Tag Archives: objectification

The Subjective Objection

You are probably aware of the recent news story about the woman in Florida who was robbed, beaten, stripped naked and abandoned in a field by the person she was out with on a first date.  You must have heard about this.  Jay Leno made a joke about it three nights in a row.  I know, right?  Hilarious!  I mean what a loser.  And on a first date!  Maybe things will go better on the second date, and—

Hey, why aren’t you laughing with me?  Come on, it’s funny.  Oh, okay, I admit, it’s not true.  It wasn’t a woman.

It was a man.

Other than that, it’s completely true, including the punchline.  He was beaten, robbed, left naked in a field and Leno made a joke about the second date.  And the audience laughed.  I didn’t.  I was furious.  Because where was the concern, the compassion, the outrage?  Apparently, that’s all been used up by the people taking me to task for posting pictures of pretty women on my website.

I’m trying to remain reasonable and objective here, but it’s hard.  And to the women who are jumping down my throat for “harming” women by liking beauty, I say this: what the hell is wrong with you?  Where are your priorities?  Or do you subscribe to the bullshit line that says only women can be victims?  I dare you to take a stand on violence against men.  Go on, let’s hear your sadness about hunky beefcake photos.


That’s what I usually hear.  And it sickens me.  Men are the only class left it’s okay to victimize.  We can make fun of them, engage in the most awful stereotyping, anything.  Make fun of women and you are a sexist.  But make fun of men and it’s okay.  In fact, it’s what they deserve!

Well enough is enough.  If I’m wrong for celebrating beautiful women, then everyone else is wrong for demonizing men.

You know why my photos are predominantly women?  Partly because I like women, true.  But also, to a great extent, because that’s what I can find.  I don’t take the photos myself (I wish!).  I find them on line.  And the internet is full of photos of women in stages of very artistic, attractive nudity.  Men are a different story.  There are far fewer images to be found, and what there is is either really non-nude, or outright pornography, and pretty raunchy at that.  Very little middle ground.

There are reasons for this.  Men are larger consumers of these sorts of images.  That’s why most of it appeals to men.  And that’s also, I suspect, why so many women raise objections.  Because they aren’t attracted to images of that sort.  It’s easy to disparage things you yourself have little interest in, and to demean those who do like it.

But it’s also true that our society is much more comfortable with the female nude than the male.  Topless images scarcely raise an eyebrow any more.  Rear images also are largely seen as tame.  Even full-frontal nudity isn’t automatically going to raise a hue and cry.  But let there be even the least glimpse of a penis and the sky comes crashing down.  Oh the humanity!

It’s a pernicious double standard.  Female nudity is artistic, erotic, or perhaps represents vulnerability.  Male nudity is hilarious!  Or disgusting.  So don’t blame me for being a product of this dichotomy.

People accuse me (and others who produce or appreciate these images) of “objectifying” women.  This is patently false.  As I have addressed elsewhere, photography by definition objectifies the subject.  But these images celebrate the subject, reveling in beauty.  Even, believe it or not, pornography.

People will say pornography is the worst, utterly demeaning the women in it.  Some will call the women who appear in pornography “victims,” because no self-respecting woman would choose to do that.  How arrogant!  This assumption is based on projection: “I have self-respect.  I would never appear in pornography.  Therefore, women with self-respect don’t appear in pornography.  QED.”  Based on this “logic” a woman must have been forced to do it, to subjugate herself for the sick pleasure of men.

Or maybe, just maybe, she enjoys it.  Maybe she likes the feeling of being desired.  Maybe she’s proud of her body and likes letting others see it.  Is that possible?  See, that’s the thing about the supposed objectification.  When you examine straight porn, one thing comes clear: the woman is subject, not object.  The content is entirely about her.  Her body, her reactions.  Sure, it’s usually ludicrously fake, with hyperathletic positions and over the top “acting.”  But it’s still all about the woman.  The man barely appears, often reduced to little more than his penis.  Now that’s objectification.

I know, you’ll say that this is done so that the male viewer can imagine himself in man’s place.  Fair enough.  But still the result is the same: the male performer is dehumanized far more than the female.  This is why most porn is really really bad.

