the third time that day.) I think I've even agreed reluctantly at some point. Yet I haven't been raped and anyone who tried to tell me I had been raped because I did not give "enthusiastic consent" is both wrong and grossly disrespectful of me and my right to make choices about what I do with my own body.
1MugaSofer8yIn fairness, they would probably just add you to rape statistics without telling you. Much less offensive.
1Emile10yBy the way, I've been reading through the comments on that post, some of them are quite good, there's some willingness to work the maths out, change one's mind that seem to be signs of mature, rational discussion (there's also a bit of political feces-flinging, but that can be easily ignored).
0MugaSofer8yTo be absolutely clear here: your problem with "objectification" is because it encourages slut-shaming rape victims? Because I'm still unclear after reading your comment as to how there's cause and effect there.
1Skatche8yNot quite. One of my problems with objectification is that it implies certain attitudes which -- among other things -- create a favourable environment for rapists. That being said, I wrote the above comment at a time when rape was particularly salient to me, and may have overstated its relevance to this issue; I would now argue, more generally, that objectification openly expressed within a social group signals to women (almost by definition!) that they are regarded as objects and will not receive the status of full personhood within that group. Because these attitudes can be difficult if not impossible for women to correct by speaking out, many make the decision to withdraw from the group, further tilting the power balance toward the men.
-1MugaSofer8yFair enough. I can certainly see how that could happen.

Personally, I like objectifying women. I get erotic pleasure from it, along with a lot of other things that involve women being degraded and humiliated; put simply, my fetish is for the lowering of women's status.

Obviously, I would need to compartmentalise this to function in day to day society, as well as avoid violations of ethics; rape is, after all, very wrong, even if it is a quite sexy idea. So, would any of the other Less Wrongers be willing to help me more efficiently box it off, so I can open it up without needing to do what amounts to mentally ch... (read more)

I hope this is being downvoted for the second paragraph and not the first paragraph. There are women out there whose fetish is their status being lowered, and they need boyfriends too.

Even if it were being downvoted for the first paragraph, this would not necessarily constitute disapproval of the existence of the fetish. It is an altogether too personal announcement, as opposed to something more appropriate like "Complicating the issue is the fact that objectification, like many other things, can be sexually fetishized; there is not an obvious solution for dealing with "leaks" from the fetish-oriented mindset into the rest of an individual's behavior."

(I downvoted the grandparent, mostly because I felt the comment was staggeringly inappropriate in its entirety, and it also put me in a position where I did not dare reply. Not out of any fear for my safety - I had none resulting from the comment - but because it prompted me to consider any reply I might make to be some kind of sexually-charged interaction however innocuous the content might be. After all, nick012000 does not claim to have achieved adequate compartmentalization. I feel like I'm entitled to not knowingly participate in someone else's sex life if I don't want to - that is, whatever they get off on thinking about later is fine, but as soon as they tell me that some ordinary thing I'm doing may be sexually charged for them, my choice is to end the interaction or to voluntarily have a sexual interaction. So effectively, informing me of such a thing is driving me away from a place I was otherwise interested in being.)

0nick01200010yI'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable; that wasn't really my intent. Getting assistance in better compartmentalisation techniques was my intent, though I figured I'd get some downvotes given that the Less Wrong community usually tries to reduce compartmentalization [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2q6/compartmentalization_in_epistemic_and/], not increase it, though decreasing compartmentalisation does not seem like a good idea in this case for the reasons I laid out in my previous post. I assure you, I did not post that for any sort of sexual thrill; it'd take something like cybersex or an erotic story for me to get a sexual thrill out of anything I've written, so unless you start cybering with me or something, you're safe, Alicorn. ;) I'm simply open about that part of my sex life, partly because of Asperger's Syndrome mind-blindness, and partly because I'm planning on working in a sensitive field once I finish university and I won't need to worry about being blackmailed about it if I'm not worried about people finding out.

This is not good enough.

I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable

That's not what a real apology looks like. Better would be "I'm sorry. I can see now that I shouldn't have said what I said in a forum such as this."

I assure you, I did not post that for any sort of sexual thrill; it'd take something like cybersex or an erotic story for me to get a sexual thrill out of anything I've written, so unless you start cybering with me or something, you're safe, Alicorn. ;)

This is making matters worse. Don't backhandedly suggest that Alicorn 'cybers' you, or even 'put' the image of cybering 'out there'. This is doing exactly what Alicorn doesn't want, namely making your interaction on this forum "sexually charged".

(I want to help you, btw. I may very well have Asperger's myself, so to some extent this is a case of "there but for the grace of FSM go I".)

7nick01200010yI can see what you mean, but I would be more likely to say something like "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." The reason I said it is because this thread seemed like the best place to say it, so saying that I shouldn't have said it here is obviously incorrect. Huh? I was trying to do the opposite; to reassure her that it wasn't sexually charged, because she wasn't cybering with me. O_o

I think the problem is that you don't understand how you made a mistake. Therefore, you're unable to apologize.

