Why is objectification so objectionable?

Jan Jordan

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, Jan.Jordan@vuw.ac.nz

The term ‘objectification’ is widely used by feminists as a criticism of how women’s bodies are presented in ways both dehumanising and degrading.  Initially identified as problematic during the consciousness-raising years of the 1970s women’s movement, this concept was used to explain the potentially harmful impacts of pornography and other forms of media produced and consumed within societies within which rape cultures were evident.  In particular, links were suggested between objectification and the sexual victimisation of women.

Despite decades of attention and debate, the objectification of women appears to not only remain evident but to be more entrenched than ever. This paper presents an initial exploratory investigation of the processes ensuring the continuation of objectification, seeking also to interrogate the meanings behind this term.  It asks: why is objectification so objectionable? My aim in offering this paper is to prompt my own and others’ critical reflection on how the objectification of women impacts on both men and women, and to appreciate more fully how and why it should remain within 21st century feminist action headlights.


Dr Jan Jordan is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She has over 25 years experience teaching and researching in the area of women, crime and victimisation.  Her major research interest is in sexual violence and she is a regular presenter on police adult sexual assault investigation training courses.  She is currently working on a major research grant awarded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand to explore why it remains difficult to achieve substantive change in how women as victims of rape are responded to and treated.


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