It’s also wrong to say that only men (disgusting pigs!) consume pornography.  Women do too, in growing numbers.  They have somewhat different preferences, however.  Women prefer pornography that’s less anatomical, more sensual.  More about feelings, and connections.  More real.  Where both participants are equal.  Hey, that is a lot better.  In fact it sounds good enough to serve, indirectly, as an influence to me.  My one-and-only sex scene is like that, focused on feelings, the relationship between the two.  It’s about the beating of hearts rather than the thrusting of loins.  And would it surprise you to know that the female character is the one taking the lead?

Don’t be fooled by my correspondents who tell me what I write is “inappropriate” for YA.  I used to believe that, but then I followed the advice they gave me to read more YA and found that, in fact, there’s plenty of sex.  Almost invariably, it’s from the point of view of an inexperienced, even virginal, female, being “seduced” (for lack of a better word) by the male lead.  Always he’s more experienced, she’s timid, reluctant, you know the drill.

Not in mine.  I’ve reversed the roles, made the girl experienced and in charge, and the boy inexperienced and nervous and so very awkward.  And it’s still in the girl’s point of view.  What am I doing with that?  As I see it, I am telling my female readers, “Hey, it’s okay to have these feelings, these desires.  You don’t have to wait for a boy to act upon you, nor to expect him to be a perfect love machine.  You can take charge of your own sexuality.  You are answerable to no one except yourself.  You go girl!”  I consider that an excellent message for young women.  Guess what: the women in my writers’ group agree.  They loved the scene, thought it was real and sensitive and handled very well.  The men were indifferent (I’m not sure what to make of that).  But everyone agreed it would be okay for teens to read.  I was gratified.

Here’s the thing.  I think it wouldn’t just send a good message to girls, it would send one to boys as well.  It would say “You don’t have to be a stud.  She’s an equal and it’s something you do together, rather than something you do to her.”  Most boys don’t want to be studs, don’t want the pressure of the macho stereotype.  They want their partners to be equals, to be as interested and engaged as they are.

But they only have society’s message to go on.  Which is, “Go out and score!”  That’s why it bothers me that we are so concerned about girls’ self-respect, but not boys’.  We tell girls, “Have respect for yourself,” but we tell boys, “Have respect for girls.”  Not only does this attitude objectify girls far more than a sex scene or a naked picture, it tells boys they aren’t worthy of respect.  And people who don’t think they are worthy of respect make bad choices.

But when boys see representations of women who have taken charge of their sexuality, who aren’t afraid or ashamed of their bodies, women who are subjects rather than objects, and above all, women who feel the same as they feel, who like what they like, it makes the women more human, not less, and easier to respect and consider an equal partner.

Some might call my images on this site sexual harassment, with the idea that they have been placed there to somehow intimidate women.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  When men “accidentally” show women these sorts of things, what they actually want is for women to be accepting, to validate their sexual feelings.  They hope beyond hope that a woman will say, “Wow, that’s kind of hot” (which is what one reader said about my scene).  Or perhaps, “Well, I don’t care for that, but this one’s nice.”  Because then he’ll say, “Yeah, I like this one too.”  Then they know that women are okay with sexuality, that they don’t consider it dirty or offensive.

Let’s be honest, the men who do this do a very bad job of it (myself included).  It’s easy to understand why women turn away.  But understand that it’s not because of some hatred or objectification.  It’s not because we want women to look like that or be like that or do that.  It’s because we want women to be okay with sex, the most fundamentally important thing in all of being human.  Living in a culture that teaches girls to hide and repress their sexuality; that teaches boys they are monsters for being attracted to girls; and where we laugh when a man is beaten and humiliated in ways that, if the victim were a woman, would draws cries for the death penalty, it’s pretty hard to find validation for our essential humanity.

But is it really too much to ask?


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Naked Excuses

I find myself in an awkward position.  A correspondent has recently noted that the images I was posting on Facebook that ultimately got me banned from the site (I assume – the Facebook administrators have still never responded to my repeated requests for an explanation of why was banned) made me come across as “an older man objectifying younger women.”  There is a tremendous amount of significance packed into those six words, and I can take it in so many directions it will require more than one article.

Mind you, he actually said that’s what he thought someone who doesn’t know me might think.  The Baba Wawa gambit, I call it.  Barbara Walters has admitted that she will approach delicate issues with her interview subjects by prefacing an accusation with “People say…”  So she’s not actually making the accusation, but it’s still on the table.  Thus, the writer could accuse me of being a dirty old man without actually saying so, because it’s simply what “other people might say.”  I take no offense either way.

