Feminism, literature, objectification, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy, women

mother, mater, matter

On the topic of mother – mater (Latin) – matter and the objectification of women, I just read this passage from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles:

But those of the other sex were the most interesting of this company of binders, by reason of the charm which is acquired by woman when she becomes part and parcel of outdoor nature, and is not merely an object set down therein as at ordinary times. A field-man is a personality afield; a field-woman is a portion of the field; she has somehow lost her own margin, imbibed the essence of her surrounding, and assimilated herself with it.

aesthetics, categorical imperative, Feminism, Kant, objectification, Philosophy, women

The objectification of women: a possible solution

I have always believed that beauty and its enjoyment, even in their human female form, are too crucial a component of the good life to necessarily violate the categorical imperative. But the difficulty is an apparently insurmountable one: the appreciation of a woman on purely aesthetic grounds means appreciating her as an object. Last night, in the company of men (A. & G.), I came to a possible solution: what one entertains, in looking at a beautiful woman, is not necessarily the woman herself; it can just be the woman’s appearance. But if that is the case, the woman is no longer being objectified: only her appearance is. But since her appearance is not an end in itself (that is, it is not a person with ends), objectifying it does not violate the categorical imperative (that is, it is not conceptually possible to objectify it, because a woman’s appearance is not a person with ends: it is not the right kind of thing to be subject to objectification).

The point is rather simple: the woman is not part of the experience, and therefore it cannot be that she is being objectified. The point must be distinguished from a similar one that would be appealing to the difference between the woman and her body. To that point, it might be replied that, if dualism is false, then the body is identical with the woman, and so entertaining her body is entertaining her. But this kind of objection does not necessarily apply to a woman’s appearance.

It might be replied that judging a woman by her appearance is itself a form of objectification. But this objection overlooks the crucial point that it is not the woman who is the object of the experience, but just her appearance. Once that distinction is reinstated, the objection reemerges as senseless: judging a woman’s appearance by her appearance is a form of objectification.