Sexualization & Objectification Are Not the Same Thing

A major point of contention in modern feminist circles is the issue of objectification, or the act of treating women as nothing but objects of desire. Discussion of this has picked up steam in media analysis recently, particularly when it comes to anime and video games, and I’m glad to see it happening. But I find myself nonetheless troubled by the way some classify all sexualization as a form of objectification.

This often manifests in discussions of video games, where people will seek out any instance of women being sexualized in games and frame it as objectification. While many of these are justified in the context of the differences between how men and women are sexualized, this militant approach places far too much emphasis on the fact that these characters are sexualized, and not enough on the context surrounding it.

Male sexuality is often focused on the idea of “conquest” and lording over others, downplaying the idea of men presenting themselves sexually in a way that doesn’t involve imposing upon others. This is reinforced in popular media, with male characters rarely being presented in a sexual manner until such time as they make their “conquest.”

Women, meanwhile, are frequently sexualized without any agency or a sense of self-worth, leading to them being seen as little more than objects of desire. The manner of their sexualization often downplays other aspects of them and their personality, focusing on their body and little else. It is in this context that women are truly made into “objects.”

The amount of attention given to the simple fact that women are sexualized, however, diverts attention from the context leading to objectification and instead brings to mind the idea that all sexualization is bad/anti-feminist. This in turn leads to the shaming of women and women’s bodies, and the shaming of any expression of sexual interest or sexual identities.

Most humans share a sexual desire, and an active sex drive is considered healthy for your average adult. There are thus many men and women who choose to channel this drive into their creative works, resulting in sexualized characters. Many great artists have been lauded for their erotic works over the years, and these works have thus inspired other artists to pursue erotic visuals in their own works.

Yet when we look down on this sexualization, we deny this sexual drive and desire, and characterize it as evil regardless of context or intent. I’ve seen many female artists labeled as “anti-feminist” for drawing sexualized images of women, regardless of their actual opinions on feminism or feminist causes. I’ve also seen people accuse female artists of having “internalized misogyny” for their sexualized drawings, preemptively denying them any chance to defend themselves or their drawings.

Objectification is a major issue for women and modern feminism. But we must be careful not to defeat our own cause of equality and agency for women while doing this.

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