For all of the highly contentious debates among feminists — what is a woman? what is feminism? is Beyoncé a feminist? is Taylor Swift a feminist? — one matter that’s fully settled is objectification. Namely, that it is bad. To objectify someone is to look at her and see an object, usually a sexual one, rather than a fully formed human with opinions and feelings and a sense of humor. When men harass women on the street or, say, share nude pictures of them without their consent, objectification is at work. Research shows that women who realize they’re being objectified turn that gaze on themselves and start viewing themselves as a collection of body parts rather than a wholly formed woman. A recent study even found that men who objectify their partners are more likely to coerce them sexually.
This latest study piqued my interest because, while we can all agree the objectification of women has some pretty awful cultural consequences, it’s a far trickier matter within a relationship. Researchers Laura Ramsey and Tiffany Hoyt define objectifiers as "men who frequently survey their partners’ bodies” and think about their partners’ appearances. But isn’t that, I found myself wondering, every man — every person — who’s in a sexual relationship? And isn’t it necessary to keep that sexual relationship going in the long run?