But let’s consider the implications.  I’ll start with the very problematic word “objectifying.”  What does that mean?  To make an object.  Specifically an object of view, of appreciation, of study, of interest.  This is considered to be bad.  But we objectify all the time.  It is precisely what artists do.  When they create a painting of a landscape, they are objectifying the landscape; when they take a photograph of a flower, they are objectifying the flower; when they build a sculpture of a woman, they are objectifying the woman.  That’s how it works, and that’s the point.  When I look at an image of an attractive naked woman, I am appreciating her attractiveness.

Fine, you say, but why does she have to be naked?  Who says she “has to be”?  That’s where things start to get weird.  It’s exploitation, so goes the argument.  A woman shouldn’t have to take off her clothes to get attention.  True, but are you sure that’s why she’s doing it?  And does it then mean no woman ever should?  The women in such images have chosen to take off their clothes for the camera.  If we call it “exploitation,” then ultimately we are saying the women are exploiting themselves. How does that even make sense?

I’m sure I’m about to get people mad, but I see a certain amount of envy behind these assumptions.  I hate to stereotype, but if one looks, one sees a pattern.  The women who accuse magazines like Playboy of objectification are usually women who have no real chance of appearing in Playboy.  Women who say beauty contests are demeaning and exploitive are probably never going to win any themselves.  Oh true, they will occasionally bring out a former contestant/model who will offer all the talking points, but she generally has some other axe to grind that brought her to this.  The point is, people protest against things they themselves aren’t good at. 

This is not restricted to women and nudity.  It’s the nature of the high school hierarchy.  Smart kids with no athletic ability denigrate the “dumb jocks,” while the athletes who struggle with academics in turn denigrate the A students as “geeks” and “brainiacs.”  It’s human nature.  Thus, behind the insistence that women should not take off their clothes to be appreciated, you probably find a woman who isn’t going to be appreciated for taking off her clothes (at least in mainstream society), and therefore she resents those women who are appreciated.  “If I can’t win the pageant, then there shouldn’t be any pageants!”

Some people, on the other hand, will say there’s a certain kind of empowerment involved.  These women are taking ownership of their bodies, their sexuality.  I fall in that camp.  I like women.  Okay, duh.  But people who know me know that I mean a lot by that.  I like strong women.  My writing is populated by them.  My main project has four main characters, three of them girls, one boy.  And the boy is, in some ways, the weakest character.  The main bad-ass action hero is a girl, as is the character who is the most dangerous.  And also the character who is ultimately the most important person in the universe.  The boy is largely along for the ride.  Not that he doesn’t contribute plenty to the course of the story, but I am pretty confident I have done a complete flip of conventional character grouping.  Not the least in that the female characters outnumber the male ones, rare in science fiction.

I’m very proud of my characters: tough, resiliant, independent girls who never, ever need the boy to come to their rescue, and a boy who is perfectly fine with that.   Some people might say this is a problem for male readers, who won’t like the boy not being the strongest character.  Nonsense.  I for one envy him.  I want to be him.  I have said more than once that I would walk through the Gates of Hell singing if I had those three girls at my side.

I appreciate strong female characters.  Just as I appreciate strong women in real life.  In my profession there are more women than men.  I don’t see a downside to this.  I prefer the company of women, and always have.  I can count on one hand my close male friends over my lifetime; to count my close female friends would require a couple of extra hands.  I have a particular fondness for what I call “girl geeks”: girls/women who are interested in and excel at those things society has always considered the realm of men: science, engineering, mathematics, and so on.  And girl sci-fi fans?  Bestill my heart!

Okay, then, you are wondering, if I appreciate strong women for their abilities and accomplishments, why do I have such a thing for attractive young women, preferably naked?  Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?  No, because appreciating someone’s abilities and appreciating her attractiveness are not mutually exclusive.  I can like both.  It doesn’t make me a hypocrite, it makes me a heterosexual male.  And an honest one.

That’s the awkward position I was talking about.  Because society has decided that images of nudity (and sexuality) are somehow exploitive, people who appreciate them can’t actually say so.  Or they have to make excuses. They read Playboy, but “only for the articles.”  Uh huh.  Mind you, I do mostly read Playboy for the articles at this point, because the women have gotten very boring, all the same: the blonde, big-boobed, Marilyn Monroe/Jane Mansfield look that Hugh Hefner has been obsessed with for over fifty years.  I prefer women who are more real.  So the images I offer reflect this, and often come from “nudist” sources.  Unfortunately, the need to make excuses especially defines the nudist movement.

