[personal profile] womanwarrior
When the new Star Trek film came out, there was a small storm of controversy over the objectification of women in the movie (at least, among the blogs I read). Being a woman into science fiction in general and Star Trek in particular, it was only a matter of time before the subject came up at a party. One of the people at the party said that even if objectification of women was a problem, well, it only made sense for the movie industry to objectify women. Since science fiction geeks were male adolescents, it is perfectly reasonable for companies to market to this demographic by producing things that objectify women.

I found it intensely ironic that the audience of this comment consisted of two women, both of us serious science fiction geeks and long-time Star Trek fans.

Ten years ago, I found arguments like his compelling, even though the conclusions were disturbing. Since then I have realized a serious fallacy in the argument. Simply put, it's an argument for catering to the desires of a majority, even at the cost of a minority. This argument says that because woman are a minority of science fiction fans, it's okay to produce things that are insulting to women. But being part of a minority does not mean it's okay to do things or say things that are offensive or degrading to that minority.

A second problem I have with this sort of argument and attitude is that it takes that majority/minority skew for granted. I don't have a problem with specifically pointing out a skew in an audience - in fact, that's the sort of thing that can be extremely useful and necessary. I do have a problem when the existence of a skew is used as a justification for actions which will worsen it. If science fiction is predominantly male, perhaps that's in part because women are discouraged from scientific, mathematical, and nerdy pursuits from a very young age. If science fiction is predominantly male, perhaps that's an outgrowth of the objectification of women and sexism that's pervasive in the stories told in this genre. Using the gender skew as a justification for doing things that will drive yet more women away makes no sense. An existing majority/minority imbalance is no excuse for perpetuating it.

And finally, I don't like how the argument assumes objectification is something that all adolescent boys want. It validates that as a "normal" desire for adolescent boys. Why should it be? Why should it be normal and acceptable for adolescent boys to want women to be treated as objects in their movies? That's the underlying assumption behind the casual acceptance of objectification in movies. This desire for the objectification of women could also be yet another self-perpetuating cycle, where boys are told that it's normal to objectify women, and encouraged to do so, precisely by arguments like these. Would this desire be there if we as a culture didn't continue to so strongly reinforce it? I have no idea, but damn would I love to find out.

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womanwarrior

November 2009

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