Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Objectification Conspiracy - Part 1

I have to admit that I find Object and their fellow prohibitionists to be flat out fascinating and for some time now I have been planning to write an article that explores and maybe explains their behaviour. After some research, I think I may have produced something that is at least worth reading and hopefully a basis for useful discussion.

The Objectification Conspiracy.

According to an article about Anna Van Heeswijk in The Guardian, Object is ‘tasked with spearheading the fight against the "pornification" of society’, something which supports the wholesale ‘objectification’ of women. In Objects view it is this ‘pornificiation’ and ‘objectification’ that leads to anything from sexual discrimination at work, harassment in the street, sexual assault, trafficking and ultimately murder.

I cannot imagine that anyone would disagree with a campaign that seeks to end the above mentioned ills, but one area where I and many others have difficulty is with Objects idea that ‘pornification’ and ‘objectification’ are the driving substrate for the challenges facing women today.

It is the view of many third wave feminists that the ultimate driving force that fuels objectification is the ‘patriarchy’ that in their view is so world prevalent. There is a problem here for Object, because what they are fighting is not directly tangible and campaign groups need an identifiable, accessible target in order to demonstrate to the public and maybe funding agencies that their campaign is succeeding.

Object are fighting a concept or a 'meme', that they have identified as being the root of all evil.

Groups such as Sea Shepherd  run a successful campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet, by directly confronting whalers and preventing them from harpooning whales. This is directly tangible action. The issue with fighting the patriarchy is that it has no headquarters or local branches that can be tackled. Object therefore have to fight what they see as being the visible, tangible manifestations of objectification, pornification and ultimately the patriarchy.

So if Object are to retain their viability as an organisation and the motivation of their activists, accessible targets have to be selected and we can see that strip tease and lap dancing clubs are clearly high on the agenda, as is The Sun newspapers Page 3 model photo, lads magazines and obviously pornography in its various forms. Of these, strip tease and lap dancing clubs are the softest targets, their number is limited and location is known and they have a high media profile.

Campaign groups can only succeed if they engage public support and for this happen, they must support their views with research and information that can influence people. Object clearly believe that they have plenty of intellectual collateral to support their campaigns, but the key issue is that an increasing number of people are starting to question Objects views. In fact many simply do not believe that the strip club down the road and Nuts magazine are all that stands between women and the state of empowerment that Object desire.

I want to explore what drives Object in their beliefs and campaigns. I did some research to find a comparable model that reflects their campaign stance and methodologies and had little success until I ran into an article on conspiracy theorists. It was here that I found some material that bears consideration.

The political scientist Michael Barkun holds the view that a conspiracy theory is a belief set which explains an event as the result of a secret plot by exceptionally powerful group to achieve a end result that somehow is seen to disadvantage the conspiracy theorist and their supporters. In Barkuns view, the appeal of conspiracism is threefold:

First, conspiracy theories claim to explain what academic or state sponsored research cannot. They appear to make sense out of a world that is appears confusing and contradictory.

Second, they do so in an appealingly simple way, by dividing the world sharply between good and evil. They trace all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents.

Third, conspiracy theories are often presented as special, unique insight unknown or unappreciated by others. For conspiracy theorists, the masses are fools or worse still the subject of brainwashing or personalities that are damaged by the evil group. In this way, the conspiracy theorists that understand and can see the substrate can congratulate themselves for seeing things as they are.

John Berlet and Mathew Lyons have published studies of conspiracy groups and stated that , "Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm".

How much of this sounds familiar to you?

I ask, to what extent are Object and other third wave feminists, essentially conspiracy theorists? I do not doubt that what they are fighting is real. Domestic abuse, sexual assault, FGM and murder are all happening, everyday, everywhere, but is Objects explanation for it, essentially a conspiracy theory?

Furthermore, I also have to ask, if the Object viewpoint does have its roots in conspiracy, what does this say about them as a campaign group. Do they not see the flaws in their arguments, argued against with such passion by their opponents, or is their stance a pose, masking something else, providing a psychological ‘earth’ for another driving factor?

Over the next few weeks I want to explore this issue in greater depth and hope to post Part Two of this essay very soon.


  1. The conspiracy at the centre of this organisation is the old chestnut about "all men are rapists". This concept explains most of what they say and stand for. Their view seems to be that men must not be aroused because then they are dangerous and can't control themselves.

    The real shame is that an organisation focused on empowerment rather than prohibition could do some good work.

    1. Don't forget the concept of 'patriarchy', which reduces all power relationships to a gender binary.

  2. It is the tragedy of Object that have chosen to prohibit, rather than educate. But prohibition, hysterical press releases and standing round outside clubs seems to be the route they have chosen. I also think we have to explore what lies at the core of the 'all men are rapists' issue as well.

    1. Perhaps an expose into the origins of radical 'feminism', its core concepts and the typical mindset of its followers since the late sixties could be the subject of a future blog post.