I don’t care much for labels, and prefer not to call myself a “nudist,” though I guess the label fits.  I do not belong to any nudist organizations, and it’s been years since I’ve been to a nude beach, but in the past I have done so.  I don’t connect well, perhaps, with mainstream nudism, because of the way they find it necessary to distance themselves from who they are.

Clothes-compulsive people, having internalized the enforced “modesty” demanded by society, and fearful of nudity, seeing it as a form of sexual exploitation, do not understand how people can go to places where they all take off their clothes and “parade around naked.”  Now there’s a phrase that bugs the hell out of me.  I’ve been to a variety of nudist places, and never once has there been a parade, damn it!  I love parades!  But people use the word all the time to refer to people simply being naked in the front of others.  Advice columnists offer dire warning of the consequences to children who see their parents “parading around naked.”  Let’s be clear, this doesn’t happen.  Unless you also want to argue that other parents “parade around fully-clothed.”  See how stupid it sounds when you put it that way?

Nudists don’t do this.  Now, I should add a disclaimer at this point.  I do not speak for all nudists; they are a diverse lot, and it’s no more possible to speak for all of them than it is to speak for all black people, or all homosexuals, or all women.  This is merely my perspective.  But I suspect nudists are pretty fearful of mainstream society.  There is so little understanding, so much assumption that nudity equals sex, that nudists have to bend over backwards (hmm… bad metaphor?) to prove that they aren’t “like that.”

They go out of their way to give you all the reasons nudism is healthy and therapeutic and certainly not about sex, no sir.  Thus nudist organizations might embrace some range of Eastern or New Age philosophical beliefs.  Or they will emphasize sports and things like that.  Hence what appears to be an obsession among nudists with volleyball.  That was how nudism put on a “legitimate” face.  Numerous “nudie” magazines came out in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and they would have lots and lots and lots of pictures of people playing volleyball.  “See, I’m not ogling naked women, I’m enjoying watching a game of volleyball.”  Of course, that’s ridiculous.  Now there are, I realize, plenty of “nudist” publications and websites that truly are just an excuse for pictures of sexy women, and of outright sexuality.  They often have a very leering, salacious tone.  “Real” nudists try to dstance themselves from that, saying it’s not about sex, we’re not like that.

The result is a tendency for nudists to come across as the most sexless people on earth.  “No sex, please, we’re nudists.”  But as Gertrude said of the Player Queen in Hamlet, nudists “protest too much.”  Truth: nudists like sex just as much as non-nudists.  And I submit that nudists probably have better sex, because they are comfortable with their bodies.  Further, nudists appreciate the sight of an attractive body.  I give credit to the salacious sites for being honest about it, for saying, “Come on, admit it, you like checking out those girls.”  Yes.  That’s part of the enjoyment of going to a nudist resort.  Nudists also understand that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and they appreciate that diversity.

“Ah hah!” you say, “Got you!  You are a hypocrite.  You talk about diversity, but you still focus on young attractive women.”  Sure.  So does everyone else (generally speaking).  Biology has wired us that way.  The reproductive instinct makes certain characteristics appealing: breasts, rounded hips, things that indicate a woman will survive childbirth and be able to nurture her children.  And, let’s face facts, youth is criterion number one in this assessment.  This takes me back to the original accusation: I am an older man objectifying young women.  There are two serious issues there I have yet to address: 1) the issue of age discrepancy and the incredible minefield that is underage nudity and sexuality (both of which figure into my novel), and 2) the elephant in the room that is the fact that nobody ever worries about the “objectification” of men.  Both of these are important, and I will give them full examination coming up.

“Nudism” means different things to different people, but the reality is that being naked is fun.  It feels great to be naked outdoors on a pleasant day, and swimming naked is one of the greatest experiences in the world (it’s the only way one my characters would ever think of swimming).  And, whether people are willing to admit it or not, looking at naked people is really nice.  Nudist places allow you to enjoy both, which increases the enjoyment exponentially.  To anyone who has never tried it, I urge you to, at least once.  Being nude with friends and family is a wonderful thing, whether at a beach, a pool, a campground, a backyard, or your living room.  We remove all our pretenses and are our authentic selves when we are naked.  Being without restrictive clothing allows the skin to breath and…

Oops, there I go, making excuses.  It’s so easy.  Scratch all that.  Being naked is fun.  Being with other naked people is fun.  The end.  It doesn’t matter what you look like or what they look like, it’s just fun.

To be continued…


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