Reading the Object website is making me furious and sad. You’d almost think that additionally to repelling critical thought on the part of their ‘activists’ (“did someone say ‘objectification’? Quick, we must start a petition opposing this thing, whatever it is!”), they’re aiming to avoid criticism from those of us who’re not so down with the covering up of all naked ladies (okay, they don’t specifically say “all”. That’s because they don’t offer any definitions whatsoever, like some kind of politics-as-rorsarch test) by making their content such a twilight swampland of semi-truths, untruths, innuendo, issue-jumble, elision, and facts-that-make-you-go “well, duh”, that it is impossible to ever get a handle on the shifting morass, like trying to catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster while watching a sped-up time-lapse of the last 10,000 years of the earth’s geological history, shot from space. Not only does the monster not exist – you’re also being offered a plethora of distracting, irrelevant information, at the wrong level of detail, some of it dressed up to look like semi-relevancy. Sorry, was that too harsh? Just wait ’til we zoom in.
As I say, I’d almost think that was some kind of tactic to deflect the criticism they’d garner if they stated their aims in any way intelligibly, but the shoddy design of the website (it holds up the illusion of ‘serious NGO is serious’ for about forty-five seconds) suggests that that might be crediting them with too high a degree of intentionality.
So. I did think their page ‘the Facts‘ looked rather on the short side (that’s – what, two hundred words or so? To unpack the whole of ‘objectification’ and ‘sex object culture’? Hmm), and then I noticed that they’ve got a bunch of references for citations that no longer exist, i.e, they’ve cut most of their ‘facts’ but neglected to adjust the footnotes. Neato! Why have they cut what looks like two thirds of the page? Looks to me like, because someone did some research and pointed out to them that it was the hugest bunkum since forever, and instead of, like, acknowledging that, or standing by their convictions and maybe adding more meat to the poor, fictional gruel of their argument, they rather quickly and haphazardly deleted the lot.
(Lazy sods, I bet you won’t click on that link. In case you don’t, here’s some nuggets from the Object factoid armoury, prior to their hasty track-covering. “Over half (54%) of all women around the world say they first became aware of the need to be physically attractive between 6 and 17 years of age.” The blogger comments, “yes … and?”, speaking for all thinking people in whom that fact has failed to instil the seemingly hoped-for horror. Or how about, “Eating disorders are as common amongst women as autism”? This fact provokes the obvious response from our researcher, “OK … and is that a lot? And if so, what does it say about the causes of eating disorders? Or of autism, for that matter?” I used to think that Ben Goldacre’s schtick was a little played out – surely we’ve all gathered by now that homeopaths and shampoo companies fib? – but this reminds me of how bad science and bad statistics have an eternal half-life in bad politics, like Voldemort on unicorn blood – er, which, you’ll doubtless recall, leaves the drinker neither fully alive nor fully dead.)
Object activists were respectfully invited to respond to the above (and other) criticisms of their website content, but vanished into the internet ether – along with the content in question – leaving only a footnoted absence. Oh absent presence!
Here’s my second telling ‘clunk’ from the style police. Moving away from the ‘Facts’ (rather thin-pickings, though I will deal with them in more detail later) and onto the FAQ, we find the sentence, “The message is loud and clear: to be validated as a female, you have to be ‘hot’”. Now, shaven of context, I don’t think this sentence is completely off. There’s plenty of evidence that women’s appearances are scrutinised, in misogynist ways, and you don’t have to be a swivel-eyed Object-ivist to think so. What’s interesting – and problematic, and telling – about this sentence is the way in which it uses the word ‘female’.
Most feminists I know recoil from the word ‘female’ when it’s used in this way. ‘Female what?!’, we cry, en masse. ‘Female baboon? Female rat-catcher?’ – in normal English, ‘female’ is generally a descriptor that modifies a second noun, because we already have a word for grown female human, and that word is woman. So, what are they getting from this clunky use of language? Hm. Well.
To give you the full paragraph, “Girls are targeted at younger and younger ages as consumers of sex object culture. WH Smith sell pink Playboy pencil cases – yet Playboy is a global pornography brand; Amazon sell pole dancing kits with paper money as toys; Tesco even sell ‘Porn Star’ T shirts for 3-6 month year old girls. Celebrities endorse the pornography industry and glamour models are held out as role models for young girls. The message is loud and clear: to be validated as a female, you have to be ‘hot’. This is increasingly the case as pornography and the sex industries (such as prostitution or lap dancing) become part of our mainstream culture and everyday lives.”
A lot of Object’s argument here (what you can call argument) appears to hang on a silent elision between (grown up) women and (innocent, girl) children. The sentence “to be validated as female” operates here as the hidden hinge between children (the words “young girls” literally abuts our hinge sentence at it’s northern end), and adult women (the presumed – readerly – “our” of “mainstream culture” fame). Even if we buy into Object’s analysis around ‘objectification’ and ‘sex object culture’, we might quibble slightly at being asked to treat young girls and adult women the same. (We might further wonder if there’s not a relevant third category, “teenagers”, that might require additional nuance again, but apparently not so much.) The word “female”, by being non-age specific, allows Object to attempt to sneak these various different categories past us, under our actual noses, without alerting us to the intellectual sleight of hand that’s asking us to transport our feelings about children-and-sexuality (“girls are targeted at younger and younger ages”), and, unchanged, apply it to women (” … become part of our mainstream culture and everyday lives”).
Object might want to claim that ‘sex object culture’ is so hegemonic that it does treat seven year olds and twenty seven year olds the same (provided they’re ‘female’, of course. “Women: aw, aren’t they just like girls?!” – feminism … apparently). But that’s not the argument they’ve made – mostly because that might entail actually making an argument at all, and, y’know, carrying in through in a fairly transparent manner – whereas in fact, they’ve invoked vague unease through linking prepubescent girls with sexuality, and then linked those tropes of threatened childhood innocence (I say ‘tropes’, because, as I’ll show later, their facts aren’t exactly ‘factual’, as such) to the implicit adult reader, and her sexuality. Creepy! Weird! No, not “mainstream culture”. I mean Object.
More on this to come, when I can bear it.