The problem isn't that your intentions are wrong. Intentions aren't obvious things, and people are not authorities on their own intentions, especially when it comes to sex. A man will pursue a woman without realizing it; or they realize it "in the moment" but afterwords confabulate an alternative explanation.

But none of us are entirely in control of our desires, and nor should it be expected that, given certain desires, that we wouldn't try to satisfy them. But sexuality is full of ulterior motives, and this is what makes relations between the sexes so difficult. I upvoted Eliezer's post because the substance of what he said is correct, and if you said only the first paragraph I wouldn't have so much of a problem with it. Maybe it could have been said better, but it's only a blog comment.

But in the context of "making women more comfortable in online communities" I think we have to deal with the scenario where women have to adopt the heuristic of "guilty until proven innocent" whenever discussion seems to be the least bit sexually charged... (read more)

8HughRistik10yGood work actually explaining to nick about social norms. Readers should note that he identifies as having Asperger's Syndrome and "mind blindness," and is trying to learn.
4Gray10yWell, I'm just coming to understand them at an intellectual level. Thank you for your posts related to PUA. I've found many of them insightful, and I'm trying to put something together that works for me.
2HughRistik10yI'm glad; you're welcome.

unless you start cybering with me or something

This suggests - yes, very indirectly - that that's a thing that could plausibly happen. Also, the wink suggests 'there is subtext here'. Taken together, they imply things that I assume you weren't intending to imply - along the lines of 'I am talking with you about sex in part because we have a relationship where that kind of discussion happens, rather than purely for instrumental reasons'.

9Paul Crowley10yI worry a little that you might dismiss some of the reaction as motivated by a problem with the fetish itself, so I wanted to say that, speaking as someone who has similar fetishes, who has acted on them many times, and who is out and proud about it: you should listen to what people are saying here about why what you've said here was inappropriate.
2FAWS10yI see that you want to make an honest apology. Here is a suggestion for an honest apology that hopefully won't sound like a faux apology: "Sorry. I did not intend to make you upset. I acknowledge that it was my post that made you upset (I take your word for it. I don't completely understand how, but that's my own problem). I regret that I was not able to make my point without upsetting anyone." An apology requires accepting responsibility for what you are apologizing for. It would be better to include a concession towards avoiding similar problems in the future ("I shouldn't have ...", "I'll ... next time" ), but I don't know which such statements you can honestly make. I haven't tried anything like the suggestion myself so I can't guarantee results. It should work here, but I'm doubtful about other contexts. You probably shouldn't include the part in parentheses if the other person doesn't know you have Asperger's.
5AdeleneDawner10yAlso consider "I will work on figuring out how to avoid that mistake in the future", if you're not sure what you actually did wrong. Figuring out where the mistake was in the first place is an early step in figuring out how to avoid it in the future, so this covers that, without highlighting just how close to the beginning of the process you are (which tends to make people uncomfortable). It also implies but doesn't state that you will actually take steps to avoid the mistake in the future, so if you decide that the effort of avoiding that mistake is not worth the inconvenience to others, you won't have lied.
3Paul Crowley10ysuggests that the point could not have been made without causing upset, which isn't true.
3FAWS10yPerhaps "... did not manage to make my point ..." ?
2Perplexed10yI hope that they don't learn that here is the place to find them.

Not that one fetish in particular, no. But speaking much more generally, part of the concept behind the rationalist mate is that we're supposed to do a bit of consequentialist reasoning before going "Ew!", and try to set things up so that people are happy instead of making them do the ideologically correct thing.

The main way "objectifying women as sexual fetish" is a problem ("problem": something that prevents people from being happy) is if (1) the person doesn't understand the difference between having a sexual fetish and stating an ethical value or (2) if there's a large difference between the number of men who have that fetish and the number of women, so that they can't pair up.

