She has a lover, she says, who is married and only available for sex when his work and family life permit, which is sometimes frequently and other times scarcely.
According to Kant in his Lectures on Ethics, sexual relations outside of a monogamous marriage leads to objectification of the participants, particularly the woman, as she is used for sexual gratification and afterwards discarded (163).
She describes this relationship as non-vertical, meaning they never meet except in a hotel room or the apartment he leases for sex, a horizontal proposition. She says she has never met him but once in public for coffee, once for a martini.
More specifically, Kant writes in the Lectures on Ethics that “sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry. … as soon as a person becomes an Object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by every one” (Kant Lectures on Ethics, 163).
She must be ready at any time to jump at his call, email or text, when opportunity arises, if she is to see him, and she wants to see him. She believes she loves him and has always loved him since she first met him, even though from the start, it was a utilitarian arrangement. They were both looking for sex outside sexless marriages.
Again, Kant notes, the inequality inherent in the mistress or concubine relationship–the woman completely surrenders her sex whereas the man with multiple concubines or wife does not–even though not for profit is also objectification as she is still used and possessed by the man.
She and her lover have little in common other than sex. In terms of social position, career and ideology, they are worlds apart. He is owner of a multi-billion dollar company and she is an elementary school teacher. His views are diametrically opposed to her own: Tea Party Republican Conservative Evangelical Christian vs. Progressive New Age mystic. His world is black and white, the world of no bullshit commerce and the market: You are either contributing to the economy or you are a drag on it. She is about compassion and communitarianism: society is only as strong as its weakest members who need help from those who have more.
Only in monogamous marriage is the surrendering of each partner equal, each one claiming possession and property the other, and thereby avoiding objectification, mere using. It is the power differential that creates this inequality that Kant deems the core of objectification (plato.stanford).
They have been meeting for nearly 8 years, just this way, little talk, just about the areas they can find common ground like parenting, beer and sports, but mostly sex. Their meetings are always secret, discreet, and sexual. They meet, undress in silence and engage in sex immediately. After the act, they rest in each other’s embrace and only then will he chat about his work and family, tell stories about funny exchanges with friends. She listens and laughs.
By surrendering herself, her sex, to a man who does not equally surrender himself fully to her, she allows herself to be used as a thing and thereby loses her humanity, which Kant equates with rational choice. She is a means to an end, merely.
In between sex sessions is the only foreplay they engage in. They fantasize. His fantasy is to dominate, possess, humiliate and control. He emails her about all the things he is going to do to her, including rape, sodomy and confinement. She encourages him and participates in this fantasy, providing her own desire to be owned, possessed, abused and humiliated.
Feminists Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin claim that pornography perpetuates female objectification by catering to patriarchal socio-sexual objectification, making women the instrument of male pleasure or eroticism, sexual acts performed on women for men’s pleasure, a role constructed by society and perpetuated by pornography (plato.stanford).
MacKinnon writes: “… A sex object is defined on the basis of its looks, in terms of its usability for sexual pleasure, such that both the looking—the quality of gaze, including its points of view—and the definition according to use become eroticised as part of the sex itself. This is what the feminist concept of ‘sex object’ means” (MacKinnon 1987, 173)
She says she has fantasies that she imagines when she masturbates, fantasies about rape, domination, humiliation and control, ones she can never share. He uses a naked picture of her when he masturbates. It is faceless.
But other thinkers such as Ronald Dworkin and Martha Nussbaum attribute objectification to a host of images society perpetuates from soap operas to fashion, women as appearance only. Additionally, women are partly responsible for their objectification, for being objects of the gaze, as they conform to societal dictates for appearance, bodily appearance (plato.stanford).
She says she loves him, that he is a good man, tender and loving. He strives to please her and loves her, wants her to use his body for her pleasure. She gives her body willingly and he takes it greedily, hungrily. He desires her always, tells her she is beautiful and makes her feel beautiful and loved, even consumed, but in that consumption merged. They enter each other’s bodies and through their bodies, their hearts and minds.
Sandra Bartky in her book Feminism and Domination asserts women objectify themselves by internalizing the patriarchal gaze and living life through the eyes of the gazer, regardless of a specific gazer or societal gaze. She, woman, has internalized that gaze and lives under it herself. In addition, women are fragmented by being associated with their bodies rather than their minds and personalities. In Simone de Beauvoir’s words, they objectify themselves to obtain power over men, in seeing themselves as alluring objects of men and engaging in unilateral sexual acts of pleasuring men; this unilateral pleasuring gives women power. Women as ornaments, attention to body size and shape by dieting, surgery, apparel, mannerisms, taking up less space than men, these actions perpetuate and are the result of objectification.
