Pornography, Empathy and the Objectification of Women

By: Amanda Kay Holstien, Sr.

This is not a manifesto. Broadly, this is a reflection on what it is to be a human, having both basic animal instincts as well as higher functioning capabilities. Specifically, this is a reflection on pornography and the objectification of women. For the purposes of this reflection, when I say "men," I am referring to straight men in general and no man in particular, as I am well-aware there are plenty of men who are already aware of the issues I bring up in this reflection. I love men! Some of my best friends are men!

At its core, sex is not a moral issue. Human beings are, essentially, animals: our ultimate goal is to survive and reproduce. I maintain that this animal essence is why men want to fuck and watch porn, generally and substantially, more than women.  Perhaps men, when objectifying women, are just tapped into their animal-side, the unconscious desire to reproduce. This animal-side is not essentially wrong in any moral sense, but rather, the animal-side is simply basic. Shoveling food into our mouths is also basic and animalistic.

Ultimately, however, human beings have higher capabilities than solely animal instincts. Human beings have consciousness, which allows us the ability to contemplate our animal instincts and chose to change those behaviors. Along with consciousness, human beings have empathy. Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself in the position of another and identify with their thoughts and feelings as if they are your own. Empathy is a higher level mental function and distinguishes humans from most other animals. That humans try to save the weak is a product of empathy. 

That humans are not existentially only animal is why I am now suggesting that men ought to remind themselves, perhaps regularly, that women are not objects. It is understood that men might objectify women from a basic, evolutionary standpoint, but I ask that men also remember their more complex capabilities like empathy. 

Pornography touts women as objects, and if unchecked, this assumption can carry over beyond the world of animalistic fantasy and lead to the unconscious further objectification of women. Unconscious bias and the objectification of women is harmful because women are not then viewed as equally capable as men and thus are not given the same opportunities. (This problem is amplified for women of color, as race comes with another layer of assumptions and baggage.)

In summation, this general reflection distinguishes human beings as both animals with basic, evolutionarily-driven functions as well as capable of higher-level reasoning. I suggest, in this reflection, that pornography is fueled by our basic functions, but that, if unchecked by our higher capabilities, this basic function can lead to the harmful objectification of women.