2Psy-Kosh10yHrm... just a thought re point 2: in the case of group1 of gender A enjoying lowering the status of their partners, and group2 of gender B enjoying having their status lowered, if size group 1 < size group 2, that could work out. ie, I'd imagine that a situation where members of group 1 having harems of members of group 2 could potentially work well on both sides of the equation. size group 1 > size group 2, however, could potentially be more of a problem since in that case the analogous solution does not seem to present itself as working as well for both groups. (Or did I miss some obvious aspect of the relevant psychology?)
7Eliezer Yudkowsky10yWell, the problem with e.g. the number of women who enjoy lowering male status and the number of men who enjoy their status being lowered is that group 1 << group 2 to a degree unsolvable with any realistic harem size.
0Psy-Kosh10yHrm... Fair enough then. (Actually, to what extent are there stats on that sort of thing available? ie, do we actually know that in that case the the ratio is that bad?)
2Eliezer Yudkowsky10yIIRC there are stats and it is that bad.
5Psy-Kosh10yYet another way in which the world fails to be optimized, in that case. To borrow a reddit meme: "Scumbag Reality"
7Alicorn10yIf group1 > group2, then group1 members can agree between themselves to share members of group2 with each other, which seems like it might be satisfactory given enough flex in the relationship preferences of those involved.
2Psy-Kosh10yThat occurred to me, but I see a problem with that outcome like so: From the perspective of members of group 2, being traded around/used like that would be enjoyably status lowering... However, from the perspective of members of group 1, if you have a small subgroup of them sharing a member of group 2, then if they perceived that at all as part of the sexual interaction, then they might have a problem with the fact that each of them are failing to lower the status of the majority of others in the interaction. (ie, members of group 1 interacting with other members of group 1, having to do so on an equal basis only getting to dominate/degrade the (fewer) members of group 2.) (Or did I misunderstand a key aspect of this sort of thing?) We need a mathematical theory to analyze optimal arrangements for these sorts of relationships given various input demographics! :) (Why yes, I am in a rather silly mood at the moment. ;))
0Paul Crowley10ySpeaking as a member of both groups, I don't think this is going to be a problem in practice :-)
0Psy-Kosh10yYou're a member of group 1 of gender A and group 2 of gender B? *ducks* Seriously though, which part are you claiming wouldn't be a problem? Eliezer's suggestion that the numbers are sufficiently different as to cause a problem? My suggestion as to a problem that occurs when the numbers are skewed in a certain direction?
5Strange710yThat may sound flippant, but consider: http://healthymultiplicity.com/Zyfron/Gemini/?webcomic_post=episode-67-d-none-of-the-above [http://healthymultiplicity.com/Zyfron/Gemini/?webcomic_post=episode-67-d-none-of-the-above] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switch_%28BDSM%29 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switch_%28BDSM%29] There probably is at least one person in exactly that situation, and it would be very important to clarify if they were, because their optimal solution is likely to be different from most peoples'.
5AdeleneDawner10y(Interestingly enough, I can confirm that LW has at least one (set of) fairly regular reader(s) who is (are) multiple and significantly genderqueer (in several senses!) and involved in BDSM. Not sure how many of the BDSM roles are relevant, tho.)
3Strange710yThis does not surprise me in the slightest. People who find a different way of thinking/defining identity, and benefit by it, tend to check out at least a few other paradigm-shift subcultures just to see what else they've been missing out on, with the result that: http://healthymultiplicity.com/Zyfron/Gemini/?webcomic_post=episode-77-%E2%80%9Cnormal%E2%80%9D [http://healthymultiplicity.com/Zyfron/Gemini/?webcomic_post=episode-77-%E2%80%9Cnormal%E2%80%9D]
-3Perplexed10yEw!
5Eliezer Yudkowsky10yOkay, but you did the consequentialist reasoning first, right?
0Perplexed10yI believe so, but I'm not totally sure how to formulate and communicate the reasons for my disagreement. I'm pretty sure though that the proper way to characterize the alternatives here is not "setting things up so that people are happy" vs "making them do the ideologically correct thing". If you want to engage on this, I suppose I would start with a question: is there something special about sexual fantasies that makes them deserving of being indulged - something that would not apply to other fantasies that people would prefer not to see carried out in fact? For example, if I enjoy fantasizing about brutalizing and terrorizing people while wearing a white robe and hood, is that something I should indulge as fantasies, so long as I don't act on them? Does it matter whether these fantasies are classified as sexual fantasies?
9[anonymous]10ySex fantasies are usually indulged when people are engaged in sex activity and not otherwise. Your example would be less disturbing, at least to me, if you qualified it with something similar--someone who enjoys fantasizing about brutalizing people while playing video games sounds less dangerous than someone who enjoys fantasizing about brutalizing people full stop.
2Perplexed10yWould it be less disturbing still if I told you that I don't fantasize about brutalizing people - full stop? Would people here be congratulating me and asking how I did it if I said I used to have such fantasies, but had managed to hack my utility function so that I no longer find such fantasies attractive? If I did that hacking, would I not only seem less dangerous - would I not also be less dangerous? I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland here. Alice: What is that horrible ALL CAPS noise in this well-tended garden? If I downvote it, will there be less of it? Humpty Dumpty: Oh, I hope you are not going to downvote that! It is the mating call of Homo lesswrongis. Think of it as the sound of people striving to become happy. Alice: But the question is: Can you make a garden mean so many different things to so many different people? Humpty Dumpty: The question is: who is to be the master? NEXT!
2[anonymous]10yThis is a weird way to follow up on:
3Psy-Kosh10yWhat do you do about the people who have a fetish for analytically considering the subject of fetishes? Of course, one eventually runs into a bit of a technical difficulty [http://xkcd.com/468/]. :)
[-][anonymous]10y 14

I get the frustration of being into something that's not perfectly nice and sanitary and "appropriate." And I understand the impulse to rebel and rant when you see a post that tells you that your preferences are Bad. But I do encourage you to stick around and keep a cooler head; in the long run, it is rewarding to participate in some forums and activities that are non-sexual and don't involve smutty language.