He has said that he would love no other ever again, would go to his grave fantasizing about her, that she is all he could imagine wanting in his life and regrets not having met her sooner, when he was looking for a wife. He makes her feel desired.
Objectification, then, according to Langton, is a process in which the social world comes to be shaped by desire and belief. An objectifier thinks that her or his beliefs have come to fit the world, where in fact the world has come to fit her or his beliefs (plato.stanford).
And he is jealous and possessive. He claims he would own her, on a leash, not let her out of a cage if she were his, but also says he would treat her like the queen she is, if only she makes him feel loved: sex, food, tenderness and home. He wants to own her completely as his, his sperm repository, his lover, his wife, his mother of his children, his body to do with whatever he wishes with or without her consent. And he offers his body to her equally with the same rights and privileges. He believes it is biblically deigned it should be that way. She is not a believer but believes that his desire to possess her is what fuels her imagination and desire for him. She loves him and will always subjugate herself to him knowing he would treat her with respect and never harm her.
Alan Soble and Leslie Green believe objectification of people is not necessarily a bad thing. People in the pornography industry are willingly employed objects. People ARE objects. It is only wrong when people are treated merely as objects, as means and not as ends in themselves, to use the terms of Kant’s Moral Imperative. Martha Nussbaum agrees and expands objectification into categories one of which is instrumentality. Using each other sexually, as objects, can be enjoyable. Equality, respect and consent are the key factors to judge any act of objectification objectionable. It is contextual whether something is good or bad in terms of objectification. People may use each other as sexual tools, as mere bodies for a means to an end, if in other respects or overall, they treat each other with respect and act with mutual consent (plato.stanford).
Neither of them wish to leave their respective spouses but merely to spend time, more time, and sustain each other for the rest of their days.
11 Replies to “Man, Mistress and Object”
This woman, as portrayed, chooses to be in this clandestine relationship and all it entails as a personal need. This man does as well. They are equals in their need for objectification of another in order to satisfy an erotic need they are unable to satisfy at home. Yet each also wants to remain in the other relationship that provides “home”. It sounds like a win-win for each. She has a need to feel subjugated sexually and he needs to feel a sense of control and domination.
It is the kind of arrangement Craigslist was birthed to promote.
Coming into a culture that defines needs, produces them, including the need to be objectified, how can anyone ever say objectification that is mutual and consensual is ok, especially if the objectification is primarily located in the woman?
Well, if “objectification … is mutual and consensual” how could that not be “ok”? Even “if the objectification is primarily located in the woman”, she is still motivated by personal needs and desires. Her choice to be objectified is a personal one regardless of cultural norms. Ultimately, aren’t cultural norms (which are inherently separate from instinct) embedded into each specific culture by behaviors begun generations, if not centuries, long ago?
Exactly. So how can one say the objectification is consensual if the desire to be objectified has been culturally implanted in a woman’s brain before she could identify the choice to be objectified?
Because at all times humans have the capacity to choose. She can go along with the norm or she can turn her back on it. Isn’t that at the heart of the feminist movement?
What has been deeply ingrained and enculturated can feel like instinct, powerful desire, so people don’t know the difference, simply the feeling that what they do is right and voluntary.
Unfortunately, I think that the “heart of the feminist movement” is based in the “turning one’s back on the norm”, not in the ability to activey have the norm as a CHOICE. (but that would be real progress, indeed, and, less polarizing)
Some theorists would say real progress is made at chipping away at changing the norm through subversive imitation, caricaturing, for instance heteronormativity a la Butler.
Enculturation precludes choice on the subject of objectification of women. A woman believes her desire to be objectified is real, instinctual, yet her programming makes that identity and “choice” real. Same things go on for men. Our reality is programmed by virtue of our being born into an ongoing stream of values, imagery, normativity.
“Same things go on for men. Our reality is programmed by virtue of our being born into in ongoing stream of values, imagery, normativity.”
That is exactly my point. Each one is starting from the same ground zero. Neither of them has a cultural advantage or disadvantage. Neither of them knows any other cultural mores. They each have the same degree of choice to participate or not to participate. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cultural norm or not. What matters is that each is making their choice standing side-by-side on the same level ground. There cannot be any cultural difference between them if they are within the same culture. Whether their culture oppresses man or oppresses women it is the culture that each one has to deal with.
No. Men have a decided advantage in a patriarchal society.